Friday, April 09, 2010
My mother, as a graduate nurse in the 1940s, did her specialty work at a hospital she identified as Boston Lying-In. In 1983 it amalgamated to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, but the name that I heard in my youth stuck with me—what an odd term! Webster defines lying-in as “the state attending and consequent to childbirth; confinement.” The French word for it is accouchement, the Latin is parturition, from parturire, to be in labor. Probably more than you want to know, but this was where women went to give birth in the “good old days.” They were confined, delivered of his child—almost in passive surrender to the male gods who pulled the overlarge heir from their jealous wombs.
The wheel turns. I drove to Prentice Women’s Hospital of Chicago last Saturday, April 3, to see and hold my first grandchild, a 7lb 14oz newborn perfection named Clara, only a few hours old. She, the daughter of my only child, Ethan, born also in Spring, but in a different medical age, than he. She is wonderful.
On the drive up the memories, never far from the consciousness even after thirty-nine years, came geysering to the surface. Ethan’s mother and I, schooled in the Lamaze natural childbirth method, were Taliban in a holy war: singlehanded, we were going to reclaim childbirth from drugs; pacing fathers smoking in waiting rooms; screaming, terrified mothers “being delivered of” their babies by adult male doctors. No hospital in the area but little St. Joe Mishawaka was spearheading this program, and there we were, idealistic little poor hippie couple, the first pregnant pioneers among our friends; and at the end of it, we didn’t have a clue what it would be like.
The wheel turned and we clung to it; twenty four hours of grueling labor; no drug but love and commitment. I, as a priest of sorts, had painted a mandala—a Sanskrit word meaning “containing the essence within the circle”—for the birthing. We hung it above the bed foot to focus her concentration, she the dor-je phakmo, a Sanskrit term for the enlightened female Bodisattva insistent on giving restorative birth a chance to enlighten anew the human race. Our strategy was simple and direct: pant, pant, pant, blow: oxygenate those wrenching, contracting muscles to push that overlarge human head through the birth canal, win him freedom.
By the final hour she was sweating like a pounding long distance runner; I, myself, could run down an entire floor of stairs, buy a quarter coffee from the commissary, and be back in time to record the next contraction; she the woman struggling at the dawn of motherhood—I the man, in the end the adoring, supportive fan, the cheerleader, the father close by the bench, the participant/ voyeur forever amazed by the bringing-to-life of the one we named—she the first, I the second—Ethan Siddhartha—whom we hoped to be the incarnation of strength, wisdom, and understanding; the crown of creation, born at sunrise on the first day of Spring.
The wheel turns. Ethan and Bess come to Prentice, which births 12,000 babies a year—the embodiment of adeptness—to finish the enterprise of bringing into the world their daughter, my first grand-child. To be sure, there was drama: she was a good week early; he was off on important errands and rushed to join her. But they seemed enfolded in the wings of competence, which is what I would wish for every new family-to-be all over the world: safety, the wisdom of experience, the knowledge that, unlike Ethan’s mother and I, their helpers had already been wherever chance could lead, with the focused attention toward the birth of Clara, the Crown of Creation of April 3, 2010, 5:14 AM, CDT, whom I will love without reservation until I die.