Sunday, March 22, 2009

Waiting Room

Birth begins simply with a sperm and an egg. They hook-up and travel together, then, once embedded, they cover themselves with myometrium so they can safely express themselves, completely and thoroughly. Elated, they double, then double again, … on and on until, miraculously, many months later, there’s a human. A person identified by their gender, weight and length; but also with spirit, personality, and an eye color no one will know for months. A wee little one, warm and delicate, happy to just curl in a ball on your chest to warm your heart and amaze you and give you hope for the future.

This is where my mind wanders as I anticipate the imminent birth of my granddaughter. My son’s in the labor room with his girlfriend, and of course her mother's there, but I feel like an outsider to the birth and, in fact, to their lives right now. In his yearning to be - and be seen as - independent, my son only allows me into the periphery of his life.

This is ironic given that I’ve had a long and successful career dedicated to making pregnancy, labor, and birth better for women and families. And that's not the only irony - I’ve never been pregnant. Never labored. Never given birth. The sperm and egg were both problematic in my case … you see, after years of birth control pills I fell for a double breasted person, then another, and stayed there, on unfertile ground, ever since. Of course, I tried donated sperm. It was delivered on dry ice, which was much more fun than the sperm it protected, but even then, endometriosis had spoiled the landscape.

No birth for you, some all-powerful being must have said early on. Inseminations, fertility doctors, ultrasounds, surgery; OK, there were no shots, but still. It all led to nothing but the fatal swipe heralding the washout of hope. A monthly miscarriage. The bloody blues.

One chance at adoption, admittedly on the edge of ethical what with being my own patient and all, fell through, and then hopelessness gathered strength and nearly won. Solace could be taken, perhaps, in having a lifetime of pediatric patients?

Then came the phone call from my brother, which, believe me, to understand completely requires a fair amount of back-story, (another blog, no doubt) but suffice it to say, he called to say his daughter, let’s call her Betsy, who he had adopted five years before, was pregnant. At fifteen. I listened as he talked about his disappointment in himself and his fears for her. I supported him as any sister would, but, by the middle of the conversation I couldn’t stop the latent baby fairies in my stomach from rising. When he said Betsy was firm on her plan for adoption, the fairies jumped and danced and, by the end of the conversation, clapped.

Three months later, I was a grateful bystander at my son’s birth. After weeks of deep and emotional talks with Betsy, the long drive from my home in West Virginia to hers in New Jersey, and the final of many epiduralized pushes, it seemed sudden when a baby appeared. The birth was attended by some nondescript old doc who arrived at the last minute, held the boy by his feet, and if I remember correctly, smacked a cry out of him. I stood by – tense and unsure I belonged. Still, I saw him – eyes intent, skin glistening, curly black hair and a good strong cry. I stood there for ten minutes or so, soaking it in, I even held him for a few of those minutes.

Then I left the delivery room and waited ... no, paced, in the waiting room, trying to give Betsy time – time to be sure; time to, god forbid, change her mind.

It is this waiting room I think about when I am, again, nearly eighteen years later, cordoned off to a waiting room while this same son is witnessing the birth of his daughter.

Waiting. I have room to wait. I know how to wait. And I’ll keep waiting 'till he has room to invite me in again.



  1. Janice,

    This is such a powerful post, and it seems almost complete. With a little bit of work, I think you can try to publish this as flash. I really love how you create sentences that work hard for the essay, that you've packed meaning, history, into each word.

    But what I didn't quite see was the first time that you waited for your son to invite you in. When he was an infant, it seemed that you invited him in rather than the other way around. The reader really needs to see the connection you're insinuating for the the last line, and the cyclical nature of life, to resonate.

  2. Let the revision process begin! thanks Amy, you're right so i changed it already adding the sentence: "My son’s in the labor room with his girlfriend ... an outsider to the birth and, in fact, to their lives right now." to the 2nd paragraph. Any better?

  3. I agree--a powerful post not only because of the subject matter, but because of the powerful language.

    I did feel like there was an undercurrent of tension that I didn't know about. I don't need to know all of it, but I wanted to know why you weren't in there with the girlfriend. It sounded as if he didn't want you in there for some reason, but I wasn't sure.

    I was moved by the story of your adoption of him, and would encourage you to write about that as a separate piece.

  4. Janice, you show a number of interesting glimpses in this piece into the way birth plays into your life. There are so many directions you could take something like this, and I feel I don't want you to pick just one. This could be flash, but I also feel that you could flesh this out more with your own experiences with birth, because there have been many (both personally and professionally). I'm interested to see where weaving together your perceptions of and experiences with birth could take this.

  5. I don't see this as flash. I think it could be something much, much larger. The choice to open the piece with an explanation of exactly why having a baby around is so appealing. Then you don't have to explain exactly why you wanted a son or daughter of your own so badly.

    What a fascinating story. Tell me more.

  6. This is a great story Janice, Our plans for disecting this whole thing are still on I hope!
    Love your blog, & I check in all the time

  7. just need a beach chair and the shade you so kindly supply every year! so glad you're reading my blog - it makes writing it much more fun.

  8. Very touching, Janice. I love this idea of the "waiting room," and how you can do so many things with it- waiting to get pregnant, waiting 9 months for a life, waiting until that life is old enough to recognize/acknowledge you... the waiting we do in life. I also would love to hear more about your experience with adopting your son. This piece is full of so much powerful energy and I can really feel you coming through.

  9. thanks for letting me read your blog! you were present at my first two births and i couldn't have asked for a more knowing person to assist in the process! i think i am now the biggest fan of your writing so i don't have anything to say about it!

  10. thanks. happy to know anyone is reading this... sounds like we know on another, you're a doula perhaps? birth circle? if so, wasn't our recent meeting and Penny's talk fun?

  11. Loved this. Janice - your writing is so wonderfully touching - funny, poignant, vivid. I always feel like I am there with you, in whatever situation you're describing. Count me as a fan.


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