I sat on the edge of the bed, preparing for the oddly intimate embrace with a stranger that getting an epidural entails. That’s when I mentioned the pressure. The actually rather intense pressure. Intensely, urgently extreme pressure.
“Where?” asked the anesthesiologist.
Under less strenuous circumstances, I might have said, “In my left elbow, knucklehead.” I whispered, “Where the baby is planning to come out. I hope.”
Vera shouldered the doctor aside and asked me to lie down. The shock on her face, framed by my tented legs, was almost funny.
“Good grief!” she exclaimed. “Here she comes! She’s coming now!”
I suppose it’s absurd to let on how distressed I was by that “she,” even in the midst of the hubbub that followed: Dr. B summoned loudly via intercom, excess furniture shoved aside, shiny utensils assembled, my friend Laura summarily ordered to stand back.
“Call Dennis,” I told her.
It was shortly after 11:00 a.m. Dennis would still be at Alec’s party, one hundred city blocks south of me and our soon-to-be daughter. At lunchtime on the last shopping weekday before Christmas, in Manhattan, in the falling snow. Later, I would hear about his comic attempt to get a cabdriver to “step on it” as they sat in stalled traffic on Fourteenth Street (a mere ninety-eight blocks to go). “Your wife’s having a baby? I recommend the subway,” the driver told him—whereupon Dennis sprinted to the nearest express stop.
Dr. B came into the room, looking startled. He, too, had a look at the view between my legs. He, too, said something along the lines of “Good grief!”
“You’re going to start pushing,” he said, “now.” He pulled up his mask.
“She’s in a hurry, this baby!” said Vera, grinning broadly. “This is a baby on a mission!”
A daughter, I thought, an arrow passing through the pain. Wow, I’m having a daughter. Had I known it all along? I pictured, briefly, a little girl. We walked down an imaginary street, holding hands.
I will always remember the long, hard push toward having my son Alec. We had flirted with the notion of a C-section, though Dr. A had been patient (which was why I wanted him with me again). But the second time around? What I remember is the burlesque rush of it all. Hardly had Dr. B pulled on his mask than he was ushering my second child into the snowy luminescence of that room overlooking the park.
One last time, Vera exulted, “Here she is!” And out she slid. “It’s a boy,” said Dr. B. “You have another son. Congratulations.”
Vera smiled, unruffled. Dr. B made no comment on the alarming contradiction. Together, they performed the duet of the Apgar, the rituals of cleaning up. Vera hustled her tools together, wished me luck, and left to find her next patient. I never saw her again.