21: The Best Present

21: The Best Present

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Best Present

Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.

~Thomas Goodwin

It was Christmas Day. Our first child was due in three days and I’d been feeling off all morning. Nothing too drastic, just lower back cramps and a general feeling of edginess.

I bustled about, tidying this and straightening that, trying to keep moving and distract myself. I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions for several days and had discovered the best way to deal with them was simply to ignore them. The discomfort persisted though, and after another half hour, I realized that the pain was increasing. My face felt hot, my nerves tingled, and I couldn’t sit still. My husband JP’s brother Scott was stopping by to drop off gifts so I thought I would wait for that before I mentioned to JP that I wanted to go to the hospital. When JP brought everyone into the living room to share their gifts, they stopped dead in their tracks.

“What’s up with you?” Scott joked. “Your face is beet red.”

“Yeah,” I shot back. “I think I’m in labour.”

JP’s jaw dropped and Scott’s face went still. “Seriously?”

“Yup. Just wanted our gifts first,” I joked, before a sharp pain sliced through my back. On the drive to the hospital, I thought about the path that had brought us to this place in time — a place we never thought we’d get to.

Eight years earlier, my husband had an appendectomy following a dirt biking mishap. That led to him being diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. He was twenty-three. The cancer had spread to his lungs and chemotherapy was required to reduce the tumor before he could have surgery. He spent the next several months in and out of the hospital. At the time, testicular cancer was not as curable and his was at an advanced stage. It was a fight for his life. A young oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute, Dr. Peter Venner, was instrumental in his treatment and recovery. One testicle was removed and JP’s chances of fathering a child decreased immensely.

By the time we were thirty, we decided that perhaps we were destined to be childless. We put our name on the University of Calgary Infertility Clinic’s waiting list. We wanted to exhaust our options before giving up completely.

Years after JP survived his fight, he and his dad flew to Las Vegas for a week for the Mint 400 desert road race. I hadn’t been feeling well and assumed it was the flu that had been going through my office. One evening, after watching a particularly poignant romantic comedy on TV, it occurred to me I might be pregnant. The local drugstore was still open and I purchased a pregnancy test and sped home. While I waited for the results, my heart was pounding, and in spite of previous disappointments, I still held my breath in anticipation. When the blue line appeared, I burst into tears and collapsed on the floor. Oh my God, I was really and truly pregnant!

JP was still in Las Vegas so I had no one to share the news with. It was three whole days until he would be home. I was over the moon but didn’t want to tell anyone but him. I am sure that I must have seemed like a crazy woman at work with my smile stretched ear to ear, my continued flu (morning sickness!) and constant babbling.

When JP arrived home, I think he already knew by the look on my face what I was about to tell him. The happiness we shared was like nothing I had ever felt before. At the end of May, when we went to the Cross Cancer Institute for JP’s yearly check, Dr. Venner was as happy as we were.

As luck would have it, the Grace Hospital was full when we walked in that Christmas — we were the eighteenth maternity admittance that Christmas Day. The contractions that had been steadily building all day quickly became full labour. By the time I was wheeled into the delivery room half an hour later, I was hollering such gems as, “I’ve changed my mind,” and, “Do you think we’re ready for this?” into my poor husband’s ear while squeezing the blood out of his hand. I am sure the people at the shopping mall a block away could hear me!

After what felt like days but was in fact less than two hours, I heard the words “You have a daughter” and JP’s massive hug came to me as if in a dream. Tears ran down my face and I knew from JP’s audible gulp that he felt the same way. The nurse placed our daughter on my chest and I kissed her beautiful face, at peace with God and the world as I looked into her eyes for the first time.

“What’s her name?” the nurse asked softly.

“Katie — Katherine Sarah Petra, I mean,” I whispered, in awe at this miracle I held.

Wheeled to my room, with Katie in an isolette at the foot of my bed, I napped between feedings. At one point I realized I was starving as I had skipped lunch as well as supper. One of the nurses located a tuna sandwich for me and JP went in search of Christmas dinner in the form of Saran-wrapped turkey on a plate. He still talks about the Christmas dinner he missed!

In honour of the day, an ornament with “Baby’s First Christmas” written on it was placed in the isolette, along with a large red stocking that Katie could actually fit into.

“Merry Christmas, love,” my husband said to me. “Merry Christmas, husband,” I replied softly, as he handed me our healthy little girl.

Two years later, we were blessed with our son Evan, making our family complete. While he was not born on Christmas Day, he is as much a gift as his sister. We are truly grateful for both of them each and every day of our lives. Christmas is indeed a magical time.

~Lynn D. Gale

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