It’s been a while since I wrote a birth story. Four years. This morning I sat over my breakfast of coffee and eggs and mulled over this fact. For a while, I was turning out a birth story every two years like clockwork: 2015, 2017, 2019. Then nothing. Why did I stop? Was it the form that changed or was it me? Since writing my last birth story, a lot has changed for me as a writer, as a person. I’ve transitioned from a literary author to a mystery writer and have seen my first two novels in print. Is that why I turned away from the genre of birth stories? Why then this sudden impulse to write one four years later? I scour my brain, looking for answers. Then I notice something, or rather someone, out of the corner of my eye. She’s dark-haired, easy on the eyes, and has a voluptuous chest like two ripe cantaloupes. In her arms, she’s holding an extremely small female person, like a midget only perfectly proportional. It’s a baby. My baby! And the comely young woman is a wife. My wife! It all instantly makes sense.
Susan awoke around three Sunday morning and jotted down the time. On the analog clock that sits atop our dresser, the three resembles a reverse letter E, but the way our daughter Bonnie writes them, the three resembles a reverse epsilon from the Greek alphabet. So which was my wife trying to indicate? Which letter would help me decipher why she woke up at that precise time? I quickly drew up a list of every E-word that I knew in English and Greek, then I asked her. As it turns out, she wasn’t indicating anything. She was noting the time of her first contraction. Her contractions would continue for the next twelve hours, getting closer and closer until stopping mysteriously. (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
The city streets of Garden were cold that morning. So cold I made the kids put on their coats before their Aunt Betsy came to pick them up. Susan and I didn’t know when we would see our children again. Maybe it would be Monday. Maybe never. One can’t always tell in this cruel and unpredictable world. (As it turned out, we would see them Monday.)
Then it was off to the hospital.
The nurse at the ER station eyed us suspiciously as we walked in. Who were we? Why were we here? Had some doctor referred us? I didn’t have good answers for her, but luckily Susan did. In fact, for the next few hours, into the delivery room and well into the afternoon, she did most of the talking. I began to feel as extraneous as a dorsal fin on a poodle, but not nearly as cute.
A woman brought Susan a breakfast tray shortly after we were admitted, but she declined to eat anything, saying she was “in labor.” I ate the various and sundry liquid food items instead, items which included jello, shaved ice, and some truly terrible coffee. I drank all of the coffee before reading the receipt. It was beef broth. Luckily, I’d only added a few spoonfuls of creamer.
More questions came. Did we know the gender of the baby, the doctor wanted to know. But why did she want to know? How would she benefit from a girl, say, rather than a boy? I ran through myriad possibilties before settling on the fact that I would never know. Doctors are inscrutable like that, as are their motives. Especially baby doctors. Only truly inscrutable individuals would be drawn to patients who can’t speak, can’t gesture effectively, and whose only means of communication is crying out. We told her we weren’t finding out ahead of time. “Oh fun,” the doctor said. “A mystery!” A mystery indeed…
Around three in the afternoon something changed. Intensified. It was Susan’s contractions. For some reason, they were coming faster and more intensely! Why? I didn’t know. Luckily, no one asked me. They all had ideas of their own and were taking action. Were they coordinating or working against each other? Only time would tell. But we were running out of time! Because, though we didn’t realize it at the time, Lucy Jane was bound and determined to be born at 3:26 pm, and that’s exactly what she did.
After she appeared, head full of short black hair that pointed in all directions and gave her a look like Liza Minnelli, the nurses became oddly curious about all manner of things: her height (20 inches), her weight (7 lbs, 8.5 ounces), her head, chest, and stomach circumferences (approximately 13 inches each), and her bilirubin (whatever that is). Then they finally gave themselves away, this conspiracy of medical personnel, for the head nurse finished by taking Lucy’s footprint. So there it was: they were gathering everything they needed to frame my hour-old daughter for a crime she didn’t commit.
I leaned into my wife’s ear so that no one could overhear: “When the nurse leaves, gather up Lucy and all her things. We’ve got to get her out of here.”
To which Susan replied, “Oh what a strange man I’ve married.”