Well, the day has come and virtually gone and the little goon is still firmly lodged in there. People at work keep wondering why I’m still there, so I take off and PL and I go to the movies. We delight in telling the old ladies who ask the baby’s due date that we expect him today. They goggle. We walk through the East Village and I buy PL a big straw hat covered with colored baubles. We cook dinner and then go to bed early, hoping to be woken up by contractions. I read aloud from various well-thumbed books, looking for passages to reassure us that the baby will come out eventually.
I get the mail. Mum has forwarded a letter to me from Keir. It’s the first one he has written to me in about a decade. It’s weird that I got it on the day I am scheduled to become a father.
Here’s an excerpt (with filial comments):
I feel very guilty. Guilty because I did not embrace, acknowledge, relate to you when you were here that time… (I think he’s talking about my last visit, ten years ago) …God knows why I didn’t I remember that I gave the bloke who came with you—I can’t remember his name… (that would be my roommate, Simon) …more attention that I gave you. Why did I? No wonder you felt rejected by me.
I wrote recently to your mum, when she told me that you were to become a father, and asked to be remembered to you—not that I think that you have forgotten me—but you did not feel like making the contact. I wish you would.
Most of my life, my Dad ignored me, then, in his dotage, started to ring me night and day, I hope I’m not going the same way, but it would be nice to hear from you.
I don’t know how I’ll respond. I could blow him off. I could let bygones be bygones. I could tell him what I really think of him and his “guilt.”
I’ll wait until life is back in order (hah!) to decide.
Cathy and Gideon call to invite us to dinner and to tell us that Lauren has just had her baby. She was due a week after ours and the baby, a 10-pounder, came out after an easy delivery. Whoopdeedoo, lucky them. Grrrr.
Cathy serves orez negro, a shrimp dish in squid-ink-laced rice which PL downs enthusiastically—we’ve been told that seafood stimulates labor.
We go the appointment we’d thought we wouldn’t need. The nurse tells us that a year ago she was a bookkeeper at a supermarket as she administers a stress test, basically 15 minutes of simultaneous heart monitoring (strong) and contraction counting (none). Dr. Berger cracks more jokes, then plunges in. The hatch is battened down. The drawbridge is up. No progress in effacement or dilation. As we stand limply at the reception desk to make another appointment, Patti starts to cry. We’ve made it this far and now there’s a hitch. She’s afraid the baby will be born blind for some reason or become a dried-up husk as the life support of her uterus dwindles after the 42nd week.
I paint a big house on Patti’s bulging belly and carefully letter “Jack” above the yellow door. I knock, I ring the bell, but he doesn’t come out. As usual, when one of us caves, the other has to be reasonable. I point out we’re only three days late, that the 42nd week is 11 days away, that all of the monitoring tests show the baby is doing fine, and that we have nothing to worry about, blah, blah. I say, “Look, if we freak out with this tiny, perfectly normal hiccup, what will we do if there’s a real problem?”
“So you think there will be a real problem?”
“No, I just mean…well, you know.”
I don’t know if she’s convinced or just alone but I leave her in a cab as she walks home. (Dr. Berger says walking and climbing stairs induces labor. It doesn’t.)
Anxious, impatient, hot, I write back to Keir.
I received your letter on the day that I was supposed to become a father, July 22. How ironic.
I’ve thought about you several times since I discovered I was to become a father, particularly when I wondered how I could be a good father. That’s quite ironic, too.
I’m glad you say you feel guilty though I rather doubt that you actually do. I gave you many, many chances to be my father and, frankly, you blew them all. Considering how little time I have spent with you over the years, I have an excess of dark memories. The time you made me dive into the murky river some 20 years ago, to find the oarlocks.
A petty thing like the cup of tea that I made you and which you hurled, cup and all, into the canal, yelling, “Why the hell can’t you brew a proper cup?”
The unanswered 50-page letter I wrote to let you know who I was, me, not the baby you’d known in 1962, but me, Danny, a man.
And finally the time you came to New York and pissed over everything that mattered to me: my neighborhood, my home, my job, my friends, my world. If it wasn’t English or just like the life you were leading, you put it down.
What bothered me so deeply about these events was that you would never acknowledge me as anything but the fruit of your loins, a dim reflection of your own glory. How many times did you let me know that I should be more like you, artistic like you, sarcastic like you, judgmental like you, misanthropic, misogynistic and misinformed like you?
You made it abundantly clear that the only aspects of me you were interested in knowing were the ones that I might have inherited from you.
I know that you are a good father to your girls, you revel in their smallest accomplishments and show them boundless love. I’m sorry you don’t have the same feelings for me and that you feel bad about it now-—but you can stuff your guilt.
Obviously, I bear a lot of resentment. It’s nothing new; I’ve been carrying it around, bottled, for an awfully long time. I probably resent you, as a man who had a poor relationship with his own father, for knowing how incomplete that can make you feel and yet doing nothing to make sure I didn’t suffer the same emptiness. I have no intention of being the same sort of father to my boy that you have been to me.
I am not rejecting you as you’ve rejected me. I don’t want to be that sort of person. All I want you to do is acknowledge that I am something other than just an extension of you. If you could, well, I think we could mean a great deal to each other.
I haven’t mailed the letter yet.
After dinner, PL and I take a three-hour walk. We talk, laugh, snap out of it. The city and my wife are so beautiful.
I paint a big house on Patti’s bulging belly and carefully letter “Jack” above the yellow door. I knock, I ring the bell, but he doesn’t come out.
Stacey Allen tells Patti that due dates are just guesses and that Berger’s diagnosis is sensible and not the flagrant malpractice we had suspected in our darkest hour. She says that her sister went into labor while out dancing and suggests we try it.
After dinner, as a huge thunderstorm lambastes our windows, I load our CD changer with favorite disks, an upbeat chronicle of our predicament: thanks to Arrested Development, the Madonna and child were still one and Dr. Buzzard could not break the Seal. The due date was not the Commitments we’d expected and we had no new baby to Bragg about. Then we push back the couch and hop around until we are wringing wet and loose as geese.
Then we walked the glistening streets for an hour. We happen upon a performance of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream in Washington Square Park. Puck and his band cavort under the lamplights and the pink evening clouds, but Jackie won’t come out to watch with us.
Patti reads to me from Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, which has a “Make sure you’re in control and take no guff from your doctor” sort of approach. The book is very negative about medically induced labor and makes it seem quite grisly. She gets upset and puts the book down to confess that ever since the last doctor’s visit, she has felt controlled and helpless, particularly when Berger had announced that he could induce next Tuesday night and if there’s any hitch, will promptly perform a Caesarean. All of her meticulous birth plan is being ignored and she feels like nothing but a bewildered victim of the process.
I beg to differ. We’ve got to have faith in Ella. She said the whole thing would be natural. And, I dunno about the Bradley book. It makes doctors out to just be these megalomaniacs who just want to get the whole thing over so they can cash their insurance checks and get back on the golf course. Can you imagine Ella swinging a club?
“Look, what do I know? Why don’t you call her tomorrow and tell her what you’re worried about. She always makes us feel better.”
I rush out of work to meet Patti at the hospital. No, the baby isn’t coming, but apparently the doctors decided that it would be better to get a super high-res sonogram at Beth Israel. I am glad to have a practice dry run in getting there, because the layout is quite confusing: A park blocks off the 16th Street entrance and the hospital corridors are labyrinthine.
The heart monitor shows the baby is still strong but the contractions are still minimal. The sonogram is a trip. My fantasy was that when they snapped it on, it would be like opening a window shade and seeing a face pressed against the glass, like that episode of The Twilight Zone where William Shatner sees the monster walking around on the wing of the plane.
Well, it isn’t like that. The baby is so big and crammed in there it’s hard to get a sense of him, and the sonogram makes him pretty transparent so we have to strain to make out human-like features.
His bones are far more compelling than his face. We see every little vertebrae, like carved jewels on a graceful necklace, floating wires that become ribs, intricate elbow joints and all four chambers of his vigorous little heart. We see through his skull and into his brain and see the outline of his penis and the contents of his scrotum, the vault holding Gregorys of the future.
But the test requires a study of movement and breathing, and the Peanut is sound asleep. The nurse brings in a device that looks like an electric shaver and uses it to make a loud buzzing noise against Patti’s abdomen. Buzz after buzz and the lug won’t wake up. Patti turns and shifts position and finally he twitches a bit. A second nurse comes in and takes over the sonogram machine and manages to locate the quiet rise and fall of his chest as he breathes.
I say, hopefully, “Well everything looks good, huh?” but the nurse doesn’t answer. The other nurse comes back and tells us that we have to wait for the neonatal doctor to speak with our doctor and Patti says, “But everything’s normal right?” but the nurse will only tell us we have to speak with our own doctor.
We wait on tenterhooks. Miranda joins us and we all sit, brooding. I begin to imagine the worst, of course. The sonogram must have revealed an extra leg, a tumor, a twisted spine, horns, a tail, something horrible. After an hour and a half, the neonatalist appears and explains that the only point of concern was the amniotic fluid is lowish. On a scale of 1 to 25, it was at 7. Anything below 5 is a problem.
He calls up Andrew Garber and says there’s no cause for concern. We hear him say it clearly, “No cause for concern.” No horns, no tail.
The lady at the Korean grocer tells Patti that spicy food induces labor. We have Mexican, piling on the jalapenos. Next day—smoking gun. No baby.
We record a new message on the machine. The sound of a baby crying (a sound effect record), then I say, “Nope, the baby’s not here. Nor are we. Leave a message.” Mum says it shows great insensitivity and bad karma. Ernie disagrees. Donna shrieks that she almost wet her pants when she heard it, thinking we’d recorded it in the delivery room.
Ella is late for our appointment and PL takes a nap on the examining table while I read Baby magazine. When the doc arrives, she rolls up her sleeves, parts PL’s thighs—the verdict is swift and final—no problem, position is fine, fluid levels are acceptable, and the lack of thinning or dilation is, well, fine, too. She flips through her notes and says, “You know, based on my initial exam, the due date should probably actually be August 2nd, not July 22nd.” Things get a little fuzzy after this bombshell and she starts talking about the Bishop’s cards or something and then concludes with, “You are plainly pregnant, nothing to worry, full steam ahead.”
Another supersonogram. The fluid’s fine and there are particles floating in it as if the baby is peeing. He is very active and we get to see his face quite clearly, a little snub nose.
Patti keeps fretting and asking questions about something or other and I suddenly get quite irritable and snap, “Look, just chill out. Everything’s fine.”
I am just tired of having my chain yanked. This is like the worst cab ride ever, accelerating, then slamming on the brakes at every pot hole and stoplight, all around town. The neonatalist says, “Relax, enjoy this time you have, eat out, make love. Relax.”