My wife Liz and I spent 15 days trekking all over Italy in 2015. I thought it would easily be the most significant trip I took that year, but the real life-changing journey wound up being a Walgreens errand. Pre-Walgreens, I was a carefree 33-year-old dude plotting his next escape; post-Walgreens, I was a dad-to-be.
Here’s my story: a few weeks after our Italian odyssey, Liz sent me to Walgreen’s to pick up a pregnancy test. Even though it was a little less awkward than purchasing the Plan B pill, buying a pregnancy test – whether 18 or 33 – has always made me uncomfortable. The moment I picked up that Clearblue package, I no longer felt like the confident, relaxed man I pretend to be in public. Instead, I was again that scared-shitless high school kid who walked down the pregnancy test aisle of a Norristown K-Mart like a death row inmate making his final journey to the chair.
As you know, Liz passed the test with flying colors or rather, flying color – blue. When she found out she was pregnant, she made the surprising decision not to drink during the pregnancy, a decision unheard of in my family where one to four daily glasses of wine is considered “good for the baby.” Liz did all the things you were supposed to do while pregnant and swore off all the things you weren’t. And she was generally pretty miserable doing it.
For nine long months, Liz endured migraines, insomnia, pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, and a husband who drank like prohibition was only a few months away. Despite all this, she opted not to indulge in the daily glass of wine that helped so many women through their pregnancies. Liz wanted to wait until she went into labor to indulge.
Her birth plan consisted of:
- recognizing that she was in labor
- taking a long shower
- pouring a healthy glass of wine from our Italy collection
- watching “Pitch Perfect 2”
By the eighth month of the pregnancy, we’d whittled down our list of names to three: Sydney, Julianna, and Emma. The only thing we were sure about the name was what would follow it: Marie. Regardless of whether our daughter was a Sydney, a Julianna, or an Emma, Marie was the perfect phonetic stepping stone on the path to the harsh-sounding Bilski. Plus, I have an Aunt Marie whom I adore. I figured if we weren’t going to pay tribute to our parents with the baby’s name, we could at least give a nod to an amazing aunt.
When we went to the doctor’s appointment on the baby’s due date, we were fully expecting to hear, “Looks like this baby is coming TODAY. You guys should head home so you have enough time to make it through that shitty Rebel Wilson movie.”
Instead we found out Liz was barely dilated, were assured it was very common for the first baby to come late, and were given a date on which Liz would be induced if things continued to progress as they were.
That was on a Tuesday. When I walked through the door from work that Friday, Liz was having the Wait-This-Could-Be-Something feeling she’d had for the past few weeks.
“Look,” she told me, “it’s probably nothing, but just in case, can you open up one of those Italy wines?”
We had three different bottles in a wall-mounted wine rack in our kitchen. They’d been sitting there for the better part of a year, but I’d hardly noticed them. I’d made a pact with Liz not to touch the Italy wine until she could enjoy it too. I grabbed the bottle from the bottom of the rack, the easiest to reach.
The wine I chose was a Chianti Classico from a family-run winery about half an hour outside Florence that specialized in Chianti and combined warm, charming hospitality with sweeping views of the picturesque Tuscan countryside. It was called Casa Emma. Of the three names, Emma was the long-shot, with Sydney looking like the clear favorite by the end of the third trimester.
“It’s a sign,” Liz said when I showed her the Casa Emma bottle. “If the baby comes tonight, we’re naming her Emma.”
By arbitrarily choosing a wine with one of our potential baby names in bold red letters right there on the bottle, I’d catapulted Emma to the top of the name list and virtually ensured our daughter would have at least one thing in common with Bon Iver’s obsession.
Unfortunately, as soon as the wine was poured, the contractions subsided enough for Liz to think it was another false alarm. Deflated, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary to remind ourselves things could be a lot worse. By the time Amy died, so did Liz’s hopes of having a baby that night and she went to bed.
A couple of hours after Liz had fallen asleep, the contractions returned with a vengeance and, after she finally woke her drugged husband (Ambien, I had pregnancy-induced insomnia too!), we headed off to the hospital.
At 9:30 pm on January 9, 2016, twenty-seven and a half hours after she first asked me to crack open a bottle of the Italy wine, Liz gave birth to Emma Marie Bilski.
We’d spent maybe two hours at Casa Emma. When we loaded back onto the bus to continue our Tuscan wine tour, I took one final look at the sea of green rolling hills surrounding the stone island of Casa Emma because I was sure I’d never be back there again. Now Liz and I argue about how soon is too soon to take Emma to see her winery. It’s bound to be several years before we make that trip. In the meantime, we get shipments of “Emma’s wine” from Casa Emma. These shipments will have to tide us over while we wait.