Day One (Thursday, November 27th. 2014 – Thanksgiving)
"Guys? Guys? Can I come in? I'm like dying out here!"
Monica laughed so hard that the little tough cookie lost her nipple and squawked indignantly until she got hold of it again.
"Yes, come in, come in! Sorry, Joey, we didn't mean to forget about you …"
"It's alright." Joey approached the bed, trying very hard to not look at Monica's breast and grinned goofily at the baby. "It's feeding already? Do you remember how long it took Emma to figure it out?"
"Yeah. I still can't believe we have our baby. OUR BABY!"
Chandler and Joey both winced and held their ears. And looked puzzled when the baby never lost a beat. Joey cleared his throat.
"So – is everything, you know, okay?" Chandler and Monica both beamed rather besotted.
"Oh yeah. Everything's great. They haven't done all the tests yet, but she's already got nine on the APGAR …"
"Um, that's Activity, Pulse –"
"No, I meant, whoa! She? It's a girl?!"
Chandler's grin got even wider.
"Oh my god, you were right all along?" Joey stared. "And about the date of birth too! What is the matter with you?"
"I don't know, Joe. Guess I never really had to chance to screw that one up. She's just too perfect."
"He's got the most perfect name for her too!" Monica inserted happily. When the little tough cookie – little Gracie Chandler reminded himself – apparently had enough for the moment Monica gently held her against her chest, rocking to and fro, while the baby made content baby noises.
"Really? Oooh, don't tell me, you're going to call her Josephine?"
"No! Joey, we've been over that!" Joey pouted. "Besides, we already called Erica Josephine."
"Alright … So what's this one called then?"
Monica held the baby slightly away again, smiling down at her tenderly. Chandler put out a hand and gently took up one minute hand with the tip of his finger.
"Joey Tribbiani – I want you to meet Grace Eleanor Bing."
Joey's eyes widened as he stared reverently at the baby.
"Wow! You guys … Um, okay …" He cleared his throat again and took a deep breath. "So - how're yoooouuu doooing?"
By the time little Gracie had completed the third hour of her life they had been moved to a room in the maternity ward. They even had it to themselves, since the second bed wasn't occupied right now. All the paperwork had been done, the doctor notified, the pink wrist bands issued, and more tests been made (including a blood test which seemed to hurt Chandler much more than his baby – but then she wasn't the little tough cookie for nothing). Joey had phoned Phoebe who had spread the news to Mike and their children, Ross, who in turn informed his and Monica's parents, Rachel, Emma and Leo, to Ben who had arrived separately, to the twins and the soccer mom who had brought them home, and even their neighbors, and now the whole gang had gathered around Monica's bed to see the new baby and watch her sleep deeply and unperturbed among all the excitement. And take photos. And videos. And more photos, until it seemed to Chandler as if every single breath his baby was taking, every twitch of her eyelids, every slight stirring was immediately documented twice over. At least no one had tried to wake her, so they could take her up and pose for pictures with her, but he knew that it was only a matter of time and already dreaded that moment. As to the picture taking, of course he had participated himself in that too, so much in fact that he was starting to worry about the remaining memory of his phone. He had already sent dozens of pictures to his parents and promised them more photos as soon as little Gracie deigned to finish her nap and socialize a bit again. For now he was content to watch her sleep, together with the twins who seemed completely fascinated by their tiny new sister, and Ross who had veritably melted into a puddle the moment he had laid eyes on her. And bitterly lamented the fact that it had been Joey and not him who had arrived at their house in time to take them to the hospital.
"No offense, Ross, but I don't think we would have made it to the hospital in time with you."
"I still don't get how it could have happened so fast! And after that long delay!"
"Nobody can. It's unbelievable. Joey now wants to buy the car from the car rental agency. Just imagine it had happened in your car!"
"Yeah … I'd never be able to get rid of it. Although …"
"Yeah. Actually I wanted to buy that car too, Joey just beat me to it."
Just then Phoebe appeared in the door, jumping up and down and shouting to make herself heard.
"Everybody! Hey! Dinner is ready!"
Chandler and Monica stared at each other nonplussed. "Dinner?"
Only then he saw that everybody around them smirked and winked at each other, as if they were all taking part in a conspiracy that he and Monica had completely failed to notice.
Phoebe grinned. "Yes, dinner! You need to come down to the cafeteria. All of you. Monica, we brought you a wheelchair – yes I know, you can walk, but it's a long way and you need to rest. Come on!"
And down they went, Monica in the chair and Gracie still asleep in her isolette, filling two elevators to their capacity. At the cafeteria doors Chandler and Monica had to wait until everybody else was inside, then they were allowed to enter.
"Oh my god!" Chandler's jaw dropped and Monica had raised her hands to her face as she stared unbelievingly at the Thanksgiving dinner spread before them.
"My turkey! I don't believe this! I thought you had eaten it!"
Ross hooked an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. "Of course not! We could never eat it without you."
"But how -?"
"We just packed it up and took it with us, and the guys in the cafeteria kitchen agreed to heat it up for us. We even remembered to bring the desserts!"
"But not your special china, don't worry."
Chandler recovered enough to get out his phone again and take a photo of the dinner table. Someone – Mike probably – had made a sign that resided between two champagne bottles and simply said "Happy Thanksgiving Baby" and he suddenly found himself unable to swallow around the lump in his throat.
"Okay, guys!" Phoebe was jumping up and down again. "Before we start, can we get a photo of all of us in front of the table?" As they arranged themselves in front of the table, with the baby in the middle between Monica and Chandler who held the sign over it, she recruited one of the onlookers to take the photo – or all the photos on nearly every available camera, until the sight and smell of the turkey got too much for them to bear. And still Ross wanted another picture, this time alone with his niece, just as Chandler had dreaded. That the little tough cookie didn't protest, or not too much, was even worse.
"Careful, mind the head …!"
"Chandler! I've got kids of my own, you know!"
"Then you should know what it's like."
"Yeah. I do. But still, this is my niece! My first niece!"
"No, it's not!"
"What? Of course – oh, sorry. Um, my first – oh shoot. My sister's first baby … no? Oh man …"
"Ross, shut up and hold the baby." Chandler patted his shoulder. "But be careful please."
In the end they agreed to make photos of Gracie with three groups – Ross and Rachel with Ben, Emma and Leo, Phoebe and Mike with David, Lily and Francis, and then Joey with the twins. As soon as the last photo was taken Joey grabbed a chair and took a seat.
"Can we eat now? I'm starving!"
"By all means, let's, the turkey is getting cold!" Ross took up the carving knife and offered it to Monica. "Will you or should I -?" But she declined. "No, go ahead, that's fine."
Chandler pushed Monica's chair to the head of the table where they could park the isolette on the corner between them, then he took his seat beside her, and casually held out his plate after Ross had given Monica the first cut. Ross started to cut off a piece for him and then stopped with an expression of dismay.
"Oh no, we forgot Chandler's food!"
"That's okay, Ross, just put it there."
Ross hesitated, staring at him frowning. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"And you're not going to -"
"Vomit it out again?" Chandler shrugged. "Maybe."
"Or maybe not. I won't know until I tried, will I?"
And suddenly everyone at the table seemed to be staring at him wide-eyed as silence spread. As Chandler accepted the piece of turkey they all started to push the other dishes at him and, still with a nonchalant expression, he heaped helpings of yams, sprouts, cranberries and mashed potatoes on his plate. And the others around him watched him, silently holding their breath and, in Monica's case, clenching their hands on the table edge, while he picked up his knife and fork, cut off a piece of turkey and put it in his mouth.
And looked up, meeting the silent stares of his friends. Joey's eyes especially seemed almost to fall out of his head. Rachel hid her mouth behind her hand and Ross was chewing on his thumb.
"Dude … you just … Are you alright?"
Chandler shrugged. "Sure."
"You don't feel sick? Nauseous?"
"No." Chandler cut off another piece. "No, I'm okay. Mmmh – yes, it's okay." He smiled at Monica. "Delicious. Tell me one thing, though."
"Yes? What is it?"
"Has it always tasted like chicken?"
If you've read my other stories – or just this one even – you know that I don't go in for long author's notes. And I'll try to keep this as short as possible, but there are a few things I need to get off my chest, about this story, and what it means to me.
First I would like to mention some things where I took some inspiration and that I haven't mentioned yet: Everything I wrote about the baby's development/size/activities/capabilities I more or less took from the pregnancy division in the Babycenter website. Everything there looks and reads rather sappy and very condescending at times, but proved actually very helpful with all the necessary details. The pregnancy calculator they also have there was an invaluable help in getting all the due dates – not only of the TLC, but Chandler's too and that of the twins – straight and believable. Plus a lot of things mentioned in there inspired important plot points.
The inspiration for the birth of the TLC actually came from a novel: "Matters of Choice" (or "Choices" as it was originally called) by Noah Gordon, 1995. It's the third part of his Cole Family trilogy and right at the end Dr. RJ Cole has to deliver a baby still in the ambulance on their way to the hospital. There are quite a lot of memorable scenes in that book, but this one has always stuck firmly in my mind. It's a great book and well worth reading, but if you'd like to read only that scene, it's in the very last chapter (# 56 'Discoveries').
And last but not least, quite a lot of you guys have helped me – with information and tips, like Starbuckmeggie and Simplymondler, and with betareading like Spiralnebula31, both before and after posting, TropicalSummerBreeze, Simplymondler, Soligblomma, Chrisi2503, Matteney and Singmyangel with countless PMs that helped me get my head around plot problems and such, and of course, everyone out there who sent a review and let me know this way that they liked or even valued my story. To know that a story gets read is one thing – anyone can see that from the traffic stats and they can be quite reassuring too if you don't have anything else to draw on. I'm truly grateful for every single reader that appears there. But to see from a review that the story left enough of an impression on someone out there to make her write about how she felt about it – that's quite another thing altogether and I'm very grateful to everyone who did so (and hopefully will continue to do so. You can never have enough of a good thing, can you?)
And yet there have been some reviews that didn't sit so well with me, which brings me to the second part of this note.
All of my stories mean a lot to me. Although I'm not the fastest writer, I've written a good deal in my life, complete or unfinished novels, short stories, scenes, fragments, outlines – you name it. For those of you who are or at least speak German, one of my stories – pure fiction though and a totally different genre – can be found online, hidden away in my blog (the link is in my profile, both here and on twitter). But none of that stuff ever got read by more than two or three people at the most, and never before by a complete stranger until I started writing here. When I posted my first chapter a little over a year ago, I was completely thrown by the fact that it got read by some twenty people or even more almost as soon as it was online. And when I got my very first review for that very first chapter I posted here I had serious trouble believing it. Oh yes, that first review – unfortunately anonymous, but I'll never ever forget it. It only said "It has potential. The inner debates were funny", but I can't begin to tell you how proud it made me and how encouraging it was.
Is there anyone here who doesn't agree with Chandler here when he makes his concerns about everybody holding the baby for a photo known? After all it's a baby, a long awaited newborn baby, and here are more than a dozen overjoyed people of all ages wanting to hold it, one after the other, for a photo of the moment when they get to know it personally and up close for the first time – who could object to that? One of the many coincidences in this story is the birthdate – November 27th. Not only was it the day of Thanksgiving in 2014, but it also happens to be my niece's birthday. And I remember doing just that, in the hospital twenty years ago: holding her in my arms and getting my picture taken with her. There weren't as many family members present then, which seems to me quite fortunate in retrospect. I'm not sure I could do it now. Because it's a baby, you know, a newly born, tiny, fragile baby, whose eyes can easily be damaged by bright lights, let alone flashlights, and whose head needs to be supported all the time. And in a way, this story is my baby. A baby which turned out quite a surprise for me. When I started the story, I only wanted what Chandler did – to fulfil Monica's greatest desire, against all odds, and let her have a baby in a way that was both believable and special in its own way. And then it became so much more, like all stories do – I never fail to be amazed at how such giant trees of stories can grow from such tiny seeds. I never wanted kids and I'm always very insecure around them, let alone babies, but I've come to love this story as much as Chandler gets to love his little tough cookie. Writing this story – getting this baby born – was as much of a challenge as it was fun. My baby. That's what stories are, their writers' babies.
And now, picture yourself with a baby, a baby that took so much work and thinking and loving to get born, and imagine handing that baby to complete strangers to hold and admire it, ooh and aahh over it (hopefully), to handle it, expose it to light and noise, compare it to other babies, draw wrong conclusions from something in its appearance, examine it, squeeze it too hard or – in the worst case – make fun of it, let it drop or even steal it. With a baby that means so much to you, every little thing, complete trivialities you would otherwise not think twice about, get to hurt you a hundred times worse than any other thing ever would, and becomes completely blown out of proportion. Like a shark that can sense a drop of blood in the ocean from miles away writers can sense one word of criticism and nagging in an ocean of praise and admiration, and the greatest paradox here is that one little criticism among a flood of praise can hurt much more than a lot of it in a mere trickle of acclamation. You can get used to constant criticism, nitpicking remarks or unreasonable demands – you have to even if you want to stay in the game - but getting a lot of praise only makes you crave more and more of it, and then you become even more vulnerable to the few stray critical remarks when they hit home.
I've been very fortunate in that regard - almost all reviews said more than I expected and a lot of them arrived just when I needed them most - but I also had my share of reviews that were hard to swallow and even harder to ignore no matter how unremarkable and neutral they would appear to other readers who don't know what it's like. What it's like to devote hours and hours of work on a chapter only to get told that "there's too much talk about the crazy cat lady in it for me". Or wreck your brain for days to get a scene realistic and believable only to be told that "the doctor wouldn't call the baby 'it'". Or have a really funny idea dismissed as "huh, didn't know that was a thing". True, all those things didn't hurt that much when I read them first, but here's another thing about these little drops of blood in the ocean, these tiny little pinpricks - they continue to irritate and itch, for months and years even, until they finally start to fester and really hurt, even drive you crazy, and you can never shake them off again completely. It happened to me and I've seen it happen to other writers here and it makes me sad. And mad. This was supposed to be a Friendly board! So here's my appeal to everyone who writes reviews: review all you like, even criticize if you feel you absolutely have to – but please – PLEASE! - take a moment before you click 'send' to read over what you've written and try to imagine what those words would do to you if that story was your baby in a stranger's arms, a baby you offered to the world for free, without compensation for the hours and hours of work. And ask yourself if you really want to send that review, to do that to the baby and its parent. Or if it wouldn't be better to talk with the writer personally in a PM about whatever you didn't like so much in a chapter or story first. Or keep it to yourself altogether. That's really all I ask.