Behind Closed Doors

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(My writing in response to a prompt from the workshop I led at UNC Hospitals, 4/15/14)

“How many times have I said, ‘Come in?’” my daughter Colette asked, looking over at me from her hospital bed and smiling.

 Nice that they knock before entering, I thought, the doctors, nurses, baby cord-placenta collection lady, nutritionists, lactation specialists, meal people, trash collection folks, the guy bringing flowers, the people with all the baby forms.

Such a busy scene, the hospital. Nobody gets any rest, it seems, especially moms in long labors. Hers progressed so slowly—she pushed for hours. The midwife came and went, to deliver other babies, always knocking gently before coming back.

“Another one born?” Colette asked her, trying to stay brave and keep pushing.

Her baby wouldn’t come down the birth canal. Couldn’t. Bumped against her pelvic bone again and again, a tiny spot of head crowning then receding.

C-Section, finally. Not enough head showing for forceps or suctioning, her kind doctor explained. Lucien was posterior, “staring up at us when we went in” the doc told us later.

All of this behind closed doors.

Bill and I waited in the recovery room. I tried not to think of the similarities with Malcolm—endless labor ending in the knife. Close the door on those thoughts.

Finally the double doors swung open and Bryan wheeled Lucien out. “He’s so quiet and alert,” Bryan said, an ecstatic father.

Panic, again. These were almost the exact words we said about our baby boy who, unbeknownst to anybody, had a fatal heart defect that made him quiet and took him from us in his second heart surgery.

The doors of my heart opened wide, then slammed shut, over and over, as Colette labored and finally Lucien appeared.

He checked out perfect on all the tests. Ditto Malcolm. I tried to stop the thoughts. Shut it, I told myself. Comparisons are odious, Mother always said, though she never followed her own advice.

When Lucien, again and again, showed a strong beating heart, clear lungs, a little lobster-red body—and he never grunted, not once—his lips and mouth never turned blue, not once, I began to relax, a smidge.

Now a week later all the doors and windows are open wide, spring breezes wafting over us, the air drenched in wild wisteria. The dogwood with its cross-shaped flowers, red spurts at the center, in full bloom, a reminder of suffering, yes, and also of the wonders of wide-open life.

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