Feb.24, 1984.This is the day when it all ends - people giving seats to me on the bus, going right to the front of every line, - my husband Rocky cleaning out the cat litter box. My water breaks at 5:00 AM. Since I'm a week and a half overdue, I've been ready for days. Rocky speeds me to Roosevelt Hospital and goes to park the car. I stagger towards the glass doors. They part. A guard sits at his desk reading the NY Post.
"Get me a wheelchair." I moan. He doesn't look up. "We don't got any."
"Well can't you send for one?"
"Ain't nobody there till eight."
"You mean you don't have any wheelchairs in this whole, goddamn hospital."
My insides feel like a washing machine on the heavy-duty cycle.
"I don't have to listen to that kinda talk." He goes back to the Post.
I stare at the bank of elevators looming across the empty lobby, which seems as wide as a football field. I get down on my hands and knees and crawl. I finally reach the elevator and slam both the up and down buttons. When it comes, I roll in and am transported to the basement and several other stops before I finally crawl out on the fifth floor maternity ward. The head nurse greets me,
"Honey you picked a bad time to have a baby. We're full up."But miraculously, she does manage to dig up a wheel chair. She wheels me up and down the hall knocking on doors, but as predicted, there's no room at the inn. Suddenly a door is flung open and a shrieking women is wheeled out to the delivery room. We grab her room. Once inside, we notice that not only was the patient removed, so was her bed. The nurse scurries off in search of one. She comes back empty-handed. Then she adds insult to injury.
"Sorry hon. We got another one ready to pop. I need your wheelchair."
A half an hour passes. I lay on the linoleum floor feeling like I'm an untouchable giving birth in Calcutta.
Finally the door opens. Sandy, my midwife has arrived with a bed. She helps me onto it. She looks in the cabinet for linens and a pillow. She strikes out. She summons the nurse, but of course none are to be found. By now my teeth are chattering . Rocky hurries in.
"I'm freezing. Do something." I yell at him. He throws my down coat over me while the midwife examines me.
"You're fully dilated. You can go ahead and push the baby out now.."
I bear down again and again. Still no baby. After what seems like an eternity, Sandy says.
"I want to give you some drugs to help you along." I, who had wanted to have an underwater birth with dim lights and Beethoven playing scream,
"Bring them on."
She squirts something into my nose .I feel like I've swallowed a wave machine.. I push and push. Still no baby. Sandy hooks me up to a fetal monitor.
"The heartbeat's slowing down. We've gotta get this baby out."
Im whisked to the delivery room. A needle is stuck into my arm. Sandy picks up a scalpel. I give one last push and hear a baby crying. I hear Sandy yell,
"Get a doctor stat."
I wake up in the recovery room. Sandy smiles at me and hands me a bundle in a blue blanket.
"It's a boy."
"Oh no. Years of little League and GI Joes." I'd dreamed of little a girl who I'd dress in frilly dresses and take to ballet lessons.. I start to cry.
Sandy tries to comfort me"His Apgar score was 9."
Rocky says, "Everything's going to be ok, sweetie."
Sandy picks up my arm and looks for a vein," You've just lost a lot of blood. We're gonna need to transfuse you"
"No," I moan, "I don't want any of your AIDS blood." At that time there was no test to detect HIV.
Sandy doesn't push it. She tells me that not only did I have an almost nine pound baby, but he also came out sucking his thumb. So his elbow was up and ripped the birth canal to shreds as he went through it.
"It's the worst tearing I've ever seen in all my years of midwifing."Sandy declares. She sits me up and puts the baby to my breast. He starts to suck, but nothing comes out.
He screams. Sandy takes him.
"Sometimes it takes a while to get things going. I'll get him a bottle." She takes him from me and she and Rocky disappear.
I collapse on the bed feeling like I died ten years ago. The entire lower half of my body is one big throbbing cramp, sweat pours off of me, my hair is so tangled and matted I'll probably have shave my head if I live through this .
Suddenly the door is flung open and a large black woman enters with a handful of papers. She marches over to me until she gets about an inch from my nose.
"Hello, mommy. You fill out your menu ?"
"I'm not hungry."
"You will be soon with dat baby sucking on you. Now fill it out." She shoves the paper at me.
I roll over so my back is to her. "I don't have a pencil."
She comes around the bed and gets up in my face, "What, no pencil. I can't wait for you to hunt one up. I'm on a schedule. I need dat menu now, mommy"
I summon up the last modicum of strength I can muster and raise myself up on my elbows. I look her straight in the eye.
"You can take your menu and shove it up your ass." She gasps and hisses, "You see what you get for dinner now." With that she's gone.
I'm wheeled to my room right after that. My roommates are a black woman and a Hasidic Jewish woman. Soon I notice a smell that reminds me of some spoiled meat I bought from Daitch Shopwell. I grab a nurse as she comes in to bring medication.
"Is the toilet backed up.?"
"No that's Mrs.Steinberg" she whispers." She gave birth on a Jewish holiday. She's not allowed to wash for three days."
I put the pillow over my head and drift off to sleep. I'm awakened a short time later to a nurse shouting
"Baby coming, baby coming." She turns the lights on and off to alert us to this blessed event. The babies are doled out to their respective mothers. I hold the baby to my breast . A trickle of clear liquid starts to flow. Then it stops. The baby wails. So do I.
"Take him away. I can't stand this " I sob.
The nurse gives me a look and reaches for the baby. My roommates stare at me. I bury my head in the pillow and cry my eyes out.
A few minutes later, someone taps me on the shoulder. I look up and see three men in suits peering down at me.
The one in glasses with an inky comb-over does the talking,
"I'm Dr. Johnson. This is Dr. Foster and Dr. Cohen. How are you feeling?"
"I'm ok." I lie.
"We're on the psychiatric staff here, and we've heard you've been distraught."
"Not really, just tired."
"Any thoughts of suicide?" asks the one looks like Tom Selleck except for his lazy eye.
They exchange glances. Then the old one with crumbs on his goatee leans in close,
"Do you want to kill your baby?"
I stare back at him. If I give the wrong answer I know I could land in a padded cell in a straitjacket. I give him a big smile,
"Of course not. I love my baby. I'm so happy to be a mother. I just had a rough delivery."
The suits go out into the hall for a conference. Then Dr. Comb-over comes back into the room.
"I'm going to give this prescription to the nurse. It should help. Don't hesitate to call if you need anything." He hands me his card . "Oh and congratulations." He leaves.
I collapse back onto my bed and flick on my TV. Somehow RYAN'S HOPE cheers me up. Seeing Seneca fighting for her life in intensive care after being left for dead by a gang of international jewel thieves puts my problems in perspective. Maybe my life isn't that bleak. I start to get up to go to the bathroom. Pain shoots through my abdomen. Blood soaks my nightgown. I ring for the nurse. No response. I continue to ring for the next ten minutes and no nurse appears. I haul myself out of bed and drop into a nearby wheelchair and wheel myself to the nurse's station. There I find four or five nurses who are also immersed in Seneca's problems.
"She deserved it because she shook her ass at Jack when Raoul went in for brain surgery," says one who looks like Cesar Romero in drag.
One with a needle nose and a mouth like a mail slot declares,
"Yeah but Raoul wouldn'ta needed brain surgery if he hadn't started that riot in prison." Then she empties five packets of sugar and several heaping teaspoons of Cremora into her coffee.
"Excuse me," I wheel myself into the middle of this little kaffeeklatsch, "I need a nurse." They scowl at me. Then they go right back to their discussion.
I tap needle nose on the shoulder, "Look. I need help in getting to the bathroom."
She looks at me like Clint Eastwood when he's trying to figure out if someone is about to double cross him, then she hisses,
"Did you have a Caesarian?"
"No" I apologize, staring at her mouth searching for lips.
"Well then I don't have to help you." She turns up the television and puts up her feet and starts to untie her ground grippers.
"These shoes are pressin' on my bunions somethin' terrible."
I wheel myself back to my room. Soon Rocky arrives and helps me to the bathroom. A few minutes later a large bouquet is delivered from his boss. The card reads:
"Congratulations! You did it right the first time."
I tear it into little bitty pieces and fling them on the floor. I'm giving Rocky an earful about his sexist, chauvinistic boss when in marches my dietician friend from the delivery room with a cart loaded down with meals. First she approaches the black woman,
"Hey girlfriend, I seen dat boy of yours down dere in dat nursery. He got himself a fine seta lungs." She places a tray in front of her patient and lifts off the silver top to reveal meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and a big hunk of chocolate cake. Next she delivers a plate dinner to my Hasidic roommate, reassuring her "Don't worry missus, dat's chicken's Jewish ."
Then it's my turn. Without even looking at me, she slams a tray on my table. I lift the lid. It contains a handful of dried-out peas, a dish of prunes and a piece of meat that looks like one of those freeze dried foods served in outer space. I send Rocky out for Chinese food.
For the next twenty four hours, every time I drift off to sleep, the nurses burst into the room, flick the fluorescent lights on and off and shout,
"Baby coming, baby coming.'
I complain to the attending physician about the nurses, but he says there's nothing he can do, they're in the union.
Finally my milk flows and my son nearly chews my nipples off trying to get it. By the time I am discharged, there's not much left of me.
When I get back to my apartment , my mother is waiting for me. As soon as Rocky helps me into bed, she is upon me peppering me with her theories on child raising. Her generation invented baby bottles and she considers breast-feeding to be downright barbaric. Every time, the baby cries, she runs in. "Why don't you give him a bottle." I hobble to the bathroom to get away from her carping. I sit on the toilet and wait, no urine comes out. Suddenly I see stars. I fall off the toilet. My mother rushes in.
"Oh my God, you're probably having a hemorrhage." I look up groggily from the bathroom floor.
"Call the midwife." She runs out and is back in a nanosecond.
"That Sandy woman says to come to the emergency room."
I try to wobble to my feet, but the room's still spinning. I clutch a riser.
I hear the baby screaming.
My mother grabs him and runs out the door, "Wait here, I'll be back."
A few minutes later she re-appears with a strapping young black man.
"This cab driver will carry you to his taxi." She slips five dollars in his pocket.
"Roosevelt Hospital, son. And step on it."
Soon I'm back in the hospital on a regular floor fighting off a urinary infection. My roommate is an elderly woman who informs me that she just had a colostomy because she had such bad bowels that they burst right through her abdomen. Even though I have to endure her tortured moans and groans, it still seems more peaceful than my apartment. Rocky buys a breast pump and I send milk home to the baby. But with my mother running the show, I wonder if he ever drinks it.
Finally, after a week I am released from the hospital. I get home and pick up the baby and give him a kiss. Maternal feelings well up.
"Did you miss your mommy?"I start to nurse him. When he gets his belly full, I put him down. He immediately screams. My mother bustles in , bottle in hand.
"He's still hungry. There was a baby on the news whose mother didn't have enough milk, and now he's a Mongolian idiot."
She shoves a bottle into his mouth. He sucks it down. "There now , you see."
I don't leave the house for several weeks. Some days I don't get out of my nightgown or brush my teeth. Even though I'm eating liver and roast beef, I'm still anemic. I can't go to the store for groceries. The thought of climbing four flights seems more daunting than scaling Mt. Everest. My friend suggests that I need an aura cleansing.
Rocky helps me get downstairs and drives me to the house of this woman named Sahara who promises that once she's scrubbed my aura down, I'll be a virtual white tornado of energy. She makes me stand in the center of the room while she waves crystals in front of me and chants some kind of gibberish
After several minutes of incantations, my legs start to buckle.
"Can I sit down?"
"Just hold on a few more minutes and you'll feel the energy transforming."
Sahara burns some incense and lights a votive candle to suck up my discarded negative sanskaras.
I lean against the back of her zebra-striped couch till I'm finally spic and span. Then, I collapse on it with my head in my hands.
"You feel the chi pulsing through you?" she asks.
"I'm not sure." I put on my pea coat.
"You will. That'll be $75."
I pay up and stumble out to the car where Rocky's waiting for me.
We drive up Third Avenue. I check my chakras to see if that surge of energy has hit. By the time we get to 59th Street, I think I feel something.
"Pull over," I tell Rocky, "I want to go into Bloomingdales and get some thank you cards for our baby gifts."
"Are you sure you're up to it?"
"I've got a power surge."
I get out of the car. I walk to the stationary department and find some cards with no problem. As I walk toward the cashier I feel a bounce in my step. Then I notice a long line. Now that I am no longer pregnant, I'll have to wait it out. But that's ok, I can take it now that all those negative sanskaras have been nuked. The line inches forward. After what seems like an eternity I'm one person away from the cashier. Then I hear a child screaming. I take a tiny step toward the little wailer. I want to see how the mother handles this. I need all the child-rearing strategies I can get. When I turn back, a woman in a full-length mink has edged her way in front of me.
"Excuse, me . But I'm next."
"No. You left." Mrs. Mink coat looks down on me like I'm bringing shame on Bloomingdales by appearing there in a pea coat.
"I didn't leave. I just looked away for a minute."
"Well. You lost your place.."
"You are not next."
"Yes I am." She starts to put a stack of greeting cards down in front of the clerk.
Suddenly, I know I've gotten my money's worth from that aura cleansing. A rush of adrenaline courses through me. I start to wave my arms like King Kong . I get up in Mrs. Mink Coat's face and roar. "GRRRR!"
She backs away. I chase her , baring my teeth, swinging my arms at her and making noises like the gorilla at the Bronx Zoo when he wants someone to feed him a banana. Mrs. Mink Coat beats a hasty retreat out of the stationary department. I return to the sales desk. The crowd parts for me. They let me go to the head of the line. I pay for my things and leave.
When I get home, I tell my mother I don't need her help any more and she can go home. I nurse the baby and he falls off to sleep. Then I write out all my thank you notes in one sitting. "Your gift is lovely, and we're enjoying the baby so much." I gush. And somehow, I actually mean it.
email us with your comments.