Sunday, December 2, 2018


Oh, waiting is cruel. Whether it be for good or ill, for grades, test results, or a child’s Christmas morning extravaganza, waiting is agonizing.  And waiting for the birth of a baby?  Every month, phase, appointment, and scan holds it’s own particular excitement or worry.

Three years ago, Dave and I snow-shoed a slushy trail beyond the lake at Mohonk Mountain House while yearning for word from Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital where Tucker’s wife, Lisa, was in labor.  Later that afternoon, we skated in circles to tinny Yuletide tunes at the Mohonk rink while yearning for word.  The next day, we stood, yearning for word, holding our plates in the dining hall breakfast buffet as a portly chef flipped our omelets. Kind people we’d met on the trail, at the rink, and at dinner the night before asked, “Any word on the baby?” 

I’d never had to worry my way through a delivery, and as the disquieting number of our “nothing yet” responses mounted, anticipation had turned to concern.  Lisa’s labor was long and perilous… but gratefully, ended with the hoped-for results.  Lisa would recover and heal, and baby Paul has grown into a captivating little boy. He is smart, curious, and funny, but I admired Lisa’s courage in facing another delivery when we learned she was pregnant again.

Mom was still lucid when Tucker whispered that news to her in late February, a secret kept from the rest of us for months longer.  At Mom’s memorial service in March, Casey privately told her brother about her own pregnancy, again, a secret from the rest of us for a while, just to be sure. Casey says she made Mom promise, during those final days in Muirfield, to be a guardian for whatever little ones she might spawn, and Mom said, “I’ll watch over all of you…” So, in addition to the image I hold in my heart of a Heavenly Couch reunion, hoping that my belief and reality intersect there, I am counting on Mom to fulfill her promise.

Due to her previous birth experience, Lisa scheduled a C-section in October, and Lexi was born without the hand-wringing anguish of Round One.  Three years ago, it was weeks before Lisa felt strong and well. “I feel I missed out on Paul’s infancy,” she says.  When Dave and I went to visit two weeks after Lexi’s birth, Lisa insisted on making dinner. To our offers of help and our wish that she relax, she said, “I enjoy this.” She is thrilled and surprised to feel like herself, and have her beautiful baby girl.

Casey planned on a natural birth.  She was in good shape, took hypno-birthing classes, did a lot of reading, and hoped that genetics would play a role: both of my deliveries were smooth.  Sure, my contractions had been painfulbut I could imagine worse… and those early weeks when a new infant was in my arms? I picture them now as fatiguing, but surrounded by a blissful, golden halo.  “Mom, I think you’ve forgotten a lot,” Tucker tells me often.  “This is really hard.” 

Possibly. In general, I’ve forgotten a lot.

As a Pilates instructor, Casey is in tune with her body, and as her mother, am in tune with her. As her pregnancy progressed, her ribs felt bruised and painful.  I don’t remember feeling anything like that when I was pregnant.  Should I worry?  When her baby kicked, it hurt.  I don’t remember anything like that.  Should I worry?  During the last month, Casey’s fingers went numb.  Whoa.  Weird. I definitely don’t remember anything like that.  Should I worry? 

Truth is, I’ve worried a lot. When I was young and my stomach was ballooning, I felt only joy at the baby rolls and kicks within me. Armed with Lamaze training and copious reading, I was raring to go and ready for the birth battle. I wasn’t worried at all.  But it’s been a different thing entirely having our two precious girls facing that miraculous, but arduous, journey to produce life.

My daughter’s due date came and went. With her stomach huge and ungainly, sitting, lying down, and walking were difficult, leaving few positional options.  Throughout her pregnancy, in hearing of others’ scheduled inductions, she’d been resolute in stating, “No one’s taking this biscuit until it’s fully baked!”  But as nights passed, sleepless and uncomfortable, she conceded that a scheduled birth had some appeal.  

For several days, she experienced abdominal tightenings and cramps… were they contractions?  At 1:00 AM, in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day, she was pretty sure they were.  As they became regular and increased in intensity, she was certain. 

Then, after six hours, they stalled.  Argh.

Our nephew, Trevor, and his wife, Lisa, had offered to host Thanksgiving this year since Dave and I had no idea what that day would hold.  When Casey’s husband, PJ, texted us with news of Casey’s progress, and then, the lack thereof, we wondered what we should do: make merry with the Connecticut Sylvestro clan while our daughter faced the biggest physical challenge of her life, or stay home to worry and stew?  
It was tempting to text PJ every ten minutes.  What restraint we showed in sticking to an every-two-hours communication!  Without distraction, we doubted we could hold to that, so we picked up Dave’s mother and headed to Trevor and Lisa’s. 

It was a lovely afternoon of delicious traditional foods… and full family focus on getting that baby out. Dave decided to make a video to cheer Casey on, and Steve, his brother, composed lyrics to the tune of Happy Birthday.  We sang with loving gusto, "Have your baby right now.  Have your baby right now. Don't wait til tomorrow... Have your baby right now!"

Throughout dinner, we texted PJ periodically… hesitantly, guiltily… knowing he was busy supporting our girl.  By late afternoon, Colleen, the doula or birth coach, had arrived and was helping Casey (and PJ) stay calm.  Where was a doula to keep me calm?  I definitely could’ve used one.  Finally, at 9:30, PJ texted that they were on their way to the hospital.  Thank God!  That gave us license to go too, and at least we could be near our girl in her efforts.  The baby would be here soon!

Not so fast…

PJ’s mother, Janine, who loves our kids as much as we do, was just the right company as the three of us settled in for what would be a very long night. Initially, we shared our wait with an expectant father and his two remarkably well-behaved sons, a toddler and a child of about five. A big-screen TV ran a series of Christmas movies and religious shows, but the sound was on mute and we couldn’t drum up enough interest to figure out how to turn up the volume or change the channel. 

Every few hours, I allowed myself a walk down the hall to Labor and Delivery to check on my daughter. She was amazing in her bravery and concentration on the work to be done.  Dressed in a white johnny bedecked with blue diamonds, and connected to an assortment of wires and monitors, she breathed slowly through contractions.  PJ sat by her side holding her hand, and the doula stood at her head, stroking her hair. 

It was hard to feel so out of place as I remained by the door, my unhelpful hands clasped humbly before me, as Colleen, a woman I’d barely met, stroked my daughter’s hair while murmuring encouragement and tips. wanted to stroke Casey’s hair and murmur encouragement… but I didn’t know the tips, or the exercises, or what those lines on the monitors meant, and the doula did.  

What I did know was that the smiley face on the white board was still on the circle that indicated 4 centimeters dilation. Despite 30 hours of labor, that smiley face had not moved. How I longed for an eraser to rid the board of that simpering sign of stalled progress. How could Casey bear to look at it?

After each visit, I trudged back to our post with my discouraging report.  Dave and Janine would look up hopefully at my entrance, and then shake their heads at my words. Dave would return to his crossword puzzle, Janine to scrolling on her phone.  Wisely, I’d brought Robert McCammon’s “Boy’s Life,” a riveting story of a boy’s encounter with mystery, bigotry, and the supernatural. I hoped an escape with twelve year-old Cory might help pass the hours of waiting. 

The young father and his sons received word of a birth around 3:00 AM and left us.  They were soon replaced by two grandmothers, a daughter and grand-daughter who settled in to wait for their loved one to produce. As the hours passed, their numbers grew as more siblings and cousins came to check on progress.  In the muted light of early morning, we all wished each other luck, shared cheese and crackers, and were comforted in waiting together.  

Poor Casey!  Several times, PJ emerged to tell us she was fine, but still no change in that 4 cm dilation. 

The sun rose, and our friend Joanie arrived with pumpkin bread, chocolate covered espresso beans, pomegranate beverages, and cozy socks and fleeces.  Sustenance and warmth!  Cheese and crackers go only so far.  Missy and Paul Sr., PJ’s dad and his girlfriend, joined us, along with a few more cousins of the other family-in-waiting.  They were feeling the strain of the passing hours and were aghast to hear how long Casey had been in labor. 

When I snuck down for another glimpse of my girl, that infernal smiley face still grinned from the 4 cm circle.  The doctor, the doula, and Casey had agreed it was time to nudge things forward with an epidural and Pitocin drip.  Casey was exhausted and resigned, “I’m okay with it, Mom.  Don’t worry.” 

was worried, but not about the epidural. I just wanted the baby out, and my girl to be okay.  And finally, the 4 cm smiley face was erased, and a large pink heart filled the 8 cm circle. Thank God.  

The family of grandmothers and cousins had received their happy news and took turns visiting their loved one and her baby.  Joanie gave us hugs, sent Casey her best wishes, and headed home. Another expectant dad with his siblings and, again, two remarkably well-behaved small boys, claimed the remaining seats in the room. What wizardry had been used in raising the children that waited with us? And when was our new child going to make her appearance?  

Around 5:30 PM, I returned to Labor and Delivery in time to see a bustle of activity around my daughter. A blue cap placed on her head. A doctor explaining medications and risks.  A nurse untangling another IV line and preparing to insert it. PJ standing stock still with his back to me, holding Casey’s hand, unable to look away from his wife. Casey, weepy, her lip trembling, saying to me, “They’re going to do a C-section. Colleen will fill you in. I’m okay; I just can’t talk about it right now.”  And she turned away to inhale, exhale, inhale, and exhale. 

Colleen was packing up her things in the corner.  “The baby’s not responding,” she said.  “But it’s going to be fine.  I’ll be down to explain everything to you in a minute.”

“The baby’s not responding?” Omigod. 

Dave had left the hospital to feed and walk Casey and PJ’s dog, so it was Janine who saw my stricken expression and rushed to hug me.  “They’re doing a C-section.  The baby’s not responding, but they assured me it would be okay,” I stammered.  Paul Sr. and Missy didn’t speak. Janine and I held each other and sobbed.  It would be okay.  Casey would be okay.  Her little girl would be okay.  Of course they would. Thank God for C-sections.  But, I knew Casey was scared and distressed. And what about the “not responding” part?  

“Mom, you promised…” I prayed to my mother and father, to God and my grandparents… to anyone who might be listening and could intercede.  Who knows how the Other Side operates?  

Colleen entered the room, pulled up her rolling bag, and parked on the seat next to me. “The baby’s heart rate and blood pressure are fine, but she’s not moving or reacting to stimulation.”

 “Then how do you know she’s all right?” I asked, my eyes searching Colleen’s for truth. 

“They’d be running around like crazy if it were an emergency and they’re not.  It was measured and methodical in there.  It’s going to be fine.  Casey’s 9 cm dilated, and the doctor said she might be able to get the job done naturally, but mom and baby have had enough.  They’re both exhausted.” 

Dave returned with wine and lemon shrimp risotto, and I filled him in on the C-section. He took a deep breath and said he was relieved. "Actually, I've been hoping they'd make that decision. It's been too long."   

Elias, an expectant father whose wife was 7 cm dilated, took a break from the labor room and joined us for a glass of wine.  The other families had left hours ago.   How long do Caesareans usually take?

Finally… finally!  PJ strode into our midst.  “She’s here!  Casey’s in repair, but doing fine.  You can see her soon.  The baby’s beautiful.”  He held out his phone and swiped through pictures of an adorable chubby baby with PJ’s cheeks and Casey’s mouth… and a full head of dark hair.  

Welcome Eleanor Jean West!

To see the video composed Thanksgiving Day to cheer Casey on, click below and follow the link:

Sylvestro Thanksgiving Song for Casey


Ben Powers said...


You have such an amazing way of capturing these experiences, including the harrowing moments, in such a beautiful way.

Unknown said...

Oh Lea,
Wondrous, frightening, beautiful and joyous..
You found the truth of it all !

Unknown said...

Unknown = Mary Y said.

gail m said...

Nerve-wracking as it was...thanks for sharing the good news! Mazel tov!!!

Unknown said...

I LOVE this! I feel like I was there with you!

Unknown said...

You have captured memories forever that you soon forget once all is settled. Great writing!

Katherine Schoettle said...

I think that it is far more difficult to be the expectant grandmother than to be the expectant mother. I was a nervous mess each time our daughter was in the hospital. You have time to think of all the scary things. So glad that all are well and healthy. Enjoy the upcoming holidays.

Lea said...

So true!!! Plus, we're older and know more..too much maybe! I'm so grateful the babies are here and their moms are fine! Whew! XO

Janine West said...

Oh Lea! I will treasure this, and you and Dave, always! You've captured every single detail and emotion, some I've forgotten, perfectly. I've said it before, there are no two people I would choose to go through those 24+ hours with then you and Dave. It's a bonding experience we'll never forget and some day we will share with our beautiful, perfect, Eleanor Jean. I'm so grateful for the time we've all shared oooing and ahhing over our precious girl this past week and there are so many more to come. As for our children, I've never been more proud - ever. They were just such an amazing team and I could not love either more and now they are a perfect little family, all four of them. Our amazing little Lullah too!! With lots of love and gratitude!! xoxo

Your Weekapaug friend David said...

Gosh, I am so glad it all worked out for your girl and her baby girl. I was biting my nails with worry for them . Thank God it all play out well in the end. Love you and dave so much and even hough i've never met your kids I feel like I know them through you.