May 11, 1983-
“I have been doing everything possible this past week to encourage you to be born. I’ve cleaned the attic, the basement, attempted digging out a stump in my garden, stacked wood, and today I mowed the lawn. I have the freezer full of homemade pizzas to feed your dad and brothers while I am away. Everyday I do laundry to stay ahead. I’ve organized my genealogy, cleaned cupboards, windows, and drapes. I’ve run out of things to do, or rather things I can do. I have painting and wood refinishing to do, but have to wait until you’re born, because of the fumes… The neighbors and families are all waiting. I’m running out of clothes to wear. It’s time! Please come join us.”
May 17, 1983-
“Decided to plant my garden instead of waiting until after your birth. Who knows when that will be….”
May 18, 1983-
“Your brothers went to Dotty and Glenn’s while dad took me in for a check-up. The leakage showed up to be amniotic fluid so they admitted me at 10:00 a.m. and induced labor. The lady in my room [name] was induced at the same time. It was a race to the birthing room. About 3:00 p.m. they stopped her I.V. and started to prepare for a cesarean at 6:00 p.m. I had dilated to 4-5 cm so I was moved to the birthing room. The race still wasn’t over. Who’s baby would be born first? Your daddy was a terrific coach. Helping me with controlling my breathing, hugging me, and keeping everyone in laughter with his jokes. Your head was crowned, could see you had lots of hair. I was pushing and you too had your legs straight, pushing off my diaphragm. That was uncomfortable. At 6:01 p.m. Dr. Midthun announced you were a girl. … You weighed 9 lbs 5 oz. Identical weight to your brothers! That must be a record. Your dad says my body must be programed that once the baby reaches 9 lbs 5 oz, it ejects the baby.
“You were coated in lots of cream. Looked just like a girl covered in night cream. They laid you on my chest and there you stayed for the next 45 minutes trying to open your eyes. Dad made phone calls to local people. You’ve got strong jams for nursing. Didn’t have to teach you – you latched right on. Such a pretty girl. So round, black hair, and such pretty features. Your hair isn’t as dark as your brothers, but you look like you came from the same mold.
“The [other] baby was born at 6:36 p.m. A 9lb 7 1/2 oz girl. They named her Aundra Marie.
“We had three names chosen for you. Matthew wanted Heidi, dad wanted Gretchen, and I preferred Analiesa….
“Once we decided on Analiesa, next was to choose the middle name from a list of Ann, Ila, Fern, or Marie. My sister who died was Ann, Alan’s mom’s name is Ila Marie, my mom’s name is Fern. My middle name is Marie, so was my grandma’s (Hedwig Marie Bach). You have a long name to learn to spell — Analiesa Marie Leonhardt — All the nurses love your name. A pretty German/Austrian name for a German/Austrian girl.
“You were only 2 hours old and hadn’t been washed up yet when your dad brought your brothers to see you. They washed their hands, put on gowns, and held you. Benjamin hugged and kissed you, laid next to you on your bed and stroked you gently. Matthew hugged and held you.
“You wake up every 3-4 hours to eat. After nursing you, you get 1/2 to 1 oz. of water. You drink it like you just came off the desert.”
During the week I sleep in my bed, ride public transit, sit at my desk, read in my chair, sleep in my bed… But come Monday night my small frame is converted into a living jungle gym. I’ve become good friends with three little boys who live just a few houses down from mine. Upon entering their home I am attacked by an onslaught of wiggling and giggling brothers. This is absolutely the highlight of my week. Could there possibly be anything more therapeutic in the world?
My mom cares for elderly. She recently kissed the forehead of a bald old man. His eyes shot up at her, glowing with surprise. His wife has been dead for decades. He has no family left. He lives alone. When was the last time anyone kissed him? On her next visit to take care of this aging man she found him lying on his bed, holding up a large tissue paper flower toward her.
Our first nine months of life, we grow to the beat of our mother’s heart; we are enveloped within another human’s flesh. Newborn babies who are placed skin-to-skin on their mother adjust more easily to life outside the womb. They cry less, have lower levels of stress hormones, breastfeed sooner, maintain better body temperatures and more stable blood sugar levels, and have an easier time breathing. Their mothers produce more oxytocin and bond more deeply with their babies, they produce more milk, and respond to their baby’s needs with more confidence than mothers who do not have regular skin-to-skin contact with their babies.
My sister spend last summer caring for children in a Romanian orphanage. Their drastic deprivation of human contact left many grossly delayed in physical and mental development. Some rocked incessantly. Others scratched themselves until they bled. Many were not capable of developing healthy attachment patterns with anyone.
Weeks ago I hopped on the train as a man was stumbling out, carrying a limp woman in his arms. “Does anyone have some water, some sugar? I just found her like this. I think she is diabetic. Can someone call for help?” I handed over my bag of black licorice, but wished I had something of another flavor when I saw her grimace at the flavor. He was supporting all of her weight, and rain was pouring down. I wonder how long they stayed like that before help arrived. Where had they each been traveling before their path’s crossed?
Last summer I found myself in a hospital room with a screaming woman who could not speak any English. The nurses and midwife had been struggling to communicate with hand signals and broken Spanish to this frightened Hispanic woman. I whispered in her ear, “Puedes hacerlo.” She squeezed onto my hand for the next 2 hours until her baby finally came and the pain subsided. After the baby was suckling at the breast, I left the birthing room, flexing blood back into my tingling fingertips.
“Sometimes we touch strangers. Sometimes no one speaks. Like clouds we travelers meet and part with members of our cohort, our fellows in the panting caravans of those who are alive while we are. How many strangers have we occasion to hold in our arms?” -Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, 135.
The day I read these words, I stopped by the house of an elderly neighbor I’d never met. I just knew her name and knew that she lived alone. She’d never married and never had children. She didn’t ask me very many questions. She had so much to tell, and I was happy to just listen. When she started to look sleepy I excused myself and slipped by her to the door, but then I stopped. I turned back around and wrapped my arms around her withered shoulders.