My son is coming. The cord is tight around his neck, but I labor for hours, my body a channel my son drowns in. The cord becomes a noose and a nurse places an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. My doctor comes in and out, time blends into the mauve walls and rose curtains. I breathe and try not to push. I am told the cavities in my back are too small for an epidural. I am told to lie on my side. I am told that everything is fine, everything is just fine. Relax. Breathe. My husband sweats and counts and disappears into the hall to have conversations I am in too much pain to care about. Classical music from my CD plays in the corner. I will never intentionally listen to Mozart again.
Throughout my pregnancy I have worried if I can raise this child well, if I can be mentally and spiritually healthy, whole. If I can keep the lid tight. But today, I am just worried that this baby will die and that I will die along with it. Once, after the oxygen mask has been lifted, I scan the room. I see myself in the corner, watching. I am surprisingly uninterested in this outcome.
The machines scream and the room fills. There are white coats, gloved hands, metal tongs, a stern voice in my ear, This is it. This is it. This is you. You need to do this now. I push and push, but the steel clenches my son’s head and pulls hard. My son is born. My son is freed, but there is only silence. The room shifts, trays tip, tables roll. A nurse places him in a pan, suctions his throat, and calls over her shoulder, “It’s a boy.” The room turns white even as I struggle to see.
When I wake, my husband is crying and holding our baby as he walks out the door. A group follows him quickly. The doctor—one I’ve never met—pulls a needle through the gaping hole in my middle. I feel a pinch as the tip severs my skin, but the pain is manageable, abstract. I ask this doctor, this man with reading glasses, “How is my baby?” and he looks up, over the rims. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Later I will learn that my obstetrician, the one I visited countless times over my pregnancy and asked mundane questions like, “Can I drink non-alcoholic beer? Is decaf tea okay?” is addicted to “mood-altering” drugs and that the nurses who saved my son reported this doctor after his inability to recognize my son’s distress almost resulted in his death. One nurse removed my doctor physically, after countless attempts at trying to explain to him my high heart rate and my son’s lack of oxygen. She risked her job to do so. She saved my son. She saved me. I will never know her name, but I imagine her as the voice in my ear. This is you.
I take my son home and I study him for the brain damage I am warned about. He was without oxygen for many hours. The results may be permanent. We are not always a fortunate family, but my mother always told me I was born under a lucky star as her finger traced my palm. I cling to that. I sit and hold my son. The doctors say the results won’t be conclusive until he is three. I watch and wait.
I tell my family about the possibility of brain damage, but I do not discuss it with anyone. I do not pull the words out of the dark walls. My fear is its own mine, and I chip away at it in the black as the minutes tick by.
But one day my aunt calls on the six-month anniversary of her daughter’s suicide. My aunt mentions the date, and the weight of her pain rests between us. She asks me how I am. I tell her because I cannot lie to her, not now, not today. She listens to my fears, the Ask Jeeves list of what is likely and what is not, and then when I cannot speak any longer, she asks, “Can you tell yet what color his eyes will be?”
The forceps’ bruise around my son’s left eye has disappeared and his pale skin and wide forehead serve as a canvas for his large eyes. They are a deep blue, a blue that stands watch and wishes, a blue that could measure the heartbeat of a soul. They are blue, too blue to become brown.
I tell her how beautiful they are and I feel her smile into the phone. “You just hold that baby and love him,” she tells me. “You just hold him.”
And I do. I hold my son until he sleeps. I hold him until I sleep. I hold him and I shut my eyes to the dark.
Photo credit: mll / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)