Hi folks! It’s an exciting summer day over here at susiemeserve.com: my first ever guest blogger. I met Lynn Sollitto at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, where we bonded over memoir-writing (and Tweeting). Lynn’s been working on a book about adopting a baby girl from foster care after serving as her drug-addicted biological mother’s birth coach—and then adopting the baby’s older sister a couple of years later. Lynn’s memoir, Born in My Heart, is about her girls’ adoption, their unique needs, her unusual relationship with their birth mother Ruth, and “the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.”
Below is a chapter from Lynn Sollitto’s work-in-progress, Born in My Heart. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter Three: Accidentally in Love
The first rays of sunshine crept under the closed curtains. I dug through my purse for loose change. Angrily, my stomach growled. “Food’s on the way,” I reassured it. “Stale, overpriced vending machine food…” My wallet was empty. Although there was an ATM on the first floor, I didn’t want Ruth to be alone when she woke up so I stayed in the room. I filled a paper cup multiple times with water and drank quickly. My stomach was somewhat placated.
Over the next couple of hours, Ruth’s contractions became closer together and more intense. I felt helpless that I didn’t know how to help her. I have been birth coached, but not the birth coach. Ruth wasn’t aware of anything other than her pain. The nurse said it was time to push. A two-person cheering squad, we encouraged Ruth. “One more push,” the nurse encouraged her. “C’mon Ruth, you can do it!” I exclaimed, holding her clammy hand. “I know it hurts but it’ll be over soon!” The situation was both hilarious and sad. I was witnessing an intense and personal experience with a woman I didn’t know.
I got a cool, wet washcloth and placed it gently on her forehead. I dabbed her sweaty forehead and pushed her hair away from her eyes. I winced when my finger caught in a tangle from her night of restless sleep. “You’re strong. You can do this!” Of course, I knew no such thing. In agony she suddenly cried out, “I want my husband, I want David!” At that moment, the full intensity and reality of her situation hit me: This woman was all alone. She was in physical and emotional pain and I could do nothing to help. Her future and the future of her children were uncertain. I felt gut-wrenching sadness for her situation: a complete stranger stood in her husband’s place.
My hands shook and my voice trembled. “I know you do, Honey, I know…” I turned away and re-wet the washcloth, a guise to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Ruth pushed for nearly four hours. Then she gave up. Although the nurse and I urged Ruth on, she stopped all effort. She looked defeated, her energy obviously spent.
The nurse gestured for me to follow her into the hallway. “She isn’t pushing anymore. We’ll have to do a C-section if she doesn’t keep trying.” The nurse paused and her eyes probed mine. “Is there anything else about Ruth’s pregnancy that I should know…?” Her voice trailed off and implied there was. “I don’t really know her.” The nurse’s face didn’t change as I briefly explained the situation. She nodded at me then turned resolutely back to the birthing room. Once again at Ruth’s side, she firmly said, “Ruth, we need to know if you’ve done anything during your pregnancy. You need to be honest so we can help you and your baby! There might be something wrong…” Ruth took a deep breath. Quietly she told the nurse: “I did meth once. When my husband went to prison and I was really upset.” Suddenly Ruth cried out, “Is someone going to take my baby? I don’t want anyone to take my baby! Please don’t take my baby!” The nurse reassured Ruth no one would take her baby, then left the room.
I stared at Ruth’s pale, gaunt face. She no longer tried to hide her rotten teeth. She had small scabs and sores, a sign of chronic methamphetamine use. I thought, Once? You’re full of shit! When the nurse came back, she pulled me into the hallway again. “They’re prepping the operating room for a C-section,” she told me. “Will you be accompanying Ruth?”
Are you kidding? I thought, excited. Out loud, calm and reserved, I said, “Yes.” My interest in medicine, rather than my birth coach duties, prompted the decision to go with Ruth. “I sure hope she turns her life around so she can keep her baby,” the nurse said, then she walked into the room to prep Ruth for transfer. I walked next to Ruth’s hospital bed as we entered the elevator and rode down to the operating room. It was as absurd as a scene from ER or General Hospital. Ruth was wheeled into the OR and I stayed behind in the hallway. The nurse told me to put on a gown and wait until I was called in.
My stomach grumbled; I was surprised to see it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Twenty minutes later I was called into the OR. Machines bleeped at consistent intervals. Nurses and doctors milled around in scrubs and surgical masks. A tall surgical curtain just below Ruth’s chest separated the doctors and nurses from her upper body. To the left stood a few nurses next to an incubator, ready to take Ruth’s baby. To my immediate right lay Ruth. An anesthesia nurse stood by her head. He was dressed in surgical scrubs but didn’t wear a mask. Things were surreal; I was an actress in a movie so preposterous it should have been fiction.
I tentatively approached Ruth, touched her arm and spoke. “Hi Ruth, I’m here. How are you?” She turned her head towards me, eyes unfocused. “It hurts,” she moaned, breathless. She turned her head to the anesthesia nurse and asked for more painkillers. I fidgeted, awkward and clueless. Should I massage her arm or gently stroke her hair? Should I distract her with jokes or reassure her as the doctor did me when I was in labor? Should I keep my hands to myself and merely stand next to her silently? “Let me know if you need anything, Ruth,” I finally said. She didn’t respond. The doctors and nurses swiftly performed their job. They explained the procedure as they went. “We’re going to make the incision. Can you feel anything Ruth?” Ruth muttered that she couldn’t feel any pain. I heard things on the other side of the sheet. I stood on my tiptoes and watched as best I could. Their arms moved around and performed what was routine to them but no less than amazing to me.
“Ruth, we’re going to deliver your baby now,” said the surgeon. I peered earnestly over the surgical drape, obsessed with seeing as much as possible. I forgot my role to assist and support Ruth. Instead, I witnessed the baby’s birth. She was a healthy-appearing, flushed infant covered in afterbirth, with a patch of hair plastered to her head. The doctor announced quite unnecessarily, “It’s a girl,” and handed the infant to a nurse. I suddenly remembered Ruth, the whole reason I witnessed this miracle. I turned back to Ruth. Was she aware of giving birth in her narcotic-induced haze? She seemed focused on her discomfort and the next painkiller push. I smiled at her pallid face and squeezed her hand. “You have another daughter, Ruth!”
Through a fog not induced by drugs, I heard someone ask if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord. I froze, dumbfounded. That’s not my job, that’s the father’s job!
Awestruck and surprisingly steady, I asked, “Do you want me to cut the cord?
Her eyes met mine. She nodded and whispered, “Yes.”
An understanding passed between us, and an unbreakable connection was made.
I approached the nurse, who waited patiently. I’d never cut an umbilical cord before. I’d never seen one still connected to the infant. I expected it to be brown and firm, a dried up stump like Eli had. To my surprise, it had a greenish hue, and was thick and twisted. As I cut through with the sterile scissors, I discovered it was soft and rubbery. I cut the cord and thoughts of disbelief raced through my head. I cannot believe I’m doing this… Afterwards, the doctors stitched up Ruth. “It hurts,” she moaned. She got another dose of painkillers.
“Do you want to hold the baby?” A nurse stood to my left, holding the pink bundle of joy. My eyes widened and my hands shook. David should be the first to hold her, not me. “Ruth?” I whispered. She conceded with a nod. I took the wrapped bundle in my arms, amazed that I had witnessed her birth. I turned to Ruth and proudly showed her her daughter, as though I was the father. “Look Ruth, it’s your daughter. She’s beautiful!” I gently lowered the baby so Ruth could see her. Ruth looked at her briefly and then closed her eyes. When she didn’t open them again after a few seconds, I straightened up. The PA system played a faint lullaby of bells, symbolizing the newborn’s arrival. I gazed down at this perfect little package, enamored. She sucked on the edge of her tightly wrapped blanket. It reminded me of our kitten, Boogie, who did the same thing.
Then, without warning, I thought, You’d fit in good with us.
I jerked my head up, paranoid someone had heard what I was thinking. Where the hell did that come from?
You can follow Lynn on Twitter @LynnSollitto and check out her Facebook page here.