Today's story is the third in an occasional series that followed the journey of a teenage girl through pregnancy. Natasha Batt, 17, found out she was pregnant in July and gave birth Jan. 21. She decided to place the baby - a boy - for adoption and selected a couple from Wyoming to be parents. She has found comfort and support from family and friends, especially from her mother, who as a teenager also placed a baby for adoption.
For months, Natasha Batt put life on hold, dodged prying questions and endured being the target of gossip. When the day the 17-year-old once thought would never come finally arrived, it dawned with contractions - five minutes apart.
By noon, she was at the center of an anxious audience of family and friends, including her baby's adoptive parents, Daniel and Tristan Escoz.
"It hurts, Mom. It hurts," Natasha whispered.
Mother and daughter sat on a hospital bed in a Billings Clinic delivery room. Natasha shook as a contraction tightened its grip. The papery cotton gown around her shoulders fluttered. With both hands, she held the plastic bed rail.
Liz Freeman held her daughter's face in her hands. With her thumb, she wiped a tear from her daughter's cheek as one rolled down her own.
As her body dragged her into the rhythm of labor, Natasha knew that every contraction was bringing her closer to relief, to freedom, to life back to normal. Still, she did not feel ready.
"Another one already?" she whimpered, throwing her head back on her pillow.
Her toes curled, and she made a fist around her mother's hand.
"It's what I expected, but not how I imagined it," she said between contractions.
Throughout the pregnancy, Liz asked Natasha, "Why are you doing this?" to be sure Natasha was always considering her decision to place her baby for adoption. Every time, Natasha came back with one answer: "He deserves more."
Natasha, a senior at Huntley Project High, found out she was pregnant in July, and about a month later was introduced to Daniel and Tristan, distant family friends from Buffalo, Wyo. The baby's father, who left Natasha before she discovered she was pregnant, has consented to the adoption.
Natasha's resolve was sharpened by labor pains, and as expected, the contractions grew in frequency and intensity.
"Please, not again, don't do it again," Natasha mumbled as a contraction approached.
"Look at me. Focus. You can get through it. Focus," Liz said.
Midway through labor, Natasha accepted pain medication to take the edge off the contractions. She refused an epidural, which would have blocked the pain when labor was worst. She wanted to be alert when the baby was born. The time she would have with him would be short, and she wanted to remember it clearly.
"Tristan, I'm ready to see this little guy, are you?" Natasha said between contractions.
"Oh, I am, I am," Tristan said. "I wish I could take some of your pain, sweetie."
After the next, excruciating contraction, the nurse called for the doctor. Natasha was getting close to delivery. When the doctor came in, the crowd filed out the door and into the hall. Daniel, Tristan and several of Natasha's friends stared at the door, listening.
At little more than 5 feet tall, Tristan is talkative and as spunky as her messy, short hair style.
Daniel, a lanky 6 feet tall, is mostly quiet, but when he speaks, it's a joke, teasing but tender. A love of hard work shows on his dusty cowboy hat and leathery hands.
Lifelong Wyoming residents, Daniel and Tristan come from tight-knit families and ranching backgrounds. Tristan works for her parents as a manager at their liquor store and bar in Buffalo. As a hobby more than a profession, Daniel tends a small ranch the couple own.
Natasha's baby will be Tristan's parents' first grandchild, and the seventh - but no less celebrated - grandchild of Daniel's parents.
When it came time to choose a name, Daniel suggested Alberto, a strong, Basque name. He knew it wouldn't fly with Tristan, and it became a lighthearted point of contention between husband and wife. They shared it with Natasha, who saw the humor in it but needed a name. She called her baby "Little Al" ever since.
Daniel and Tristan finally settled on the name Tayden. His middle name, Pierre, is a tribute to Daniel's Basque heritage.
At 5:56 p.m. on Jan. 21, Tayden Pierre was born, weighing 6 pounds, 14 ounces and stretching 19 inches long.
"Little Al is in the world," Natasha's friend Molly Ekness, 17, announced to a friend on her cell phone.
Natasha shuddered from shock and exhaustion. Her face and shoulders were sprinkled with tiny red dots - capillaries broken while pushing.
She looked down, patted her empty belly and said, "Next, a red prom dress."
The longest wait
Tristan and Daniel stood outside the door as their newborn son took his first breath and cried. He wailed as the doctor and nurses examined and bathed him.
Tristan held Daniel's waist, dabbing the tears welling behind her glasses. For all the time they had spent hoping for a child, the longest wait was the few minutes they stood outside the door listening to their baby cry.
When the door finally opened, Tristan and Daniel kept their emotions in check. Inside, Natasha, a girl they had come to know so well, held the son they plan to love forever. His face was hidden inside a puffy, quilted wrap.
The new parents floated through the doorway. Tristan leaned down, holding Natasha around the shoulders, sobbing.
"I love you, I love you. There isn't enough words to say what you mean to us," Tristan said.
Respectful of Natasha, Tristan didn't hold out her arms until the baby was passed to her. Daniel was silent, watching with a smile.
Without a word, Natasha presented her son to his mother.
Natasha closed her eyes, serenely tipped her head back on the pillow and smiled, then rolled her head over to exchange smiles with Tristan. It was the single moment Natasha had dreamed about for months, the moment she focused on whenever she faced criticism or questioned her decision.
Tristan finally was holding her baby boy.
From the start of their relationship, Tristan and Daniel knew they wanted to be parents. Adoption entered their conversation in June, after fertility treatments were unsuccessful. Daniel has multiple sclerosis, which presents the possibility that his children could be at an increased risk of developing the disease, so that factored into their decision, too.
They met Natasha in September and have spent the past five months preparing for parenthood. They filled out reams of paperwork, went through background checks and home studies and had friends submit letters of recommendation. Tristan got a good deal on a secondhand crib and changing table, and they painted the nursery in simple pastels.
But Tristan opted not to have a baby shower, buying only a few basics for the baby. She didn't want to "jinx herself," she said, in case Natasha changed her mind.
In Montana, adoptions cannot be finalized until at least 72 hours after the baby's birth, and during that time, birth mothers have been known to change their minds. The more Tristan and Daniel got to know Natasha, the more confidence they had in her decision, but they were mindful that a change of heart was possible.
"You're all prepared for this little thing to come into your life, and you think here I am all ready and what if she changes her mind?" Tristan said.
Monday, Natasha signed over her parental rights, completing her part of the adoption. Natasha said she didn't want contact from Tristan or Daniel for four years, and after that, it would be up to Tristan to decide when Tayden was ready to meet his birth mother.
Her biggest moment
Natasha was cleared to leave 24 hours after the birth, but the baby had to stay in the hospital two days. Liz spent the first night in Natasha's room to take care of the baby while her daughter slept, and arrangements were made to provide a room for Daniel and Tristan to stay with the baby on the second night so Natasha could go home.
Before she left, Natasha wanted time alone with the baby.
"I get a whole lifetime with him, and she gets only this short precious time with him," Tristan said as she sat in the waiting area with Daniel and Natasha's family.
In the dark room, Natasha held her baby and rocked. Through tears, she looked into his face. He was everything she ever pictured he would be - tiny, familiar and perfect. He smiled in his sleep, and a feeling of relief washed over Natasha.
"This little boy, without doing anything, did so much for me," she said. "I'm going to miss his biggest moments - his first words, when he walks, rides his horse - but he was my biggest moment without having to do anything. He made me grow up."
Snow fell outside, and in the window light, Natasha penciled a note on a small piece of paper.
Thank you Tristan and Daniel for being the perfect family by not being perfect and most of all thank you Tayden for being my Little Al.
She slipped it into the bassinet. She kissed him on the forehead, gently laid him down and fell into her mother's arms. Liz wrapped her arm around her daughter's waist and supported her as they walked down the empty hall. A nurse, her cheeks wet with tears, followed them, pushing the baby bassinet to Tristan and Daniel's room.
Natasha did not look back.
Contact Laura Tode at firstname.lastname@example.org.