The pain washed over me and I could feel my insides splitting in two, tearing from the inside out. I could not help but cry out. There was no one in Cambridge or Boston that was willing to administer obstetrical anesthesia, despite Nathaniel’s lecture and the seemingly enthusiastic response. The pain was more intense than I had ever imagined. I was compelled to push over and over again. Finally, the pain stopped.
There was a slurping gurgle and feeble cry and a hushed silence fell over the room. By the time I was able to register my surroundings again, I saw the look of horror on the doctor’s face as he looked at my baby. Fortunately, Dr. Quincy did not lower himself to the practice of obstetrics and we had enlisted the services of a Dr. Farber. He was personable and reassuring and had assured me that things would go well.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked quietly.
There was no answer.
“IS IT A BOY OR A GIRL?” I demanded.
“A…a boy,” the doctor finally replied. Seeming to regain his senses, he quickly wrapped the baby up in a sheet and passed him off to Hannah, one of the maids who stared wide eyed at the child. He nodded at her, motioning to dismiss her. She made a few hesitating steps toward the door of the chamber.
“Wait!” I said. She stopped but did not turn.
“Go,” the doctor said quietly, firmly.
“Let me see my baby.” I was surprised by the level of force in my voice. When no one moved and no one responded, indignation swelled up within.
“LET ME SEE MY BABY!” Hannah jumped as she heard my raised voice. She slowly turned, compelled by a mother’s demand, but her eyes were pleading with me to let her take him away. At that moment he began to cry, loud mournful wails. I could see a little fist peak out from the blood smeared white sheeting.
Slowly, Hannah crept back across the room to my side and placed my son in my arms. He stopped crying within seconds. I pulled back the folds of the sheeting, my heart racing. My breath caught in my chest as I stared at him.
He was beautiful.
“Hello, Levi,” I whispered. “Look at mommy.”
But I knew he could not see me. His fused eyelids covered sunken holes where his eyes should have been. His upper lip was missing as was the roof of his mouth and his nose was reduced to a fleshy mass. I unwrapped him carefully. There was a large translucent sac containing his intestines that was attached to his umbilical chord. There was even an extra finger on his left hand. Who knew what else was wrong inside. I sighed a breath of relief. All of my fears for this child had come true…all except for the worst. The most horrible thing I could imagine was that he would have something wrong with him that would keep me from loving him. But I realized at that moment that would have been impossible.
“He will not live long,” the doctor said flatly.
“How long?” I asked.
“A few hours, perhaps.”
“I see.” I wrapped him up again and held him. “How do I feed him?”
“You cannot successfully. His cleft lip and palate will prevent it.”
I felt another urge to push and the doctor delivered the placenta, afterward performing an exceedingly uncomfortable uterine massage to increase the cramping of the uterus and prevent further bleeding.
Levi was strong. His color was pink. He had a good cry. I hoped for his sake that this would be quick, but I knew somewhere inside that it would not be.
“Where is William?” I asked. It was not long before he was at my side and the rest of the room emptied.
“I am not sure I can do this,” he said as he examined the child he thought was his son. His ragged breath was tearing through his chest and a fit of coughing overwhelmed him. I caught a glimpse of a fleck of bright red blood on his handkerchief, but I was unable to process the meaning.
“Please. I need you.” He caught his breath. His eyes welled and overflowed as he put his arms around Levi and around me, wracked by silent sobs. I could not help but cry out loud, crying for all of us.
It dragged on for three days. It was supposed to be easier than this. The doctor had said it would just take a few hours and I hated him for being wrong. I prayed for God to take little Levi, begged Him to ease his suffering and ours. There were times when his breath came fast and erratic and times when he stopped breathing altogether. His skin would take on a bluish cast, then pink up again. He always struggled back. At times, he would seem hungry, fussing, and I would spoon feed him sugar water which choked him and never really seemed to help anyone but me. My breasts ached, full, wanting him to suckle. But he could not.
William was always there, unfailing in his devotion. I grew to love him during those days. Perhaps not the romantic love he deserved, but a love that grew out of friendship and respect nonetheless.
The end came at last after a seizure. His little fists curled up tight and never let go. His lungs filled only in gasps, strange whimpering sounds escaped from his lips. Finally his breathing stopped and his skin turned first purple and then ashen. He was gone.
It was a tragedy, and I cried and mourned as I had not cried or mourned before. It seemed such a slap in the face that in the midst of this tragedy, this catastrophic event that would forever change our entire lives, the world continued on. I wanted some recognition of the pain I was feeling, some hiccup in the routine of daily life around me. But there was none. The sun continued to rise and then fall. Business went on as always. Well meaning people told me that God needed a little angel in heaven but I wanted to scream at them that God could create any angels that he wanted, he did not have to rob me of mine. He was God, wasn’t he? Other people, including our pastor, told me that I must have some terrible sin in my life to have God allow this to happen, that I must figure out what that sin was and then repent of it in order to ensure that it never happened again. I hated them, too. I could not accept a God that would punish the innocent.
Love had created Levi, right or wrong. How could he be a punishment?