‘Twas the night before Christmas, Steve and his wife Peggy were in Ojai to celebrate the holidays with Steve’s parents. Peggy was in her eighth month of pregnancy. The twins were due to arrive early next year. Rudy Wells had given her the green light to make the trip to California, providing she would not run herself ragged. Steve assured the good doctor that he intended to keep his eyes on her to make certain she didn’t step out of boundary.
They arrived in Ojai on Christmas Eve early afternoon. While Steve unpacked the suitcases, Peggy took a nap. Two hours later, she waddled down to the kitchen to offer her assistance to Helen with the preparations for the Christmas Eve supper. However Helen defended her to lift a finger to help and suggested to her son to take his wife for a walk outside.
Peggy tucked her arm into Steve’s. He held her by the waist as they sauntered along the grounds.
“I do so love it here, Steve. It’s so peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” she mused with her head leaning against her husband’s shoulder.
“Before we were married, I used to come here often between assignments to blow the cobwebs away; to escape the routine and drown my petty annoyances. The country air cleanses not only the lungs but the soul.”
Peggy flinched and clutched her stomach. “Oh! I think they agree with you.”
Steve patted his wife’s belly. “You felt another kick?”
“Yep!” A second kick stopped her dead in her track. “I think they are having a slight disagreement.”
“Here,” Steve assisted Peggy to a bale of hay, “sit down. I’ll talk to them.”
Steve sat by Peggy and leaned over her bulging tummy. “Now here this little ones. This is your father speaking. You give your mom a break during the holidays. No more fighting and kicking, you got that?” Steve admonished good-naturedly. He glanced up at Peggy and winked. “How’s that?”
She inhaled deeply and exhaled. “I think they heard you.”
Steve leaned against the fence and started massaging Peggy’s lower back. “That feels good,” she purred. She stretched her legs and closed her eyes at the tingling sensation radiating down to her toenails. She heaved out a sigh embued with a tinge of melancholia. “Look at me. I look like a hippopotamus.”
Steve sniggered at her comment, typical of a pregnant woman.
“Don’t laugh, it’s not funny.”
“But it is. Do you know how many times you’ve complained about your waistline in the last four months? Fifty-three times, that’s the fifty-fourth time.”
“Keeping record, are we?”
“Yes and do you recall my answer?”
“Yes. You’re not big, you’re beautiful.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”
Steve cupped her chin to turn her head toward him. His hand rose to her cheek. “Hey, I love you Mrs. Austin.” He smiled and kissed her tenderly on the lips. She welcomed her husband’s embrace and to make their kiss linger, she folded her arms around the back of his neck. However her huge tummy hindered their movements and consequently, made it very difficult to find a comfortable position. With her lips still pressed against Steve’s, she snorted and let her arms drop in resignation. They drew their foreheads together and laughed.
“Only three more weeks and we’ll have plenty of room,” Steve joked. He gave her one last peck on the lips and helped her up. “Come on, let’s get you back into the house and get those feet up.”
Before midnight, Steve, Peggy and the Elgins retired to their rooms to catch some shut eyes before partaking of the traditional Christmas Eve supper. At around eleven thirty, the twins kicked their mother awake. Peggy began rubbing her stomach in a circular motion to calm her restless bundles. She wiggled her legs and felt a wet spot on the bed. She ran her hand over the mattress and frowned. Her suspicions were confirmed. Her water had broken. She had not felt a kick but her first contraction.
She placed her hand on Steve’s shoulder and nudged him awake. “Steve,” she whispered.
Steve let out a groan.
“Steve, honey, wake up.”
Steve sighed heavily and managed to unglue his eyelids. “Peggy? It’s time?”
“Yes, but not for what you think.”
“What time is it?”
Steve yawned and stretched. “We ought to get ready.” He started to get out of bed when she gripped his arm.
“Steve, my water broke.”
She gulped in a breath. “I think it’s time.”
Steve fashioned an elated smile as he leaned over his wife. “They’re coming?” he asked jocundly, putting his hand on her belly.
“I believe so.”
In a frenzy of emotions, Steve kissed his wife passionately before he sprightly leapt out of bed to go knock on his parents’ bedroom door. “Mom, dad! Wake up!”
Jim and Helen roused to their son’s shouts. Jim got up and walked to the door. “We’ll be right down, son.”
“No dad, I’m taking Peggy to the hospital. Her water broke.”
“What?” Helen exclaimed as she walked to the door while fastening the strap of her night robe around her waist.
“The babies are coming, mom.”
Helen placed a hand over her mouth to contain her elation. “Oh, Steve!”
“Give us a couple of minutes to get dressed and we’ll drive down with you to the hospital,” Jim said as he squeezed the proud expectant father’s shoulder.
Steve walked back to his room. No sooner had Jim closed the bedroom door that Helen flung herself in his arms. “Jim, can you imagine? A Christmas arrival?”
Jim kissed his wife and held her in his arms. “We’re going to be grandparents, Helen.”
“We’d better hurry and get dressed or they’ll leave without us.”
“We’re not as important as the mother-to-be. By the way Steve is acting, he’s liable to drive off to the hospital without her.”
Minutes later, Steve handed the suitcase to Jim and assisted his wife down the hall to the staircase. Peggy reached for Helen’s hand for extra support in climbing down the stairs. “I’m sorry to ruin your party, Helen.”
“Nonsense Peggy! This is the most beautiful Christmas present you could ever give us,” Helen reassured with a blissful smile. She rubbed Peggy’s hand and kissed her on the cheek before they headed down the stairs.
“I wish they could have waited their due date.”
“With girls, maybe. But boys are stubborn and impatient.”
“Was Steve like that?”
“Enough blabbering you two,” Steve piped out.
Peggy turned to Helen with a sagacious smile. “I guess that answers my question.”
Seven hours passed and Peggy was still in labor. The doctor entered the room and suggested to a weary Steve to go stretch his legs while he checked on his wife’s progress. Steve squeezed Peggy’s hand and placed a kiss on her flushed cheek before he left.
Steve put his hand over his mouth to stifle a yawn as he slouched down to the waiting room where his parents were sitting on pins and needles. Helen looked up and sprung to her feet to rush to her son’s side.
“How is she?” she asked with concern, wrapping her arm around Steve’s waist.
He held her by the shoulders and flashed a strained smile. “She’s still in labor.”
“How far apart are the contractions?”
“About twenty minutes.”
Helen flinched. “I’m sorry to say she still has a long way to go. First births can take a long time.”
“I know,” Steve sighed heavily. “The doctor’s with her now. I came out to get a cup of coffee to sustain me the next few hours.”
“I’ll get you a cup, son.”
Helen and Steve sat side by side on the couch, holding hands. “Mom, how long were you in labor when you had me?”
Helen rubbed her fingers against the back of Steve’s hand as she mulled over the question carefully before providing an answer that might send her son into a tizzy. “As I recall, it was close to twenty hours.”
“I thought you said boys were impatient?” he teased.
“They are but they also love to keep you waiting.”
Both mother and son giggled before Steve laid his head against her shoulder and closed his eyes. “I admire you, women,”
Helen smiled at the comment as she gently caressed her son’s hair. Jim returned with three cups of coffee. As Steve took his cup, he caught glimpse of the doctor leaving his wife’s room. He took a sip and stood. “I’m going back to Peggy.” He leaned in and gave his mother a peck on the cheek. She took his hand.
“You tell Peggy we’re rooting for her.”
As morning wore into afternoon and afternoon into night, Peggy’s patience was now running at an all-time low. She was irritable, moody and exhausted of having been put through the ringer for over twenty-two hours. The contractions were dragging on and increasing in intensity. Steve tried to appease his wife’s painful twinges by applying back rubs, but they were no longer effective.
She felt another excruciatingly painful contraction wash over her. She gritted her teeth and clawed at Steve’s hand until it passed.
“The contractions are now coming every ten minutes,” Steve informed.
She huffed and puffed as he brushed back the lock of damp hair from her forehead. “You’re doing fine.”
“I’m so tired,” she lamented.
The doctor entered with a nurse and asked Steve how far apart the contractions were. After checking the cervix, he acknowledged that it was time to deliver the twins. Steve and Peggy exchanged a tender kiss before she was wheeled down to the delivery room.
Steve slouched back to the waiting room. He sat next to his mother and fell asleep with his head against her shoulder. She beckoned Jim to help her settle Steve into a reclined position on the couch so he could sleep more comfortably. She went to the nurses station to ask for a blanket that she spread over her darling son.
Steve roused around 12:50AM. “Mom?”
“Shuuuuuuu, go back to sleep.”
He elbowed himself up into a sitting position. “Any news?”
“What time is it?” he asked while rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“It’s ten minutes to one.”
“It’s December 26th?”
Steve heaved a sustained sigh of delight. “Thank you, God.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I didn’t want the twins to be born on Christmas day. It’s no fun for children to celebrate their birthday on the 25th of December.”
Helen’s heart brimmed with pride. She stroked Steve’s hair and kissed his forehead. “You’re going to make a wonderful father.”
He smiled back and kissed the palm of her hand. “And you a wonderful grandmother.”
“Steve!” Jim sprung his son to attention to the doctor walking toward them.
Steve jumped to his feet and met the doctor halfway. “Congratulations Mister Austin, you have two healthy nine pounds baby boys.
Steve let out a shuddering breath of ecstasy and clenched his mother into a soulful hug.
“They are perfect if you consider the fact that they are three weeks early.”
“Can I see them?”
“Of course. Why don’t you wait in your wife’s room and I’ll ask a nurse to bring them to you.”
“And my wife? Is she okay?”
The doctor placed a reassuring hand on the jittery father’s shoulder. “Just fine. It was a natural birth that proceeded smoothly without any complication. She’s a sturdy woman.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“We settled her back into her room. When you go, try not to make any noise that could disturbing her. She needs plenty of rest.”
“We’ll be careful, doctor.”
The doctor shook hands with Steve. “Again congratulations on your brand new family.”
After the doctor walked away, Steve wrapped his arms around his parents’ waists and all three headed down to Peggy’s room. Steve padded up to the bed and contemplated his wife sleeping. He went into raptures over this delicately chiselled woman, whose overwhelming courage and strength carried her through the painful childbirth to give him two strong sons. Two nurses walked into the room with the twins bundled up in wool blankets. Steve sat in a chair and cradled the newborns in his arms. Errant tears trickled down his cheeks as he admired the tiny sleepy forms.
“Welcome into the world, Troy and James Austin.” Those were the names of the boys in Steve’s recurrent dream, the one that foretold him the Christmas arrival.