For part one of this mini-series, click here.
We pulled into the hospital's valet entrance, baby still planted firmly in utero. Our ride was uneventful, and quiet, except for the moment my sister casually mentioned the donuts she'd thrown in the garbage before leaving the house. My brother-in-law and I locked eyes in the rear-view mirror, exchanging silent disbelief as she recounted her intentions to bestow goodwill and breakfast on her coworkers via Krispy Kreme; and how realizing she wouldn't be going in that day, had decided to trash them. An. Entire. Box. Of. Donuts. In that moment, if there had appeared a thought bubble inside the station wagon, a white cartoon cloud hovering between my brother and I, it would have contained only one word:
We were nearly without speech, Chad and I. Disposing of uneatened donuts is practically a crime against humanity; how could we bring a baby into this kind of family? He put the car in reverse, backing all the way down the street, even around a curve. I couldn't make this up if I tried. I was thinking what a sport my sister was, allowing our gluttony to interrupt her baby story, when all at once she announced that the donuts were not just in the kitchen trash, but the whole house trash. In the dumpster, with the diapers.
We handed the car over to the valet attendant, who looked about twelve, and rode an elevator to the maternity floor. While the two of them checked in, I swept the waiting room for the best magazines and then, channeling the inner Howard Hughes, did my best not to touch anything. Once we were assigned a room, I visited the cafeteria to grab coffee and fill the void of donuts-that-might-have-been, snagged a gift-shop Sudoku, and generally avoided mirrors. I was struck with the strangeness of hospital decor- the number of mirrors was astounding. I mean, who really wants to see themselves in an assless hospital gown? But wait, here's another mirror to reflect the nose-job that didn't take. Or, peekaboo...you're old! I know these places are rarely a bastion of style, but what about grace? At least put in skinny mirrors. Or affirming mirrors that talk to you in a loving way and say things like: All is well. You are not really this disheveled-looking. Smelling like beets is perfectly normal.
My vision for the day was to be...essential. While laboring with my first child, my sister was bright, excited, eager-she swam with me in the murky sea of tears, pain, and stalled progress; she brought Star Magazine and sneaked me sips of milkshake while for 36 hours, no baby. I was exhausted, me and my Willy Wonka uterus-nothing comes in, nothing comes out. From Tuesday morning to Wednesday night, strung-out on every drug they had, my cervix rewarded me by dilating to three centimeters, after which, overwhelmed with apathy, it promptly laid down and died. It may have been napping. Immediately after the c-section, I was so high, so grateful to my family for not leaving me alone in my despair-for loving our little boy from the start, for acknowledging the work I had done and how hard it was, waiting on something that almost wouldn't come. Giving back a little of that is bliss. It's the point, I think, of everything.
Molly was well-attended by the nurses. She mostly sat in the bed, kind of queen-like, which is to say that she was brave, and elegant. Her progress was fairly textbook, aside from some extra consideration given on account of her recent surgery. Have I mentioned this? That she, at around 20 weeks, had a tumor the size of a
For the next several hours she slept and I went back to the cafeteria twice. She continued to make tracks, her OB came in to guesstimate how much time was left, and we passed around Sudoku, comparing strategy. My brother-in-law has a method, as does my mother; I am more John Forbes Nash without the legitimate genius. It's kind of an invocation; a mind-set, really. I use pencil.
We waited. There wasn't a lot of pain, although whenever she'd been asked to rate what pain she did have on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you've ever felt in your life, she would scrunch up her face for a few beats, then say: I'd give it a good, solid....three. And this was before the epidural. I confronted her about this later, as I suspected confusion. "Level ten isn't hypothetical", I said, "like the worst pain imaginable-you don't have to project what it would feel like to be crushed by a piano or have your fingernails removed with pliers in order to answer this question. And ALWAYS exaggerate. They expect it." My sister looked at me blankly. She's tough, that one.
And lo, the time came for her to push. The doctor called from her adjacent office to say that she had only two more patients on her books and would be right over, which kind of made me want to throw up, because we were past right over. We were more in the zip code of right now. There was a small symposium of nurses in the hall and it was decided that, M.D. or no M.D., the moment was upon us, and I found myself, all-at-once, being extradited from the room. Now, I will preface this part of the story by saying we had discussed beforehand my sister's desires regarding the population of the birthing suite. She is, in some ways, a private person and I respect that very much. BUT-this did not stop me from trying to insinuate myself into the situation-I became even more indispensable than ever in hopes of getting a golden ticket. Being as quiet as possible was the first step, I then moved onto lightly brushing hair off her forehead, then spooning ice chips, taking great pains to avoid the business end of things, you know, DOWN THERE-anything that would curry enough favor, anything to stay.
Not so much. By this time, my mother, in a rare act of obedience, or gastrointestinal upset, had left, and with no co-conspirator, I felt very alone in my chutzpah. This had gone on long enough. Drawing the line, I kissed my sister and walked out of the room. Except I stopped and hid in the bathroom first. And then, in a stage-whisper, invited my mother to join me from the hallway. She sat on the (closed) toilet seat while I huddled in the shower. The rest is like a dream. I remember being ratted out by the nurse, then hearing my sister laugh and say, fine. My mother and I both had crossword puzzles, or maybe it was that stinking Sudoku, all I know is we didn't speak, nor did we look at one another. We could see nothing of what was happening on the other side of the door, but kept right on with our puzzle books, working them like our lives depended on their completion. It was like Zora Neale Hurston's hurricane-we seemed to be staring at Sudoku, but our eyes were watching God.
The sounds, though-just to hear this moment was incredible. The nurses counting down, cheering on as she pushed with all her might. The doctor, in heels, rushing in at what seemed like the last second. My sister politely declining the mirror...her controlled breaths, ever-so-slight whimpers-not at all the screaming banshee I know I'd be-until finally, the most beautiful sound of all: life. We opened the door just a little and searched the framed artwork on the wall for his reflection-and there he was, in the middle of the bad pastel print of a meadow: a person. Like looking at a Magic Eye poster-we found him. He found us.
It was one of the most exhilarating things I've experienced, every tension heightened by what I couldn't see...as if I had a glass to the bedroom wall again, desperate to hear her conversations, her music, her breath. To the girl who used to curl my bangs and bring me my pom poms, thank you for sharing your Bon Jovi with me, and for not shutting me out of this incredible moment. Most of all, thank you for loving me in a way that makes me feel, essentially, indispensable.