Awed by motherhood

I was a second year medical student when Carla had our third child.

She had to stop even though the walk sign on Morris Park Ave. in the Bronx said to walk across the frosty road. She clutched her belly and braced for a contraction, and I could see the fog of her breath stop as she held it in, her face contorted in pain, hand under her belly, and she shifted her weight. It passed; her frosty breaths restarted as we waited for the sign to cross us again.

We walked to Weiler Hospital. It was freezing, and in my nervousness, I didn't take a jacket. Everything wilted in the spring's late frost. It had been unusually frigid. The tendril buds on trees were on the ground, frozen victims. The green tulip buds were wilted and would be dead.

Another contraction in front of a cluster of dead tulips. It flew across my mind that this was a bad sign, perhaps. But I was worried about other things.

Inside, it was warmer, but Carla didn't care because of her pain, and she stopped a few more times before we got to Labor and Delivery.

Then the IVs and the gowns and the drapes. The nurse who told funny stories and the doctor who seemed more worried about his shoes than the baby. Carla asked for pain meds. Dr V. whispered that it would be a lot of hassle, a lot of paperwork to give pain meds this late. I was normally shy with my professors, submissive. But Carla said she wanted pain meds. I said, "She wants demerol. She gets demerol." I heard an unknown authority in my voice. Dr V. ordered the demerol.

Carla was fully dilated and contracting. First came the black, slippery head of slicked curls. Then the squished face, eyes closed. Then the shoulders hung things up a bit, and then a squirm and our beautiful daughter, Francesca, slid free, a dangling cord attached still.

We had been expecting a boy, relying on an ultrasound image that was a bit more grainy than the ones of today. But we were not so secretly hoping for a girl. Carla was half stoned from the Demerol, half exhausted from her labor, and the nurse handed her Francesca. Carla looked at her with a fierce love. And then she smiled. And said "Oh, I'm so haa —" and fell asleep. The nurse took Francesca away so Carla didn't drop her. The nurse had to peel the baby from Carla's arms, still holding tight despite the Demerol sleep.

I walked out of labor and delivery awed and humbled by the strength and fierceness of my wife’s motherhood. The hospital lights and bells and hustle — things that had, up till then, seemed so important and thrilling to me, now seemed laughable, almost trivial.

I expected the cold gray day to meet me and thought with dread about the dead tulips and the bad omen they portended. But the windows outside were shiny with a blinding sun. It was midday by now. Cars were honking. And it was warm and smelled of cut grass and diesel fuel — spring in the Bronx. When I turned to the tulips, they were all open towards the sun and in a healthy red glory. I could hear them singing. It seemed to me then in 1992, as it does now, that only a mother’s strength could create such a miracle.


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