My water broke in a Waffle House.
It was a cold sunday in January and my husband was out of town on a trip we had deemed safe because I wasn’t due for another month. I was proud of myself that morning as I bundled up our 19 month old son. Breakfast out was my husband and son’s sunday ritual, but already mourning the time I’d lose with my firstborn, I decided to take him for his favorite food of late, sausage.
Sitting in the red booth I called my friend Trudy, who had jokingly been put on standby for the weekend. She answered the phone,”Are you in labor?” We laughed and chatted until the sausage came. Just as I finished cutting it up, it happened.
I distinctly remember having the thought, They’re right. It’s not at all like peeing. It’s like having the world’s largest water balloon popped inside you. This, as an obscene amount of water whooshed out of me and down my pants leg, splattering onto the Waffle House floor. I grabbed a few napkins and dropped them beneath the booth to soak up the expanding puddle. I was too big to climb under the booth to wipe it up, so I scuffed my black boot along the floor, tearing the napkins to soggy bits. My son had begun to cry which is how I realized his cut up sausage was still in front of me. I slid the plate to him, my hands shaking.
I called my husband. “My water just broke.”
“What?” He said it like I had just announced I was giving up my job in television to become a hooker. He was a plane ride and car drive away.
“My water broke. I’m at the Waffle House.”
“What?” Clearly as stunned as me, I told him he needed to try to get home. He was running for the car when we hung up.
And then I called Trudy. “My water just broke.” She thought I was joking until she realized I wasn’t, which is when she screamed, said she was on the way, and hung up on me.
The thing that sucked the very most at this moment was that I was still in the damn Waffle House, with a puddle in the booth and on the floor and pardon the gritty detail, but I was still leaking. I hadn’t worn a winter coat(pregnancy brain) and for once in my life I was wearing light colored pants. I looked toward the exit. Members of a black church choir had just entered, at least a dozen of them, some singing to each other. And they weren’t the only ones waiting for one of the ten booths in the place. My escape was blocked.
By now I was trembling all over, the words of my doctor echoing in my head, that I had better head straight to the hospital at the first contraction because this baby was coming quickly.
This could not be happening. I was not going to be a kicker in the newscast, “An Atlanta tv reporter gave birth in the Waffle House today..” I would have to quit tv. I would have to quit Atlanta.
I motioned for the waitress and held out my credit card. Speaking as softly as I could I said, “I’m so sorry but my water has broken and I don’t want to stand up to pay at the register. Could you please ring this up because I need to leave?”
And this is the precise moment my life turned into a broadly exaggerated scene straight out of a cheesy movie. The waitress, who was, of course, round and buxom with a wide smile, promptly yelled, “Oh my Lawd, your water broke!”
If you ever want to find out what a completely silent Waffle House is like, yell those words. The quiet and my burning face lasted only seconds before hell broke loose.
A dad two booths away with his toddler son who had chatted me up before we got our tables, jumped up and yelled, “Honey, I’ll drive you to the hospital! I have an extra car seat!” At this point I may have cocked my head like a dog that hears a weird noise. Honey? I waved my hand no and said I was fine to drive, that I lived right around the corner.
There was a sudden flurry of waitresses and choir folk around my table as one was helping me up and another was hoisting my son from his highchair. He protested this abrupt sausage ending with blood curdling screams. I stood, my pants clinging to me like I just climbed out of a pool. The choir people were laughing and talking all at once, touching me as I waded through the crowd. “Congratulations!” “Good luck!” “God bless!” It was like a Mardi Gras parade minus the beads and boobs.
Out of nowhere, a brunette girl appeared in front of me, halting my steps. “Are you Jaye Watson?” (I was serious about this being a scene from a movie. Stick with me). Yes, got a story to pitch? Just let me find a pen so I can stab you with it. She said,”I’m friends with your sitter Jeanine. I’ll call her and she can come stay with your son.” In just two sentences that girl went from potential stabbing victim to saint.
And then we were moving again, me and the school of waitresses swimming upstream towards the door. Once outside, one woman buckled my son in his seat, another handed me his sausage doggie bag and they all waved, outside and inside the Waffle House, as I drove away wondering who would be forced to sit in the now infamous booth.
Trudy showed up on my doorstep with a hilariously bad case of bed head, wearing pajamas with shoes. She protested loudly she was not going to deliver the baby as I insisted on showering before we left.
The relief of being safely at the hospital, in my delivery room as my labor went full blown, allowed the awful reality to sink in. My husband would miss the birth of our baby. We had chosen not to find out the sex. I was so sad, and of course irrationally angry with him for ruining it. I was picturing our soon to be born child graduating high school and walking down the aisle and becoming a parent, and my husband would have a chink of missing memory, a big fat vacancy from when it all began.
That’s when I called my girlfriend Erin and told her I needed a camcorder, so my husband could see the birth of his child. Yes, I just used the word camcorder. This was before iphones recorded every inane moment of our lives. “I’ll get one!” She rushed to the store, told them I was in labor and walked out five minutes and $500 later.
And there we were, the three of us — Erin and Trudy trying to teach themselves how to use the camera and me coaching them, “You just have to get in there. Get in there and get the video, because it’s all he’ll have.” To this day I don’t know which of them was the designated National Geographic photographer. We didn’t have to find out.
My husband, who had taken a flight to Birmingham(the flight crew let him sit in the front row and get out first), and who had driven and dodged tornadoes all the way to Atlanta — no joke — walked in the hospital room just as the doctor was about to tell me we couldn’t wait any longer. My husband raised his arms in victory, the almost defeated pugilist who pulls off a miraculous knockout in the waning seconds of the 12th round. There was much cheering and jumping about (obviously not from me, my legs were numb from the epidural given to slow the labor). Everyone cried. He covered my face in kisses, moving the wet across my cheeks.
And then Trudy and Erin were gone and I was pushing and his hands were behind me and moments later our daughter was born, healthy and pink and tiny.
After I got home from the hospital a large brown box arrived. It was from the good people at Waffle House who had heard about the Sunday morning excitement. There were personalized name tags for the entire family, t-shirts for all of us, and a onesie for my daughter that read I’m a Waffle House baby. Truer words have never been printed.