**I recently made a request to friends and readers for birth stories, and I have been blown away by the beauty and courage of the moms who chose to share their story. The first is from my friend Kari Triplett, and I am honored to share it here. – Keri
Piper’s Birth Story
When it came to my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter (my one and only child at this time), I felt I’d been gifted the wrong book to prepare me. Instead of reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I felt Expect Everything Except What You Were Expecting (yet to be written…go figure) would have been far more practical for the situation.
After all, most girls expect the chance to surprise their husbands with news of pregnancy in person. And most girls probably expect to have their husbands holding their hands through labor and birth, while their families eagerly wait outside of their delivery rooms.
Well, like most girls, I had life not only figured out but planned out as well. By the age of seven I could picture my fairytale wedding, the amazing husband who would come with it, and the many, MANY furbabies that would follow. That’s right. Furbabies. Of the four-legged variety, be it cats or dogs or horses. No babies…I mean, no human babies. I was not a doll-loving girl. Give me a stuffed animal, and I would love it forever.
Perhaps it is because I am the youngest in my family and obviously lacking in the department of baby-experience that I always found myself awkward and unsure when it came to babies. Prior to my daughter, I had changed only one diaper in my entire life. Mind you, I was 26-years-old at the time of her birth; not exactly a “young” mom. Still, I found myself terrified at the idea of a little life coming into the world completely dependent on me.
But getting back to the Expect Everything Except What You Were Expecting (still wish this was an actual book…), and the first shock to my childhood plan: I met my husband. I met my husband online. Match.com to be exact. He was an active duty Marine who would be in Colorado for only a few short days before leaving for his first duty station in Japan. After several weeks of online correspondence, we finally met. Three days later he left for Okinawa. We exchanged letters for 11 months, then the second time we ever saw each other we got married…in the high school cafeteria where I was teaching at the time. Some fairytale wedding, right? Having only seven days’ notice that my Marine fiancé would be home on leave left me little time to plan a “real” wedding. (Note: I only put real in quotes due to several individuals who continue to ask if I will ever have a “real” wedding. Luckily, my 24-year-old self was much more practical than my 7-year-old self in realizing that my wedding, while not a fairytale, was very much real in fulfilling the purpose. While not glamorous and very much rushed, it made us husband and wife. Therefore, I consider it real.)
My new husband, Aaron, and I had seven days together before he needed to return to Okinawa; I was to remain behind and continue on with my teaching career. To put it simply, I was heartbroken. However, a greater heartbreak came several weeks later when I unexpectedly found myself sitting alone in a doctor’s office trying to wrap my mind around the news. Amazing to think I never wanted a baby, until I learned that I’d lost one. After that, it seems all I could think about was having a baby with my husband.
Of course, making a baby in the traditional sense is much easier without several thousand miles separating husband and wife. In our first year of marriage, we saw each other less than two weeks total. By year two, I think we were up to a full month. While we made the most of our time together and tried for a baby, each try ended with disappointment.
Finally, after over two years of separation, my husband received orders for a new duty station closer to Colorado. We could finally call each other on a regular basis, and the ability to text him whenever I wanted would be a priceless luxury. Best of all, most service members get a full month of leave in between duty station transitions. I found my hope building that having him back on U.S. soil would mean more visits, and more of a chance for a baby. But after the 30 days of leave (the longest consecutive time we’d ever had together) were up, I was met once again with disappointment.
Aaron reported for his new duty station in Camp Pendleton, CA. Upon arriving, one thing was made very clear. The “d” word that sends familiar nauseated chills through military spouses’ bodies. Deployment. Afghanistan. A few months to prepare. Plans for a baby would have to wait.
I did not dwell on the “d” word. In fact, I believe I did what most military significant others do, which is push it as far away from my reality as possible and try to fend it off for long as possible. I was truly just relishing in the fact that my husband and I lived in the same country…if only for the time being.
I flew out to California to celebrate my husband’s birthday and be his hot date to the Marine Corps Ball. And hot date is exactly right. Now, understand, I am a woman like any other. I harbor many insecurities. Hands down, I am my biggest critic. But when it came to that ball, I was ready to make my husband’s jaw hit the floor and then some. I’d found a gorgeous red ball gown that was classy, but very much…well…a red ball gown. Come on. What lady doesn’t look smoking hot in a red, fitted dress?!
Fast forward seven weeks. It was 5 a.m. Colorado time, 4 a.m. California time, when I called my husband’s cell phone and woke him from slumber. I was bawling my eyes out on the other end of the line, while staring down at three pregnancy tests on the bathroom floor. I clearly remember my words of “What are we going to do?” coming in between tears. I could not imagine going through a pregnancy, let alone the birth of our child, without him. My husband’s response, “Well…you’re going to have a baby.”
I never expected I’d hear my baby’s heartbeat for the first time while alone on an examination bed, with tears streaming down my face. To this day I cannot pinpoint the exact reason I was crying. Because Aaron wasn’t there to hear the baby’s heartbeat with me? Because I was alone? Because the sound of that precious little gift growing inside of me was so unexpected and absolutely magical that I could not hold back the joy I felt? It was truly a bittersweet experience.
Aaron missed all of my doctor appointments except one. Not by choice mind you. The one he was able to make was to find out the gender of our baby. I know a lot of people feel strongly one way or another about this issue, either you should wait for the birth or find out the gender as soon as possible. I expected to wait until the birth to have the big reveal, but I knew it would probably help put Aaron’s mind at ease to know he had a daughter or he had a son on the way. One less thing to have on his mind.
We decided on the name Piper. Piper, after the Piper Tri-Pacer airplanes my family has flown for generations. That was the name that Aaron spoke against my baby-bump the last time we saw each other before he deployed.
How do you describe to someone watching your husband drop to his knees to kiss your pregnant belly one last time before leaving a hotel room and going to war? I stood, waiting for him to open the door and knowing there would be no going back. No more pretending or evading the “d” word. It was happening. But he hesitated. He knelt there, hands cradling his unborn child. He spoke aloud, not in a whisper and not trying to hide his words, “I love you, Piper. I’ll see you soon.” All I could do was hold my breath and pretend there was no other possible outcome to expect.
I felt my entire pregnancy I was glowing from the inside out. They say pregnant women naturally glow, but I could not stop smiling. I felt I’d been blessed with a piece of my husband to hold onto, a gift that we’d waited for and almost given up on. I only cried when I was alone and mostly only at night. Not every night, but the nights when I allowed myself to feel afraid. Afraid of being responsible for a tiny life coming into this world. Afraid of my husband not coming home. (Just so you know how real of a fear this was, I just deleted that previous sentence three times before finally allowing myself to type it out completely. It still feels taboo to speak/write those words.) Afraid of being alone.
Being from Michigan originally, I knew there was a very real possibility that I would be alone the night I went into labor. All of my family lived over 1,500 miles away…not exactly a short drive. And while I expected there would be enough notice for them to get to Colorado in time, I also knew that my family has a history of early deliveries and emergency c-sections. And sure enough, Piper decided to arrive unexpectedly six weeks early.
Although I did drive myself to the hospital emergency room, I was blessed to not be alone the night of her delivery. I had a dear friend by my side, a fantastic staff of nurses, and my beloved husband was fortunate enough to be able to FaceTime in (God bless technology!) from Afghanistan to watch as Piper entered the world via emergency c-section. It was not the same as having his hand in mine or feeling his arms around me. Part of me still envies my friends who are able to share pictures of their spouses holding their newborn babies beside them in the hospital room. We will never have those pictures. But as quick as those feelings come, they also go. Mainly because I know that having a baby born so early, the pictures are not what is most important.
I know that there is a lot of discussion these days about epidurals and the medications hospitals use, etc. I have to say one of the few things that hurt my feelings while I was in the NICU with my preemie daughter was the fact that I had another mother express her apologies to me that I was not able to deliver naturally and experience “real” childbirth. (Notice the quotations again around the world real. Did I or did I not bring a child into this world? A real child.) At the time it frustrated me to think that this woman who had her husband standing next to her, cradling their healthy baby boy, knew anything about my situation as I sat alone next to my daughter’s incubator, listening to the monitors attached to her beep, seeing the IV running into her tiny hand. Now, I just smile. The emergency c-section was just another unexpected part of Piper’s entrance into this world, and it was beyond my control. Had I been able to choose I might have preferred to go without the epidural; that simply was not an option in my case. In the end, my husband and I have a healthy, beautiful baby girl, and that is all that matters.
We were fortunate. Piper was born early, but she was also extremely healthy. She and I spent a week in the NICU together. I am forever grateful for the staff at Valley View Hospital. With my husband serving overseas, it would have broken me to leave our daughter alone in the NICU and drive the 30 minutes back to our home each night. But I never had to. The staff allowed me to stay with my daughter the entire week, nursing her and holding her, until finally she had enough strength to come home.
It was another five months before Piper would finally meet her daddy for the first time. Five months of endless nights of feeding, diaper changes, and trying to find a balance of being both mom and dad, because there was no one on the other side of the bed for me to elbow and say, “Your turn.” Top that off with a full time teaching career, maintaining a household, and having a husband in a combat zone. I was exhausted but elated when Aaron returned home safely from Afghanistan. And while we may not have the pictures of him holding her in the hospital room as a newborn, I will say the pictures of him holding her for the first time still bring tears to my eyes. I’m not one to try to bargain with God, but there were plenty of times I prayed to Him, asking to just bring Aaron home and give him the chance to hold our baby girl. My prayers were answered.
Today Piper is a healthy, vibrant, intelligent two-year-old. She loves horses and dinosaurs. Her favorite color is purple. She is a total daddy’s girl. And she continues to teach me, each and every day, to expect the unexpected.