She’s 22, Holy Smokes!

Holy Smokes! The Assassin is now my lucky number-years old! Her day of birth was all about timing – so much unexpected timing. She was due on Halloween.  However, on the afternoon of the 17th, I got a phone call from my mom in Taiwan, telling me that her cancer had metastasized. My knee-jerk reaction was to tell her that she should come live with us (we lived in Monterey) so I could take her to Stanford for her treatments. Around midnight, Markus returned home from his job at Pacific’s Edge in Highlands Inn, having just enjoyed a big juicy burger with fresh onions. He crawled into bed and gave me a big, oniony kiss goodnight, and my waters broke. It could have been the earlier bad news, it could have been his breath, or maybe it was Hanna knowing she had to pop out because Nai-Nai would be there in a couple of weeks and would need my full attention. Unprepared, we scrambled to pack an overnight bag and drove out to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

The nurses checked me out in the maternity ward and announced that I wasn’t in full labor yet, but they generously gave me a room to wait it out. I was instructed to walk around to get things going. My contractions were meh but just enough to keep me awake. Finally, later that morning, they started a Pitocin drip to get the contractions kick-started. As the hours wore on and the contractions started getting more intense, they asked if I was interested in some pain relief, and I was like, “HELL YEAH!” They called for the anesthesiologist, but he was nowhere to be found, bah. I tried visualization to distract myself from the pain, envisioning myself on a lovely green mountain top, with a bubbling stream next to me…but I was starving by then, and visions of a juicy grilled steak kept popping up and interrupting my peaceful meditation. Then they went to call my obstetrician and discovered that he was on his annual fishing trip (Hanna wasn’t due for another two weeks), bah. Then, Markus started looking at the clock nervously, and I (tired, hungry, and in pain), yelled “WHAT! Are you in a hurry to go somewhere?!” His reply? “Ummmm, the 49ers have a game at 1 pm …do you think you can have the baby before that?” He was oh-so-lucky that I was on a nice Demerol drip at that point, so I laughed instead of hurting him.  

Every time the nurses went to check my cervix, it stubbornly showed little dilation, no matter how intense my contractions were. They would pat my shoulder and tell me that it would be hours, yet, until the baby came. Ha. They didn’t know my Hanna. All of a sudden, in the course of 20 minutes, I needed to push. The nurses just patted me some more and suggested I just needed to poop. Rolling my eyes, I shuffled over to the bathroom with Markus, where we promptly discovered that, no, it was not a poop that needed to be pushed out. Incredulous, the nurse helped me back to bed and rechecked me. Yup, full dilation. Since they hadn’t expected this, there was a huge kerfuffle about finding an OB/GYN who could sub for my doctor, and they told me that I wasn’t allowed to push until they found him/her. “Do your Lamaze breathing!” So, I’m in tremendous pain, the Demerol was useless at that point, and they still couldn’t find the anesthesiologist. Markus (still darting nervous eyes at the clock) allowed me to squeeze his hands to the breaking point. We found that if he also squeezed the sides of my head between his hands, there was some pain relief. Still, the pain felt unbearable. Then, while in the midst of huffing and puffing alongside me, in his attempt to be my Lamaze coach, Markus turned white and fell down on the floor. The nurses (I lost count how many were in the room at that point) rushed over to him, pulled the smelling salts down that was taped to the wall by my bed, and revived him. They settled him into a chair next to me and gently teased him, “Sir, you don’t need to do the actual Lamaze breathing; your wife does.” At that point, a tiny Asian man showed up at the doorway to my room and quietly asked, “Is there anyone here who needs an epidural?” I raised my hand, “ME ME ME!” The nurses told me that it didn’t make a lot of sense to get one at that point because the baby was well on its way, but I was like, “NOW NOW NOW!” So, the little man climbed up on the bed (he was that small) and stood over me while I hunched over in full labor so he could puncture my spine. He had terrible aim, so he had to try three times – he may have been nervous because of my “TRY AGAIN, OW, TRY AGAIN” while I was panting and Markus was squeezing my head while hissing “heee heeee heee HOOOOOO” to coach me…the scene was chaos. After the little man left, as I lay there praying for the epidural to miraculously work faster than it normally should have, Markus was desperate to give me some relief. He asked me, “tell me what you want, anything, to get you through this?” I replied, “A big juicy steak dinner, please!” Markus and the nurses giggled at me, not knowing I was totally serious.

The nurses found an OB/GYN who could deliver the baby, but she was a recent transfer to California and hadn’t yet gotten her California license to practice. Hence, she had to be on the phone with a licensed OB/GYN while she was delivering the baby. It was so odd to see her with the phone in the crook of her neck, nodding and saying, “Okay, yes, alright” in between her looking up at me and telling me when to push. Of course, it turned out that the nurses were correct about the epidural. I totally felt the Ring of Fire when Hanna’s head crowned, and I pushed that lovely baby out without any pain relief. The doctor’s face fell a little bit when she said, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to do a bit of stitching where you tore…” and then the epidural kicked in –  ahhhh, the bliss of numbness. They handed me my beautiful baby while Markus looked on, still white and queasy from fainting. Then, we looked up at the clock and burst out laughing. Hanna was born at 12:50 pm, just in time to watch the 49ers. 

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, the game played in my hospital room while I nursed Hanna for the first time. They lost (as they should have, for interrupting MY game day). Did I get my steak dinner reward? No. I got Jell-O – and not even lime Jell-O. Sigh. But I did get to have the most beautiful baby girl, one who has continued to provide me with unexpected delight over the past 22 years. She was kind enough, at two weeks old, to peacefully put up with being dragged back and forth to chemo sessions with my mom, slept peacefully through hours of waiting at different oncology appointments, and waited to have her bouts of colic until after my dad moved out to take over my mom’s care. She even put up with catching chickenpox from her big sister when she was two weeks old, sporting one big pockmark in the middle of her forehead.

Maybe all of that early life excitement helped to form her strong personality. Perhaps that’s why her hair stood up straight for the first six months of her life unless it was soaking wet. All I know is that she has grown up to be the strongest woman, with the toughest “can-do” determination of anyone I know. She knows her mind, and she will stop at nothing to achieve what she sets out to do. We should have known she would turn out this way when she started cutting her own hair at the age of three…no matter what we said and no matter where we hid the scissors…

I will leave you with a small home-video of that time period. Hanna’s best big sister, Emily, was the camera-man, and we were camping for the first time in Yosemite. Hanna’s bright light shone, even then (along with her little sidekick, Simon). HOLY SMOKES, Hanna! Happy Birthday! We love you forever, we like you for always, as long as we’re living, our baby you’ll be.

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