My mother, for all her faults, always wants to do the right thing, and she has instilled this thinking in me, her only child. We argue vehemently over what that right thing is, no matter the issue: presidential scandals, giving change back to the store clerk, planting tulips or daffodils, having a baby or not.
“Dani, I don’t even know how you can consider this. This is a life,” she said, exasperated with my idiocy. We sat at her Formica kitchen table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.
“I know it is. God! I know it is. Is it a good idea to make that life come true? I hardly make anything. I can’t afford a baby. I don’t know anything. I have no husband, no boyfriend, no prospects . . . no education.” I started to cry, hysteria setting in as I listed the reasons I was a loser. “I just got my own place. I’m finally feeling like I can face the day without . . . a pill.” I sat in my chair and shook and sobbed without holding back. I wanted her to feel some of my pain.
“I will help you,” she said softly. I didn’t believe her.
“I need more than help. I can’t do this.” I looked away and let the tears drop.
“You’ll be amazed at your own strength. You can do this. I did.”
I looked at her silently.
My water broke while I was at work on the production line and the event caused quite a commotion. Big burly men around me turned white and averted their eyes, shifting their weight from one foot to the other. My friend Ron drove me to the hospital. He drove way too fast, laughing nervously at my repeated requests to slow down. He kept glancing into the rear view mirror, saying, “Just hold on, just hold on.”
He brought me to the ER, where a nurse began the admit process. “I’ll have you fill out these forms. Who is your doctor?” She wanted details to color me in and make me fit her form, but I couldn’t help her.
“I don’t have a regular doctor.”
She paused. “Okay. Just fill these out to the best of your ability, and I’ll call up to Obstetrics and tell them you’re coming.” She left me in a wheelchair with a clipboard across my lap.
“Hey, should I call someone?” Ron didn’t know what to do, and I felt for him.
“Nah. Just go. I’ll be fine. I’ll call my mom or someone when I get to a room. Thanks. I’ll let you guys know what happens.” I tried a smile and waved him away. I watched him leave, his head down, large shoulders rounded, a huge man embarrassed, out of his element.
My room was dim, with flowers in a vase by the bed and teddy bears on the wallpaper. I saw ghosts of birthing mothers here before me, mothers wearing lipstick and clutching the strong hands of their husbands, breathing oo- aa- aa- oo, and crying with joy when their babies were born. I wasn’t one of them; this room wasn’t made for me, and I felt dirty and different. I imagined eyes on me everywhere, saw fingers pointing at me, heard the verdict: Guilty as charged. Unmarried low-income woman. Unplanned pregnancy. Life sentence. I waited in bed for the doctor.
“Your water broke about . . . three hours ago?” asked Dr. Laine.
“And are you having contractions? Any pain?” He looked at my chart while he spoke.
“Okay. Since your water has broken, it’s time for your baby to be born. I’m going to start you on Pitocin to help that process along. Do you know what that is?” He looked at me with his eyebrows raised, and I tried to focus on my answer.
“It’s a drug that makes me have the pains that make the baby come.” I winced at my lame reply. “It makes me go into labor,” I amended.
“Exactly. I’ll check on you in a while to see how you’re doing.” He gave me a smile without showing his teeth and walked out.
I was rummaging through my purse when the nurse came in to start the IV drip. She chatted as she worked.
“Still not having any pain?” she asked.
“No. I’m supposed to be uncomfortable, aren’t I?” I asked.
“Well, labor is painful, yes. Let’s see if this gets you going. We’ll start you slow and go from there.” The machine beeped as she pressed buttons. “Is anyone coming to be with you, Danielle?” she asked.
“Um, I don’t know. Maybe my mom. I do need to make some phone calls, though.”
“Do that now, before you get too uncomfortable.” She rolled the bed-table closer to me and pushed the phone within my reach.
“Thanks.” She left the room, and I found the card in my purse, cream-colored with raised pink lettering: Melissa Garvey, Adoption Consultant.
The monitor hooked to my enormous belly was starting to make small hills on the paper readout. I still wasn’t in pain, but I was nervous, thinking of the labor and the child inside me. Was it a boy or a girl? Would it look anything like me? Was it okay in there right now? What could I possibly give it? I loved it. Of course I loved it. I tried not to at first, tried to be nonchalant and carefree and see myself as a vessel, simply a vessel, a place for a baby to grow and then be born out of, but I couldn’t help loving it. I wanted it to be happy, to have parents who had reserves, resources, strength. All I had to give was love. I felt guilty, thinking of keeping the child because I just had to, like keeping some exotic fish you think is pretty and cool, you just have to have it, but you have no aquarium, no food, no knowledge. The fish would be better off in someone else’s hands. It would thrive — away from you.
When I called my mother, she promised to come, and I knew she would be there in less than an hour. I needed her and I dreaded her coming. I had longed for her all my life, waited up for her, nursed her hangovers, accepted her pat apologies. I railed against her during adolescence, using all of my hate to coax the love I needed from her. Now, it seemed, we were cautious friends. I was afraid of her, but she was all I had.
I dialed the number on the pretty card and waited for an answer while I stared at the readout of my contractions.
“How are you doing, Danielle? I’m Sheila, and I’ll be your nurse tonight.” The new nurse breezed in, big-boned and imposing, her shoes squeaking against the floor with every step. She scanned my chart and my drip before looking at me. “Are you hungry?” I hung up the phone, dropped the card back into my purse, and ordered toast and 7-up.
My mother came after dinner. “What are you going to do?” was the first thing she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said, each word coming down a note lower, in despair. “I don’t know. I’m scared,” I said, raking my hand through my hair. It was 6:45.
At 7:30, it started hurting. I remember this: throughout the night, my mother held me, stroked me, talked to me, sang to me, sat silently when I snapped, “Shut up!”, rang nurses, and cracked jokes. She asked questions of nurses whose names and faces I had lost track of. She coached me and soothed me and mothered me. I cried and I sweated and I screamed and I swore.
At 5:33 a.m., a baby girl was born, all purply-red and so tiny. She had no hair and blue eyes, like my mother’s and mine. We cried, all of us — baby, mother, grandmother. I held her. She smelled sweet and pungent and I wanted to smell her forever. She grasped my finger and I laughed, surprised at her strength, her beautiful open eyes, her perfect head and mottled skin. I opened her blanket, looked at her impossibly tiny toes. A nurse took her to the nursery, and I slept deeply while my mother dozed in a vinyl chair beside me, spent.
When I woke up it was raining hard, and I heard nurses muttering about storms and warnings and hail. My mother asked me if I wanted to see the baby, and I shook my head.
“What should I do?” I pleaded, tears rolling. My mother spoke softly. She painted a happy picture of me and the baby, and her helping. I wanted to believe the things she said.
“I’m so scared,” I said. “I’m so scared of making the wrong decision.”
“Let’s go and see the baby, Dani.”
The nursery was full of basinets on wheels with newborns in them, wrapped tight by nurses who knew how to swaddle. We found ours, Baby Girl Adams. She wore a soft pink cap. She was sleeping. I held her there in the nursery in a rocker while my mother sat beside us. We rocked silently. I prayed to a god I didn’t even know: please, please, please. She wrinkled her brow, shot a hand into the air, let it relax so slowly in her sleep. I loved her so much, more and more each moment. I knew then. I knew where she belonged. I rocked her a while longer. I lifted her closer to my face and kissed her. I told her I loved her and I said goodbye.