I remember what I was doing on December 23rd, nine years ago. I was frantic over my son, Charlie, who had left our house and was lost to us for over an hour. Charlie has autism and back then he had a serious elopement problem. It was, needless to say, a most upsetting time for a mother. What made it worse was that I was pregnant at the time and it had been a very difficult pregnancy; so much so that we thought I lost the baby on two occasions. So, I was worried about Charlie and I was worried about what the stress would do to the baby.
Charlie had sneaked out of the house while we weren't looking. It was an unseasonably warm night and he was wearing black sweats and no jacket. He ran in the direction of downtown St. Charles and the reason we knew this was because Joe went to his favorite place, the candy store and some people there said they saw a kid of his description running toward town. I stayed home and called the police. The kids prayed. It was agony not being able to go out there and look for him, but the police needed me home so they could come by and pick up a current picture.
I start getting cramps, which makes me worry about the baby. I have no recourse but to pray, which I do, but I also think about all the scary things that might be happening to my precious son. A half hour goes by. I know that Joe is downtown searching for him because he calls on his cell phone. I tell him to try the Santa house because Charlie was asking to go there. More time passes. I am freaking out. I call the police and ask them why no one has come yet to get the picture. They explain to me that they are pretty sure they found him and they will be bringing him home soon. As I hang up, Joe calls and tells me he found Charlie. "The police did, too." I tell him. "I know," he says, "we both walked in at the same time." Apparently, Charlie made his way into a restaurant and told them he was hungry, so they fed him popcorn and candy canes until they could figure out who he belonged to. I am so relieved, but a wave of pain floods my body. "It's the stress," I think. I pray in thanksgiving for the safe return of my son, and also for the life of my baby, who has had so many challenges already.
The next day is Christmas Eve. We go to my parent's house where my brother and his family and our friend, Fr. Beekman are spending the day. I have some mild contraction-like pains in the afternoon, but I chalk it up to false labor. I am due in 5 weeks, after all. I inform Joe, who defers to my judgment. Throughout the day, the contractions become a little more frequent, but they are not intense. I promise myself I will go to the hospital after the kids are in bed, just to get checked out. So, I go on with the day. I help my mother prepare dinner. I cut up cheese for the antipasto, I fry the calamari; everything is going smoothly. After dinner, Fr. Beekman comes up to me and whispers in my ear, "You're going to have that baby tonight." he says, conspiringly. "What?" I feign ignorance. "I know you're having contractions," he chuckles, "have you timed them?" Honestly, the thought never occurred to me, I was so sure I was in false labor. So, I time them. Oh, my! Twenty minutes apart!
I tell Joe. Then I tell my mother, who is incredulous. "You've been in labor all day and didn't tell me?" Well, I didn't want to throw a monkey wrench into the day if I wasn't sure...anyway, it's false labor.
We tell the kids I am going to the doctor for a little while and will probably be back soon. They are fine with that because they are happily playing with their cousins.
We get to the hospital about 9:30 p.m. One of the first things they do is ask me what I ate. "Hmm...let's see," I think aloud, "a lobster tail, some calamari, shrimp scampi, salad..." "That sounds delicious! What restaurant did you go to?" asks the nurse. "My mother's house!" I exclaim.
The nurses check me out and determine that I am, indeed in full blown labor. By now the contractions are about 15 minutes apart. I feel like an idiot, not realizing that this was labor at my fourth child. My doctor is not working on Christmas Eve, so they contact the on-call OB. She is not familiar with my pregnancy and since I am 5 weeks early, she tells them to give me a drug to stop the labor. My mother's intuition switches on. I refuse the drug. "This child has been trying to get out ever since she went in," I tell them, "If she wants to be born, let her be born." Just to cover themselves, they make me talk to a neonatal nurse who tells me all the bad things that could happen if I let me baby be born before her due date. I listen and then, once again, assert that I want the labor to progress.
Joe leaves to tell my parents that they will be getting one more Christmas present than they thought, and to get the kids pajamas so they can stay at my parents' house for the night. After he leaves I have a fleeting sense of guilt that I am in the hospital and not with my kids. I also planned to have Christmas day at my house, so my mother will have to go and take all the food out of my refrigerator and cook it for everyone. "So much more work for her," I think, wistfully.
My labor continues and I pray the rosary as I breathe and work through the mild pain. The contractions are not all that intense and so I lay quietly in the dim room praying, offering up my prayers for the baby, my family and those who have no one to pray for them. After Joe returns, the doctor shows up. It is now close to 1 a.m. She checks on me and lets me know she is not too happy about the fact that I want to have the baby. I am at 7 cm so she lets me go for awhile. Finally she decides to break my water and the contractions come hard and fast. The doctor corrects my breathing technique. Apparently I am not doing it to her satisfaction. I want to smack her, but I bite my tongue because I know it would just cause problems for everyone if I reacted in anger. Finally, I get the urge to push. The doc, for some reason, is not ready for me to push. Huh??? Telling a woman in labor not to push is like telling a sick person not to vomit. You can't stop it! It controls you! It has a mind of it's own! "Mmmm...pushing!" I manage to blurt. "No, you are not in a good position for that," she says, "I want you to scoot up more and bend your legs more before you push, so breathe through this one." I glare at her and push anyway. I can feel the baby move down. She yells at me to move into position. I feel another huge contraction coming, so, although it's excruciating even to move, I quickly do what she wants just before the bad pain hits. I am so angry at this woman that I channel the anger into the push and the baby pops right out. I hear everyone yell in surprise, and then I hear the doctor making all kinds of surprised exclamations that include taking the Lord's name in vain, so I won't repeat them here. I get nervous. "Is she OK?" I ask. No answer. "IS SHE OK??" I yell. "Yes, the baby is fine," says the doc, and I hear a lusty cry. Relieved, I lay back and tears begin streaming from my eyes. All the stress, anger and worry is being released in each tear and I feel at peace. They let me hold my beautiful Angelina Rose. So tiny, she is! But she has the face of an angel. Then I hear the doc say, "This is a miracle...a miracle." When I ask what she means she tells me, "This placenta is completely compromised. I have never seen one in such bad shape. I don't know how this child survived even till now, but I would bet if she weren't born right this very minute she would have been a stillborn." I look at the clock. 2:51 a.m. Merry Christmas.
Then I look down at my little beauty and tell her all about how she has an older brother who has autism and ran away and put Mommy in labor so that she could live. God knew that Angelina would need to be born just at this time, on His birthday. So He used Charlie's disability in such a way that it saved His sister's life. Angelina was born on the first day of Christmas and Charlie's birthday is January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas. My two Christmas babies, connected in a spiritual way that could only have been orchestrated by the Author of Life Himself.
There is God's Christmas story that He wrote for all mankind, but for some reason He allowed us our own very special Christmas story. And, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, I will keep all these things in my heart.