On the steering wheel, my husband’s knuckles shown white. I leaned forward to watch the pink dawn illuminate the Cincinnati skyline.
He glanced over. “May I speed?”
I winced and nodded. “I reckon this is the only time you can.”
He snickered as he ran a red light. I stared out the window and murmured. He kept his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road, but leaned his body toward me.
“What’d you say?”
I spoke louder. “Nothing’s ever gonna be the same, is it?”
My husband shook his head as he skidded to a stop in front of the emergency room entrance at Christ Hospital.
“Nope,” he said. “Today everything changes.”
The beautiful, willowy brunette nurse perched beside me on the hospital bed. She picked up my hand and flipped it over, traced the creases of my palm with a maroon fingernail as she talked.
“Did no one give you an enema?”
My eyes bugged out. “No, ma’am,” I said. Kinda glad about that, I thought.
She huffed. “I swear. So many nurses think it’s old-fashioned, but I don’t want my ladies pushing out poop with their babies. It’s not sanitary.”
I heard a gagging noise. I peeked in my husband’s direction. He stared at a spot on the ceiling and cleared his throat.
When Dr. Lum arrived, I immediately noticed the peace signs on his socks. He'd rolled up his scrub pants so they'd show. He patted my cheek before he sat down at the foot of the bed.
“Sorry I’m late. Had to finish recording a Pink Floyd concert.”
He stood suddenly and struck an air guitar pose.
“We don’t need no ed-u-ca-tion.”
He grinned as he tugged on latex gloves. “You feeling okay, missy?
I felt fine. I’d had my epidural. Tall, pretty nurse made sure of that as soon as I hit four centimeters dilated. I hadn’t checked out the needle, but my husband did. When his eyes bulged, I gulped and leaned over the bedside table, did snifftas like our Lamaze teacher had taught us. Sniff in with the nose, ta out through the mouth.
“Husbands,” the instructor had said, “you can use this technique too. Like when you’re in line at the grocery store and you have to go to the bathroom—number two.”
I liked my epidural. A lot. Too much really. Because of it I never had the urge to push.
Dr. Lum waved stainless steel tongs like a conductor’s baton. “These are forceps,” he said. “If need be, we can use these to yank baby out.”
I squeaked. “Fine! I’ll push.”
I couldn’t feel pain but I could feel pressure, and its absence. I was fully aware when the baby slicky slid out of me.
“It’s a . . . . girl!” Dr. Lum said. “Nancy’ll take her over and shine her up, bring her back in a jif.”
I reached down to touch my belly—empty now—after almost a year. I pressed my fingers in as far as they'd go. My flesh felt like a pouch of Cool-Whip, all wooshy and gooshy.
“I need you to bear down one more time,” Dr. Lum said, “to deliver the placenta.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Ew!”
I pushed half-heartedly. Surely the exodus of an empty membrane sack didn’t require the effort a seven pound baby did.
The blob Dr. Lum held up resembled a large man ’o war jellyfish. “What’s your baby’s name?”
“Josephine Joy,” my husband said.
Dr. Lum pounced the placenta from side to side—first left, then right.
“This is the house that Josy built, Josy built, Josy built. This is the house that Josy built—” He paused to look at his watch, “on December 7, 1991 at 12:34 p.m. on a Saturday.”
I tilted my head and squinted. Thought him a bit odd but didn’t say so out loud.
He peered at the giant Jell-O jiggler. “If we were in—can’t remember which country—we’d cook this puppy and eat it for dinner.”
My stomach lurched. I cupped my hand in front of my mouth, just in case.
The lovely labor and delivery nurse finally brought us our baby girl. Her face, the baby’s, was alarmingly scarlet. Dark, silky hair wisped out from under her white-with-a-pink-pom-pom beanie cap. The nurse cooed as she tucked the warm flannel package into my arms.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?”
I gazed down at her. How long had it been since I’d held a baby? Was it my niece? Six years ago? I stroked my daughter’s velvety cheek with my pinky.
“She kinda looks like a Conehead,” I told my husband. “You know, like on Saturday Night Live?”
Nancy the nurse snapped her fingers. I glanced over at her. "What?"
She came close and gripped my face, rotated it toward the baby's. Josy seemed even redder than before and her chin was like an ocean wave, coming at me then retreating, over and over.
I turned to Nancy. “What do I do? What’s she want?”
Nancy cocked her head. “You really don’t know? Did you never babysit?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I had a paper route.”
She grimaced. “Oh, my.”
Making tsk, tsk noises, Nancy placed one hand on my shoulder, the other under the baby bundle.
“How do I say this, honey? Nothing’s ever going to be the same for you, ever again.”