On this day 18 years ago I woke up with a pain that I had never felt before. The sky was sort of light already. I looked at the alarm clock by the bed and it was 4:45. I wasn’t used to getting up so early, so the time in comparison with the light sky seemed a little strange.
I got up to use the bathroom and I noticed something else that was weird. Sign number 2 that something was happening. My pulse started to quicken as I crawled back into bed. Should I wake up my husband? It was a Sunday, a rare day to sleep in. What if I’m wrong? I tossed and turned but couldn’t fall back to sleep.
Before John woke up I had a few more pains, but still I wasn’t sure. The next day was my due date. Could I be in labor? I already had a two-year old, but he was a planned c-section, so I never experienced any dramatic water breaking, mucus plugs, or labor pains. I had no idea what to expect. John was convinced it was labor. I wasn’t so sure. The pain wasn’t bad at all. Just different.
That afternoon we had plans with Ned and Crystal who were friends of ours that lived around the corner of the Coast Guard base we lived on. They had a one-year old son named Frankie. He was just a year younger than our son Tommy. We went on a picnic somewhere in Sandwich, MA. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. John wanted to tell them that I might be in labor, but I didn’t want to risk being wrong. They were going to be watching Tommy when it was time, so John dropped the ‘news’ in the middle of the picnic. They were enthusiastic and supportive. I had pains all day, but it was so mild I was skeptical that I could actually be in labor.
After the picnic we went back to Ned and Crystal’s house for dinner and stayed until just after dark. We walked back home and put Tommy to bed. I was in the shower when the pain started getting slightly worse. It also seemed to be coming more frequently and timed perfectly apart. I got out of the shower, went downstairs and asked John to start the timer. It was around 10pm and it was dark out. 5 minutes apart. John phoned the on-call service for my ob-gyn and they advised we go to the hospital. We called Ned and Crystal who were still awake and excitedly awaiting Thomas’ arrival.
Falmouth Hospital on a dark, warm, humid evening. I can practically smell it. I went into some check-in area and was already 4cm dilated. Wow! This was happening. We got into a room and settled in. Somehow it was too late for me to get an epidural. I wasn’t upset by this information and decided to use the Lamaze breathing techniques I learned instead. I started with the first of the four breaths. Hours passed. The nurses and John kept offering all kinds of things to do, but I felt so comfortable and focused on the breathing that I was pretty darned content. Every so often I would ask what time it was. Midnight passed and it was June 7, 1999. My due date. John and I speculated about the sex of the baby. For some reason the physicians were unable to read the sex on my sonograms. Two weeks before that we paid $40 to a little ultrasound place in Dartmouth that specialized in determining the baby’s gender. They told us it was a girl. I was pretty excited because I did want a boy and a girl. But my spirits dampened when we told people and we heard story after story about how these places were wrong. John was pretty convinced it was a girl. I was remaining my usual skeptical self.
All of a sudden the nurses said it was time to start pushing. The pain did worsen, but never past the point where I felt I needed to start that next level of breathing. How could it be time? Not that there is ever turning back once you are pregnant, but at the time of pushing you really feel like there is no turning back now. No breaks – nothing… you just have to do this whether you want to or not. I don’t remember too much of this experience, but I do remember noticing it was starting to get light out again and realizing I had been up for 24 hours. I had the medical team and my husband all around me. I never felt alone and I never felt like it was more than I can handle. I kept thinking it will get worse, but surprisingly I was told that one last push was needed and tada – a baby girl was born!
5:00am exactly on Monday, June 7, 1999. Gabrielle Catherine Messeder. We decided on the name months before. We picked two names – one for a boy and one for a girl. We chose Gabrielle because we both liked it and didn’t know anyone by that name. Catherine was after my mom.
The next few hours and days were a reasonable blur. I remember distinctly feeling so good right after giving birth that I wanted to get up and walk around. The nurses warned me not to. It was so different than when I had Tommy and was under anesthesia and in a ton of pain. I was alert and able to hold the baby. Tommy came to visit and meet his new sister. He was excited. I used the hospital phone and my little phonebook I brought with me to call my family and friends. Visitors poured in. A day later I packed up and went home with this new bundle of joy.
We started calling her Gabby almost right away. Tommy adjusted pretty quickly. I was used to diapers and baby things so child number two was an unexpected breeze. I remember when she was 3 or 4 days old I was changing her clothes upstairs in her room and I put a headband on her head. I was so excited to have girl clothes and pink things to doll her up in. The headband looked kind of silly. While I contemplated whether or not to leave it on, I heard the hustle and bustle of my crazy family coming in the door downstairs. It was my mom, grandmother, aunt Fran and Uncle Joey; who was visiting from Italy. I don’t remember if I kept the headband on or not, but I do remember bundling her up and gently carrying her downstairs. When I came around the corner and started walking down the stairs, it was almost as time stopped. I saw my family standing there with their bags and purses looking up at me. For some reason I said, “Here she is everyone – Miss America.” I teared up when I said that, and I had a vision of a day in the far, far future when she would be all grown up and walking down the stairs in a prom dress. My standstill moment was interrupted when the family broke out into Ooohs and Aaahs and everyone wanted to look at and hold her. Time went back to it’s normal pace and I welcomed my daughter to her small, loud, extended, Italian family.
Those first few weeks were a complete blur. I was prepared for the worst, but everything was mild and well functioning to say the least. I got more sleep than I thought I would. Tommy adjusted better than I imagined. Things were no where near as hectic during the day while I was home alone as I was told they would be. Almost immediately I put Gabby on my lap while I read books to Tommy at night before bed. He didn’t mind. I would put her baby tub in the bathtub with Tommy at bath time so they bathed together and they both adjusted just fine. I think the routine we kept got her sleeping regularly pretty quickly. Before I knew it the familiar signs of the beginnings of rolling over started to take place. Then it happened! Solid foods were introduced in what seemed like a flash. Suddenly she was sitting up on her own. Then leaning forward to slither like a navy seal to chase after Tommy. In what seems like a moment in memory she started to crawl, walk, talk, run, and play. We celebrated her first and second birthday on Cape Cod with our neighbors and their children. When Gabby was 2 ½, John got out of the Coast Guard, and we packed our bags to head for Connecticut.
Gabby’s 3rd birthday was in our newly owned condo. We had only just been there a few months. I remember it so distinctly. It was the first of many parties we had there, so it was the first time we moved the table a certain way and bought and prepared food in what would become the pattern for hosting similar events. That same year Tommy started kindergarten and I went back to work full time. It was the first time that Gabby would be watched by anyone other than me or her father. She and her brother had to go to daycare. A few weeks into kindergarten Tommy was invited to one of his new friend’s houses for a party. The boy’s name was Justin. When John called to RSVP, Justin’s mom said it was ok to bring the whole family over. New friends were born for all of us. Justin was just about 6 months younger than Tommy. And his little sister Sierra was 2. She was 6 months younger than Gabby. Within just a few months, their mom Sherrie started watching our kids and they no longer went to daycare. The kids all became good friends.
Everyone knows how time flies. Birthdays came and went. Our friends moved away. We had a plethora of different day care scenarios intermingled with John on shifts and staying home with the kids as often as possible.
I remember the day Gabby started kindergarten. It was just she and I at home that day. She was enrolled in the PM session. We waited inside all dressed up for the bus that afternoon. She was SO nervous. One of our cats “Snickers” was sitting on the desk by the front door. She was kissing him and talking to him, telling him it was ok – that he will be fine without her. My heart melted. Finally the kids started lining up outside at the bus stop at the corner. We walked out there and I met some of the moms. Gabby wouldn’t let go of my hand. She was shaking. When the bus came and everyone lined up, she just let go and bravely stood there on line with everyone else, shyly looking at me. Then the girl in front of her started he started talking to her, and continued to do so while she climbed on. I knew she would be ok. I stood on the curb as the bus pulled away. She found a seat in the back and waved to me out the window with a big smile on her face. My little girl was growing up and away from me.
Whenever I was home (rarely), I made it a habit to watch the kids get on the bus from the storm door of our condo. They would sit at a window on the bus and wave as it went by. Now that seems so symbolic.
I miss those days. Gabby never had a problem making friends or her teachers proud. She fit in wherever she went. She got great grades. She ate well. We lived in a neighborhood with a ton of kids. She and Tommy got to experience that life that most of the older generation experienced as kids, which nearly no children have now. They played outside daily with the neighbors. The condo was up against a pond and the woods, so it was a kid’s paradise. They and their friends learned to ride bikes one at a time. They ate snacks from each other’s houses, had sleepovers, played manhunt, played videogames inside one of our homes when it was raining or too cold. They dressed up, played with sticks and swords, caught frogs, told stories, and spent hours in the woods with the trees, insects, and plants. They couldn’t wait to go back outside after dinner and had to be called in at dark. In those days John worked evenings often. I would call them in, have them shower and read them a story. Like I said, I miss those days.
When Gabby was almost 9 years old we moved to Cheshire. The kids were naturally nervous and didn’t want to move. I remember when we bought the house. Before we moved in we went in to meet a contractor one evening who would be finishing off the basement, and spent a little time in the house measuring that day. I distinctly recall standing in the living room measuring, and looking at the stairs. I flashed back to that day when Gabby came home from the hospital in Cape Cod and I walked down the stairs with her, imagining one day she would be all dressed up for prom. Again, tears filled my eye. I tried to picture her walking down those stairs. It made me sad, but some how I had a foreboding that she wouldn’t be coming down those particular stairs.
We moved at the end of 3rd and 5th grade so we kept the kids in Naugatuck at their old school for the last few weeks. Before school started in Cheshire, there was a little welcome day for new students. Tommy was completely confident (at least he acted as if he was), but Gabby was really nervous. The day we went to Chapman Elementary School to meet her new teacher she was a wreck. I remember walking up the stairs with her. Like that first day of school she was holding my hand and shaking. When we got to the classroom she held on until the teacher said hi. At that point she let go and walked in front of me into the classroom. Again I knew she would be alright.
Less than two years after moving to the new house, I understood why I had that foreboding about the stairs and prom. John and I were parting ways. I had a few living arrangements before moving into the house I now live in with Daren. Nothing seemed right or fit that prom image I had for Gabby until we got here. I never told anyone this weird feeling I had with the prom and stairs, but when I saw the stairs in my house now; I knew these would be the ones. It made me sad though because her dad and I weren’t together. How would that work? How would he see her? How sad that both of her parents wouldn’t be looking at her fondly.
Braces, glasses, puberty. It was a whirlwind. Suddenly Gabby turned 13, then 14, 15, 16. I took her up to the DMV right after her 16th birthday. Again she was incredibly nervous. Her friend Grace was there too. I was a prop along with Grace’s mom as they stood on line nervously laughing and giggling together. She was going to be fine. She didn’t need me. She walked out with her permit and excitedly asked if we could practice right then! We drove up to Home Depot and switched places for the first time. I took a picture to capture what I knew would be a fleeting moment. This was the second child that I was to teach how to drive. Naturally it was much easier knowing what to do. Everything with her was easier since she was #2. We went through the same practice cycles I did with Tommy up until the last day before the test. And before I could blink she was driving at 16 and 4 months old.
All of a sudden it was time for college visits and SATs. That next summer she got a job and had her own money. Senior year appeared. Senior Day for Cross Country. The last banquet. The last fencing tournament. Everything started swirling so fast. College was chosen. Then sadly 3 ½ weeks ago was the day I was able to see my daughter walk down the stairs for her senior prom. Her dad and I are on really good terms and he came to the house to see her and take pictures. I never knew how it would work, but I knew it would. That day I practically dreaded since I brought her home from the hospital has already come and gone. She looked absolutely beautiful and was glowing from the inside out. Now tomorrow she officially becomes an adult.
As with my labor I was always waiting for it to get harder with her, more than I can handle. But it never did. When Gabby was around 7 years I had that country music song “Suds in the Bucket” playing in the condo one night. Gabby was dancing around when she listened to the words and said mommy that will never be me. I don’t want to grow up and move away from you. I told her she would and she didn’t believe me. “That little pony tailed girl growed up to be a women, and she’s gone in the blink of an eye, she left the suds in the bucket and the clothes hanging out on the line”. I was always waiting for those famous mom/teenage daughter “I hate you” fights to happen, but they never did. Every year that passed I thought – it’s one year closer to that possibly never happening, but knowing darned well it could. As with my labor, it never did get harder – but I couldn’t stop the process of her growing up either. It was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.
On this day 18 years ago I was in labor with a little baby girl. I still remember exactly how it felt when she hiccupped in my belly. I can vividly recall watching my belly move on it’s own as Gabby moved around slowly in the little space my body created for her. I remember the smell of her skin after a bath and she was all swaddled and on my lap for a book with her brother. I remember wiping messy food from her pudgy fingers after a meal. That first day of kindergarten when she was telling Snickers he was going to be fine without her there. I remember the day she met Sierra back in 2002. They are still the bestest of friends. Lastly I can of course remember her very recent senior prom; coming down the stairs all dressed up to be taken out by her date. Tomorrow that little baby becomes an official adult. No longer protected by driving curfews or minor labor laws. She is released out into the adult pool with the rest of us.
She just came home from work and sat eating in the dining room, watching something on her phone as she often has done for the past year. Soon she will be in college and I’ll just have the ghost of this memory too. My heart is broken, but in the best way. I’m proud of so her.
Tonight 18 years later I’m going to sleep with a pain I’d never felt before. The last of my two babies is an adult. It’s nothing more than utterly and completely bittersweet.