Posted Sunday, July 10, 2016 at 5:00pm by Darren Baker
Czech the Children by Darren Baker -Chapter 5- Surprise!
We live close to the foothills of a mountain range, the tallest of which stands at about four thousand feet and can be seen from our apartment. For our honeymoon, we took a popular footpath to the top. The day was bright and sunny, and since it was blueberry season, our hands were stained a dark bluish-red by the time we reached the top in mid-afternoon. We could’ve been there earlier, but it’s also mushroom season, and Vet, like nearly everyone else here, is mad about scouring through the brush looking for them. But because of our late start (honeymoon and all), the ground had been picked clean by the time we got there.
I could tell that was the case when we arrived just as this family was marching out of the woods with several baskets filled above the brim. Grandpa was the last one to emerge, and seeing me, he immediately averted eye contact and grinned, which could only mean, “Good luck, buddy.”
He probably thought he was rubbing it in when one mushroom rolled off the top on to the ground and he went about setting all his baskets down in order to pick it up, to make sure I didn’t get it. He didn’t realize I would have let his measly little fungus rot in the sun. Not that I have anything against mushrooms, even wild ones, but here they chop them up and drop them in a vat of runny eggs, cook them for a minute, maybe two, then slather the sleaze on a thick slice of bread and wolf it down.
And so married life commenced, with me still talking in school and Vet running the kitchen business. We got a new one for our apartment. Boleslav even threw in the faucet for free. Slowly our home, all five hundred square feet of it, was getting cozier by the day. It would have to be, for nine months on we were expecting our first child.
While the math suggested a wedding-night baby, we were trying all the time, it’s just that’s when it happened. I was hoping for a girl and thought the chances would be better if I didn’t know the sex of the baby beforehand. Vet felt the same, but has an insatiable curiosity and waiting that long might have put an incredible strain on her. All I said to that is, if you have to know and I’m with you at the gynecologist, keep it in a Czech I can’t understand.
She had a mostly easy pregnancy. Only once, when we were walking home from her work, was she overcome with a sick feeling, but a quick pause and some deep breaths allowed her to continue. We didn’t have car, so everything around it had to be by bus. Buying big things like the crib and baby tub required us to get on at the back of the bus and me carrying them home from the nearest stop. To get to the gynecologist for checkups, we had to take a bus to the center of town, then walk a quarter of a mile, mostly uphill, to his private practice. Vet was definitely in good shape by the time of the birth.
It was a rainy Sunday when the contractions began. We had already arranged it with the hospital for me to be present in the delivery room. At first, they didn’t know what to make of it. Normally the men accompanied their wives to check-in, then disappeared into a pub with their friends to drink until the glorious news arrived. The hospital agreed to our request, asking only that I pay a non-returnable fee of $8 in case I collapsed and had to be hauled out of there.
I didn’t collapse, and in fact proved useful at one moment. The two midwives and doctor were imploring Vet to push, so I told her to do it as well, squeezing her hand hard to get the point across. I was speaking to her in Czech out of politeness for the company, but she looked at me as if at the end of her tether and told me in English, “I can’t.” The doctor asked the midwives what she said, but they merely shook their heads, so I translated it for them. What they said to that I didn’t hear, maybe, “Well, too bad, let’s go.”
Finally, she mustered all her strength, gave it one more push, and we were the happy parents of a little girl. I raised my head for my first look and … nearly collapsed.
I don’t know why, but the sight of the umbilical cord completely unnerved me. The way it was so twisty and yet rigid-looking with a greasy purplish hue. Not even raw liver had such a woozy effect on me. Had we been in one of those American medical dramas where the doctor with big eyewear turns to the father and says, “Would you like to cut the umbilical cord?” I would’ve dropped right then and there. Our doctor didn’t ask. We were, after all, talking about a surgical procedure here. What did help me from those medical dramas was all that stuff about controlled breathing. It really worked in my case.
Once I had my wits about me, I could see our little baby on a nearby table with her new last name written out on her thigh with a magic marker – a washable one, I presumed – just like on a side of beef in the slaughterhouse. They also clipped a name tag around her wrist, making it doubly impossible to create one of those nightmarish situations of babies swapped at birth.
We even had a third level of security, namely it was two-thirty in the morning and no other children were born during that night. That truly was our good fortune, because this delivery room had two other beds in it, and they weren’t for crashing on. This was the only delivery room in the hospital, so any other woman going into labor that night would’ve been on the next bed with her own team of doctor and midwives (we can hope, at any rate). It looked like a regular assembly line, and the arrival of our next little one would show that it was indeed the case.
For now, I took delight in holding her while the staff went about tending to Vet and getting the place ready for the next delivery or two. It all seemed to go by so quickly. In no time she was being taken from me and I was being shooed out the door, told to go out and celebrate like a real man, and come back in the afternoon during visiting hours.
I skipped the thought of any celebrations, however. It was almost six o’clock by the time I left and I didn’t know anyone I could safely rouse out of bed at that hour. It had been gloomy and raining when we arrived at the hospital, but as I stepped outside on that spring morning the clouds had completely dispersed and it was truly one of those dawns you read about in a poem, with the sun blazing on the horizon and the sky about as blue as you’re ever going to see it.
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