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Hospital History

June 15, 2013

ImageTwo days before boy #4 made his way into the world, I found myself wandering the halls of Bryn Mawr Hospital, trying to find the Perinatal Testing Center.  One of the midwives at The Birth Center across the street from the hospital had ordered an ultrasound  in order to check my amniotic fluid levels.  By OB/GYN standards, I am an old woman, in fact, nearly twenty years older than our birth mother when she had my sister and me.  While I had opted for a natural birth again, doing my best to avoid giving birth in a hospital, I still had to take some extra precautions given my advanced maternal age.  One of the precautions was this ultrasound.

As I traversed the halls looking for the testing center, I thought about my trip last fall to Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.  I had been eager to see the maternity ward where my sister and I were born.  Before we knew who our birth mother was, that hospital was the only tangible evidence we had of her; it certainly was the only place where the three of us were ever together outside her womb.  After meeting my birth mother decades later, I thought I would care less about the place where I was born, that it would lose some of its mythic mystery, but that didn’t happen.  The very name of the hospital still fills me with a mixture of excitement, confusion, and sorrow.  The sadness is not for myself, the child who was adopted and loved, but for the birth mother and the newborns she left there.  Every time I am pregnant, every time I give birth, during the first few months of each child’s life when my love for him is so vulnerable and raw, I am consumed with thoughts of her, of the strength–and love–she showed in letting us go.  But I am also consumed with how defeating it must have been for her, to be an unwed mother in a hospital bed, alone and afraid, stripped of her dignity and her power.  As soon as she walked into that hospital, she began to lose us.  By the time she walked out, we were gone.   Then she disappeared, too.

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The public relations assistant who met me in the hotel lobby at Illinois Masonic was kind.  I pulled out a business card and handed it to her, to show her that, in another part of my life, I was somebody.  The best she could do, though, she said, was to escort me around the main floor in the part of the hospital that was built after I was born.  Maybe some other time I could arrange for a tour of the maternity ward where my sister and I had been born.  She confirmed that it was still being used for that purpose in the older part of the hospital.  I smiled back, hiding my disappointment, but  I didn’t press for more, having inherited the meekness of my story there.  At the security desk in front of an elevator bay, the public relations assistant got me a badge that allowed me to look around a short hallway where a history of the hospital and a collection of nursing uniforms were on display.  I paused at the uniform that the nurses wore when my sister and I were born, adding a burst of robin’s egg blue to an otherwise dark memory.  That’s as close as I would get to my own past.  I did, for a moment, consider hopping on one of the elevators by the security desk.  Maybe nobody would notice that my tag limited me to one hallway, the chapel, and the gift shop, all on the first floor.  Maybe my pregnant belly, though still small, would help me blend in, or provide me with the cover I needed.   But I’m not a rule breaker, especially in places where rules matter, and so I eventually crumpled up my badge and left.

There’s history on the walls in Bryn Mawr Hospital, too, I noted, but I wasn’t at all interested.  I didn’t need it.  I also suspected it wouldn’t matter some day to boy #4.  I couldn’t imagine that he would ever feel the need to trace the footsteps of my pregnancy, to visit every space I did when I was carrying him inside, out of some desire to legitimize his beginning.  His story was much simpler, and what he might want to know, I could tell him.  Your mother was old.  Her uterus was old.  But you would be born the picture of health.  

Yes, my fluid levels were where they should be.  The perinatologist who checked me was completely underwhelmed by my normalcy.  My guess is that perinatologists see a lot of what can go wrong, so much so that when everything is right, it’s perfectly unmemorable.  I lay alone in the cool dark room, watching the view offered by the ultrasound wand pressed against my full abdomen.  Fine, the technician said, as she measured this and that.  Just fine.  She left and the perinatologist came in to confirm.   Fine, he echoed.  Just fine.  I asked if he could print a couple of photos to “show the brothers” at home,  but the baby was so big at this point of the pregnancy that he wouldn’t fit in the ultrasound screen.  Plus, his head was far enough into the birth canal that only one eye was visible and one of his fists covered his mouth.  It was hard to make out the baby in the pictures he handed me.  I–and the brothers–would have to wait until he was born to get a good look at him.

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As I left the testing center, I made way to the exit, which was not far from the emergency room entrance.  I’d been there several times with boy #2.  He’d developed a staph infection in his belly button when he was a week old and had to undergo a spinal tap in the ER before being transferred to the pediatric ward where he spent a week hooked up to machines, receiving potent antibiotics and scaring the living daylights out of his father and me.  He’d been back in the ER as an older child, too, once with pneumonia, once with a broken elbow.  The memories I had of this hospital–now including this uneventful ultrasound–were simply part of the fabric of parenting healthy children who have the occasional illness or accident.  That nonchalance is also a blessing

And here is a difference, too:  At Bryn Mawr Hospital, where my fluids had passed the test, I was not a beggar of my own history.  I wasn’t hungry for it, and so there was no yearning.  Back in the car, I wrapped my hands around my belly and held onto my baby, still tucked inside for thirty-six more hours.   I sat there with my eyes closed for several minutes, relieved and happy, holding onto my baby, holding onto myself holding on.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dina permalink
    June 15, 2013 2:50 pm

    Reading this in line at Wegmans. Beautiful.

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 15, 2013 3:39 pm

      So happy to help pass the time. You must not have the kiddoes with you. 🙂 xoxo

  2. Kristin permalink
    June 15, 2013 2:16 pm

    Powerful and beautiful story…

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