Twenty-three years ago I had a baby girl at Illinois Masonic Hospital. I was supposed to have a natural birth in the family birthing center but after pushing for 24-hours straight the baby’s heartbeat became irregular and the midwives rightly suspected that the baby was under stress. So I was moved to labor & delivery with my husband and a girlfriend who was allowed in the room because when massaging me in the shower she’d gotten her street clothes all wet and put on an available pair of scrubs. She was in her element, masquerading as a doctor.
Anyway, after twenty-four hours I was so tired I would have given birth to a goat. I just didn’t care. She popped out in the wee hours, a wee thing. My husband likened the experience to watching a doll inflate. All the sudden she was there, flailing and crying and I was told I didn’t have to push anymore. I was irrational, I wondered if it was a trick. But within seconds they had her on my chest all mucky and still attached to the umbilical cord. My arms were like lead, I hadn’t the strength to hold her. I just appreciated the sweet feeling of accomplishment—until they took her away to weigh her and told me now I had to deliver the after-birth. Great. More work.
But after three days in the hospital (there was a bit of healing after the stitches) we were ready to leave. We had come into Illinois Masonic as a couple and left as a family. Mike drove the car around to the circular drive in front where I was wheeled out. Me along with the baby whom security double-checked against her papers and bracelet just to make sure we took home the right one. I’m pretty sure we did.
Mike got flustered after pulling out. There was some construction and maybe a one-way street. We were trying to circumnavigate the El train line that ran overhead and looking for Southport when all of the sudden at a stop sign we were approached by a young mother and her kids. This was the end of July in Chicago and the car had no AC. She came up to my open window.
All I wanted was to get home, out of the 100-degree heat, safe and sound with my newborn. You are never so much aware of how dangerous the world is, how scary a ten-minute car ride can be, as when you are carrying precious cargo, this tiny human being that you keep calling by your niece’s name because you haven’t gotten used to calling her by the name you just picked out hours before. She is a stranger that I would kill to protect.
So this mother startled me by leaning in my window asking me for help. She held up her baby. A big boy compared to my little Grace with a huge protruding herniated belly button. It was phallic. I wanted to cover my daughter’s eyes. The woman asked for money to help her get her son an operation.
All at once, along with a hot-flash and shift in postpartum hormones, I became aware of how vulnerable I was. After leaving the security of the hospital I was still under the impression that my environment was something I could control. Now, suddenly, I was affronted by this poor mother and her deformed child. The world was this great, big unknown. The city I lived in was populated with horrible realities.
There was nothing I could do. Either for her or for my child. I couldn’t save either one of them. I shook my head and muttered sorry.
Still, after twenty-three years, I remember this scene. It’s part of our story, your story. I’ve tried to the best of my ability to protect you, guard your eyes and ears; keep you safe. Even though it’s an illusion. We never really get to have this much control. But, like that day under the El, I can offer prayers, that all will turn out well.