On this day eighteen years ago I became an aunt for the first time.
I was twenty-two years old, and when Karen asked me to come to New York to “help” her during the last bit of her pregnancy, I had no problem ditching my job, (The job we shall not speak of) and a particular very soon to be ex-boyfriend. (Buh-Bye Bill B.)
Aaron picked me up from the airport and took me to Chili’s to wait for my sister.
Finally, for the first time in my life, I could legally drink, and I ordered a fishbowl margarita. It was huge. Oh, the joys of finally being able to drink in public.
I remember it as if it happened a moment ago. Karen walking over to the table, she was wearing a black t-shirt, and her whole face was glowing. Like 95% happy to be pregnant and 5% glad to see me. At this time in my life children and pregnancy were the farthest thing in my mind, but seeing the look of permanent absolute joy on my sister’s face was both beautiful and bittersweet.
Before this trip, I had never spent any time with a pregnant person. But I have spent my whole life watching my sister.
This was no different, but even though she had gained baby weight, I noticed that she held a grace that she didn’t have before. A stillness that seemed soul deep. I saw that the anger from losing our dad had diminished and replaced with softness and it was like she heard a voice that no one else could hear. I think she was listening to Christian.
It snowed that St. Patrick’s Day. I had never seen snow falling from the sky, and I remember Nilla, Pepper, and Payton running around the yard with me. I had taken the task up to get my sister to drink more water. I could get her to drink it with citrus, which gave her heartburn. I believe breathing also gave her indigestion.
We ditched Aaron for Lamaze class, and I went instead. Because hello not only am I Karen’s ideal Pictionary Partner I am her memory. I thought we would get kicked out. I don’t remember what made us laugh but my abs hurt once it was over. I tried to pay attention; I was worried that this was all going to come up on some crazy test and that I would not be prepared for it. (Kinda like showing up at the delivery room naked and without your homework.) I remember nothing. Not a single thing.
I was in New York to help Karen, and instead, I was continually trying to sneak loads of baby clothes to wash instead of her. I don’t know if it was so much as a help, but once you’ve smelt Dreft baby wash, you want to just stick your whole face into the washing machine and inhale deeply. Even though at this point she had to waddle to move around she still regularly baby blocked my attempts for a Dreft high.
March 21st, Karen went to the doctor, and they pretty much said, she had to stop her nesting and go directly to the hospital. Pre-Eclampsia decided it was time. She would be having this baby not in April as we both wanted because of March and it’s Marchiness. She came home, and although Christian’s bag had been packed and ready to go since he was about 21 weeks gestation, her suitcase (totally took too much to the hospital) was not. I was filled with terror and trying so hard to be cool because I wanted to keep Karen calm. I prayed a lot. I bargained with God. I told him that I needed Karen to be alive because I couldn’t lose her and dad. I prayed that Christian would be healthy and that he would come home and meet his fur-siblings, but over and over I prayed that the light that shone inside of my sister wouldn’t be dimmed at all.
I watched Karen and Aaron leave for the hospital from Christian’s bedroom window, and I took a deep breath and waited.
I have no memory of the what I did, but the next day Aaron picked me up, and we went to Long Island Jewish Medical Center. I went in expecting my sister would be on some heavy duty drugs. Maybe I thought she’d be holding Christian and ready to get the hell outta dodge. I am not sure what I expected, but like so much in my life, I did not get anything remotely what I anticipated.
It was absolute chaos. Okay maybe that is a strong word, but to this day I believe that Sandy Lovato is an angel sent from maternity heaven. Being induced is not an easy thing. My whole life I have watched my sister and been amazed by her lack of pain gene. I believe I got them all, but she would break a leg and laugh about it.
She was not laughing at all at 2cm dilation. In fact, her level of pain terrified me. Sandy held her hand, and I was amazed by the calmness that this woman just pumped into the room. I wanted Sandy to hold my hand. The nurse came and said only two people could stay. I volunteered as if I was on the Hunger Games. At the very least I wanted Aaron to leave. He didn’t go to Lamaze and the classes he did go, I know he didn’t pay attention.
But I didn’t either, and now this test had a sudden and scary bell curve that I just knew I wasn’t prepared for.
Finally, they gave Karen an epidural, and the pain receded. I began the mental repeat of.. Thank you, god, thank you, Sandy, Thank you, Dr. Wolfson.
Some idiot (Aaron) handed me a video camera and told me to stand at my sister’s legs and film Christian’s birth.
I will never be a filmmaker. Neither horror movies, snuff, or even porn. I think I was freaking out, my hands were shaking and I had a front-row seat for the horror show that was my sister’s vagina looking like Saturn.
That very moment Karen Burroughs Gryder topped the best road rage line of all time “LEARN HOW TO DRIVE TOMORROW!!” with…
“NOTHING IS HAPPENING!!!!”
Oh, so much shit was happening. So. Much. Was. Happening.
I remember trying to think of something motivating. Like.. Keep on pushing. Focus! Breath! Stop accusing Aaron of being a Lamaze flunky…
What I meant to say… You can do it, Karen! Keep Going! Push this baby out!
What I said was.
Internally (holy fuck) I see hair that isn’t yours…
While all of this is happening, I have confused record and pause on the video camera.
Dr. Wolfson: Karen, stop pushing for a moment.
(He picks up silver scissors the kind they use in Horror Movies that are made out of super duper shiny silver.)
My Brain: Where in the hell are those going.
Karen: I CAN’T STOP PUSHING!! I NEED TO KEEP PUSHING.
My Brain: What the absolute fuck.
Dr. Wolfson: *Giggles. He giggled* **He then snipped my sisters taint with his big monster killer scissors.** Okay, Karen, you can push.
My Brain: Oh my sweet baby Jesus. She is bleeding on Christian’s head. MAKE THIS STOP!
Christian Michael Gryder launched himself into the arms of Dr. Wolfson at 9:39 pm. The doctor caught him like a cute little cheesy gunk covered football, and it was almost as if he had bungee-jumped from my sister’s vag in a James Bond escape mission. Dr. Wolfson held him up, he’s still giggling by the way, and Christian decided to weigh on the whole thing and peed all over him.
At this point, the relief that it seemed everyone was okay settled in and I started to cry and laugh at the same time. Christian passed the first big test of his life by scoring high on his Apgar.
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong played. I remember that so clearly and I looked at Karen and said, Oh my god, you’re a mommy.
I have wanted to be a writer my whole life. Karen has wanted to be a Mommy, a Mooter, and a Ma. At that moment it all aligned and for a second I felt the universe relax and hum along with the happiness that I felt. Karen ordered me to keep my eyes on Christian at all times, so I followed him to the nursery. I was happy to get the hell out of the room because the doctor was sewing her up. I had seen more than enough of my sister’s naughty bits to last me a lifetime.
I glared at the nursery nurse who made him cry. I checked out the other babies, but my eyes kept finding that tiny baby who was my nephew. They wrapped him up like a burrito, and I felt like I was at some weird Baby Exhibit. Aaron took me home, and I got used to the idea that I was an Auntie. Finally.
The next day we went first thing to the hospital, and Karen was trembling. She needed drugs to control the high blood pressure that came from her Pre-E, and all she wanted was Christian. Aaron went to handle the that. We were finally moved into a private room, and I helped Karen take a shower. We got her settled, and they brought Christian in.
Once that baby was in her arms I could’ve set off a canon, and she would’ve missed it. All she had eyes for was Christian. I took her wallet, and I went downstairs to Au Bon Pain, I don’t know what I ordered but I know it was costly and it nearly broke my arms to get it upstairs.
I tried to approach the baby, and my sister hissed at me. (She didn’t.. much.) I waved a turkey sandwich on wheat at her, her eyes shifted. She needed food, and I needed to hold that baby. I tossed in one of the organic lemonades I dragged upstairs in a heavy glass bottle, and I stole the baby while Karen ate.
Aaron showed up and wanted to do the first diaper change. Baby’s first poop is like second only to gorilla glue mixed with black tar. Aaron set the bar low and blew it. Karen kinda slapped him out of the way. (no that happened) (Okay maybe not slap, but nudged him with force) She handled that first diaper like a pro, picked up the baby and I didn’t get to hold him until he was two years old.
Okay that’s not true. I got to hold him if I promised I wouldn’t walk around with him, or go down the stairs with him, or loudly breathe while holding him.
I got lost in Queen’s while trying to get to CVS for some baby Gatorade.
I bonded with Payton, who had the best facial expressions.
I got to watch my sister finally get some sleep with Christian on her chest. So began co-sleeping for them and many nights of actually getting sleep.
Christian was so small. He would tuck his legs up and wrap his arms around your neck on instinct. He smelled like heaven, and I never wanted to put him down. I had no idea what I was doing, but oh it didn’t matter. He was perfect and splendid.
He is turning eighteen today and the man who he is today is directly related to that sweet baby. I have watched him grow up, perhaps not as close as I wished, but living 2500 miles away makes that hard.
He is going to join the Marines soon, and this is his last birthday that is ours. The rest of his birthdays will be spent with family, yes, but also with the family, he will make in the Marines, the people he will encounter out in the world. I wanted to write this all down so I could remember that day he was born all over again.
I am so proud of the man he is. For his unwavering desire to serve his country. He has brought the stars to our family of stripes. Even though he is tall and strong and entirely grown up, I will always see him as that tiny baby. I will forever see how my sister would just gaze at him with absolute unconditional love and how she still looks at him that way.
Happy Birthday Christian Michael. Thank you for being you, and for bringing back a piece of your grandpa that lives on in you. He would be so proud of you. My dad was always proud of the friendship that his daughters shared and how close we were. I know he would doubly proud of how you’ve grown into the man you are today.
I love you! I wish I could be there with you, but like always you’re in my heart.