© BEACON PRESS, 2006
It wasn’t until the scalpel
sliced through Julie’s extended belly that
it occurred to me things could get complicated.
I am standing to the side of the delivery room wearing
blue scrubs, camera ready, excited to watch the
birth of my daughter. Planned caesareans have their
strong points. It sounds so nice and neat, the very
word “planned” coupled with an invocation
of Rome’s last dictator, as though everything
will be under control - no sweaty labor, no screaming
of obscenities, or endless contractions with minimal
dilation. I’d imagined a planned caesarean
would be like opening a boxed gift; tug the bow
and out pops the baby.
“He just sat up like he was
in a little boat,” one friend who had been
through it described.
But I can’t see Julie’s face; there
is a curtain across her chest so she won’t
see the scalpel slicing. There are several doctors,
assistants, an anesthesiologist, and nurses. Our
doctor makes a transverse incision through five
layers of skin and muscle. Another holds a spatula
that pushes Julie’s bladder to the side, and
yet one more holds the incision open. There are
suctions, beeps, IVs, gauze going in and out. There
is remarkably little blood, and some amazing colors.
The anesthesiologist is making Julie laugh and keeping
Our doctor starts digging around. I have my camera
poised and ready, but my baby is not popping up
in her little boat. Our doctor, one of the smartest,
calmest women I ever have met, starts looking very
concerned and begins digging around. I lower my
camera, and feel like a jerk for having it at all.
Our doctor shouts to the other doctor to make another
cut. She is up to her elbows in Julie now, tugging
and grunting. Julie tears open. The doctor swears.
She pulls up a bloodied foot. This is my daughter.
Here she is.
Our doctor is upset. My daughter, Annie, is in distress.
They rush her over to the “French fry table,”
as Julie calls it, to see what is wrong. She has
inhaled something – either meconium (baby’s
first poop) or amniotic fluid. Her airway is blocked.
If it is meconium, it could be very serious. The
order is given to rush to neonatal intensive care.
They whisk Annie onto a cart and run out of the
room. I follow but freeze at the door and turn to
Julie. The doctor has all her insides out on the
table, she’s cleaning them off and placing
them back, making sure all of the placenta and gauze
is accounted for. I can’t leave her like this.
Julie recognizes my dilemma and shouts, “Go
We rush to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It’s
just like ER, with nurses shouting “Stat!”
carts wheeling out of our way, us running. Once
we are there a different team surrounds the cart.
They strap a respirator over my baby’s face,
plant an IV into her plump little arm, and then
tape it to a wooden splint.
They suction Annie’s lungs and mouth, tell
me we just have to wait, and wheel her into the
room with other babies who are in peril; many so
tiny, in comparison, I think my daughter is a giant.
I sit by her cart and watch her breathe, put my
hand through the hole and touch her.
“Come on Annie, breathe,” I whisper.
I am so focused on her breathing that I have no
idea how much time has passed. I look up to see
it’s been almost two hours. Julie has no idea
what is going on.
I promise Annie I’ll be right back, race down
the hall, into the elevator and down to the post-op
area, but am stopped by a nurse with a clipboard.
“Who are you here to see?”
“Who are you?”
“Immediate family only.”
I am stunned. I am going to have to fight this nurse
about being immediate family. Of course Julie and
I had had this conversation many times before. When
introduced as “partners” we inevitably
are asked what sort of business we are in. “The
lesbian business!” Julie once shouted in a
suddenly quiet Boston Baby Store. In a rare moment
of surrender, I am afraid if I make scene they’ll
put me in a straitjacket and I’ll never get
to see either Julie or Annie again. I am already
panicking about Annie being left alone, strapped
to boards in a plastic cart, and cannot risk further
In this moment I begin to understand how illegitimate
I am. Although Julie and I have been a committed
couple in love for eight years, to the staff she
is simply my roommate. I have no blood nor legal
tie to either her or Annie; despite that I was there
when Annie was conceived, and have been speaking
to her for eight months, marveling at her growth
and beauty at every ultrasound, carrying those images
in my wallet, despite that Julie and I chose her
name together. There really is nothing I can show
them that tells who I am.
I decide to go back to Annie to gather my thoughts.
I approach the NICU station from the front door
this time. There are two nurses seated there.
Now I know how this is going to go.
“I’m here to see Annie Goodridge.”
“And you are?”
I breathe deeply, “Hillary Goodridge, her
They consult their charts. “Well, you can’t
be her mother, her mother just had a cesarean.”
That’s it. I start to cry. I explain who I
am. I beg them to call our doctor, ask them to speak
to the nurse inside – perhaps she’ll
remember me from before - there’s no one else
who can be with Annie. I am almost shouting.
But they do not believe she is my daughter. Is this
what it will always be like I wonder, trapped in
some linoleum purgatory, suspended animation, unable
to touch either member of my family?
The inside nurse comes out and identifies me; I
can return to Annie.
“She is doing well,” the nurse says.
“Can I take her out of here?” I ask
“No, first she has to wake up, drink an entire
bottle and keep it down. Then we can consider sending
Annie slumbers on. I take a picture. The nurse goes
away. I put my hand back inside the cart.
“Annie, we gotta get out of here” I
whisper, and give the cart a swift kick.
Annie wakes up and yells, a fabulous loud bellow.
The nurse comes back and agrees to give her a bottle.
Annie sucks on it with no fuss. They have to wait
awhile longer to see if she can hold it down. At
two a.m. they bring Annie to Julie.
Later, I walk down the hall to be with them. A nurse
“Who are you here to see?”
“Julie Goodridge” I say.
“And you are?”
“Hillary Goodridge, her sister.”
“Go right in,” the nurse smiles.
Today you can barely see the scar from the incision
until you get to the jagged part, the place that
marks where we three were almost torn apart.