The hospital floor looked like a crime scene. The sheets and pillows were coated in red, brown, and pretty much every other color. Sarah’s sneakers, which she never took off, were soaked all the way through in blood, and so were my socks. Somewhere, someone has a picture of me holding up my bloody socks, grinning as though I’d landed a 40-pound steelhead trout.
“How about getting in the bed now?” Kim asked Sarah.
The group helped get Sarah onto the pristine white bed, which wasn’t pristine for long. It turns out that the last push, during the ring of fire, was a doozy, and Sarah ripped from one end to the other. How she wasn’t screaming in agony, I still don’t understand.
I couldn’t decide whether I should be comforting my wife or tending to my child. Finally went with Sarah; everybody else was fussing over Hannah. More people were coming and going than before, with digital cameras and cell phones, gushing to people about this little redheaded girl who was born on the floor a minute ago. Ben brought in some Cuban cigars, not that anybody was allowed to smoke them.
As she lay in bed and I held her hand, we reminisced about the delivery as though it had happened years, not minutes ago. (Remember when you had that contraction in the alley? Yeah, that was awesome.)
What did the moment of delivery feel like? I asked, like a hack reporter.
“I felt this bizarre sensation something like a vacuum pop,” she said. “And then I don’t remember anything until you said, ‘Hey, it’s a girl!’ That snapped me out of my trance. Up until then, I just felt like I was taking the biggest shit of my life.” Fifteen minutes later, she stoically delivered the placenta, too, and the doc sifted through it to make sure that all the pieces of it had come out. It was a dark, mushy thing that looked a lot like those raw porterhouses the waiters at Morton’s love to show off before you order.
Sarah spent the next hour in the bed, with me at her side, while Dr. Harth, a resident, and a med student stitched her up. Sarah winced through the whole thing, but never cried, even though she said it hurt far worse than the labor. In fact, not to put to fine a point on it, but the things I saw and heard during that hour at her bedside were so shocking and grotesque that not even Sarah will allow me to write about them here. It’s the one thing she edited from this story.
* * *
Hannah was eight pounds, four ounces, and a robust 20½ inches long. Those numbers shocked us: Throughout the whole pregnancy, everyone at the U of C was worried that the fetus was measuring small. One of the doctors, just after Sarah had been admitted that morning, put a hand on her belly and said with absolute certainty, “She won’t be an ounce over six pounds.”
But there was my daughter, with her long fingers and toes, a funny-shaped head, and squinty yellow eyes just visible under puffy lids. She was healthy. She scored an 8 on her APGAR test minute after she was born, which measures a newborn’s appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration. Later, she scored a 9. Was that good? They told us it was.
The information that was spreading from Chicago to San Francisco to Seattle to Palm Beach was wrong, though. Hannah was not a redhead. Once they cleaned all the blood off, it wasn’t so red anymore.
As Sarah was being stitched up that morning and trying to keep it together, she turned to me and smiled in a way I had never seen. I mentally prepared myself for a sentimental moment.
“Now’s a good time for you to give me my baby bling-bling,” she said, and squeezed my hand. That’s about as sentimental as my wife gets.
I was ready. I went to my backpack and pulled out a box. Inside that box was a ring that I promptly put on her finger. I don’t know anything about rings, but it was beautiful. There was no denying it.
“I love it,” Sarah said. And for a moment, we seemed to block out everything—the phone conversations, the digital pictures being snapped, the high-pitched wailing from the bassinet, the team of doctors sticking sharp instruments into her crotch—and just stared at the ring on her finger. “I can’t wait for it to fit on Hannah’s finger.”
Then all the light and sound and commotion came rushing back all at once, and life started over.
Photography: Courtesy of Jeff Ruby