My littlest baby came into the world in 2009 in La Plata, Argentina.
Whenever I tell people that my two younger kids were born in South America, I get the look. The one that says that they are picturing me laboring in a grass hut with only a local midwife on call. Let me set the record straight. I gave birth by planned C-section in two different hospitals in two different Argentine cities. Both were clean and comfortable and used the most advanced medical methods and technologies.
Which isn’t to say that they were completely modern.
After experiencing a few cultural surprises when the boy was born, we felt like we had a better handle on what we would experience with our last birth. We had a doctor we loved and had visited the maternity floor during previous checkups. Our C-section was the first thing on the surgical schedule for the day, which was meant to ensure that we’d be there early enough to get a private room. Everything was set to go.
We showed up at 7:00 on a Monday morning, received the promised room, and a nurse came with the gown I was to put on before he escorted me down to the surgical floor. Nate asked if there were scrubs for him. The man blinked a few times before understanding.
“Oh no,” he said, “you can’t go into the operating room. You’ll wait in the surgical waiting room.”
We exchanged a glance that asked each other if we’d both heard the same thing. Some times Spanish is a tricky language, so you never know, right?
“I was in the operating room for both of my other children’s deliveries,” Nate explained.
“No,” the nurse said. “It’s hospital policy. Fathers aren’t allowed in the OR. The waiting room is right outside. I’ll show you.”
My heart sank, but I was already in the delivery zone. I had come here to get this baby out of me, and I would do whatever it took to make that happen. There are moments for fighting the man, and then there are moments for letting the man make whatever stupid policies he wants as long as he gives you your baby safely and makes it so that you aren’t pregnant any more.
I shrugged at Nate. He shrugged at me. “Lead the way.”
A few minutes later, I said good-bye to my husband and was led into a sterile room where I was told to sit on the metal table and wait for the anesthesiologist. I breathed deeply, preparing myself for the worst part of a C-section: the epidural.
There must be something problematic about my vertebrae because no one seems able to get that epidural in on the first try. With my previous babies, I had squeezed Nate’s hand while a stranger repeatedly stuck a needle in my back, but this time, Nate was biding his time in a 1950’s-style father’s waiting room so this time I squeezed the edge of the cold table. It was not as reassuring. The pain made little spots dance in front of my eyes. When the anesthesiologist told me it was over and that I should lie down on my back, I felt nothing but relief.
For about two minutes.
Two minutes is the maximum time you can lie on your back when you are nine months pregnant before the pain in your hips and the pressure on your internal organs becomes all you can think about.
Ten minutes dragged by. Then fifteen.
A new, more chipper nurse entered the room. She had come to apologize profusely. My doctor was running late, as her mother had fallen that morning and hit her head. It would be a half hour or so before the surgery could start. She was really sorry, but they would keep monitoring me, and I could just rest there, and they’d start as soon as they possibly could. Would I like her to turn on the radio to keep me company? Without waiting for an answer, she flipped the music on and bustled back out of the room.
Dazed, I listened to the end of a Spanish song I didn’t recognize and then groaned when a news report came on next. The announcers just wanted to let us know that there had been a brutal murder in our city early that morning. A wife had killed her husband and then herself. She’d used a knife. The report was very detailed. (I briefly wondered if the woman had been pregnant and her husband had suggested she lie on her back. If so, maybe the homicide was justified.)
By this point I was beginning to feel a bit hysterical. Was this the birth of one of my precious children or was I trapped in a badly-written sitcom?
When the reporter finally stopped describing the bloody scene and music began to play again, I took deep breaths to calm myself. Until I recognized the song.
It was Madonna singing “Like a Virgin.”
Lying alone on that operating table like the world’s most uncomfortable beached whale, I laughed out loud until tears streamed down my face.
I didn’t know yet if I was about to have a new son or daughter, but I figured whoever this little person was, they must be something special to be ushered into the world in the company of such perfect irony.
I was right.
That baby turned out to be our little Lulu, and it makes perfect sense that on the day she was born, I discovered that half the things I’d learned from having two other children didn’t apply.
It makes perfect sense that at her birth I felt love and frustration, excitement and bafflement in equal measure.
It makes perfect sense that the last thing she heard before entering the world was the sound of my laughter.