Nathan was over three weeks old when I was finally able to hold him for the first time. I had no way to go to the hospital except when my mother took me. When I did get there, I would only look longingly at him through several layers of glass. Years later, with yet another child in an incubator, they let me scrub and reach my gloved hand into the holes to touch her. This time, no courtesy like that was permitted.
Then the day came when he was no longer in the NICU. His tubes removed. He could suck. He still had no eyebrows but fingernails were forming. At church people were reconsidering whether my story of his premature birth was true. He finally weighed five pounds.
I asked about my child. An older nurse working the regular nursery was sitting in a rocking chair, holding him, giving him a bottle. I had thought about breast-feeding. I knew no one that breastfed. It just seemed natural to me. I didn’t know then how much better it is for the new infant. I just thought I’d like to try to do it. No one told me I could pump milk. No one gave me any information. It was assumed he’d be bottle fed.
As I went in, the nurse frowned. She had that look. By now, I knew it well. I was young. Too young to be married and mother. Obviously, I had to get married. I was just another loser and immoral girl trying to atone for her sins by getting married. She asked, “Do you want to feed your baby?” Did I? Of course I did.
Carefully and cautiously with emotions too strong to put into words, I took him in my arms for the first time. The nurse still scowling showed me how to hold him. She showed me how to hold the bottle. I knew I had to burp him at some time. I put him on my shoulder, patting his back. No burp. I tried again. Still no burp.
I suppose the nurse had a good laugh at my expense when I left. I saw the snickering looks being exchanged by the two nurses in the room. I was told by one of them to put the baby on my lap and rub his head. They told me that rubbing the top of his head would make him burp. Even though I thought it strange, I did it. He burped. In spite of being the butt of their jokes, I was ecstatic.
As I think back about these events now, I don’t remember Alvin taking me to the hospital. I don’t remember he and I standing in front of that glass together. My mother finally appeared in the nursery area. She didn’t see me with nose pressed to the glass. Finally, she saw me sitting
in a rocking chair beaming. Finally, there was a baby in my arms.
It took another week before he was stable enough to go home. I had no crib or bassinette for him. He slept first in a dresser drawer and then a laundry basket. I had some clothes and diapers. Diapers were cloth. From then on, the faint smell of urine would pervade the air in that trailer. Diapers would be swished in a toilet to remove the solid waste. Laundry would pile high as it waited for a spin at the local Laundromat. Transportation always came from my mother in the beloved 1969 white Volkswagen.
As a child, I had learned that the better I could perform, the more love I would get. Now even my attempts at performance did not reciprocate with love. I still couldn’t do anything right. No matter how much I cooked, cleaned, washed, it was never enough.
I don’t recall where I went. I went out for a few minutes. Perhaps to check on some clothes on the clothes line. I don’t know. I do know that when I came home Nathan’s left cheek was bright red with the outline of a handprint. Nathan’s cried in terror. I picked him up and asked did you hit him? He said he wouldn’t shut up. I should have left. It is easy to say now. I only remember saying he’s a baby, you don’t hit a baby. He said something about teaching him to obey.
I was no longer the only target of physical abuse. I told my mother. She was appalled but never told me to leave. She said just don't leave the house without the baby. She didn't know what to do either.
At church, people remarked with great wonder, that he was so small. I suppose I don't really know what those remarks mean. To me, I heard - maybe she wasn't pregnant when she got married after all. Easter Sunday we presented him in a white suit with blue embroidery on the shirt saying, "I'M A BOY" to be dedicated to the Lord.
At Sunday night services, as we would go to the altars to pray and solidify the message in our hearts, I would place a receiving blanket on the mourners bench. I would lay Nathan on top of it, as I knelt in prayer and prayed for him. I prayed that he would be a great man of God someday. I prayed that I would be a good mother.
About that time, someone broke all the side windows of our 1951 Chevy tank. Alvin said it was an angry customer at the burger place he worked. It was still cold in Columbia as we would drive where we needed to go with open windows on all sides. I would wrap Nathan in many blankets and shiver as we went to church, to see his mother and anywhere else we needed to go. Car seats weren't required so I clutched him as close as I could.
I was still in love. Or. so I thought. I had a child now. I had to do better. I had to be a good wife. If only I could do better, things would be wonderful.
At times, Alvin would send me to the other room to repent for things he felt I had done. I would dutifully go to the other room, bend my knee, asking God to forgive me. My sins and disobedience were the thing preventing our future as a happy Christian couple, preaching the gospel.