She greets the dawn on the porch swing, listening to bird chirping and the thwap of newspapers hitting the porches of the neighbors' houses, expertly thrown from the paper deliverer's car.
It's a beautiful April morning and she watches it slowly arrive, pausing to breathe through her contractions.
How strange to know that this will be the last morning she'll experience with the baby still inside her. The last morning it'll be just the two of them. Tomorrow, they will have magically multiplied into three. One plus one equals three. Solve that equation, Sheldon, she thinks as she feels the cramping sensation start up again.
Sheldon's inside, making her an egg and cheese bagel for breakfast. He's been in there an awfully long time, but that's to be expected for Sheldon. He's probably determining the optimum ratio of egg to cheese and ensuring that the bagel is achieving an absolutely even golden-brown in the toaster oven. Never mind that his wife is alone on the porch, having contractions that will eventually bring his child into the world. The bagel must be done right or not at all.
She doesn't really mind. This might be the last peaceful moment she'll have for the next eighteen years.
Sheldon has developed a contraction app for his iPhone. Each time she has one, he enters in the time, duration, and approximate strength.
"I don't understand what this is going to accomplish," she says, gripping the arm of the couch as she feels another one flare up. She's sitting on a stack of towels in case her water breaks. They just got the sofa at a sale at Design Within Reach and if her water broke on it, Sheldon would probably never go near it again.
"The app will tell us when it's appropriate to go to the hospital," he says, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"It's easy," she says, feeling the pain ebb away. "The 4-1-1 rule, remember from birth class? It's time to go to the hospital when contractions come every four minutes, last at least one minute, and the pattern goes on for an hour. We don't need an iPhone app to tell us that."
Sheldon ignores her. "Currently, your contractions haven't formed a discernable pattern," he says, fiddling with his phone. "They're arriving anywhere from six to eighteen minutes apart."
"I'm aware. I'm the one having them, remember?"
He looks up from his phone. "Penny," he says, his voice gentler. "I feel rather helpless during this process. The contraction app gives me something to do."
She squeezes his hand. "I know, Sheldon."
There's still no rhyme or reason to her contractions, so they go for a walk around the neighborhood. Her swollen feet no longer fit into her sneakers, so she has to shuffle down the sidewalk in her pink and green striped flip-flops.
Every so often she has to stop and double over with a contraction. The pain isn't unbearable, not yet, but it's definitely enough to make her need to catch her breath. Sheldon applies counter-pressure to her lower back, which helps some.
At one point, some guy walks by while this is going on and says, "Get to the hospital already, you two."
Penny remembers all the times she made out with some dumb, drunk guy in a bar or a club and how sometimes people shouted, "Get a room!" She's gone from "get a room" to "get to the hospital." Huh.
At Starbucks she orders a venti iced vanilla latte with an extra shot. Maybe it'll wake the baby up.
That was a mistake. She's barely touched caffeine throughout her pregnancy, even though her doctor said that moderate amounts were okay, and now she feels like she smoked a half-dozen crack rocks.
For the next hour she unpacks and repacks her hospital bag between contractions. Blue or red yoga pants? Does she really need three nursing bras for forty-eight hours in the hospital? Where the hell did she put the nipple shields? Which of the approximately three thousand outfits she's received as shower gifts should the baby go home in?
She hasn't had a contraction in an hour and sixteen minutes. She freaks out, sure that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Maybe the baby has somehow died from a caffeine overdose.
She calls the OB office and after a long time on hold, where she's forced to listen to smooth jazz, Nancy, one of the nurse midwives, gets on the phone. Penny blubbers something about the contractions stopping.
"Welcome to early labor," Nancy says. "You're just fine. If things don't get going again in twelve hours or your water breaks, call us back."
"Twelve hours!" Penny says, nearly shrieking. She figured the baby would be here by dinner time, despite everything she's read or learned in childbirth class.
"Lie down, try to take a nap. You'll need to be well-rested."
She hangs up the phone, swearing under her breath.
She curls up on the couch and Sheldon covers her with a blanket. "Sleep," he says. "Doctor's orders." He kisses her on the top of the head and pads off to his study, presumably to think deep thoughts about neutrinos or something.
Penny closes her eyes, willing herself to sleep but it won't come. She feels the baby shifting within her uterus and it cheers her up. He's (the baby is a boy, which they've known since her twenty-week ultrasound, but it feels weird to assign a sex to the baby when it hasn't yet emerged into the world) still alive. He's just fine. But she's too excited and nervous and still too caffeinated to sleep.
This is one of those times when everything seems surreal—the fact that almost five years ago she fell in love with Sheldon. Sheldon. Socially stunted, awkward, genius, annoying, presumably asexual Sheldon. And somehow he fell in love with her, too, and, against all odds, it worked. It doesn't seem possible that in the last year they actually bought a house, got married, and got her knocked up at Comic-Con. It feels so grown up, except maybe the Comic-Con part. Now they're going to be parents? How the hell did that happen?
The baby shifts again, restless inside her. "Come on, baby," she whispers, hand on her enormous belly. "It's time."
The baby has no answer.
Her eyes flutter open. Huh, so she slept after all. Pain rips through her belly, stronger than anything she's felt. She lets out a loud groan, like an animal.
Sheldon comes running down the hall, arms flailing. He's never been a graceful runner. "Are you all right?" he asks breathlessly.
She struggles to sit up. "Another contraction," she gasps through the pain.
"Hold on," he says. "I left my phone in the study."
Penny flops back on the sofa pillows. This contraction makes all the others feel like total poseurs. Wow. Suddenly, natural childbirth doesn't seem like such a sane idea.
Phone in hand, Sheldon trots back into the living room. "Okay," he says, all business. "What time did that one start and how long did it last?"
"I have no idea," she says, rolling her eyes. "I was too busy being, you know, in pain."
"Penny, how am I supposed to accurately track the trajectory of your labor if I don't have the appropriate data?"
She wonders what he'd do if she flushed his iPhone down the toilet.
In the bedroom, sitting on the yoga ball with her forehead resting on the mattress. This seems to be the only possible position her body can stand to be in right now. She's trying to breathe like she learned in birth class, but it's hard to keep track when the pain gets bad.
Sheldon is kneeling behind her, pressing on her lower back. "The contractions are coming approximately seven minutes apart," he says, brushing hair off her forehead. "You're getting closer."
Not close enough, she thinks. Her jaw aches from clenching it through contractions.
He hands her a bottle of water. "Here, drink."
She shakes her head. There's not enough room in there for water.
"You don't want to become dehydrated," he says.
She sits up to take a few sips and then goes back to her head on the mattress. Another pain flares through her. "Fuuuuuuuuck," she groans.
Sheldon hates swearing but he doesn't say anything, to his credit.
The contraction dies down. "Sheldon?" she asks, her voice muffled by the mattress.
"What'll you do if our kid isn't a genius?" This is something that's been plaguing her even since she got pregnant but she hasn't had the nerve to bring it up before. But now everything seems to fair game as she groans her way through her contractions.
He doesn't say anything for a moment, but his hands press down harder on her back. It feels wonderful. Finally, he speaks, sounding almost offended. "Do you really mean to insinuate that I wouldn't love him if he weren't a genius? What kind of person do you take me for? I'll love him, no matter what."
She sniffles into the duvet, relief washing through her body. She's not entirely sure his answer would have been the same five years ago. It sometimes amazes her how Sheldon's changed. And how she's changed. How they've changed, together.
She pukes up water, along with what seems to be iced vanilla latte and maybe even some of the egg bagel.
Penny hunches over the toilet bowl, the nausea making her drool, and wishes she could just die already.
"Could you be in transition? Isn't vomiting a symptom of transition?" Sheldon says through the closed door, which almost makes her laugh since he hates when anyone talks to him in the bathroom.
"I wish," she says, squeezing Colgate on her toothbrush. If only it could be that easy.
Oh my God, taking a shower was the best idea in the history of ideas. She aims the showerhead to spray on her lower back and stands there on the whimsical adhesive hippos, the hot water blunting the pain of the contractions. Maybe she'll just go ahead and have the baby in the shower. It'll be all nice and crunchy, like Ricki Lake's homebirth in the bathtub. Sheldon's a doctor, after all. True, he's not a medical doctor but physics is kind of close, right?
Reluctantly, she gets out of the shower because the contractions are now coming fast and hard. She can hardly stand through them. Sheldon helps her out and dries her off with a bath towel.
She remembers a night long ago when he helped her out of the shower and she didn't want him to see her naked. My, how things have changed.
"We need to go the hospital," she says, looking up at him; his forehead is creased with concern.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep. I'm sure."
She stands at the door of the baby's room. Three months ago, before she got too big to do anything involving moving too much, she painted the walls sage green. There's a wooden crib, a changing table, a rocker in the corner. On the walls hang the Beatrix Potter prints she had framed. The room is stocked with diapers, wipes, and everything else a baby could possibly need. They're ready.
So why does she feel so woefully unprepared for this? She's going to be a mother. Impossible. No, improbable, as Sheldon would say.
Penny feels Sheldon's hand on her shoulder. "You're going to be a wonderful mother," he says, as if he can read her mind.
She turns around to smile at him. "And you're going to be the most interesting father ever."
While Sheldon doesn't exactly like driving, and flat-out refuses to drive on the freeway, he does do it on an almost daily basis, to and from work. It's been a while since she's been the passenger in the car with him and sweet Jesus on a snowboard, he drives his Volvo like an old woman. No, worse. She's actually seen his Meemaw drive at age eighty-seven and she drives faster than Sheldon. She's seen Amish drive their buggies faster than Sheldon drives.
It hurts like hell to sit there in the car. Sitting is not a good position for her right now as another contraction squeezes her tight.
"Can't you go a little faster?" she begs.
"If we were to get into an accident on the way to the hospital to deliver our baby, I'd never forgive myself," he says.
"If you don’t drive any faster I might have the baby in your car," she gasps.
Sheldon speeds up. He really loves that leather upholstery.
In Triage, a nurse roots around in her as if she's lost an earring in there. It hurts and Penny squeezes Sheldon's hand to keep from crying out.
Surely after all this nonsense she's dilated to seven, maybe eight centimeters. Maybe she's actually in transition and almost ready to push. She's been in labor for fifteen hours if you don't count those couple of hours without contractions.
"Okay," the nurse says, removing her hand and peeling off the glove. "You're two, almost three centimeters."
"Two?" Penny must have heard the nurse wrong. "Only two?"
"Almost three," the nurse says. "But you're effacing very nicely."
Fuck effacement. Tears begin rolling down her face as another contraction squeezes her pelvis. "I can't believe it," she moans.
The nurse pats her on the shoulder. "First time babies like to take their time. Believe me, your next baby will come a lot quicker."
Penny snorts. "There won't be a next time." She's not even sure if she wants to go through with this birth, let alone contemplate another.
"That's what they all say," the nurse says with a laugh. "But then two or three years later, they're all back with number two."
They're ensconced in large, bright room that overlooks a park. Sheldon is especially delighted to discover that, as promised on the hospital tour they'd taken last month, there's a DVD player. Penny doesn't have the heart to tell him she doesn't think they're going to be watching the Doctor Who marathon he has planned.
She's wearing two hospital gowns—one backwards to cover her backside—and the lovely mesh granny panties she'd heard so much about on the childbirth boards she read compulsively throughout her pregnancy. For some reason, the mesh panties make her feel like she's officially in labor.
For now, she's trapped in the bed with the fetal monitor strapped to her. She also has an IV dripping antibiotics into her arm because she tested positive for a Group B Strep infection at her last appointment. Sheldon had to leave the room when the nurse inserted the IV and she wonders how he'll deal with the actual birth. He's supposed to be her birthing coach but maybe she should adjust her expectations and hope he remains upright for the experience.
A big contraction hits her and she watches it on the monitor, which kind of distracts her from the pain. It's a little like watching a videogame, except missing the fun part. Still, she can't help but groan out loud.
Sheldon turns away from the window, where he's on his phone. "You all right?" he asks.
She waves her hand. Talking isn't really her area of specialty right now.
She hears Sheldon say something and then he sets his phone down. "That was Leonard. He's going to stop by and bring me some dinner."
Breathe, just breathe through the pain.
It begins to fade away, at least for a little while. "What did you say?" she asks.
"I said that Leonard was going to stop by with some dinner for me."
She's not exactly in the mood for visitors. In fact, by mutual accord, she and Sheldon haven't even told their parents that she's in labor, knowing that the mothers would have been on planes to Los Angeles before they'd even hung up their phones. And they'd have Mary beseeching Jesus aloud at Penny's bedside while Connie quietly sobbed about her baby girl all grown up. They'll call the parents after it's all over with the happy news.
"Penny, I'm hungry," he says petulantly.
"There's a perfectly good cafeteria downstairs."
"Didn't you see the news special about the deplorable sanitary standards at local hospital cafeterias?"
"And you think the sanitation's any better at the Golden Pagoda?" She knows she's being a little unfair, but she's in labor so if anyone deserves to be unfair, it's her.
Her favorite nurse midwife, Amy, is on duty. With her bouncing red ponytail and burbling laugh, Amy is like the ultimate cheerleader of childbirth. Penny's friend Katie, who went to the same practice during her pregnancy, couldn't stand Amy's relentless good cheer, but it's just what Penny needs right now.
Amy does an exam. "A good solid, three!" she exclaims.
Penny flops her head against the pillow. "Just three?"
"You're almost completely effaced. And everyone's vitals are looking great. Really, it'll go a lot quicker from here on out. We're going to get that IV out and unhook you and you can move around, bounce on the yoga ball. Maybe do some squats."
Penny cannot imagine doing squats right now, even at gunpoint.
She's just sat up in bed, grunting her way through a new contraction when she hears voices at the door. She looks up to see not just Leonard, but Raj and Howard.
She's going to kill them all.
There seems to be a party going on in her birthing room, even though no one bothered to invite her. The guys are eating Mongolian beef and kung pao chicken while she enjoys a sumptuous dinner of ice chips and red Jell-O. The smell of their food is making her a little nauseated although she can hardly begrudge Sheldon a little dinner.
The guys are clustered around Raj's laptop, apparently discussing which iteration of Six, the Cylon, they'd like to sleep with. Leonard likes Shelly Godfrey, Howard votes for Gina (creepy!) and Raj is a holdout for the classic model, Caprica. Sheldon has the decency to withhold an opinion on the matter. "Don't mind me over here," she mutters to herself from the chair in the corner, recovering from the latest contraction. "I'm just having a baby."
Only Leonard seems to have heard her. He comes over. "You all right?"
She shrugs. "I suppose. It's all kind of relative when you're in labor."
Leonard kisses her on the cheek. "It's hard to believe you're having a baby," he says and she knows just what he's talking about.
It's weird to think that if things had gone differently, it might be Leonard here with her, Leonard's baby in her belly, Sheldon here only as a visitor. It's even weirder to think that of the four of them, Sheldon's the only one of the guys who's married, who has a baby on the way. Who would've thought?
Leonard is getting married in June, a big wedding in Santa Barbara, where Leah's originally from. It'll be the first trip she and Sheldon will take with the baby. Sheldon's going to be the best man.
The guys are all still here and she's ready to strangle each one of them. They're staring at the television, watching Ten's final Doctor Who special as if they're hanging around Leonard and Sheldon's old apartment on an ordinary Monday night.
Penny has to pee so she struggles to her feet and starts wobbling to the bathroom. The boys don't even look up.
She feels an almost audible pop and suddenly warm fluid is gushing down her legs.
"What the hell?" Howard shouts, jumping up and down. Raj does the same and she realizes that 1) her water has broken, 2) at least twenty of her forty-pound weight gain must have been fluid, and 3) it's soaked Raj's Vans and Howard's weird little vinyl ankle boots.
She should be mortified but instead she starts laughing. It's what they deserve.
"This is not a social occasion," she says, amniotic fluid still running down her legs. "I'm in labor and while it was sweet for you to come by and bring Sheldon dinner, you all need to get out."
Sheldon crosses his arms at his chest and nods sagely, as if it were his idea from the beginning.
Something she doesn't remember learning in birth class or in her obsessive reading is that after your water breaks, you keep on leaking. She has half a pound of cotton stuffed in the funky mesh panties but she still feels like she's lying in a warm puddle and more leaks out every time she has a contraction.
She's entered a whole new dimension of pain. Amy explains that the pain gets worse without the cushion of the bag of waters. And that Penny's only dilated to four so far.
"We could try a little Pitocin to get things going," she says to Penny.
"No, no," Penny says, shaking her head. It feels like her uterus is going to rip in two as it is. "I don't want a c-section." She knows all about the infamous cascade of interventions, from Pitocin to an epidural to a cesarean section.
"It's just a synthetic version of the oxytocin your body's producing right now," Amy says patiently, as if she hears the same objections every day, which she probably does. "It'll make your contractions more productive."
She looks over at Sheldon, who is helpfully pacing back and forth. "What should I do?" she asks him. He knows she wants a birth that's as natural as possible and he's supposed to help her advocate for it.
Sheldon shrugs helplessly. "It's up to you."
Great. For the first time in his life, Sheldon doesn't have an opinion on something.
"Fine, give me the Pitocin," she says. There goes her natural childbirth, she thinks, curling her fingers into fists with yet another contraction.
Pitocin is officially the most evil substance on Earth. There doesn't seem to be any start or stop to her contractions anymore and she's stuck in bed for monitoring and another dose of antibiotics. She tries to ride the pains like a surfer on the waves, something she learned in birth class, but it's impossible.
Somewhere in the background she hears a woman growling and moaning like an animal. Penny's just about to yell at the woman to shut up when she realizes the noisy woman is herself.
She's always prided herself on her ability to handle pain. When she was fourteen, her horse kicked her in the leg, breaking it in two places. She didn't cry at all, even though it was a forty-five minute drive to the hospital. After she dislocated her shoulder, she still managed to make snarky jokes with Sheldon and she stopped taking the painkillers after the first night.
But this is radically different. The pains start in her back, making her fear her spine is going to be crushed, and radiate out to the front, spreading through her entire belly, her pelvis, even her hips.
Sheldon sits by the side of the bed, holding her hand. He doesn't say much, just stares at her with wide blue eyes and feeds her ice chips at regular intervals. Whenever a contraction comes, she squeezes his hand. She's surprised she hasn't broken it yet.
Alicia, the nurse on duty, comes in. "How are you doing?" she asks, fiddling with the monitoring belt.
"What do you think?" Penny snaps.
"Do you want me to call the anesthesiologist for an epidural?"
"No," Penny gasps. "No epidural. I want this to be a natural…oh, fuck!" She squeezes her eyes shut and opens them again after the contraction is over. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to swear."
Alicia rolls her brown eyes. "If that's the worst I hear all night, it'll be a pretty good night."
"No epidural," Penny says firmly. It's easy to be insistent on a natural childbirth when she's not actually having a contraction at the moment.
"Just remember, it's not a competition for who can have the most natural birth," Alicia says. "You don't have to be a hero." She smiles and walks out of the room.
"Penny, perhaps you should consider it," Sheldon says.
"Epidurals often slow down labor," she says. "You know that. You were there with me at the class."
"If you were experiencing a burst appendix, would you refuse painkillers?"
"Stop being logical," she says. God damn it, another contraction. It's hard to breathe through this one.
"You know that's an impossibility for me," Sheldon says, but she can hardly hear him.
"Do you want me to sing 'Soft Kitty' to you?"
How strange that something so fun and sexy at the time, fucking like wild beasts in an empty conference room at Comic-Con, the two of them in their Star Trek costumes can, nine months later, turn into something so excruciating, all because she was dumb enough to forget to stuff a condom in her purse.
She wonders how the Earth can stay populated when childbirth is like this.
Amy comes in for one last internal exam before she goes off duty.
"Are you sure you want me to tell you?" Amy asks. Her eyes don't look so jolly right now.
"Tell me." Penny is resolute, even though she knows it's going to be bad news.
"You're still at four."
Penny collapses against the pillows. "That's not possible." She's a total failure at this birth business. She's going to be the only woman in the history of the human race to be in labor forever.
"Is a cesarean section indicated now?" Sheldon asks, looking more disturbed than the time she ate the last of his cereal on New Year's Day when all the supermarkets were closed.
"No, no," Amy says, shaking her head. "Don't even think about that. First babies…"
"…take their time," Penny interrupts. She's heard this a billion times tonight.
"Sheldon?" she says.
Immediately, he's by her side, pressing his lips to her sweaty forehead. "Yes?"
He stands up straight. "Are you sure this is what you want? You've been so determined to have a natural birth."
"Did you not hear me? Resurrection ship."
Sheldon tears out the door like his hair is on fire.
Resurrection ship is their secret childbirth safe word. It means, "Forget my lofty ideals about natural childbirth. Don't even attempt to talk me out of it. Go get the anesthesiologist right this instant or I will try to disembowel you with this bendy straw."
It takes forever for the anesthesiologist to show up, thanks to a rush of laboring women all demanding their God-given right an epidural.
Finally, he strides into the room, her own personal Dr. McDreamy—tall, thick black hair, sparkling brown eyes and high cheekbones. His nametag reads STEPHEN KAWAGUCHI, M.D.
He apologizes for the delay and explains the procedure and the risks to Penny. "Fine, whatever, just do it," she says, scribbling her signature on the consent form.
"Why don't you go and get a cup of coffee while we do this, Dad," he says to Sheldon.
"No coffee," she warns Sheldon. That's all she needs, a caffeinated Sheldon running around, frothing at the mouth.
"Are you sure you want me to leave?" Sheldon asks.
"Go, go," she says through yet another contraction. The faster he's out of here, the faster she can get the sweet, sweet relief of the epidural.
Sheldon kisses her and leaves.
Dr. Kawaguchi has her sit at the edge of the bed. "Lean forward as far as you can and arch your back like a cat," he says.
"With my belly, it's not going to be very far," she mutters. Even though she's never been very afraid of needles, her heart starts rapidly beating.
"Let me know if you're having a contraction."
"Oh, you'll know."
"Remember that you have to keep absolutely still if you have one."
Yeah, right, good luck with that. On the other hand, she's going to have a needle in her spinal column.
Not only is the doctor ridiculously good-looking, he's also really fast. She feels the chill of alcohol on her back and then the small sting of the injection of Lidocaine to numb her. Her breath catches in her throat as another pain hits her. Stay still, stay still, stay still she thinks. It takes every ounce of her concentration to keep herself from moving.
She feels pressure against her back, but it doesn't hurt. It just feels weird. "Okay, it's in," Dr. Kawaguchi says. "You can sit up now."
"Really. You should feel relief within three or four contractions if everything goes right."
He's totally Dr. McDreamy. She wonders if he'd consider eloping with a laboring woman. Oh wait, she's already married. Damn.
Penny is so happy right now she could sing, except she's a horrible singer and Sheldon would make one of those faces. The pain is gone. Just gone. She can sort of feel her uterus squeezing through a contraction but it doesn't hurt. Her legs are heavy and a little numb, but she can move them.
This is completely not the natural birth she dreamed of. She has an IV in her arm dripping Pitocin and anesthesia, she's hooked up to the monitors, and a catheter is in her urethra since she can't pee on her own with the epidural, but she doesn't really care. She's not in pain anymore. Priceless.
Sheldon looks so relieved he could cry.
Meghan, the midwife now on duty comes in. She's a quieter sort than Amy, peering at the monitors through her black-framed glasses. "Contractions are strong, but the baby is doing really well through them," she comments.
"And I can't feel them!" Penny almost feels high.
"Why don't you try to get some sleep?" Meghan says.
"I don't think I possibly could."
"I could," Sheldon says. He has dark circles under his eyes.
"Oh, I think you'll be able to. This stuff is hard work," Meghan says. She dims the lights and leaves.
Sheldon sits at the edge of the bed. "Sleep, Penny," he says, his voice full of Texas.
She's lying on her side, staring out the window at the night lights of Pasadena. Sheldon strokes her hair. Back in the day, she never would have thought he could ever be so gentle or loving.
"Sleep," he says again.
Almost against her will, her eyes close and everything goes blessedly dark.
The squeeze of the blood pressure cuff wakes her from a dream where she's lost in Best Buy, trying to find a copy of Halo 4 for Sheldon's birthday.
Sheldon is still sitting on the bed, his fingers laced with hers.
"Why are you awake?" she asks groggily.
"I'm too excited to sleep. Today I'm going to become a father."
She smiles. "Did you ever think this day would come?"
"I never thought I'd marry, or even have a significant relationship, let alone produce a child. From the time I was in graduate school, I had a path mapped out for my entire life and this wasn't part of it. But then…" His voice trails off.
"But then," she repeats, curious to know what he'll say next.
"But then you happened and everything changed." He kisses her hand.
Her eyes open and for a second Penny's not entirely sure where she is until she feels the relatively painless squeeze of a contraction. Oh, that's right. She's at the hospital, having a baby.
She pushes the remote control thingie to elevate the head of the hospital bed. Sheldon is curled up on the armchair bed, fast asleep. Outside the window, the sky is pink and purple. So much for not seeing another sunrise without the baby inside her.
A wave of nausea sweeps through her. She scrabbles for the little basin at the side of the bed and grabs it just in time to puke. She has no idea where the vomit is coming from. She hasn't eaten anything solid in almost twenty-four hours.
The sound of her retching wakes Sheldon. He sits up, scrunching his face up. She's surprised he doesn't flee the room since Sheldon is well-known for not being able to stand the sound of anyone of throwing up. Instead, he just says, "Are you okay?"
She's not able to answer him as another round of puking hits. Sheldon presses the call button.
A new nurse walks in and introduces herself as Jessie. She's wearing white scrubs with dancing elephants on them. "How are you feeling?"
Penny wipes her mouth with a tissue. "Like the morning after nine tequila shots."
"You haven't had an internal in a while," Jessie says, gloving up. "How about we see what's going on down there?"
Penny braces herself for the bad news while the nurse pokes around. At least she can't feel the exam with the epidural in. Five centimeters, Penny bets. Maybe six if she's lucky.
Jessie is all smiles. "Well, that explains the vomiting. You're almost complete!"
"Complete?" Penny and Sheldon say in unison.
"Yep. Almost ten. There's just a tiny lip of cervix left. You'll be able to push soon."
Oh my God, Penny's gone from four to ten centimeters in just a few hours. It's a freaking miracle.
Meghan comes into the room and repeats the exam to satisfy her own curiosity. "Jessie's right," she says, grinning a little. "You're ninety-nine percent there."
Penny celebrates the good news by throwing up one last time.
It's go time. The bright lights are on and all kinds of equipment, including a bassinet, have been moved into the room. "Okay, Penny, knees up to your ears," urges Jessie.
"Um, I think I need to go to the bathroom," Penny says, her face growing warm. "I kind of feel like I need to have a bowel movement." It seems too crass to say "poop" or "take a shit" in front of the nurse and her midwife, and especially Sheldon, who is squeamish about such things.
"That's the baby coming down," Meghan says. "We've turned off the epidural so you can feel your pushing."
"What?" She's about to push an eight-pound baby out of her vagina and they've turned off the epidural? What kind of sadistic bastards are these people?
Jessie pats her on the shoulder. "It's much better this way."
"When the contraction comes, put your chin down and push with all you've got," says Meghan. "We'll count you through it."
They practiced pushing in birthing class but now Penny can't remember what they actually did. "How do I push?" she says, feeling stupid.
"Like you're taking the biggest dump of your life," Meghan says and Penny laughs. Sheldon looks disgusted. Maybe there was something to be said for the old days when the men were relegated to smoking in the waiting room.
Penny feels that weird need-to-poop sensation again as her stomach tightens. "Okay, give us a big push," Jessie says.
She grabs Sheldon's hand, which is cool and clammy. "You can do this," he whispers in her ear.
She's still pushing.
In the movies and on TV, the woman always pushes two or three times and the baby is out. But this isn't a movie or a TV show and Penny is still pushing. Jessie and Sheldon have to hold up her legs because the muscles have turned to Jell-O.
She's exhausted. "I can't do this anymore," she hears herself say.
"You can do it," Sheldon says.
"I'm too tired. Can I take a nap and then we can try again?"
"We're almost there," the midwife says. "I can see his head."
Penny longs for forceps. Hell, they can give her a c-section right there on the bed, no anesthesia. She doesn't care. This is exhausting and it hurts like hell.
"You can do it," Sheldon says again, squeezing her hand. "You're the strongest person I know. You never give up."
Another contraction hits, in all its painful glory. Deep breath and chin down. She pushes with all her might. She feels a deep, burning sensation. "Oh, fuck me!" she groans after she's done with the push. "That burns!"
"You're crowning," Jessie says with real excitement in her voice. "Do you want to come look?" she says to Sheldon.
"No, I'm fine right here, thank you," he says.
"Okay, I need a really slow, steady push from you," Meghan says. "I'm going to guide his head out."
Penny almost laughs. Like she has any control over this process. When the next contraction arrives, she tries her best but the need to push is so overpowering that she goes for the gusto. She can feel the baby move through her, the oddest sensation she's ever felt in her life, and she feels him slide out of her.
"And we have a baby!" Jessie shouts. Penny looks down and sure enough, Meghan has a baby in her arms, pink and red and white. Meghan suctions his mouth and he lets out a thin wail.
"It's a boy!" says Meghan and Penny looks up at Sheldon. The stunned and delighted expression on his face makes her burst into tears.
Meghan places the baby on Penny's chest. He's still attached to the umbilical cord. She looks down at him, not quite able to believe he's actually real, that he's here. Her baby. No, their baby. She gingerly touches his head as he cries and cries on her chest.
"I need to sit down," Sheldon mumbles and Jessie pulls up a chair.
"Oh my God," Penny breathes.
"Hello, little human," Sheldon says, reaching out to touch his son. "Welcome to Earth."
A placenta, a few stitches, a shower, and a breakfast burrito (delivered by Leonard who had the good sense to arrive alone this time, drop off the food and get the hell out) later and Penny feels almost good as new. Well, not quite good as new, but not bad, considering all she's been through.
She watches Sheldon holding the baby in his arms. She never could have imagined how right this would look. He can't take his eyes off his son, who stares up at his father with wide blue eyes.
Penny marvels over the baby's long legs and fingers, just like Sheldon's. She can't get over how soft his skin is. Has any baby in the history of the world ever had such velvety skin?
"He still doesn't have a name," Sheldon says. This has been a subject of endless debate ever since they found out the baby's sex.
The baby's bassinet card reads BABY BOY COOPER, WEIGHT: 7 lbs, 12 oz., LENGTH: 22.7 inches. "That's one long, skinny baby," Jessie the nurse had said after measuring him. She'd glanced over at Sheldon. "But I see where he gets it from."
Penny's brain flashes to the handsome anesthesiologist with the skillful, swift hands. Stephen Kawaguchi. "What about Stephen?"
Sheldon's face lights up. "Named after Stephen Hawking or Stephen Shenker?"
She has no idea who Stephen Shenker is, but she's assuming he's a physicist of some kind. "Um…both?" Penny tries not to laugh.
He touches the baby's pink cheek. "Stephen Cooper," he says, trying it on for size. "I like it."
Stephen scrunches up his face as if he agrees.
They walk down the corridor of the Hilton, their first Comic-Con as a family of three.
Sheldon is wearing his regular Spock costume, not the Spock Prime one from last year. It would be too difficult to wrangle a baby in a costume that heavy and elaborate. He's got his Vulcan ears and fake eyebrows on, although Penny forbade him from shaving his eyebrows.
She's wearing the same red Starfleet dress she wore last year, but Sheldon had to let it out since she still has nine more pounds to lose before she hits her pre-pregnancy weight and her boobs are ginormous thanks to breastfeeding.
Sheldon is carrying Stephen in the Baby Bjorn. It cracks her up to see "Spock" with a baby strapped to his front. Stephen's wearing the blue Starfleet onesie Raj gave him as a present. It even has a little communicator pin on it. Stephen wiggles his fat little legs and emits a hearty gurgle. He seems to like Comic-Con—there's a lot to observe.
They lost Howard and Raj to the line for photos with Felicia Day about an hour ago. Leonard and Leah aren't here this year because they're closing on their new condo.
They stop outside the ballroom. "This is where Daddy won a costume contest and hugged Leonard Nimoy," Penny says to Stephen, who blows a spit bubble in response. "It was the greatest moment of his life."
Sheldon shakes his head. "It was a tremendous moment, but definitely not the greatest moment of my life."
She elbows him in the side. "Still waiting on that Nobel Prize, eh?"
"Penny," he says, his eyes serious. "You know what the greatest moments of my life have been."
She smiles. She knows.
They continue down the hall until they stop in front of a conference room.
"And this is where Mommy and Daddy made you," Penny says, laughing.
Sheldon clamps his hands down over Stephen's ears. "Not in front of the baby!" he says, sounding outraged.
"Like he has any idea what we're saying." She gets out her camera and takes a picture of the empty room. Maybe she'll put it in Stephen's baby book.
Two girls in elaborate steampunk dress come up to them. "Ohmygawd, that's the cutest thing ever!" one of them squeals. "Can you even?"
"Can we get a picture of you guys?" the other asks.
Sheldon puts his arm around Penny and the three of them pose for the camera. "Smile," Sheldon instructs Stephen but the baby only manages to drool. They're still working on that smiling on command thing.
"The modern American Star Trek geek family!" one of the girls says. "I love it!"
I do, too, Penny thinks. I do, too.
FINAL NOTE: For those of you who are natural childbirth advocates, I don't mean this story to imply that an intervention and drug-free birth isn't possible. God only knows, several of my friends, my mother and my sister-in-law (with a 10 pound baby!) have managed it. There are many options available to birthing women, thank goodness.