March 30, 2013
In the morning , the phone next to my hospital bed rings. Stepping from the shower, my skin scrubbed of the sweat and blood of yesterday’s triumphant labor, I slip past David to pull on my old robe and head for the phone. I’m not worried. I’m expecting another friend, a relative, more words of congratulation to match my sudden pleasure in my baby – a healthy, full-term boy who waits for me in the nursery – but the woman on the other end of the line is a stranger.
“Hello, darling,” the stranger says in a husky, soothing voice. She is calling from another hospital. She says she needs to clear up some confusion about the spelling of my name before the transfer. I, too, am confused. When I tell the stranger that I don’t understand, that I am about to go down the hall to collect my baby because it’s time to nurse, she says, “I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you, darling.”
With these vague but tender words, the ecstatic glow of motherhood that has surrounded me since Silvan’s birth begins to fade.
An ambulance waits; the transfer is happening any minute. Wrapped still in my dirty robe with its stiff patch of dried blood in back, I open the bathroom door and try to convey the stranger’s words to David hidden in the steam. Though David has told me his worries about Silvan since the birth, I’ve dismissed them all as mere symptoms of new fatherhood.
“Wait for me,” he says turning off the water, but there is no way.
If I could, I would fly to my son.
In the nursery, five people stand around Silvan’s bed. Five people. This is the baby’s “transport team” as someone puts it – two people to wheel the bed, one to drive, two more “just in case.” In case of what? In the night, when the resident had taken Silvan from me because he would not stop crying – mewls like a kitten, peeps like a bird – she only wanted me to sleep.
She’d promised to bring him back when it was time to nurse. Even when she returned a few hours later to tell me they needed to keep Silvan for “observation,” I hadn’t begun to worry. I was too tired, too happy. I’d roused myself to go down to the nursery to see what they were worried about – cute little fist curls they called seizures. I’d held Silvan until I thought I’d pass out, then returned to bed without him. Nine months of hope is a hard habit to break. Besides, even if they were right in the night, he is totally calm now, sleeping peacefully. At last, he has stopped crying.
Surely this is a good sign?
“It’s the phenobarbital,” they say.
I would stay beside his bed until they’ve wheeled him off to the ambulance, but a nurse comes in. She’s been searching for me, racing around coordinating my discharge. She needs me back in my room for an exam by a midwife. There’s paperwork to do, a birth certificate to apply for, milk to pump. She’s helpful but unpleasant. “Do you want to be discharged now or not? Because I have all my ducks in a row.”
Back in our room, my mother has arrived; David’s father and stepmother, too. I call out to them how cute the baby is – “just like David” – as they are ushered into the hall. The midwife spreads my legs. The breast pump arrives and I insert one breast into each cup, sign a birth certificate, agree to a home visit from a nurse and who knows what else, while the breast pump makes its thump and suck. Hospital staff tells me not to be embarrassed, they’ve seen it all before. David is searching the room for our possessions, which he stuffs into clear plastic bags provided by the hospital. The only thing he can’t find is the charger for his cellphone. It seems a small detail, too small to mention, but the symbolism is clear: soon we will become almost impossible to reach.
MONICA WESOLOWSKA has published both fiction and memoir in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Best New American Voices 2000, The Carolina Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, Literary Mama, and the New York Times Bestseller My Little Red Book. A graduate of Reed College and a recipient of a fellowship from the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown, she has taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension for a decade. She lives with her family in Berkeley, California.