To the extent that I can amble, I found myself drifting on the sidewalks of Kansas City last night. With my friend Lori Hooten close behind me, I skirted the revelers at the Crossroads First Friday. We lucked into a parking space, old friends, good music, and a table at Grinders just before my blood sugar crashed.
Somewhere along the way, I got a text message that the birthday cake for my son had been safely retrieved from A Taste of Heaven in Andersonville, Illinois by his girlfriend Hope. A few minutes later, a photo of my boy and the cake arrived. Sweet.
So now I’m drifting again, but backwards, a dangerous endeavor in the physical world but safely done in time.
08 July 1991, 1:50 p.m. CDST. The moment when I first heard my son’s laughter, from the gurney on which I lay, draped, mildly sedated from the epidural. I had been listening to the instrument count and the surreal murmurs of a busy midwife and doctor. They held him high, with the OR room lights casting their harsh glow on the pearly skin. Then they placed him on my chest. I said something — my friend Laura beside me said something. I’m sure we remarked on the presence of ten fingers and toes, so big for a premie, how lovely, how delightful. What we actually said, who knows. except I gasped that he looked like his father. I’m sure of that.
Then a gowned attendant took him again, and the doctor started to suture. Stitch, count; stitch, count; stitch, count. It took me three layers to realize that the midwife was counting instruments to make sure nothing got left inside. As I said — surreal.
A gaggle of friends hovered around me as they wheeled me back to my room. Dazed, grinning, exhausted, unsure. Laura on one side, her husband Ron clicking photos without realizing that he had not removed his lens cap. Joshua behind me; and someone else, Paula Fulcher maybe, the mother hen of the group. It’s a blur, now, 26 years later. But the joyfulness: that remains. The glow of their love. No husband, no baby’s father, but so much love and tenderness in that group.
I saw a movie once about a girl who had a child without being married. At one point in the film, she was taking someone else’s son somewhere, a substitute for her own childless state early in the plot. They sat in the back of a taxi playing “I Spy”. The innocent boy looked out the window and saw a man, a woman, and a little girl walking on the sidewalk. “I spy a family!” he cried. She fell into a stunned silence.
A family. When I told my brother Frank that I was pregnant — 36, unwed, alone, he asked if I would be giving the child to a real family. He might regret that now, but he said it then and probably meant me to take his advice. I pondered for a long time. Well past the miscarriage of the twin after we discovered that one child remained, I considered whether I should find a couple who could give my son what I could not.
Once we arrived in my room, a nurse organized my support system into the little ante-area so she could get me ready for the baby. She did what nurses do at such times, efficiently, kindly, quickly. And she did what women do: She took my hair down from its protective cap and helped me comb it. She brought me a cold wet washcloth so I could bathe my face and arms, freeing them of the sticky stuff that holds electrodes and the sweat that flows from a body during surgery. She held a little mirror for me to see. She slipped a clean gown over my body and spent a tender moment arranging the covers over my sore belly.
I don’t know that woman’s name any longer, if I ever did. But she is one of the heroines of my story.
Then the gang came back. Ron had discovered his camera’s treachery and spent a few minutes apologizing. Joshua said a prayer. Laura beamed and hugged me. Paula — sweet Paula — just sat, her hands folded. Yes, Paula was there too; I can see her clearly now.
Suddenly a little cart came through the door. My son arrived, gently placed in my arms by that wonderful nurse, who helped guide him towards my breast. And the flash clicked — the one picture we have from the day, in an album in my basement somewhere, grainy, yellow, but with the unmistakable glow on my face that only new motherhood brings.
Never mind that a few days later, I would have almost sold that child because of the pain from having my body sawed open to free him. Forget that three weeks hence, I would lie under a Graco-matic swing thanking God for Wal-Mart as I fell asleep for the first time in seventy-two hours. Pay no attention to the late nights when my head fell into my trembling hands and I wailed in lament at my inadequacy. At my stupidity for not taking my brother’s advice.
Forget all that. When that baby first nestled in my arms, my world stood still. I felt victorious, humble, astonished, grateful, thrilled. All at the same time.
And those people in the room with me became my son’s first adults. Laura Barclay. Ron Barclay. Joshua Dara. Paula Fulcher. Two of them now deceased — Ron and Paula. Laura, somewhere in Texas, having raised alone the children whom she and Ron adopted in the years after Patrick’s birth. Paula divorced and moved away, I’m told; and died a few years later. Joshua left the practice of law and preaches full time at a beautiful church in northern Louisiana. But in my mind’s eye, they are frozen in time, in a hospital room in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Surrounding me with love and happiness, that group sustained the hour for me.
I spy a family.
There have been so many others: Carla, Katrina, Paula K-V and Sheldon, Penny, Alan, Mona, my sisters, my sisters-by-choice, my neighbors here in Brookside, and I could go on and on without listing them all. Some have come and gone; but left their tender mark. And all of this for benefit of that boy, so that everything inside him could come to fruition.
I have no regrets. Even knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Perhaps a little more smoothly, but still — maybe not. Maybe just the way it went, bumpy ride and all.
Happy birthday, Patrick. Thank you for letting me be your mother. I’m proud of what you’ve become, of what you have made of yourself and the direction you have gone. I love you. Rock on.