Pure Spirit

I fell in love with Betsy in Jacksonville, Florida, while she was out cold. I never saw anything so beautiful as that brave girl’s face.

It was not the usual thing to allow a father in the operating room for a C-section. The doctor asked me if I had a strong stomach. My wife pleaded with him for me to go in with her. She was terrified of complications. Her first baby, by her first husband, had been still-born. With this pregnancy, she had developed gestational diabetes. Now she had a gigantic fetus to deliver. She had gained 58 pounds.

They had induced labor, gave her time to dilate and push the baby out. She wanted to have it naturally, was a big strong girl, and hard-headed. Sometimes foolishly so, but also gallant.

The labor went on for a while, then the baby’s heart rate dropped. The delivery team went into emergency gear.

In the operating room, while the anesthesiologist put her under, I whispered to her and held her hand, her smiling, me scared to death.

I did not know if the baby would live or die, and while Betsy was on the table, honestly, if one of them had had to die, and it was my choice, I’d have sacrificed my first born son. That’s how deeply in love I suddenly fell.

All the while Betsy was pregnant, I had devoted myself to her safety and comfort. At bottom, however, the baby’s welfare, more than hers, motivated me.

Now that she was unconscious, with her uterus cut open, a baby boy being pulled out of her, I knew what pregnancy was: it was being in deepwater, way offshore in a small boat alone, in the valley of shadow, subject to nature’s whim; and the voyage lasted, not a measly few days like I knew about, crossing The Gulf of Mexico; pregnancy went on for months and months, and the very worst of it was usually the very end.

In my book, any woman who goes there willingly is half a lunatic and more a mythic hero.

The really strange part is, a lot of them want to go there again.

You can’t help but love a woman who delivers a baby.

I fell in love with Betsy differently than any woman before. The upsurge of sexual desire that crowds out everything else in romance was replaced by awe for the sacrifice she made of her body, which I did not apprehend until her insides were showing.

There she lay unconscious of the agony her body endured. Her sacrifice accrued to my blessing, much as I wanted a child; I was deeply indebted to her. The full weight of that gratitude and responsibility settled on me while she was under the anesthetic. Her face was radiant. Emotionally I dropped to my knees before a goddess I had just discovered.

The doctor lifted the giant baby out of her. I heard the first sound of congested breathing, saw the deathly blueish-gray face of the infant. The baby did not cry out. It dangled lifelessly in the hands of the doctor. Then it breathed sluggishly.

Had I taken Betsy on the sailboat to the Rio Dolce in Guatemala, and attempted to deliver the baby myself both would now be dead.

A nurse hurried the infant to intensive care.

The doctor put Betsy’s insides back.

As he closed the incision, he said my wife would be okay, that I should go upstairs and wait outside the unit for intensive care.

I stood outside the glassed-in room. Inside were babies lying in clear plastic boxes, all hooked up to wires and monitors. From another part of the unit, through a stainless steel door; a nurse wheeled a box with my son in it.

I could not be in the room until the next day, I was told. So I stood outside and watched the box; I couldn’t see my baby. I could see others, all too tiny to live outside their boxes. Mine was too big.

The intensive-care nurses were partial to me, as mine was the new record-holder, 12 pounds, 8 ounces. After a couple of hours, I was still there, and one of the nurses motioned me to the door. The lock buzzed, and I went into a chamber, still outside the sterile environment. The nurse told me how to wash my hands, and put a smock on me and a, mask over my nose and mouth. She opened the final door and let me in to the strange environment to look at my baby.

I stood over the box, and there he was, huge compared to others. His eyes were closed. The box was open, no lid on it like the incubators for tiny babies. I looked around at some of those. One was so small it looked like a squirrel without fur and a tail. My baby barely fit in the box.

A nurse brought me a stool to sit on, and said I could be there, against hospital regulations, because my baby was the champion, and not to tell anybody. All the nurses were amused by something, and several of them spoke to me while I was sitting there, telling me what a fighter my son was. One said about the five times he had had to be resuscitated, and said not to worry, his breathing hadn’t stopped long enough for brain damage.

There in the box lay a baby I would have buried in Guatemala.

I supposed he was sleeping. His face was regular colored now, the blue-gray changed to pale pink; he was breathing easy, and I was staring at him, with some expression on my face that amused the nurses.

I was watching when his eyes opened. He looked confused, as if waking up in a strange bed. There was a moment of stillness, and then his foot moved. His eyes widened. I witnessed pure spirit surprised to find it had a body. Whatever he would be in this world was there, all to be discovered, nothing known, complete as he lay.