Birth and Death Collide
It’s always odd how normal life creeps in during a crisis. On this day, thirteen years ago, as we huddled together as a family, we celebrated a birthday. Normally birthdays are happy times. The birthday boy was my oldest son. I hadn’t been with him on his birthday for many years. He had come for the funeral though, not for his birthday.
I had a teacher in college who said to me once, it seems to be your family’s tradition to marry young and have children young. I don’t think we planned it that way, but it seems to be somewhat true. Here I am now a great grandmother because of a sixteen-year-old father.
I was seventeen when I became a mother on this day forty-one years ago. (Okay, I know you are doing the math and while I hate to admit my age, I am 58. Anyone who wants to email me and tell me how shocked you are would make me very happy J.)
Nathan was born at 5:30 p.m. on February 9, 1969. I was seven months pregnant. The day before, my mother took me to the hospital because I was having some problems. My husband at the time was working out in the country and they had no phone.
I was young. I was poor. I was considered low-class. I was a welfare case. I was treated as such. They had a medical student examine me. She said, “you’re fine.” As I was getting dressed, two staff physicians walked. Of course, they scolded me for getting dressed. I started to weep.
They examined me. They sent me for x-rays. There were no ultrasounds. There was only an x-ray. There were no soothing kind words. There was only a look of disgust for being pregnant too young.
The resentful judgmental medical student went with me to x-ray. I was in pain laying on the gurney. I was scared. I was alone.
The x-ray showed that I would be having a breech birth; Nathan’s foot was already lodged in the birth canal. I was admitted to the labor room. Now for those of you who are young, once upon a time you went to a hospital room that was called a labor room. Later, when you were about to deliver you were transferred to the delivery room. The delivery room was essential a surgical suite. Absent were the nice beds that dropped down for delivery. There was no comforting music. You had no visitors. You simply lay in a bed alone.
I was in the labor room but not in labor. I was:
would my child be born alive
if my husband would ever come
if it would be painful
Seventeen and about to give birth attended by people who viewed you as trash.
My mother made phone calls that created a buzz of comments such as: I knew she must have been pregnant when she got married. I always knew the girl was trash. I knew what they were saying and thinking.
Finally, my husband appeared and we walked down the hall peeking a look at the x-ray of our yet to be born child. I thought maybe this was punishment for sins that people thought I committed. I wondered if one could be punished for what people thought you did. I wondered if I was just trash. I was only seventeen.
The next morning brought an active labor. Many a doctor has since told me they cannot understand why I didn’t have a Cesarean birth. Instead, alone in the delivery room, attended by two doctors with fifteen residents observing my “unusual” birth, Nathan came into the world feet first. It took hours for them to repair all the tearing that result from his birth.
I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t touch him. I barely saw him as they whisked him off to the ICU.
As I looked at him through several layers of glass, I saw he had no fingernails or toenails. He had no eyelashes or brows. He had a tube down his throat for nourishment, as he did not know how to suck yet. It was a month before I held him and even then, the nurses found ways to scorn and deride me.
Memories of birth and realities of death collided on that day thirteen years ago. We celebrated Nathan while our hearts were breaking for Rukhsanah. It would be a long time before we could truly celebrate anything but for that moment, it was important that we have a cake and sing Happy Birthday to my first-born.