From bringing a baby into the world to sending him out into it
By Cassie Bustamante
Eighteen years ago, as I approached the birth of my first baby, a boy, I thought I knew how it would all unfold. Years of watching TV dramas had taught me plenty. My water would break, my husband, Chris, would rush to the hospital from work to be by my side and, after a few hours, I’d naturally push — without any drugs — giving way to a healthy, wriggling, scrunchy-faced newborn. Go ahead and laugh. If there’s anything parenthood has taught me, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan.
Sawyer was due on August 8, 2005 — one day before my 27th birthday — and, as a first-time mom, I was determined to let it all happen on its own. Living in Slidell, Louisiana, at the time, my friends thought this born-and-raised yankee gal was nuts and called me a hippie. Even my gynecologist, Dr. Lobello, nicknamed me “granola girl.” In all fairness, I showed up to most appointments in flip-flops, a tank top, a bohemian skirt — elastic waist, need I say more? — and hair tucked into a red bandana. But if you’ve ever survived the sweltering humidity of a New Orleans summer, my outfit choice made perfect sense. After all, you can’t just walk around naked, even in Louisiana.
In late July, two weeks before the due date, I waddled into my weekly appointment, dripping with sweat and looking more like Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure than the adorable pregnant woman I had pictured myself to be. Dr. Lobello took one look at me and asked, “Have you thought about being induced?”
“What?!” I asked, flabbergasted. “No. Nope. No way. This baby is coming when he comes.”
“Okaaaaaay,” she said knowingly.
The next week, I shuffled back in, legs as heavy as mature tree trunks. Again, Dr. Lobello brought up induction. She pressed on my ankle to show me just how swollen I was, skin stretched as tight as a water balloon before it bursts.
“Fine, I guess,” I said, a little deflated. “Let’s induce.”
A week later, on my birthday, with the help of Pitocin and anesthesia, Sawyer entered the world, no magical water-breaking, “Honey, this is it” moment. But once he was in my arms, it didn’t matter how he’d gotten here. He was here. And Chris and I fell head over heels in love with him.
Now, almost 18 years later, that baby boy graduates from Grimsley High School this month. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a struggle to get to this point. And there were days that I wondered if we’d make it this far.
But our kids — and I mean yours and mine, too — have weathered storms none of us ever had to go through during our high school years. Being a teenager is traumatic enough — hello, acne, braces and regrettable first kisses — but then you add a pandemic and remote learning to the mix? Chris and I were prepared to handle all of the usual awkward moments and hard conversations with our teens, but we had no idea how to navigate through the challenges our kids have faced.
And now, as Sawyer prepares to don his cap and gown, I want him to know how proud we are, as much as this column might embarrass him. We know how hard he’s had to work and we don’t know if our own teenage selves would have made it through the last three years unscathed. And while he probably doesn’t remember the moment he came into this world (for the best, frankly), I hope he’s learned from us that it doesn’t matter how you get to where it is you’re going or if you need a little help along the way. As American naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, one of my favorite books, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” You will land exactly where you’re meant to be. OH
Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.