The East River isn’t really a river at all, but a tidal strait between Manhattan and Long Island that, because of tides, appears to flow like one.
New York Presbyterian Hospital soars like a great, white sail over the East River. This great, granite sheet spans several blocks of Midtown East, swallowing the FDR highway whole. Looking southeast, the river below races just below, fast past Roosevelt Island and the Queensboro Bridge beyond. From inside, it’s as if one is floating above the city itself, rolling along in the waves, to and fro with the tide.
Abbi called me in tears. “The baby is breech,” she said. It was mid-May, some four weeks from her due date. “They want to schedule a c-section.”
It took weeks to work through our disappointment at not being able to deliver as we’d imagined. We exhausted every possible recourse to make our stubborn, little bugger flip in utero, from chiropracty to inversions to Chinese moxa sticks. Our low point came just two weeks from Abbi’s due date when a saintly doctor performed a brutally-painful external cephalic version to no avail. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This baby just won’t budge.”
We nudged at the uncertainty, gingerly wondering aloud why our baby was in the five percent of babies who don’t turn in preparation for labor. “The baby’s resting its head near your heart,” I said. “There’s no better, more-peaceful place to be.” Quietly, though, I worried, pushing aside the terrifying possibility that something was wrong.
By the time we signed into New York Presbyterian’s seventh floor labor and delivery ward at precisely noon on Monday, then, we’d made an unsteady peace with it all. We spent over nearly hours talking nervously in the crowded waiting room. I snuck away to the hospital chapel just long enough to eek out a brief prayer, a highly-inarticulate invocation consisting mostly of “please, please, please.” When I returned to the waiting room, Abbi had been admitted.
Once inside, everything moved quickly. Our attending nurse, Wendy, walked us through the procedure, entertaining all of our wishes to make this sterile, industrialized procedure as organic and natural as possible: music in the operating room, and as much “golden hour,” skin-to-skin time as possible. Then, Abbi walked into the OR for her spinal block while I pulled on my scrubs, paced impatiently in place and took deep, slow breaths. Finally, Wendy returned. “Ok, dad,” she said. “We’re ready for you.”
The OR was flooded with cold, fluorescent light. Doctors and nurses were already bustling about. Abbi was on her back, draped in a blue gown with a curtain over her chest and oxygen in her nose. I kissed her on the forehead, stared into her eyes, and began distracting her with remembrances of our first trip together to Honduras. “Keep talking,” she said as our story approached our first, long walk on the beach.
From behind the curtain, Dr. Waterstone said, “You have a beautiful little girl here.”
Abbi and I looked at each other in disbelief.
“What!?!” she said through a huge, tear-soaked smile. “A girl!?!”
For months, every street corner prognosticator from Puerta Plata to Paoli, Pennsylvania, had diagnosed her low-carry as an imminent sign that we were having a boy.
“It’s a girl!” Dr. Waterstone repeated.
Wendy said, “Go meet her dad!”
Those first seconds are — even now, less than one week later — like a flood-lit dream; crystal-clear, but surreal, like looking at a diamond under a microscope covered in cheese cloth. Here was this beautiful, perfectly-formed, pink creature with beautiful long arms and legs akimbo, fingers splayed, crying and struggling and teaming with life. Here was our little bundle, this nine-month mystery, this collection of hopes and dreams and wishes. Here was our beautiful daughter! I looked towards Abbi and fumbled through tears to say, “She’s fine! She’s beautiful! She’s perfect!”
They weighed her, swaddled her, and handed her to me.
“Introduce her to her mommy!” Wendy said.
I tiptoed to Abbi, and placed our daughter’s cheek at her mother’s lips. Like so many evenings prior, I sang “Golden Slumbers” to sooth her, and she settled quietly into my arms. We smiled through tears in a room so white, so bright, it may well have been Heaven.
For the next few hours, we eschewed the usual battery of medical industrial procedures, and kept our precious, little bundle as close as possible. I held her to my chest as Abbi’s surgery was completed, then handed her over to her mother who immediately began nursing. Our daughter was wide-eyed and alert, her eyes scanning our awe-struck faces. Family came and went, and we were ushered to our room.
Sometime in the wee hours of Monday night, Abbi said, “I think she’s our Maggie.”
We struggled through the night to feed, swaddle and sooth our little Maggie, every passing moment filled with new wonder, awe, anxiety and exhaustion. We watched her tiny lips purse, her perfect brow furrow. We watched her tiny eyelids squint into the light, her dark pupils scanning her new world. And we looked at each other and laughed through tears, more awake, more alive, and more in love than ever before.
As morning broke, we sat by the window with our little wonder watching the sky turn from dawn to day. Maggie yawned and stretched and struggled against the new day, finally collapsing, exhausted, into her mother’s arms.
Past the flowers in the window, seven stories below our granite sailboat, the East River was changing course. The water frothed, rumbled and boiled, then turned and headed out to sea held sway by the moon and lit by the sunshine of a brand-new life.