Twenty five years ago this very morning, I nudged awake the iron worker peacefully sleeping beside me.
"I think it's time we head for the hospital," I said.
Though he always denied it afterward, he sprang out of bed, still mostly asleep, and cracked his shin against the bed frame. Poor guy.
Somehow, we got around that morning. Made the phone calls. Got dressed. All of us in the car - the iron worker, my 14 year old daughter, myself, and of course the baby on its way into the world, at last.
Both the iron worker and I had been through childbirth before. He had a son from his first marriage. We were not overly worried, not overly anxious. We knew the drill and were patiently waiting for the process to unfold. Things were progressing uneventfully until the nurses began frowning each time they checked the seismic monitor hooked to me and the baby. They glanced at each other. Were they thinking I would not notice? Worry and fear began growing in the pit of my stomach. I repeatedly asked what was the trouble, but they would not tell me anything, making me angry and scaring me.
The nurses soon hustled my doctor in. I was lucky my regular doctor was in attendance that day. I liked him personally and trusted him a lot. He was a gentle man and always seemed happy to be at work - a fine characteristic in an obstetrics doctor. Who would want a depressed, sullen maniac with license to wield a scalpel near her reproductive system, for crying out loud.
To the nurses' relief, the doctor looked at the seismograph read out. He possessed a sardonic wit and wry humor, which I loved. I intently watched his face for a clue as to what might be going amiss. His mouth pulled down on one side in his normal drawling dismissal of all things remotely hysterical in the females he was forced to work with, patients and nurses alike.
"Anyone who had a two hour labor with her first delivery is going to be fine. She'll take off like a string of firecrackers any minute," he assured the nurses. Just as I started to demand to know what trouble they were seeing on that goddamned machine, a big contraction hit. The doctor leaned into the seismograph. Suddenly, and with great authority, he said "Let's go."
Oh, it was on, then. The only thing I knew was that the baby was in distress. As soon as I gave my consent they sprang into action, enlisting the iron worker to roll the seismograph into the surgical room. They moved me from the bed directly to the operating table and simultaneously began hooking me into this, that and the other thing. They tied my right arm to a board and it seemed about a dozen people were bustling around quietly but in a big hurry. The doctor was calmly ordering things to happen. Information was provided to him in short, clipped statements. It was happening so fast that I could not even cry. The doctor leaned over to speak to me, his eyes full of mercy, as the anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face. Someone I could not see was telling me to count backwards. I tried to stay awake but the last thing I heard was, "Don't fight it."
Instantly my body was no longer in the vise grip of heavy labor pain. I was not worried or afraid. I was not in cold, clammy clothes and there were no foreign tubes and wires sticking into my body. I was immersed in a white and comforting light, dreaming that a perfectly formed and beautiful baby boy had been born. The baby was fine. In that dream, a tremendous happiness began cascading through my heart.
In the blink of an eye, reality began tearing into that safe and painless dream. I was being wheeled down the hall, waking into the worst physical suffering of my life. It felt as if that cart was slamming down a potholed road, jarring my scalded, searing innards with each jolt. An impossibly high thrumming joy overshadowed it all. Because of this experience - simultaneous agony in my body and ecstasy of my spirit - I know what dying will be like. Nothing can touch the spirit, not even the agony of the flesh. I could not see yet, but I could hear the iron worker's voice in my ear. "We have a son and he is beautiful."
Suddenly, I had trouble breathing. The doctor calmly told me to breathe through my nose. When I did, the gasping temporarily stopped, but only for a second. In a panic, I croaked, "I can't breathe!" I heard the good doctor wryly drawl, "Anyone who can talk can breathe." If I had not been in such a state on all physical levels, I would have laughed.
Soon I was given wonderful drugs that took away all of that physical suffering and I was left with nothing but the soaring joy. My daughter told me she saw a tiny baby being wheeled down the hall who looked exactly like the iron worker, and she was sure it was her brother or sister. The iron worker was amazed that there had not even been time to smoke a cigarette before the doctor appeared congratulating him on the birth of a son.
The next morning, I was enthusiastically eating my breakfast in bed, still high on the great happiness (and - alright - still high on the drugs) when the world's best doctor walked in.
"So how is my favorite patient? Smiling, as always. In fact, yesterday you were smiling before the anesthesia had worn off."
So, it had not been a dream. Despite the anesthesia, I knew the baby was fine, that I had a son, and that was the happiest moment of my life.
As it turned out, the nurses thought the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck. Each time a contraction occurred, the baby's heartbeat fell off dangerously low. Whatever the doctor saw in those seismic pen scribblings convinced him an emergency Cesarean delivery was warranted. The doctor later told me, and I think he was bragging, the recommended maximum time for delivering a baby in that situation was 15 minutes. He and his professional team delivered my son in less than six minutes. Amazing.
Happy birthday, my dear son. No matter how long I may live, the happiness you brought into my life the day you were born will never change, never diminish, never fade away. No matter what. I wish the same great happiness for you in your life.