I will always remember China as the place where my third child and my first novel were born.
We came to Chengdu, China with absolutely no idea that we would have a third child, but we were pleasantly (and cautiously ) surprised to find out we were pregnant after being here about two months. My wife and I are both in our early 40’s, with two kids who are already in the double digits, and it was quite an intimidating idea that we’d have another tiny one in our house.
Meanwhile, about the same time the pregnancy was discovered, I picked up my old unfinished manuscript of Thimblerig’s Ark that I’d been working on for nearly fourteen years. Nanowrimo was coming up in November, and I decided that it was time to finally finish the darned thing. Certainly, I could finish it by the time new little baby Fleming made his/her grand appearance, right?
The challenge was extended, the challenge was accepted, and the race was on.
In the first lane was my wife with my unfinished, unpolished, unformed child inside. In the second lane, my unfinished, unpolished, unformed manuscript, also waiting to see the light of day.
And then came the complications.
First, we discovered that the baby had a single umbilical artery, which meant that there might not be enough blood, and the baby could be underdeveloped. Then, we discovered that we had placenta previa, the placenta covering the cervix, and that if it didn’t shift out of the way, it could be dangerous for my wife and my baby, and we’d need a C-section. Then, my wife had a couple of early morning bleeds and was forced to go on bedrest. Then, we found out that the placenta not only covered the cervix, but went up into the abdomen, which would make a C-section very dangerous. And all of this was going on while we were less than a year in Chengdu, China – with no language, little understanding of the medical system, no medical insurance for my wife (long story), and plenty of anxiety and fear.
With my writing, there were also plenty of complications. While trying to write I was doing my best to take care of my wife (who is the real hero of this story). I was taking care of our two older kids (thank heavens for the concept of Dad Bucks, which I found here). I was working full time as an elementary school teacher. I was directing the high school drama program. I was cleaning and preparing breakfasts and lunches and dinners (thank heaven for the friends who helped with supplying meals from time to time, too!). And I was trying to get Thimblerig finished.
As you can see, it was a hard race, and it was questionable if either competitor would actually reach the finish line.
A side note – I have never prayed or been prayed for so hard in all of my life (for the baby mostly – don’t tell the book), and I’ve never been so unsure about what would happen at that finish line. In fact, I felt how Thimblerig, the hero of my novel, must have felt as I was trying to keep him from getting him to the ark. I was throwing everything I could at him to prevent him from making it, and at the same time I felt like everything, every problem, was being thrown at me. There was a strange and – in retrospect – beautiful symmetry to what my family was experiencing, and what I was doing to the protagonists of my story.
But back to the race…
Things were darkest towards the end. Every night I would work on the novel after everyone was asleep, and then when I went to bed, I would pray and beg God to keep my wife from having any more bleeding and that we wouldn’t have to have any late-night runs to the hospital. I didn’t sleep well, I felt nervous all the time, and every time my phone rang while I was at work I was worried that it would be my wife letting me know that she was on the way to the hospital. I wept in front of our church, requesting continued prayer.
At the same time, I was nearing the end of the novel. I’d finally figured out how all the loose ends should tie up, but trying to figure out how exactly how to tie them was nearly impossible. But still, I pushed on.
And then, it happened. The day of the scheduled C-section arrived. Because of our insurance situation, we’d chosen to stay in China, and give birth at Angel Hospital, a private hospital that was extremely luxurious, and yet still cheaper than if we’d flown back to the states with insurance. But as nice as the hospital was, this was a day we’d been dreading. The placenta previa had not resolved and the danger during the surgery was more real than ever. People have died with the complications we were experiencing, and as much as we’d prayed and done what the doctor wanted us to do, there were no assurances that we’d have a happy ending. If the baby was born in distress, they would have to stabilize him/her, put him/her in an ambulance, and rush him/her to the bigger hospital that had a NICU. But the doctors weren’t leaving anything to chance, and when they wheeled my wife into the surgery room, I saw that they had their best staff on hand to help. We said a final prayer, and the surgery began.
I would love to say that the procedure went exactly as planned. I would love to say that there was no need for any of the extra equipment, or the ambulance, or the extra blood we’d had to buy from the central blood bank. I’d love to say that my wife was just fine, that the baby was just fine, that there were no complications, that the surgeon showed considerable skill in bringing it all to a happy ending.
I would love to say it, and I do love to say it, because all of those things happened. The baby won the race.
Noah Abai Fleming was born on June 10, as scheduled, and was as healthy as a little newborn baby could be. My wife, while having extreme pain and discomfort for several days because of the C-section, was just fine. The hospital was incredibly supportive and turned out be nicer than anything we’d ever experience in an American hospital – on all fronts. The relief we felt as a family was so tangible that we could have put it into bottles and sold it at the market. I can see it now – “Relief juice for sale! Get your fresh relief juice!”
Thimblerig’s Ark came in a close second. Just a few days after the birth of Noah, I was finally able to type the two words every novelist is happy to type: “The End”, and I celebrated by kissing my newborn baby and holding my wife.
I’m happy to say that in both cases, the story doesn’t end there. The baby has grown and grown into a healthy chubby seven month old – curious about everything, incredibly eloquent with his one word vocabulary of “ba”, and a complete delight to all of us – brother and sister included.
Thimblerig, meanwhile, has been through a bevy of revisions. After the childbirth we had a quiet Chengdu summer, with most of our expatriate friends having returned to their home countries for the summer break, and so with very little to do, I was able to spend glorious hours in a variety of Chengdu coffee shops, living the life of the full-time writer. Finally, in the autumn, I gathered a team of intrepid beta readers, who gave great feedback, I revised a few more times, and by December, Thimblerig’s Ark was ready to go out into the world.
What does the future hold for these, my child and my novel, both made in China? I don’t know. I hope the best for both of them. For Noah, I hope that God blesses him in every way a child can be blessed. For Thimblerig, I hope that his story is read by as many people as possible.
And finally, and most importantly, I hope I don’t have to have another child to write my next novel. I don’t think I could make it.