The rest of the world falls away while gathered with loved ones in a hospital waiting room. Chairs of chrome and stiff fabric. A table strewn with magazines. A clock with hands set at an impossible crawl. Each person donning the public face crafted for such vigils, a mouth that laughs at jokes and responds to questions as the mind asks incessantly what is happening in there?
Lisa, my nephew’s wife, was in labor. Two generations ago, tradition would have had the husband pacing a bright, sterile-white corridor by himself, but Trevor was in the delivery room with Lisa, working to welcome their baby, little Ava, into this world. So it was up to Lisa’s parents and assorted Sylvestros to pace.
It began well.
When I arrived at the desk in the maternity ward, the pleasant but firm receptionist barred me from joining Trevor’s Mom, Deb, and Lisa’s parents, Paul and Diane, in the labor and delivery area. She directed me to a glassed-in area just beyond the barricade of the ward’s heavy swinging doors. I took a seat in what was apparently a maternity waiting room.
“I’m a bit out of place here,” I said, my gaze sweeping a line-up of ponderous bellies. One soon-to-be-mom said, “Careful! Could be contagious!” sparking a laugh as the group took in my gray hair and middle-aged body. Another woman beamed as she caressed her belly and spoke eagerly of birth. Several others, phones in hand, sat still but for tapping thumbs, texting. A round-faced girl, quite young, confessed her fear.
Beyond the glass enclosure, I saw Deb and Diane stride down the corridor. I grabbed my bag and trotted off to catch up with them. “Lisa’s pushing!” said Diane, her smile bright. “Her mouth is dry so we’re going to get her some ice chips.”
They fulfilled their mission and headed back to Lisa, Trevor and Ava-in-transit, leaving me on my side of those swinging doors. I had barely returned to my seat when they reappeared laden with blankets, pillows, tote bags and a computer, as well as Paul, Lisa’s father, in tow.
Why so soon?
As we walked down the hall to a waiting room unoccupied by expectant mothers, Paul and Diane said nothing. Their eyes were red-rimmed and concerned. “She needs a caesarean,” Deb said. “The baby’s heart rate was dipping with each push. The doctor said they could let it go on for another hour, but Lisa would be exhausted and might not make any headway.”
“She was sobbing with disappointment and pain,” Diane said quietly as she tucked Trevor’s computer under a chair. “It’s hard to see her like that.” Paul shook his head and remained silent, his lips tight.
Unlike many expectant mothers today, Lisa had not wanted even an epidural. She thought a natural birth was best for the baby so she and Trevor had signed up for Lamaze classes. But they were disappointed. “They didn’t teach us anything practical. It was all about history and mechanics. And the video they showed? I did not need to see that,” Trevor had said with a grimace.
When I had my kids in the early eighties, Lamaze classes to train mothers for natural childbirth were routine. My husband Dave and I practiced the strategic breathing techniques while watching TV, driving and walking in the woods. My ability to adjust the type and level of breathing became automatic. I felt fearless and prepared when my contractions began – I knew what to expect. I had tools to deal with pain.
Lisa did not have that benefit, but breathing techniques would not have changed this situation: the baby’s posterior presentation called for caesarean section.
While Trevor donned scrubs and Lisa was prepped for surgery, those of us waiting talked, our wiggling feet and chatter the outer manifestation of inner pacing. But minutes passed to a half hour, then an hour, and even I knew a caesarean should be quick. What was wrong?
Diane and Deb are knowledgeable nurse practitioners, so each at one point went to the desk to seek news. They were told, “She’s not out yet.” Well, obviously.
Trevor’s father, Steve, arrived, his white hair wild from a windy ride over in his convertible. His smile slipped at hearing of the caesarean and the length of time, but quickly he slapped on his public face and told a tale of an encounter in downtown Bridgeport on his way over. While stopped at a traffic light near the hospital on Boston Ave., he saw a group of high school boys hanging out with a cute puppy. So he smiled. Presumptuous, apparently, for one of the youths snapped, “What the F*@% you smilin’ at?!”
Tension bred hilarity and we dissolved, loopy with laughter. The punch line warranted repetition. Better that than voicing the reel playing in each head, Why so long? What is happening? What is wrong?
Weary from a traffic-heavy commute, my husband, Dave, finally pulled in. Again, the brief collapse in expression before his public face slipped back into place as he learned of the caesarean and delay. We insisted Steve tell him of the dog and the boys. “What the F*@% you smilin’ at?” And we roared with laughter.
Then, from my seat against the windowed wall, I saw Trevor in the hallway. Pale, unsmiling, eyes dull.
Oh my god.
He trudged into the room with its clock and chrome chairs and pile of public faces discarded on the floor. Questions flew: “How’s Lisa? Is the baby all right? What happened?”
Trev ran a hand through his matted hair.
“Tell us. What’s going on?” Diane begged.
“Well, they took the baby upstairs for oxygen,” said Trevor.
“Oxygen? Why? What’s wrong?”
“Didn’t anybody tell you?”
We were frantic. Paul, Lisa’s father, while usually soft-spoken, cut through the cacophony, his voice clear, insistent. If this were the movies and Paul were a different man, he might have grabbed Trevor by the shoulders and shaken him. “Trevor. Trevor. Is Lisa okay?”
Poor Trevor had not slept in two nights and Lisa’s pain had been his, as close as was possible. And he’d seen too much of his wife’s blood beyond the thin veil of the sheet. He’d no idea we knew nothing. For, now, he knew too much. He said, “Well, yeah. She’s tired and sore. They’re stitching her up and won’t let me in. My god, she was a warrior. And the baby needed oxygen. But they’re all right.”
Now, a week later, Ava is dressed in pink. She has a head of black hair and soft kissable cheeks. She is healthy and beautiful and it is a joy to watch her sleep, feet crossed at the ankles, her hands - tiny hands – curled at her chin.
And we all have something to smile at.