The following is a piece of memoir I read to SouthWest Writers here in Albuquerque a few years ago. Thought you might appreciate it as a part of our getting to know one another process.
In his heart, he knew it was a stillbirth.
The bright October sun streamed through the tall windows of a second-story apartment, sharpening the smell of blood and sweat and afterbirth in the little bedroom. The physician hoisted a newborn by its ankles to deliver a series of slaps to the tiny rump. Nothing. No reaction at all.
Although the baby was small—only five pounds—the delivery had been difficult, complicated by the mother’s severe toxemia. The small-town family doctor delivered another loud smack. Harder this time. Still no response. He laid the still form on the bed and swabbed its mouth with gloved fingers. No obstruction there.
As the clock ticked away precious seconds, he motioned the midwife assistant forward, and together they frantically labored over the inert child. Nothing worked. After placing his stethoscope to the still chest one final time, the man glanced at the exhausted mother lying on the bed. Her pretty features sagged from illness and exhaustion.
Judging her more or less out of it, he swiped his damp brow with a forearm and turned to the anxious father perched on a windowsill on the far side of the room.
“I’m sorry, Travis, but it’s not unexpected given Birdie’s condition. She’s the one we have to worry about now.”
The father stood and pressed thumbs into the corners of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. “Was it a boy?”
“Yes. You have to be strong now…for your wife’s sake.” He sighed from weariness and sorrow. “I know you were hoping your son would grow up to be a first baseman, but—”
They whirled at the sound of an angry wail and saw the midwife holding the baby. As they watched in astonishment, she calmly removed her finger from its little rectum and handed the squalling child to the doctor.
I’d heard that story all my life but didn’t really accept it as anything other than family legend—until I met Mrs. Ward four decades later. She had been the midwife in that little Oklahoma drama.
My father did not get the first baseman he wanted from that child. What he got, instead…was me. My mother recovered from her illness and lived to bear a daughter and twin sons. She passed away peacefully twelve days shy of her ninety-seventh birthday.
I have speculated many times over the course of my life on the psychological implications of drawing my first breath in that manner. You see, I’m often accused of being anal-retentive.
2 thoughts on “Seventy Seven and Counting, It’s Been a Wild Ride”
Beautifully written, Don. So readable, which I imagine it hardest with memoir, given the challenge of not stumbling into the camera shot when you’re the one in the frame.
Thanks for the kind words, Dan. See you tomorrow at class, I hope.