The rooms on the maternity ward of a hospital might as well have revolving doors. From dawn to dusk and after, if you’re a woman who just had a baby, someone will come into your room approximately every seven minutes. There’s the nurse checking your vitals, another nurse who administers the painkillers and stool softeners, the person who brings your food, the person who takes it away, the nurse who checks the status of your anus (lucky them), the hospital photographer, the lactation consultant, the pediatrician, the hospital clergy…The list is nearly endless. And that’s without all the other people who know you who might want to meet this baby, like your parents, your other children, your good friend bearing iced coffee, and your siblings.
All this is a lot of activity after you’ve just pushed an entire human being out of your hoo-ha. It’s safe to say that you might just want a few seconds of quiet with your new, recently evicted friend. Or maybe, alternatively, you need someone you don’t even know. And maybe this person will come into your room suddenly as though they’re emerging from an O. Henry story, setting you straight and on your way.
After the recent birth of my daughter, my maternity ward might have been chaotic, but it was library-silent compared to what would await me at home: five other children, now with four of them under 4. Plus, when I would leave the hospital with my newest daughter, all going well, I wouldn’t even be going home—we had sold our home, and our new one wouldn’t be ready for another few months (nothing like doing a move four days before giving birth!). So over the next few months, we’d all be crashing with my unbelievably patient parents.
I’d lived with my parents as an adult before, when I was newly divorced with two boys under age 3. Now, I’d be coming back with my husband, two tweenaged boys, three preschoolers, and a newborn. And a not-insignificant chunk of our “stuff.” At least we didn’t have pets. Everyone would have a roommate, except for the 2-year-old—because what better time to put someone in a bed for the first time? Hopefully we’d hear the thunk! of her falling out of bed between newborn screams.
I was nervous, with tears coming and going like summer rain showers in the postpartum haze. Considering where I’d be going, I was pretty chill with the maternity ward. And, after having lost a lot of blood—I’d had tremendous, eggplant-sized clots extricated from me by the indelicate hands of a zealous resident (“I think you just lost another 10 pounds!” she gleefully remarked from between my legs, her hands dripping with yuck), I was feeling somewhat out of it. Honestly, I didn’t even notice that the light in the bathroom wasn’t working until a visitor asked to use the toilet and mentioned that it was pretty dark in there.
So there I was, taking my tiny daughter up to latch onto my breast, when, without a knock, the door burst open and a burly guy dressed in overalls, holding a fluorescent light bulb and a toolkit, came in. I glanced at his nametag to make sure he was hospital-approved, registered that his name was something Irish, and smiled at him.
“Come on in. Sorry about the boob,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Gee, I should have knocked,” he said, very apologetically.
“No one knocks in my house. You can’t embarrass me, don’t worry. Or her, for that matter,” I said and smiled.
“I’m here to fix the light,” he said.
“I can tell by the big fluorescent thing in your hand,” I replied. He laughed and made his way into the bathroom. I turned my attention back to my daughter.
As I was burping her, he came out. “All fixed.”
“Let there be light,” I responded, getting a laugh.
“She’s a girl? She’s beautiful,” he said, with the look of someone who doesn’t necessarily get to see the freshly-hatched frequently.
“Thanks—I think so.”
He leaned on the doorframe. “She’s your first?”
I took a deep breath. “No,” I replied. “My sixth.”
He did a theatrical double-take (the most common reaction, I have since learned, when you share this information): “Your SIXTH? As in, one, two, three, four, five, six?”
“Wow,” he said, shaking his head. “God bless.”
A moment later he added, “You know, there are lots of people with lots of money in this hospital.”
Um, non-sequitur much?
“OK…” I said.
He smiled, hand on the doorknob. “You’re richer than all of them.”
He left. And I was grateful—he’d done his job twice over, by bringing in the light.