[At seven degrees below zero (F.) it’s way too cold for fly-fishing; there’s enough artificial flies tied up and secured in little boxes, so it’s natural for me to have my thoughts go wayward on this post, a meditation on my daughter’s birth, a Valentine’s thing…]
Our first-born, a boy, came to us the night before our small-town literary group was holding its monthly meeting. Four years later, our second, a girl, was born an hour after that same literary group had ended its activity for the evening.
My wife, who’d started labor earlier that day, decided, what the hell, she would go to the poetry reading with me. If her bodily contractions quickened dramatically, we would shoot on over to the nearby hospital and check ourselves in.
We were glad for the less-than-satisfactory reading and the chance to speak with old friends. Eventually we drove ourselves to the cool indifference of the hospital’s delivery room. As my wife got hooked up to the fetal monitor, I reached for the opiate of television, like millions of uneasy husbands before me, and observed the action of a New York Yankees game.
Our doctor was busy coaxing someone else’s baby into the world. I checked with my wife. Her vital signs were good. The monitor suggested that our young one had the heartbeat of a white-tail on a mission.
By 10:30 p.m. the doc declared that he’d had a helluva day and it was time to move things along– to break the sac, to burst the dam. My wife didn’t like the idea, preferring to wait it out. The tension mounted. I figured that whatever would happen had already been placed in the hands of fate, with specialists in all their expertise and fallibility. No need to show concern. The hospital staff seemed to shuffle about with confidence and thoroughness.
A plastic hook appeared and wavered. Water broke. My wife began to sweat, to push, to breathe Lamaze through narrow gaps in her teeth, stabilizing the moments in a frenzy of no return.
The baby appeared too rapidly, and the staff went reeling for equipment. A squirming body shot into practiced hands of one with barely enough time to adjust his gown and mask. The child’s umbilical cord had been wrapped around the neck but, as luck and skill would have it, no lasting damage would be done.
I was speechless, all expectancy and nerves. I heard, “It’s a girl this time,” as if I’d never before considered that possibility. She was being cleansed and studied in a bath of terrible fluorescence, an infant foreign to me, severed from the womb, a healthy eight-pound body from our body.
Naively I began to wonder whom she looked like. For now she didn’t look anything like me or like Leighanne, my wife. Thank god she didn’t look like somebody’s repairman or a questionable friend. Eventually I came to realize that the wonder isn’t in a child’s appearance. It was in the touch, reception. In the miracle of birth.
My wife was losing blood, and the doctor sewed her up quickly. When I saw that she was stabilized I slipped away and dropped some coins into a payphone, blurting the news across the miles.
I met some friends at a neighborhood tavern, friends who’d been waiting there since the poetry session had ended. Actually the friends had been standing on the parking lot of the bar because the young daughter of a poet friend hadn’t been allowed to come inside with her father. Undaunted by this stand against youth and family, we stood around our vehicles in the midnight hour, talking and drinking and having fun.
We didn’t know it at the time, but complaints had been lodged against us by the bartender or by neighbors, or by everyone around. I was accepting cheap cigars of congratulations when a city cop pulled up beside us.
We were breaking the “open container law” and, according to reports, were disturbing the Maple City peace. From behind the policeman’s driver seat, a caged German shepherd snarled and pressed its fangs against the window. Good old Tom S., irrepressible as ever, began to chitchat with the animal.
I explained to the enforcer that our gathering was a mere celebration of my daughter’s arrival in the world and in his fair city. That was all it took. The officer stuck his hand through the opened window and clasped my own. His jowls shook when he smiled and said, “Congratulations, man, and best wishes to ya.”
We departed for a visit to the hospital. It was way past the traditional social hours for the place. My wife had her own room now and kept the nurses bustling. No one was allowed to see her, other than myself, but the staff was too busy to harass the people with me.
We peered through the glass walls of the baby ward. Which of the eight or nine tiny souls asleep on those beds had come here as a result of some action I’d participated in long months before? We decided it was the little one in pink, the one closest to our vantage point. I meditated on the presence of a human being only 52 minutes old, then stepped away for a goodnight to Leighanne.
Surely there was poetry in the whole event, beyond any coincidence of a reading and a birth that night. Surely there would come a bundle of words, a phrase of music, someday far down the line.