Two Hospitals

I called May “The Most Complicated Month”.  This may well be the Most Complicated Week. One year ago tonight I was there with her in a hospital in Northampton as she was losing the fight with cancer, with her daughters by her side, waiting for her son to make it back from Afghanistan. But thirty years ago was a different story. Thirty years ago tonight she was locked in a very different kind of struggle, in another hospital seventy miles east of here.

It had not been an easy pregnancy. She never got over the morning sickness, and struggled to put on any weight at all. Her water broke at 5am, and when she told me it was time to get up and go to the hospital I notoriously rolled over still asleep and mumbled “five more minutes” as if she was just getting me up to go to work.  She never tired of telling people that one. Now I have to embarrass myself by  telling that one for her, it’s the least I can do.

It was a Sunday, and when we called her obstetrician to let him know that she was going into labor, the service called in the doctor who was covering that weekend instead of her normal doctor. She was good, but we had never met her before, and later we found out her doctor  practically fired the service for not calling him. Barbara was a special case with her low weight gain, and he had left instructions to be called if she went into labor so he could deliver himself.

He had reason to be concerned. Her contractions really wouldn’t get started, so after several hours they put her on a pitocin drip to get them going. That got the contractions started finally, but they still weren’t very effective. Because she hadn’t gained much weight, she was kind of weak to walk around in labor to let gravity help do some of the work. It was a very long day.  I was exhausted just looking at her, and I wasn’t the one doing any of the work.

It took forever for her to dilate. With the water broken they start to worry about infection after twenty four hours, and a C-section was becoming a possibility. Finally around twenty hours in things got going to the point where they thought she would be able to deliver. The problem was she had so little reserve left to go on by then that she was having trouble pushing.

image0Finally after twenty-two hours she delivered a beautiful 7 pound girl. Her Apgar scores were nines, not perfect, but pretty darn close. Despite Barbara’s lack of weight gain, the baby was not underweight at all.  In the end, she ended up staying a few extra days in the hospital, not so that the baby could gain, but so that she could. 


She was not at all surprised that it was a girl. Ultrasounds were still optional back then, and she didn’t want one. She just knew she was having a daughter, just like she would know with the son and daughter who came later.

That was our first night, the night we became a family, just the three of us. It was the night she became the thing she cared most about being, a Mom.

Twenty-nine years later that girl, now grown and a mother herself, would spend a night in another hospital room with her father, braiding her mother’s hair as she rested. We didn’t know it then, but that was to be the last night, and once again, it was just the three of us.

image0-004It’s after midnight as I write this, so now I can say it: Happy Birthday, Anna. Thank you for joining our lives, for making us a family, for being there for the first and the last.

We didn’t have favorites, each of you are a unique and amazing blend of bits of the two of us. But you were the first. That is yours alone. You are the one who opened the door for the rest of it all.

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