A hush descended over the room as I yelped in pain. I recall asking Earl to get the Studebaker. Please. He yelled back, "Get a freakin taxi, its your problem. Women stuff. I got a game to watch 'ere, the resta the guys is comin over soon." I winced, maybe in pain from the contractions, maybe in pain from his words. Jerk. It was his baby too. Weren't the dads supposed to be excited for the prospect of a junior, bringing cigars to the waiting room, bragging to all their poker buddies about the boy they brought home, cute as a button and stronger than an ox?
"Please, baby, I....ouch....can't call a taxi. Its coming too soon. Grab the keys. I'm calling ma to tell her real quick. Please take me. They'll be other men in your...situation there. Here. Take these" I said, throwing a deck of cards at him as I gripped the telephone reciever in my hand, while my husband stood motionless. "Hey daddy? I need ma. Earl doesn't wanna take me-" I shot him a glare- "its the baby". Earl, being shamed by another man, finally came to. He grumbled some curses and grabbed the keys from mama's heirloom candy bowl as I squealed the news to ma. We filed out as Earl's friends reluctantly got in their cars.
Seconds after stumbling into the hospital, Earl was already walking into the waiting room, smoking a cigarette, passing out cards and makeshift poker chips to strangers, as I was whisked away into a bright place smelling of ammonia. I was handed a paper gown and a cup full of pills and left alone. I put on the cold crispy gown and choked down the pills.
I felt pain. Pain so bad it felt like my insides were wringing themselves out like wet laundry. I felt tingling and nausea. I felt panic and a need to run like the wind. The need to get away was an undeniable urge, a force stronger than nature, and I tried to bolt. I was stuck, like when in a bad dream and your legs are made of cement, but here I was tied down. Alien-like masked figures hushed me and forcefully shoved more pills down my throat, nearly gagging me.
I awoke in a fresh new lemon yellow dress and white heels. I was seated on a chair in a hallway; a matronly looking woman across the hall saw me and casually left her desk, approaching me, a man following shortly behind. "Where's my ma?" My voice barely audible, a squeak at most. I looked intently at the man and reached for his arm, "Earl! Dear! I think I am in labor but....the studebaker...I...." the man reached towards the woman and said, "She's dazed. Ha! I am the doctor not her husband. Get her some water." I sat there, stumped, and began to cry. I didn't know where I was, how I got here, and where this dress was from. I hate yellow. Earl might not know much but he knows that. The woman returned with water and helped me to standing. "Here, drink it all, let's go see what you are here for. Earl's busy with poker. It's okay, come with me." I followed, having no other choice. My legs felt wobbly and my midsection felt numb and empty, foreign. My head hurt so bad but I just focused on my steps, left, right. We came to a window and instead of looking out to something familiar, it looked in. A room of clear boxes filled with pink heads. Dozens of babies, all looking identically pink and round and squirmy. "Ya see her? What is her name going to be? We need to record it for the certificate" said the matronly woman. I sat there aghast. One of these pink things was mine. I had given birth and didn't know it. No wonder Florence and Martha just told me about the first time they held their precious baby. Nothing about the birth. Why hadn't I asked? Why was birth so secret? Or did something go wrong? Was I in a dream? And which one was my baby? I had to have stood there looking dumbfounded for some time, as the woman had walked away, turned around, and come back. She grabbed my arm and said, "ok, silly, let's find her." Three rows in, four over, was a pink thing that looked...like all the others but had Williams, Earl, Mrs. written on the side in pink. A girl. My girl. Somehow.
I embraced the foreign pink thing and smelled her baby smell. "Carrie Earline" I said, the woman writing it down. "I wanna see Earl now" I mumbled, feebly grabbing for the door. Carrie was placed in a box again, this one with wheels, and the woman held my arm for support as she wheeled Carrie to the waiting room.
The room was filled with smoke and tipsy men, Earl's voice booming out as he told one of his famous fishing stories. He stopped and said "Aww my Earl Junior" as I blinked back a tear and corrected him, "Carrie Earline". The room fell silent and one man mumbled, "next time, Earl, a junior next time. Twins. Twin Williams boys." Earl grumbled, grabbed the car keys, and we had a silent drive home.
Twenty years later, when Carrie found herself pregnant, married to a nice young Marine, she asked me what birth is like. I told her what Martha and Florence had told me, the moment when you sde your baby. I didn't know birth could be different. I didn't sympathize when she worried that her husband might be at war for the birth. It was all too foreign. Twilight sleep was the way in my day, and us ladies just didn't talk about it.