Another of those small milestones of life passed us by the other day. Our youngest daughter reached the ripe old age of forty-five. It didn’t appear to faze her, the realization that she is now firmly ensconced in middle-age. But it brought a flood of memories for me.
Way back then, my wife became pregnant at the same time as one of my sisters—apparently within days of one another. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but as delivery day approached for each of them, it became a matter of conjecture as to which would blossom first.
My brother-in-law and I oversaw a number of betting pools within our two families—all in good fun, naturally. Who would deliver sooner? Would the babies be girls or boys? If one of each, which family would have the boy? What would be the combined weight of the two babies?
The combined weight of the two mothers was never up for discussion!
As it happened, my sister went into labour first. In short order, a wee daughter made her grand entrance, and all of us rejoiced. My brother-in-law and I gathered the vital statistics for the betting-pools.
A day later, my wife told me it was time. I drove her to the hospital, after dropping our older daughter off with my parents. It was hard to tell who was more excited, our little girl or my mother and father. None of them could talk coherently when we departed—my daughter because she was only a year-and-a-half old, my parents because they were so thrilled about my sister’s newborn, and our impending one.
We had elected not to know the gender before our baby’s arrival, as had my sister and her husband. I think they’d been hoping, if they had a girl, they could borrow our daughter’s swaddling clothes if our new baby was a boy.
As far as we were concerned, the gender issue was a non-issue. Unlike previous generations in my family (my grandfather and father both celebrated wildly whenever boys were born), I was more than happy to welcome either a sister or brother for our daughter. However, given our precarious financial situation back then, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of another child, I was secretly hoping for another girl. I mean, a boy would have looked strange in the pastel pink and yellow clothing that would have to be passed down from his older sister.
Our hospital was a welcome change from the location where our first daughter had been born. This time, I was allowed—encouraged even—to be in the delivery room. I had wanted to do that the first time, but was prohibited.
“We can’t be worried about a father who might faint during the birthing,” I was told. They had obviously been tipped off that I had once passed out while having stitches removed from my hand.
I practiced for this delivery, though. I attended the pre-birthing classes with my wife, learning all there was to know about the process. I stood by her head in the mock-up sessions, holding her hand gently, counting the seconds of each mock-push and each mock-rest between. I accepted that it was she who was allowed to scream, if necessary during the ordeal, not I. And I was assured there would be a stool for me to sit on if my legs gave out.
The baby seemed like it would never come. While my wife snatched some needed sleep, I spent time with my sister and newest niece, in their room down the hall. In fact, I was there when my sister and her baby were wheeled into the room after a visit to the nursery. I stood up when they entered.
“That’s not my wife, y’know,” I told the startled nurse. “That’s my sister!”
The look the nurse gave me could have curdled my sister’s milk, had she been looking. What sort of degenerates were we?
My sister quickly explained that my wife was awaiting delivery of our own baby, an explanation I wasn’t sure mollified the nurse.
Finally, some eleven hours after we had rushed to the hospital, the moment of arrival approached. I was ushered into the delivery room, clad in gown, mask, and bootied feet, and planted at my wife’s head. The doctor stood at the other end, with a mirror above and behind him. For the next several hours (minutes, actually, but to me they seemed to drag interminably), my wife pushed and cried her way to the point where the baby began to emerge.
“Let’s rest for a moment,” the doctor said, clearing the baby’s tiny mouth with his finger.
Perched halfway out, with the barely-showing umbilical cord still folded back into the womb, the baby seemed a miracle.
“It’s a boy!” my wife declared between pants of exertion. Her certainty, it turned out, was the result of mistaking the umbilical cord for another appendage that only a boy would have.
“If this is my son,” I thought to myself, incredulously, “he’s bigger than I am!”
The procedure was completed shortly thereafter, and we welcomed a second daughter into the world. After she was placed in my arms, I was the first to begin cleaning her squinting face of the birthing detritus. Words cannot describe my elation at that moment. Forty-five years later, I remember it still.
To top off the day, my wife was taken to the same semi-private room occupied by my sister. My mother and father were already visiting her, with our older daughter, when we were escorted in. What a joyful experience—introducing our newborn to her sister, her slightly-older cousin, and other family members!
After ensuring everyone was settled in properly, the nurse sidled over to me. With a gentle elbow in my ribs, she whispered, “So, you got them straightened out now, honey?”