I can almost transport myself to that day…the anticipation, the pain, the joy, and the instant alarm that never completely obliterated the joy.
In 1961 they didn’t allow any family members into the delivery rooms. I was alone to notice that there was no cry announcing your arrival. You were my first child. I didn’t know the protocol, but there is a sense of something off kilter. A tension among the nurses and the doctor that greyed out the room.
With my later deliveries I learned that I would have been holding you on my chest while I was being stitched up. I would have been distracted from that discomfort. I would have been inspecting you closely rather than worrying as they huddled around you in the corner and rushed you from the room.
I don’t remember the sequence. Your dad and I were together when they told us that you might not live. Because the cord was wrapped twice around your neck they had worked to allow your first breath. When you took that first breath, you inhaled fluids. You were placed immediately into an incubator with steam in hopes that you could clear your own lungs.
Lying in the maternity ward I watched babies being brought to their mothers. Twice a nurse arrived with a baby for me and my heart leaped with joy until she realized that she was at the wrong bed. My devastation secured my early release.
And still we lived at the hospital. Your father and I looked through the nursery window for hours, watching you breathe and praying for a miracle. You, a full-term, 9-pound baby looked healthy and normal next to the preemies. It didn’t seem real.
We were young and inexperienced. We needed god-like figures and they appeared.
Our pediatrician was our lifeline, conveying bits of information each time we saw him (sometimes reassuring, sometimes terrifying) with warmth and honesty. The good news each days was your survival and the increasing chance that your lungs were clearing. Still, we were made to understand that should you survive, the amount of oxygen you were receiving could cause brain damage. There was no way of judging the effects at that time. We could only wait and watch in the months and years to come.
All of your nurses took time to caress you and provide loving touches in your warm little world. We were not allowed to enter the nursery and were thankful for their care. But Lois was the special nurse who supplied our daily comfort. The large, brash woman would plant herself in front of us, arms akimbo, conveying everything in a pragmatic and forthright manner that made it all seem fine. She would jockey you and your incubator into the best position for us to see and then stand beside you, smiling. In retrospect, I believe she was my first role mode for staying the present. By her attitude she conveyed that for that moment we should be grateful for your very life and that there was no point in looking beyond that moment of grace.
And the days went by.
And then when you were twelve days old I was allowed to hold you. Anxious and excited I donned the sterile clothing offered and waited in an empty room. They brought you to me and left. Even now, my chest tightens as I remember my fear and feelings of inadequacy. What was I to do with you? What if something went wrong. They day before you were swaddled and protected in your man-made cocoon. Today you were handed to me as if I were prepared to take over from there. You looked at me, waving your little hands and pursing your lips. And as I held your warm little body and gazed back at you, you took a deep breath, closed your eyes and went limp.
“Nurse, nurse,” I cried.
When she came running in I babbled and sobbed. “Did she die?”
The nurse laid her arm on mine and consoled me. “She’s just gone to sleep.”
That was the beginning of the exciting, fulfilling, and nerve-racking journey of hands-on parenting. Two days later you were on Summit Street, lying in your tranquil nursery with yellow-checked curtains matching the skirt of your bassinet. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles were able to touch you and hold you. Friends and family rejoiced with us at the miracle of you.
Because you weren’t allowed around children for the next two or three months, our front porch was crowded several times each day as the neighborhood kids rang the doorbell and asked to see you. I would hold you up to the door or the front window as they giggled and waved, anticipating the days when you would join them.
My life changed forever on the joyous day you were born.