Penelope was a surprise. My third, Cash, was only 11 months old when I found out I was pregnant again. In the days before I took a test to be sure, I was pleading with God to grant someone else a child besides me. My plate was full. I wanted more children, but not yet. I had two in diapers.
After peeing on the stick and getting the results, I went from the bathroom to my bed and got into it, pulled the covers over my head and cried. I had a lot going on. I was thinking about adding nausea and exhaustion and the metabolic equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest daily to my already busy routine. It was overwhelming.
I think also I knew that it may be my last, and I hated to run into it, to not anticipate it. To be robbed of the decision to try for another, and then also robbed of the time and mental preparation you get when you are “trying.” It was done. I was pregnant.
Almost immediately God said to me, “I am gracious and compassionate, full of mercy, and abounding in love.” I believed it, but I was still completely and totally freaking out. I was going to have four children. In just over six years. It was crazy.
It didn’t take long for me to get used to the idea, because I thought about having a baby girl. How it would be so neat to have two boys and two girls. How I would have boy, girl, boy, girl. All of a sudden I wanted a girl so bad I could taste it. Would it come to be? Time would tell.
When it came time for my 20 week ultrasound, I wore my lucky pink shirt again. My husband and all three kids piled into the ultrasound room early that morning to find out if we would have a brother or a sister. Much to our delight, it was in fact a girl. My daughter said, “She will belong to my room!” It was a joyous moment. The kids started to get restless and Jimmy decided to take them to the van and wait for me there.
After they left, the ultrasound tech drops a bomb. She told me I needed to go for another ultrasound on a bigger and better machine because the baby’s head was not quite perfectly round. She told me they called it a “lemon sign” and to not worry or anything, but that they should check it out further.
I went out to the van and tried to explain to Jimmy what she said, but he was trying to get to work and the kids were being loud. I was scheduled to come back at 12:00. The excitement of having a girl was shadowed by this worry. I went home and called a friend to ask if she could keep my kids. Until it was time to leave, I put them in front of Sesame Street and got on the internet. I searched “lemon sign” and started to get a little scared. It was a sign of a neural tube defect, usually spina bifida. I read enough to be really afraid of what might lie ahead and called my family to pray. Then I prayed myself and clearly felt I should stop reading anything. I felt in my heart that everything was fine, but had nothing but that feeling to base it on.
When I went to the ultrasound, the doctor was in the room as the tech put the wand on my belly. Within about 3 seconds he said, “This baby is fine. Completely normal. The head is perfectly round.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so relieved. The tech in my doctor’s office was just being cautious. Whew.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last time going upstairs to the higher level ultrasound machine. Throughout my pregnancy I was measuring small and my doctor feared I had a low fluid level. He wanted to get a very accurate reading of what was going on. I was always fine, but just barely. I did not have any extra fluid, just enough.
Also my vein issues were back. I had not had them with my boys, only with the girls. It was painful and I tried to go swimming as often as I could. My husband was out of work much of the summer I was pregnant (I was due November 4, 2007) and so I would leave him during nap time and enjoy the solitude of swimming laps by myself, trying not to be too much of the spectacle that a pregnant woman at the pool is. I remember lying by the pool and soaking in not only the sun, but the serenity and peace of no children. Because I was about to have yet another.
But I was so excited. I enjoyed getting everything ready and especially girly things. My first baby girl was born in the summer, but now I would have a newbie in the winter so I had cute tiny warm hats and blankets. It could not happen soon enough. Mostly because I was really tired of the pain of the pregnancy.
As I got to the end, it was more checks of my fluid level. My doctor was not happy with how borderline I was, so he recommended induction. He was on call on my due date, so he said if I didn’t go on my own before then, that I should come in and he would break my water and hopefully things would happen on their own. This is what I’d done with my first, and things moved quickly, so if it came to this, I was hopeful.
I really wanted to go into labor on my own before then, and really thought I would, so I agreed to the induction. I prayed like crazy that I’d just have the baby on my own. But it was not to be.
I came in for the induction, but waited two hours for my doctor to have time to talk to me personally before I would let anyone come near me with any instruments. I asked him, “Why are we doing this?” and he held up his index finger and thumb in sort of a ‘C’ and said, “Your fluid level is here.” And it was right at the bottom. I knew the dangers of low fluid and I really did want to have my baby that day. So I let him break my water. This was at about 11 in the morning.
Contractions started, but not really with any gusto. I walked the halls for what seemed like forever. I had been about 2 cm when he broke my water and at 3 p.m. I was three centimeters. So, disappointing. He wanted to give me pitocin. I really didn’t want it. I’d had three good experiences giving birth naturally. I was afraid of it. I’d heard it is horrible. I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I was already exhausted. I told him that if I had to have the pitocin, I wanted an epidural. He agreed.
I was really nervous and scared about the epidural. Not about the needle, just about the whole thing. Being so removed from what was going on down there. Having to get a catheter, not feeling my legs, the whole thing freaked me out.
And rightly so. I hated it. I have had an epidural since then, so I can say now that I got too much of the medication. I was too numb. I started to panic. I couldn’t feel anything. I know that’s the idea, but it was too much. I was having a mild anxiety attack about the whole situation. Meanwhile, my body is having drug induced contractions and going through labor, but all I can think about is how weird I feel.
I started to ask the nurse about pushing. “How will I know when it’s time? I can’t feel the urge if I’m numb.” She seemed to think it wouldn’t be a problem, that I would feel “pressure.” Finally I tried my best to just relax and let my body work. I closed my eyes. My husband was watching football. He thought I was sleeping. When really, I was doing my best to not go completely and totally mental. It was hard.
About two and a half hours after I got the epidural and they started the pitocin, my nurse said, “You know what? I’m going to check you and see what’s going on.” She didn’t have to check anything, she could see with her eyes that I was ready to push. I had no idea. I felt no different.
My doctor came in. Finally, after seeing me through four pregnancies, he was actually going to deliver one of my babies. He begins to suit up and get all the instruments ready. He had a student who had been to some of my appointments and who had been in and out that day. It seemed like a lot of people were in the room. I still couldn’t feel a thing, I had no idea how this was going to work, exactly.
When I had to make the decision to get an epidural, I asked the nurse if I could take pictures while I was delivering. After giving birth naturally before, I figured if I wasn’t in pain I should be able to do anything, right? She said she would hand me the camera when it was time.
My doctor was almost ready, dressed in his little blue delivery suit and washing his hands when my mom and Jimmy called him over because the baby’s head was sliding out by itself. He came over, a little surprised, but I’m sure he’s seen it all, and out she came. The nurse handed me the camera, and he held her up real good for me and I snapped a photo of her crying in the typical baby arms spread out pose. It was over. And I hadn’t pushed at all. The student shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen that before!” Me either, man.
Immediately I started asking them to stop the drugs and get the tube out of my back and the catheter out of me. I hated that part. But I didn’t have to have that much pitocin and my baby girl was here. She was my smallest, 7 lbs. 4 oz. and looked different than the others. My wild card. I loved her already. I wanted a turkey sandwich.
When my three kids came to meet their baby sister, it was awesome. They were so excited. The loved her and I loved them for loving her. My baby, Cash, was not quite 19 months. He was having to grow up so fast. He sat in his stroller next to my hospital bed watching cartoons. I held out my hand and he grabbed onto it. It is a moment I will never forget, lying in the hospital holding my baby’s hand after having another baby. It was magical.
Before I even got pregnant, I had a glimmer of hope inside that one day I would have another baby girl. I had already picked out a name- Penelope. I just liked the sound of it. After I got pregnant and learned it was a girl, I picked out Jane to go with it. It was too perfect. It was a “J” name, it meant “God is gracious” and it went really well with my other daughter’s name, Elizabeth June. Penelope Jane. The same number of syllables and all.
Now I just had to convince my husband. He wasn’t crazy about it. He kept saying that, but never made any other suggestions. I told him that in my mind that was her name so he better hurry! One day for fun he googled, “Penelope Jane.” He discovered that Johnny Cash’s daughter, Roseanne Cash, had written a children’s book with the same title. We had talked about how funny it was that all our children’s names were associated with Johnny Cash, but not at all on purpose. Cash, of course, was named after him, but our daughter’s middle name was June, the name of his wife, and our other son was Jackson, the title of a famous duet they sang.
So Jimmy took it as a sign. Penelope Jane would be associated with Johnny Cash too and that would be her name. (We would not call her Penny, though, as I wanted to avoid having a Cash and a Penny!)