And You Are

Confessions of the Other Mother

By Hillary Goodridge

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 her high.

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 with Annie.”

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.

She does.

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?”

“Julie Goodridge”

“Who are you?”

“Her partner.”

“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 delay.
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 mother.”

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 very politely.

“No, first she has to wake up, drink an entire bottle and keep it down. Then we can consider sending her downstairs.”

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 stops me.

“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.





© 2003 Harlyn Aizley