One morning, twenty-nine years ago today, I had to go to the hospital to be induced because my pregnancy was two weeks overdue. I waddled to the taxicab like an overweight duck, barely able to slide into the back seat.
There was no hurry. My baby boy, already named for practically everyone we admired, Robin Douglas Sean (pron. Ian for some reason) Kenneth, was in no rush to see the world. We got to the hospital in Oyster Bay, NY in plenty of time.
While he waited, my husband was so excited that he had to go to the bar across the street to calm down. By the time he came back he had two friends in tow, all three of them drunk and loud. My OBGYN ordered them out and they happily went back to the bar. I was just as happy to see them go.
My husband was not who I thought he was when we married eighteen months earlier (a strong recommendation for long engagements). He seemed to have a can of Budweiser welded to his right hand. He tried to hide it, but I knew he sometimes smoked crack. He stole from me to pay for his drugs. He had a loud mouth and liked to piss people off.
But when he was sober, he was loving and affectionate. He took care of the house while I worked. He fixed a delicious dinner every night, which was so endearing I put up with the rest.
Also, he gave me what I wanted most: a baby.
I was 41, the mother of a 22-year-old son whom I felt I had not given the nurturance he deserved when he was small and I was a too-young, divorced, hippie mom bent on living the adolescence I thought I’d been deprived of. Now, I wanted to make up for my maternal shortcomings by doing it right this time. That included a natural, drug-free birth.
So, when Dr. Grimaldi came into the room and told me that Robby had turned and was now in breech position, I cried. I needed an emergency C-section immediately. I would not be able to make up for sleeping through my first childbirth. Later, I would be glad for this: Grimaldi told me when he lifted my son out of my womb, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck three times.
But I didn’t know this at the time. All I knew was that my beautiful baby boy was on a table across the room while nurses cleaned him up and the doctor sewed me up. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Later that night, nursing and cuddling Robby in my room, I tried to pretend to passing staff that he wasn’t there. I didn’t want them to take him away for the night like the nurses did with my first baby so many years before. But it was a new time and a new generation. Eventually, I realized that no one was going to take my precious baby from me ever again.
“You should start walking,” said the night nurse. “You’ll heal faster.”
I carefully laid sleeping Robby in the glass bassinet next to my bed and floated, blissed out, into the hall. I smiled at everyone I passed. Everyone smiled back. This is the “happy ward”, I thought. Nobody is sick or dying. It’s only good news here.”
Then I heard a woman’s voice, sobbing. I turned and saw a young man standing by the door to the room from where the sobs had come. He looked devastated. I realized with a jolt that they must have lost their baby. My joyousness suddenly felt thoughtless and self-centered.
Chastened, I returned to my room to watch my son—his sleeping face, the perfect whorl of light brown hair around his head, his tiny fingernails—and thanked the Universe for giving me this one marvelous thing.