by Aurora Bordeaux
Recently, my cousin had a baby. I’m not close with this cousin and didn’t even know his wife was pregnant. But I got a call from another relative who I actually am close with giving me the marching orders that we were to visit the hospital. That day.
The last thing I want is to get pregnant, but the last thing I want after that is to have unannounced strangers visit me in the hospital right after I have had that baby, when my junk and such is all messed up and I’m damn tired and all I want is to be left alone.
I insisted on calling my cousin first to make sure we were welcome, and to emphasize that we did not need to come visit and could wish them well from a respectable distance. But to my surprise, the cousin was enthusiastic about a visit. I haven’t seen the guy in years. Come on over, he said! They would love to see us!
My question was, why? They have enough money, so don’t need gifts. They have lots of other family who they probably know for real. What on earth would my semi-estranged presence add to their special event?
I scraped together a small gift and tromped over to the hospital, becoming immediately lost in the myriad of sterile mazes that made up the maternity ward. My cousin had gone missing in search of a nap at home, so we visited with his nice-enough wife, who I had met twice before in passing.
I scanned for signs that she was put out by our presence, but found none. Swollen and sprawled on the bed with her empty pudding cups, she was all sleepy smiles and chitchat. I wondered how people manage chitchat when their unmentionables have been rendered unrecognizable, much less when those unmentionables are scattered under the covers hither and yon. I’d like to say that I admired the girl’s composure, but I don’t think that’s what gave her aplomb. I think we are just made of different stuff. I’m not saying her stuff or my stuff is better, just uniquely composed.
My strapping cousin entered shortly after like the king of the forest, chest puffed with pride over the preemie who was locked away in intensive care. He might have had an ax slung over his shoulder for all his swagger. It was an admirable transformation. The couple exchanged some direct but affable discussion about breast pumping, which they didn’t seem the least embarrassed to have in front of us, and my cousin toted us off to see the swaddled child in his plastic manger.
I’d like to pause here to say a word about breast milk. I am a private person (I mean, it’s an anonymous blog), but that doesn’t mean I’m out to judge women who are just blasted-in-love with their titties. Woohoo! Good for you! You love your titties, and you don’t care about showing them to the world! … Actually, you know what? Screw trying to pretend I don’t have opinions. Please, for goodness sake, put those titties away. No one wants to see them.
We tiptoed into the ICU, which is as close to a womb as an environment can get. The place is silent as a cloud, and even though we made no attempts to touch the baby, we washed our hands for what felt like half an hour with astringent that I feel sure causes cancer.
The mewling pinkish mass lay there prostrate, hooked to a conundrum of tubes and phials and things that go “beep.” Premature as he was, he was being sustained in his new life by machines combined with a nurse whose only job was to sit there and monitor him and only him. My cousin beamed down at the baby, chest fit to burst, and we made polite comments about how wonderful the child obviously was. The fact that we had no idea what we were talking about didn’t matter. No one was really listening to us. Not even us.
The father was lost in a precious reverie of baby worship, and my thoughts drifted to wondering why and how that particular kid was born into the wealthiest nation on earth, where life is often viewed as a right and a guarantee. I’ve always felt that life, and even health during that life, is a lottery-level gift. But so many people seem to think it’s a thing they’re entitled to, one that should be delivered on demand direct from the universe or Obama or whoever.
This child is straight up lucky to be born in America, where a robust healthcare system was poised to rally and keep it breathing with constant care and modern science. I’m not saying I think the baby deserved to die or anything, but the economic discrepancies of the world often leave me scratching my head. I’m not trying to make a point about anything in particular, just voicing some of the oddities of the world as I see them. I guess my question is, what makes us so damn special?
Our requisite 60 seconds of viewing the baby ended, and we were escorted through the many coded lockdown doors of the ICU. I was relieved to exit, not just because I didn’t have any energy left for inane baby compliments, but also because I was starting to feel the pangs of gas. And I don’t think gas is tolerated in the ICU. I was happy to swing by and give the kid a set of pajamas, but I didn’t want to risk killing it with one good, strong fart.
There, that story had a little bit of everything, didn’t it? A family pseudo-reunited only to fall out of touch until the next relative dies, a weak commentary on modern healthcare, and a little bathroom humor. If that combo ain’t Off Board, I don’t know what is.