A letter to Ada


I'm writing a present to my littlest niece, Ada, who turns one year old today. Hada [ah’-dah] means "sprite" in Spanish - though that's not why her parent's picked the name - her namesake derives from Charles Frazier's leading lady. It's translation is just a fitting coincidence because this little one is about as fanciful as something out of a fairy tale. I was there the day she was born and it was one of the most magical days of my life. I was so enchanted, in fact, that my son was conceived soon thereafter and born nine months, sixteen days later. Too much information? Shoot, I just realized that my brother probably reads this blog too. Awkward. Anyway, here's my gift to you, Adita: your birth story, as I remember it.

Ada Melisa Mangum was due to be born August 11th, 2012. That day fell on a Saturday, which couldn't have been better for me because I could only afford to take one vacation day from work to drive down for the event. Not having ever been pregnant myself, I didn't know that due dates were just estimates, so pursuant to my schedule, it meant that this little babe could not be more than two days late or my trip would have been made in vain. No pressure, Mama. Determined to ensure my niece's timely arrival, I spent all Friday going through a list of natural induction techniques with my sister: a morning run, spicy mexican for lunch, a reflexology foot massage, a walk around the mall, a glass of wine with dinner... After each one I eagerly asked, "Anything yet?" Too bad pestering wasn't on that list because otherwise she would've surely gone into labor then. The night ended uneventfully though and we each went off to bed with hopes for better results the next day. 

Apparently one of the tricks worked, though, because the day dawned early the following morning to the news that Claudin was in labor. It must've been around five a.m. when Nick came in to wake me because the first blush of day was just barely lighting the sky. It took me a minute to put everything together: Where was I? What time was it? Why was Nick's face inches away from my face? Luci, this is it. Claudin's been having contractions for an hour now. The pieces still hadn't quite connected but I jumped out of bed just the same; ready to take on whatever role was required of me. Nick told me she was in the shower so I went to their bathroom to keep her company while he made calls to the midwives and to family. I announced my presence, but Claudin didn't waste time with pleasentries and instead responded by asking me to time her contractions. There was earnestness to her voice that implied her mood: don't disturb me, I'm trying focus here. just do what I say. The contractions were already steadily coming every four minutes and lasting about 60 seconds, which would suggest she was in the later part of first stage labor, but you wouldn't know it by her poise. Now, had I already had taken birth classes, I would've recognized the emotional signpost. According to the Bradley Method, the situation was text book: her seriousness, the concentration - all the indicators that meant active labor was eminent and that we should get in the car to head to the Birth Center. But I was clueless and Nick was distracted with other tasks so the cues went unrecognized.

I helped pack Claudin's bag and scrounged around for all the ancillaries I felt we're essential to fostering a serene birth environment: scented candles, mood music, camera, snacks, a cute outfit... Nick got Charlie dressed and fixed him breakfast, going through the usual morning routines until his grandfather arrived to take over. Meanwhile, back in the bedroom, things were evolving quickly because Claudin had barely gotten out of the shower before calling me over to show a bloodied towel. Like I said, I didn't known a whole lot about labor then, but I did know that this meant that the water would break soon (if it hadn't already). She was pacing around the room and swaying at this point, trying to manage the contractions. Leaving Charlie in front of the TV and in the capable hands of Bob the Builder, Nick came back to check in. Claudin was in her own world now. She was trying to control her breathing, humming low and long on each exhale. "Um Nick, I just saw the bloody show. Doesn't that mean we should be leaving?" Almost as if on cue, Nick's dad walked through the door. We threw everything into the car and loaded up. Curious and a bit concerned, Charlie asked where we were going. I tried to explain that it was an exciting day and his little sister was coming but the promise of Bojangles biscuits and a day at O-Gandaddy's proved to be the perfect distraction, so Charlie just gave Claudin a kiss and said, "See you later, Mama".

Nick took the driver's seat and sped down the I-540 in concentrated silence, while I sat in the back with Claudin, applying counter preassure to her sacrum. If she had any energy to speak it was to tell me to push harder. I was practically vertical, with my feet against the car door, putting all my weight into her low back with the heel of my palm, all the while coaching her through the contractions which were now coming with greater frequency. Having no basis for comparison, I treated this part of labor like a long interval track workout. "Great job, Claudi, you're halfway way done. It's only going to getting easier from here and then you'll get a good rest before the next one". I'd tell her as she tensed and groaned during a rush. I could only imagine what Nick was thinking as he heard me. I hated it when people used running as an analogy for other life events and here I was, doing it. Strike One. 

We arrived at the Birth Center just in the nick of time because Claudin had hardley stepped through the threshold before one contraction in particular knocked her over. She's going to have the baby right here! I thought, but when it let up she rose and we rushed her into a room. Nick took over the supporting role and I unpacked her bag while the midwives finished preparing the room. I took out the candle and cursed myself for forgetting matches. Then I took out the CD with our carefully selected playlist and asked one of the midwives where the player was. "Let's get this baby born first", she said in a reticent tone. Strike Two. I sheepishly put it back in the bag and traded it for the camera. I still didn't get it. 

The room was odddly calm and the midwives and I practically watched in silence as Claudin and Nick so beautifully orchestrated the second stage of labor. They were professionals with all but white gloves and coattails, scooting up to the keyboard to play this beautiful masterpeice. It was like standing over Bethoven while he composed one of his famous sonatas and felt like a rude intrusion watching the two of them perform in one of life's most intimate moments. But I stood in a corner of the room with my clunky digital SLR and it's huge flash, trying to discretely capture it. Click, click, click. With each shot, I got more comfortable and soon was right up on the couple, snapping all kinds of artistic angles. "That's enough, Lu" Nick admonished. Strike Three. 

Lucky for me, it was time to push and everyone was too focused on Claudin to kick me out of the room for my insolence. She was on the bed now and Nick was supporting her from behind. I watched in awe as her muscles bulged with each contraction and the veins in her neck popped. "Breath, Claudi!" I couldn't help but say - I was so nervous she'd pass out from a lack of air. Her pushing was so effective that it only took a few efforts before we saw the baby's head. It was amazing how, despite the obvious pain, Claudin had totally yeilded to it and had opened herself up to grant passage to this new little life. In an instant, I saw the baby descend from the top of Claudin's belly, low into her pelvis, as if she had rode down a slide into the birth canal. "She's coming, I just saw her move down!"  I said with dumb excitement. Claudin made one more big push and out came Ada; less than 45 minutes after our arrival and nearly five hours from the first contraction. The sun was well up now and working its way higher into the sky, painting the day in bright colors, as if to celebrate this new animated little being. Charlie was brought to the birth center a few hours later and as I watched him crawl up on the bed to join his parents and baby sister, I was overwhelmed. And they lived happily ever after.
My friend, Renee Skelly, is obviously an excellent photographer because she's the only person who's come so close to capturing this little girl's beauty. I mean, those eyes!



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