Sometimes I think it’s the ultimate joke that I, the consummate and compulsive planner, ended up having a Christmas baby.
When I was a kid, on the rare occasions that I would have a friend over, I would make an elaborate accounting of how we would spend our time: “6:45—Kate arrives. 6:45-7:00—Make popcorn. 7:00-7:30—Watch 'Full House.' 7:30-8:00—French-braid each other’s hair …” and so on. I had detailed plans on the macro level, too: I would edit the high school paper, go to journalism school and get an editing job. I ticked these goals off with relative ease.
So when I decided it was time to have a baby, I just assumed it would be another thing I could carefully plan. “Let’s start trying right after Christmas,” I told my now-ex-husband. “That way, I can be due in mid-September, just after I turn 26. I don’t want to have a baby when I’m still 25, so as long as the baby is due after I turn 26, I think we can start trying.”
I got a positive pregnancy test on Jan. 7. When I went to the doctor to confirm it, she pulled out that bizarre little cardboard wheel thing that looks like it would be more at home in a kindergarten classroom than an OB’s office and told me I was due Sept. 17. My 26th birthday was Sept. 16. I was so damn pleased with myself I could’ve burst.
When I went back a month later for an ultrasound to see the heartbeat, the doctor measured everything and said, “Yep, Sept. 17.”
“As long as the baby doesn’t come early,” I said. “I have always planned to be 26 when I had my first baby. If the baby comes early, that will spoil everything.”
Now I kind of want to go back in time and slap my smug little face, but at the time, I actually meant this.
“Don’t worry,” my doctor said. “First babies almost never come early. I think you’re OK.”
Well, I wasn’t OK, of course. I lost the baby at 14 weeks; my perfect little fairy tale and my knack for planning everything, my ability to control even something as miraculous and inexplicable as the creation of human life, came crashing down upon my head.
When I finally came up for air, it was to find I was pregnant again and due on Christmas. I hadn’t wanted that. Of all the things I wanted, I had not wanted that. “First of all,” I complained bitterly to my mom, “I am only going to miscarry again, and then my birthday and Christmas will be ruined, not happy occasions but sad reminders! Second of all, if I don’t miscarry, this baby will hate me forever for giving her such a shitty birthdate!”
As the pregnancy progressed on through summer and into fall, as it became increasingly likely that I was going to get to have this baby, I found new comfort in planning: researching all the ways to make a Christmas birthday fun and special. And soon, I was actually excited about it.
When the Christmas ads started immediately after Halloween, for the first time ever, I wasn’t furious about it; I was excited because it meant my daughter was about to be born. There were Christmas lights up all over town as I drove home from my baby shower, and I was suddenly filled with the most incredible awe and joy – aware, as I had never been before, of what a truly magical time it was.
Finally, the day of my scheduled C-section arrived, a cold, windy, snowy Thursday. When I drove through the snow to the hospital on the early, early morning of Dec. 21, there was a huge Christmas tree glowing in the center of the hospital’s circle drive, and it was impossible for me to not feel completely knocked over by a wave of gratitude, as utterly flattened by it as I had been by grief just nine months earlier.
The adorable trappings of Christmas were everywhere: Poor Ruby was wearing a Santa hat and screaming her tiny face off just minutes after she was born at 7:47 a.m. A family friend brought in a tiny Christmas tree that she set up by my hospital bed, and it served as my nightlight for many feedings in the wee hours. The Christmas tree in the corner of the maternity ward was my resting point when I was forced to walk laps around the floor because the nurses swore I would heal faster if I walked a lot. (They were almost certainly right, but it still hurt like hell, and I was always happy to see the tree looming closer, meaning I could rest for a bit.) And of course, as Ruby loves to tell people, she came home from the hospital in a stocking. In an uncharacteristic burst of tweeness that I’m blaming on postpartum hormones, I even headed Ruby’s birth announcements “Our Christmas Miracle!”
And now she is 6 (almost). Her birthday party is this Sunday, and it’s so easy to forget, in the mad dash of assembling favor bags and obsessively checking the weather (it’s an outside party), the lesson that she was supposed to teach me: that you really can’t plan everything, that some things really are out of our hands – but just because something doesn’t go according to plan, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still absolutely perfect.