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The Great Fire of 2001

The year leading up to my pregnancy with Bryce was filled with the worry, anxiety, and jaw-clenching pressure of what we began to believe was infertility - a condition unappreciated and misunderstood by anyone who hasn't experienced it. "Let's have a baby." "Okay." Simple enough. Three, six, nine, twelve months later, that conversation turns into, "What's wrong with us? Is it me? Is it you? We have to face the fact that there's a perfectly legitimate likelihood that this may not happen." Despite the huge success of the birth control industry, conception doesn't occur at the snap of a finger for many, many people. I responded to this problem in my characteristic manner - by researching infertility to death; I read books and articles, consulted doctors, looked into adoption, changed my diet, changed my attitude, charted and graphed every bodily function to provide as much information as possible to whatever doctors I could find that would help us - I was an empowered (psycho) non-pregnant person. I went to a highly recommended Ob/Gyn, and she suggested the usual gamut of testing for both partners. We scheduled mine for the next week. When I showed up, I felt a little unsure about the invasive procedure I was about to undergo, and I asked her to clarify that if, by some crazy fluke, I were actually pregnant at that time without yet knowing it, this procedure would not cause any damage to the embryo. With no emotion or discernable empathy, she told me the procedure would cause a miscarriage if I were pregnant, and that she would only perform it during a month when we weren't trying to conceive. "Uh, I just talked to you last week and told you we were trying to conceive. What would have happened if I hadn't reminded you??" She said I'd have to re-schedule, and walked out, leaving me on the table in one of those paper gowns, alone, crying, and with a very cold butt.

My primary care physician happened to be in the same building, so I left the Ob/Gyn's office and walked into the bustling practice where about a dozen innocent sick people were waiting to talk to a doctor, and had no idea why this blithering idiot was demanding so much attention. My doctor's nurse came out to find out what was wrong with me, and I told her I needed a new Ob/Gyn recommendation, I didn't want to go back to the one who'd come so highly recommended, she clearly didn't need any new patients if she couldn't even keep track of which ones ARE and which ones AREN'T trying to conceive, and she almost performed a painful and invasive procedure on me while there's a very small chance I might be pregnant and not yet know it, and now because of this delay, there was no telling HOW LONG I'd have to wait to find out what the problem with me was, I'd already had to wait six months just to get an appointment with the last doctor, and GOOD GOD PEOPLE, DIDN'T EVERYONE SEE THAT ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS HAVE A FLIPPING BABY???!!!

I guess hysterical patients aren't good for business, because my doctor pulled me out of the waiting room as fast as she could, and then she got me an appointment with an Ob/Gyn friend of hers within two weeks. The morning I woke up for that appointment, an appointment to discuss infertility and to determine how to deal with it, I found out I was pregnant with Bryce. Go figure. If Ob-Gyn #1 had performed the procedure two weeks before, I would never have known I was pregnant and would have assumed any pain or blood was a result of the testing. Bryce would not have been born.

I've already written in detail about Bryce's birth and the foreshadowing comments the labor and delivery nurse made to me. What I didn't mention, and what plays an equal role in my perception that Bryce's entry into our lives was something as supernatural as an event in a C.S. Lewis novel, were the raging fire and explosions right outside our hospital room window on the last night of our four-day stay. There was a new wing of the hospital under construction, and something went wrong and caught fire on a dry night in August - the last, optional, night we were to be there with our newborn child. I was in my safe cocoon with nurses to remind me to take meds, bring me snacks, and answer questions about my jaundiced son anytime I felt the urge to ask; I didn't want to leave that to go HOME, where there were no nurses and no nursery to send the baby if I was desperate for an hour of sleep. Everything felt peaceful and under control until a nurse came in and seemed like she was trying too hard to appear calm: "Um, did you guys hear about the fire? There seems to be a fire over in the new wing. See, if you open your blinds, you can see it. No one is evacuating yet, but we wanted to let everyone know in case you noticed the flames." My heart had stopped at the word "fire" and I'd felt the need to immediately gather my new son from the nursery, where they were checking his bilirubin levels again - I didn't need to see the flames before I took care of that. When I got back to the room with Bryce, John had the blinds open and all I saw were larger-than-life neon orange streaks jumping out of the gaping holes in the unfinished wing across the hospital parking lot from my window. Within an hour, officials assured us that our wing was secure from any danger the fire may cause. The next morning, my doctor released me from the hospital and I was more willing to go to my own house, without nurses, but also without fires. A few weeks later, my doctor sent us a card congratulating us on the birth of our son and on "surviving the Great Fire of 2001." At the time, I felt the whole thing was a fitting end to the intense journey I had been on to arrive at that point, but now I view it as a kind of memory bookmark or association tool: Bryce's Birth = Intense Flames. Oh yeah. Bryce's Life = Intensity.

Bryce has always been big on role-playing, and he always picks abnormal characters, or he will personify things that wouldn't normally be personified, like the time when he had just turned three and he said he wanted to "be the avalanche" (from the movie Ice Age), and then proceeded to look exactly like a person being an avalanche would look, starting as a stable ball under the coffee table, then slowly shaking, then starting to crumble to instability and "fall" by rolling out from under the table - it was profoundly creepy how well he did it, but my words could never do it justice; I wish I'd gotten it on video. Anyway, last week he seemed to be on a fire kick. (Other kids are firefighters, my kid is the fire itself.) He would come up to me, arms bent, palms facing out, fingers straight up, eyes wide, making jerking, short movements with his fingers, and he'd say, "Mom, I'm a fire, these are the flickering flames! Touch me and turn brown!" I had put the hospital fire experience out of my mind for a long time until that interaction, at which point I thought to myself, "Huh, I not only survived the Great Fire of 2001, I am RAISING HIM."

And to think, that little intensely flickering flame was almost unknowingly put out. I sometimes go through a chicken and egg scenario about Bryce - like, "does Bryce's nature just attract these intense situations, or have these situations created an aura of intensity around Bryce?" Which came first? I'll never know, and I'm sure it doesn't matter. I'm just thankful to have a presence in my life that I wouldn't have necessarily predicted. Like the flames outside my hospital window, Bryce constantly reminds me that resting comfortably in the ease of familiarity or security won't give me new experiences or ever allow me to move on with my life. When intensity and unpredictability cause enough fear to motivate action, I forge ahead, denying myself the luxury of stagnation. I don't know how much of this is my own emotionally-charged perception, but from the earliest moments Bryce's microscopic cells ever existed, he's brought jolts of intensity into our world, and he, without a doubt, keeps us moving.