A Fluke of Circumstance
by Ute Carson
Writers' Haven Magazette, Vol.1:1, May 2010

A mild August thunderstorm quivered in the air. It was 1976 and I was pregnant. To divert my attention from the inner rumbling, I decided to walk through "Jungle Gardens," lush tropical grounds adjacent to our house. It was a sweltering afternoon as I meandered over pebbly paths under shady palm trees with leaves like elephant ears. I stopped often to practice shallow breathing and deep breathing. Leaning on a railing, overlooking a swamp where an alligator family lazed in the mud, I recalled that baby alligators "talk" to their mothers while still in the shell. They have an egg tooth on the tip of their snout which helps them break the shell. The mother assists in the hatching as soon as the baby peeps, then pecks. My due date was still two weeks away, but my third child was already pecking. She started to descend on my dilating cervix with powerful urgency.

Another moon had passed from old to new. All my girls were born on the first Saturday of the month during a full moon. They all have that lunar connection. On this particular night the sky was a throb with stars, and my fertility goddess was decked out in full majestic splendor, her golden beams like outstretched arms ready to catch a new earthling.

Within twenty minutes of our arrival at the hospital Cecile bolted headlong into life with one cry, faint but sharp enough to make my fingers and toes tingle. After the umbilical cord was cut, I cradled her in the nest of my arms as happiness pulsed through every cell in my body. My other girls too had bonded with me at first touch but soon after they had attached themselves, they were whisked from me to the nursery. But Cecile and I were never separated. We had as close to a home birth experience as a hospital setting can provide.

Right after my easy delivery Cecile was checked over, then handed back to me. And soon we were stretched out on a narrow gurney, Cecile curled against my tender breasts like a kitten against its mother's soft belly. It was a perfect fit. Since I had received no medications I was on a natural high, my senses taut as a newly strung bow. Birth had invigorated me.

The recovery room was freezing and cloaked in semi-darkness. I shivered and pulled the thin blanket up over my shoulders. The fertility goddess had been very generous that Saturday night. The recovery room was as busy as an airport terminal. The beds were crammed so close to each other that I could have reached for the hand of a new mother to either side. But I seemed to be the only one who was awake and no one shared my exuberance. Sleep-dazed women moaned or snored, still under the foggy influence of anesthesia. A woman next to me, her eyes gaping as if in a state of delirium, murmured unintelligibly. Dense, clinging odors had left traces of clotted blood, disinfectants, and curry spices in the stale air. I stuck my nose under the blanket and inhaled my newborn's alluring fragrance, mixed with the odor of black poop. A sense of tranquility pervaded my entire body.

Several times I tried to doze off but could not shake my wide awake watchfulness. In the half-light of the room my eyes scanned Cecile. The little wisps of her blond hair were damp, her skin creamy from birth. Her fawn eyes opened only once, then closed as I pushed her small mouth toward my left nipple. She suckled like a hungry fish, then, exhausted from the effort, relaxed into a nourishing sleep. I felt my heart in every breath as we began to breathe in unison. The warmth of our two bodies blended together. I imagined the morning sky turning a cherry red.

My doctor breezed into the room. As soon as he made out my presence next to the wall, he apologized, "Sorry. No rooms as yet. We'll find one soon. This has been a helluva night." He clearly could not linger. In an effort to be accommodating, he offered "Is there anything we can do for you?" "Yes," I exclaimed, "breakfast." His puzzled expression told me that he had forgotten my speedy delivery and only belatedly recognized my alertness. "Breakfast!" he announced to his nurse who, I am sure, wanted to object that this was not the place for food. Shortly thereafter I did get breakfast. The food, white toast and leathery eggs, was not to my liking and the coffee was covered with a bluish sheen. But I was ravenous and devoured it all.

The waiting seemed interminable. To occupy my mind I embarked on an unlikely rumination. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz wrote extensively about early imprinting, rapid learning, and the importance of love objects during the first days of life. He observed that goslings follow the first face they glimpse, fowl or human. We humans bond in various ways with our children throughout their formative years. So what difference does the early environment make? What impact do light, sounds, smells and physical contact have on a child? My other girls were nursed from the start but spent much time away in the nursery. Every time I visited Caitlin, our oldest, at the baby station she was surrounded by a cacophony of crying infants. Our second, Claudia, whose liver was slow to function, was confined in the hospital for several extra days while I struggled to keep her on a regular nursing schedule. In 1940 my own mother supplied me with plenty of good breast milk but in those days German babies were expected to sleep through the night from day one. Unlike many people my age I do not suffer from insomnia. Was my brain perhaps programmed from inception to sleep through the night? How do bottle-fed babies perceive their environment when rubber is the initial supplier of nourishment? How do tiny humans negotiate a balance between comfort, warmth, security, and harsh reality? Are babies forced from the outset to shuttle between these two perceptual worlds? How do a newborn's surroundings and early emotional experience interact? Animals keep their young at their side until they are weaned to independence. Did Cecile imbibe her confidence about life pressed to my heart while we breathed in unison?

All the while, I continued to wait for a room. To pass the time I now started to hum, very softly, with my lips close to Cecile's ears so as not to disturb the sleeping women. "Kindlein mein, schlaf doch ein, weil die Sternlein kommen, Und der Mond kommt auch schon, wieder angeschwommen..." I knew that by now the moon had sent all the stars to bed and had itself swum out of view. For all I knew it had already been replaced by the mercilessly blazing Florida sun. But it was still night and cool in the recovery room. As I hummed, I stroked Cecile, then gently tapped my right middle fingers in rhythm with the soothing lullaby. Cecile stirred as if listening, attuned to the harmony of my drumming, her soft lips making smacking sounds as she spontaneously sucked colostrum from my still empty breast. Music would course through Cecile's life like blood through her body. She hummed before uttering her first words. Was a melody seed planted in the nocturnal recovery room of that hospital?

Lost in thought, I was startled when a nurse came toward me and whispered, "Your husband is in the hallway to pick you up. We need all the beds for the difficult cases. Dr. Smallwood signed your discharge papers before he left for lunch."

I remained in my green delivery gown and kept Cecile tucked into its blousy front. She never made a peep until we were home and snuggly tucked in our own big bed in a room painted in joyful daylight colors. All the while my husband, and Caitlin and Claudia, and my mother were ooh-ing and aah-ing over the little bundle. We remained curled up intermittently like two peas in a pod for most of the next few days.

We kept an appointment with our pediatrician later in the week. He was incredulous. "How did you sneak out of the hospital the day she was born?" "We didn't," I replied. "There were no beds available, so by that fluke of circumstance Cecile and I were just sent home."

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