There is nothing in the world like seeing your child come sliding out. Apparently to Maile it didn’t feel like sliding, what with all the yelling and the pushing and the blood, but from my vantage point that little guy just took his time and came slipping into the world (I am going to be in trouble for that sentence – this may be my last blog post).
Anyway, the baby came out and it was a boy and I felt those seeds of tears forming in the corners of my eyes and my nose went all runny and I couldn’t really talk, had to keep clearing my throat (which kept constricting and had this achey feeling deep inside of it). He was finally there, and the nurse put him, all original and slimy and beautiful, up on Maile’s chest.
They squeegied his nose and his ears and patted his back and patted his back and at first he wouldn’t cry and we waited, those agonizing moments when you can’t help but panic and hope that these lungs that have never breathed air before will kick in. I held my breath while he held his.
Finally, a thousand decades later, like an engine in the middle of winter, those lungs roared to life, and he screamed and screamed and that brought a fresh batch of tears to our eyes in thankfulness and this desire to comfort him. Suddenly we didn’t want him to cry anymore.
Just then the placenta came out (sorry if this is grossing you out but you’ll see there is a purpose to the madness). The midwife had this look of awe on her face, like a child finding their first quarter in the street. She held up the baby’s umbilical cord and it was in a perfect knot.
“You have yourself a miracle baby,” she said solemnly, kind of getting choked up herself. You see, we had so many scans with this baby because he only had one artery in his umbilical cord, not the typical two (the second is an emergency backup). And now we realized that not only was he a single-artery umbilical baby, but at some point he had swam through a loop in his cord – any tighter and he would have been stillborn. The other nurses all came over to look at the knot and touch it, like ancient people seeing the shadow of an eclipse on the ground for the first time.
At that point I thought our miracle baby had gone long enough without a name, so I leaned over to Maile’s ear and, while she was feeding him for the first time, I whispered the name.
She loved it.
Those first few weeks passed in the usual blur of sleep deprivation combined with work and raising three other children. Some mornings I woke up and it felt like someone had poured a bucket of sand in my eyes, they were so itchy and red from lack of sleep. Some evenings we could barely make it up the steps to our bedroom – the landing seemed like a perfectly logical place to lie down and go to sleep.
Yet the naming process had not finished its work in me. Samuel was named, the birth certificate our witness. Maile was happy with my choice. Sam, however indifferent, seemed satisfied. But for some reason I couldn’t get that whole idea out of my head, that I had named him, that I had chosen the sound that he would answer to, for the rest of his life.
Then, one day, as I was reflecting (again) on Samuel’s birth, a strange thought came into my head. What if, right after I had named him, someone else came into the room and tried to name him something else?
And what would I have done if my son, Samuel James, decided he would start answering to that name?
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