Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Baby Story Chapter Four

Next on the list was Grace’s career. She had been accepted to attend Operating Room nurse school, a pretty prestigious assignment in the nurse world. Unfortunately, the graduation date for the school was in late July, and Grace was due sometime in late June/early July. Again, we thought that she’d be ok. The original plan (and looking back on this, it seems pretty ludicrous) was for Grace to attend the first school as planned, right up until the baby decided to come out.

Then she would do one of several options: 1) She could take a few days off, and then go back and finish—after all, Grace was a trooper, 2) She would finish early, or 3) She would skip the first class altogether, and go to the next class, which began in the beginning of August. All of the options carried with them one stipulation for me—I would miss something. With options 1 and 2, I would be at Little Rock AFB learning how to fly a C-130. Thus, I would miss, at a minimum, the pregnancy, and maybe the birth as well. With option 3, I would be there for the pregnancy and probably birth, but I would miss the first few months of the baby’s life. Plus, Grace would be taking care of a newborn while attending school. Like I said, they seem ludicrous now—but at the time, and in our state of mind of "anything is possible," they seemed like viable options. We never really took into account other factors, like if I got my fighter and life as I knew it completely changed. Or if there were problems with the birth. Or even if Grace and I could be stationed together. Fortunately for our situation, but unfortunately for Grace, the Air Force did take those other factors pretty seriously.

The Air Force allows its military moms six weeks of maternity leave when a baby is born. Whereas most people would never turn that down, for any of our options to work Grace was going to have to. The Air Force didn’t like that very much. And so, when I landed after my last flight in the C-9, Grace came forward with what the Air Force had decided. They figured that that six weeks, for various reasons, was inviolate, and couldn’t be waived. As a result, since junior was popping out right between her two classes, she wouldn’t be able to attend either. The good news? We could be stationed together—provided that she remain in Germany while I was TDY to Little Rock, leaving us right where we had started, with me missing not only the pregnancy or the birth, but both.

So she decided to get out. One little clause in the Air Force medical rules is that a woman who is pregnant has the option of stopping her military service and getting out. So something else now became a priority—Grace’s separation. She was pretty upset about it at first, but the prospect of her being a Mom, and taking some time off, eventually sat pretty well with her. Plus, if she wants, she can try to come back in in a year or so. I felt pretty bad about this at first, but once it sunk in that we were going to be together the whole time I lightened up. The good thing is so did she.

Next on the list was what we were going to bring to Japan, since that was where I was currently headed. The rules say that I am only authorized 1300 pounds of stuff for a single guy. That goes up to 2600 for a married couple. And if that other married person is civilian, it goes up to 4600 (I don’t know why). So—and hold on, this is confusing—I was authorized only 1300 pounds of stuff when I left Germany, since Grace was still in the military. However, once she separated, that amount would go up to 4600. Unfortunately, by that time, I would be gone on my merry way. So, I could take 1300 with me, and Grace would be permitted to take the remainder of the 4600 with her when she finally left. End result was a logistical disaster with me trying to pick and choose the bare minimum, and carry the rest of my stuff to her apartment. And when I left, I still didn’t know when she was leaving, so her apartment was in shambles with boxes and stuff everywhere—but I’m getting ahead here. The point was that my assignment process was a nightmare, which simply added more stress to the situation.

Lastly on the list for the first month was her doctor’s appointment. Ramstein is the largest base in Europe, and just about everyone in Europe goes to the hospital there. Consequently, anyone having a baby goes to the medical center that Grace works at. So getting an appointment was a challenge in itself. Grace knew someone who knew someone, and managed to sneak us in for an ultrasound, something that the Air Force is pretty skimpy about. So on the 11th of January, we went in to the hospital for her first exam (albeit only an ultrasound).

I had seen pictures of ultrasounds, and heard that they were pretty cool, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen. We were both pretty excited, but only because there was the possibility of us finding out when the baby was due. So, we finally made it in, and Grace had all kinds of goop spread on her tummy. We had played with a Doppler stethoscope on her ward, but we couldn’t hear a heartbeat. This kind of made us nervous, so we hoped to hear the baby’s heartbeat, as well.

I sat down next to her as we both squinted at the little TV screen that lit up with the technician’s magic wand. After a couple of passes, we still couldn’t see anything. Little feelings of the Mission: Impossible scenario began to creep back in. Then, out of the darkness on the screen, a little sqiggly took form.

A hand.

"There you are!" exclaimed the technician. A few seconds later an entire form took shape—a head, hands, feet, toes and fingers. Tears immediately filled both of our eyes as we looked at our child for the first time. Suddenly every stress or hard thing we had been doing melted away. With every kick and squirm that that little baby made, I swore that I would go through anything that life could throw at us in order to meet this little person that was doing somersaults in the dark. We laughed at how he or she was trying to suck its thumb. And the profile looked remarkably like Grace.

As we walked back out to the car that day, one thing was clear. We were having a baby. No matter what happened to our lives as a result of it, we were both willing to do whatever it took to make it happen. That few minutes looking at a TV screen changed Grace and I’s lives forever. Even if it felt like the whole world was pushing against us and what we were trying to do, there was a tiny little hand on that screen that was waving hello to us, and letting us know that at least one life was certainly on our side.

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