“Next time, write about winning the lottery!”
These are words my husband spoke on January 13, 2021, when we got hit by a freight train full of irony. In the middle of editing my debut novel about a woman navigating an unplanned pregnancy, I found myself staring at two pink lines on a dollar-store pregnancy test. Two very unplanned pink lines.
In an earlier draft of THE UNPLANNED LIFE OF JOSIE HALE, I began the story with Josie awaiting the results of her pregnancy test. She refused to look at it, even when the recommended two-minute wait was up. When she finally mustered the courage to face it, she dropped the test onto the bathroom floor in shock. Even though this scene was cut during edits, I got the chance to reenact the entire thing in my own bathroom on that chilly January day.
With our youngest child about to turn nine, we thought the baby phase of our lives was over. We’d gotten rid of everything after she was born, re-purchased things while we provided foster care, and then gave them away again at the close of that chapter. We had nothing. We’d planned nothing.
And to be quite honest, I didn’t handle this new development very well. Life was about to change in a big (and busy!) way. I had a full career as an editor, a writing career with a new book ready to launch, and we were on the brink of walking our other two children through puberty and the middle-school attitude surge that can break a parent down to the core. How on earth were we going to handle a newborn on top of all that?
I remember saying, “I think Josie dealt with this better than I am.” A strange sort of camaraderie began in this moment as I reread my story for the millionth time and saw everything in a new light. Even though Josie and I live very different lives and received our news at wildly different life phases, the stress levels felt about the same. Having a baby when you aren’t expecting a baby is a roller coaster of terror and joy.
As time went on, and my pregnancy symptoms began to manifest one after the other, I realized Josie lucked out. Her morning sickness didn’t last 25 weeks—like mine did. Her hips didn’t randomly dislocate—like mine did. She didn’t get her chart labeled with “geriatric pregnancy”—like I did, which was super fun, by the way.
What did line up for us, however, were the cravings.
I figured having such intense morning sickness would knock this factor out of the equation for me. Nope! Food still became the most important thing in my life, just as it had with my other two pregnancies.
And of all things, one of the first cravings that overtook me, and Josie would have approved, was candy. I wanted it all. Luckily, Easter was just around the corner, so the stores were stocked. My older children loved when they got to go shopping with this new version of their mom, our cart consisting of 90% chocolate, gummies, and whatever sour gel I could find.
Josie and I varied on what we craved most, however. In fact, several times throughout the story, Josie, Kevin, and Ben reference salads as a last resort food, only to be eaten in extreme circumstances. And wouldn’t you know, that was one of my top cravings for the entire nine months: salad with crispy chicken and ranch dressing. Yes, I went from candy to salad and back again. Balance is key when coping with pregnancy.
Like my friend Josie, I drank vanilla milkshakes to quell my heartburn, watched episodes of Hoarders when I got overwhelmed, and found myself perusing job listings when my workload slowed down and made paying bills a challenge.
When reality finally sunk in, and we realized we had to name another kid, it hit me: I’d given all my favorite names to my characters. Josie’s baby even received the name I’d picked out years ago in the event that we had a third child. I had no idea what the protocol was on naming my newest addition the same name as a character in my book. Google was no help either.
Panic soon turned to excitement in our household as we prepared to welcome our baby girl. As luck would have it, her due date was a week after our county fair. Since THE UNPLANNED LIFE OF JOSIE HALE opens with Josie exploring the fairgrounds in search of a corn dog vendor, I thought it’d make the perfect author photos if I took my giant belly to the Van Wert County Fair and indulged in all my fried food favorites. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Except for the fact that my baby daughter had other plans. They day after the county fair commenced, Annie Jane stormed into the world, catching me by surprise and thwarting my perfect fairground photoshoot under the lights of the Ferris wheel.
I found myself sitting in the recovery room, holding my baby, and suddenly wondering if I should amp up a particular scene I’d included in THE UNPLANNED LIFE OF JOSIE HALE. You see, Josie’s birth mirrors my experience with my firstborn Ross. Without giving too much away, Ross gave me a good scare before he arrived. I wanted to immortalize that moment: the way I felt, the amazing nurse who stepped up and advocated for us, and that fear a mother feels when things don’t go as planned. No matter how many times I’ve edited that scene, I always cry. It’s so very special to me.
His birth seemed to have the perfect level of drama that fit nicely into a story.
And then there was Annie’s birth story.
On September 1, 2021, I went to my thirty-eight-week appointment as usual and got hooked up for an NST to monitor baby’s heartrate—something I’m told is routine for geriatric pregnancies. (Sigh.) Anyway, I sat alone in the doctor’s office room and watched the heart monitor make its little seismographic scribbles and knew those numbers weren’t going as high as they should. Instead of the nurse who usually came to get me, the doctor entered. She held the NST printout in her hands and said, “We need to go have a baby.”
In this moment, everything got a little hazy. Frankly, I freakin’ panicked.
I called my husband and told him to hurry up and get to the hospital. I called my dad to make sure he could keep my older kids overnight. A nurse wheeled me through the halls to the adjoining hospital and into a room where more nurses began asking a million questions and hooking me up to all kinds of things, which didn’t go smoothly. I had terrible heartburn because, of course, I ate spicy Beijing beef immediately before I arrived at the doctor’s office, they blew a vein in my hand trying to place an IV, and the surgical team kept changing the plan for when I needed to get into the operating room.
My husband arrived just in time, and off we went to to have a C-section.
Let’s just say things continued to go in their unplanned, chaotic direction once they placed me on the operating room table. It took them multiple attempts to place the spinal tap, which eventually failed spectacularly once inserted. The local anesthetic failed. The nitrous oxide failed. The surgery proceeded until I yelled that I could feel everything they did, and my panic increased, requiring them to knock me out totally.
They gave me Ketamines, a wretched drug that kicked me out of reality and into some horrific realm of hallucinations. I was so sure I’d died and gone to some version of a hellish purgatory.
I awoke in the recovery room, sobbing uncontrollably, and asking about my baby (and our pet axolotls for some reason). I heard my husband’s voice telling me about our daughter, but things weren’t fully registering in my foggy brain.
And then they placed little Annie on my chest. My head cleared in an instant as I looked down into these wide sapphire eyes. She seemed as confused as I was, having been plucked out of her warm, cozy lair and thrown into the cold, noisy hospital room. Both of our worlds had been completely transformed in an instant.
Holding her now, it’s so bizarre to think she wasn’t part of our original plan. Annie Jane fits in so well with our little family—like she was always meant to be.
So, on the off chance that my writing is prophetical, and what I put on the page comes to be in my actual life, maybe we will win the lottery next. Though, to be honest, it feels like we already did.
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