The reason I’d quit my job in High Energy Physics was that I was pregnant again. As at the University of Chicago job, I found I couldn’t get close enough to the table to do the work as my belly burgeoned. sarah
The baby was due in February of 1966. In January of the previous year, my dear friend and surrogate brother David Quinlan, who’d grown up next door, killed himself. He was seventeen.
Almost a hundred years before, in 1884, Ned’s great granduncle William Landsberg, referred to as Our Willie by his family and on his Macon, Georgia tombstone, was murdered by a disgruntled employee of the family store. He died in his twenties, childless; since then, a child in each generation of the family was named William—or, as in my mother-in-law’s case, Wilma. (A very un-Jewish practice, by the way.)
So if the baby were to be a boy, we had his name all set: William David. We would bring life out of two untimely deaths.
Meanwhile, we had to deal with some fallout over my being pregnant again so soon; the baby would be born when Sarah was only twenty months old. My mother-in-law memorably said to Ned when we visited Illinois, “You’re not Catholic.” Ned responded, “We’d like to stop having them so fast, but we can’t tell what’s causing it.” For just a second, he reported, she was ready to explain. Then she laughed. Typical Rosenbaum habit of deflecting tension with humor.
She did come to stay and help out while I was in the hospital, which my mother couldn’t leave her newspaper-editor job to do, which was kind of Wilma. Luckily, the nesting instinct had kicked in during the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy—the baby was so late they were almost about to induce—so the apartment was sparkling when Ned and I left before dawn on February 17.
Once it finally started, my labor with Will was shorter than with Sarah—about six hours—but much harder. At the Waltham hospital, they didn’t allow Ned to be with me during it. I remember lying alone on my side looking out the window at passing cars, wishing I were in one of them going about my business instead of trapped in this distressed body. When someone finally came to check on me, I said to the gray-haired, hard-bitten maternity nurse, “I think there’s something wrong. I’m in considerable pain.”
“You’re supposed to be in pain,” she snapped unsympathetically.
“Not like this,” I protested. “This isn’t my first baby, I know what it’s supposed to feel like, and…”
But she had already left the room. Shortly afterward, I heard her say loudly to someone in the hall, “These young girls today, all they can think about is getting something to take away the pain. We didn’t get anesthesia, and we did fine. It’s nothing to bother Doctor about.”
Luckily for us, “Doctor” decided to check on me before his lunch instead of after. He took one look and started barking orders. I heard the words “fetal distress” and “oxygen deprivation.” Right there in the delivery room, he dove into me with forceps and both hands, and dragged the baby out. The pain was so huge it seemed bigger than I was, almost too big to feel, but it was over quickly and then there he was.
They let me hold him while they removed the placenta and generally cleaned up, then they took him away for testing—as I later discovered, he'd been deprived of oxygen (he’d been a frontal presentation; his forehead was caught under my pelvic bone, which had caused the pain I’d tried to tell them about)—and they needed to check his neurological responses.
I knew nothing of that at the time, and simply felt happy and exhausted as they wheeled the gurney they’d transferred me to out into the corridor and next to the nurses’ station (I didn’t see the cranky old obstetrics nurse) and abandoned me there. That actually had a happy result: they’d told Ned it would be several hours before the baby came, so he’d gone back to Brandeis to take an exam. As soon as he came out of it, he called to check on me—and the nurse simply handed me the phone without telling him anything. So I got to be the one to say to him, “We have a son.”
He often spoke later of the thrill that went through him at those words. We already had the perfect little girl, now we had the other flavor, too. He called his mother at our apartment with the news. After I had been put into a room and given a light lunch, I called my family. I got Nonno; when he asked what time the baby had been born, I told him around noon. It was then maybe 1:00. He told everyone I’d called from the labor room!
I had a private room this time, because I’d asked for rooming-in on the entry form. Turned out that, though they theoretically offered it, no one had asked for it yet, and they had no protocol in place for it. There were certainly no fancy architectural fittings to make it easier, as there had been at Lake Forest Hospital when Sarah was born. They just wheeled the baby into the room and left him there. I had to ask for some way to store his dirty diapers (this was before disposable ones were invented); they brought me a pillowcase, which I hung over the back of a chair. When Ned was around, he could hand little Will to me for nursing; when he wasn’t there, I was on my own, so I mostly kept him in bed with me.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the few days I spent in Waltham Hospital. It was a respite from the demands of job, childcare, and housework. Besides tending to the baby, I had ample time to rest and read. (Ned brought me C. S. Lewis’s Ransom trilogy from the library, triggering an obsession with Lewis that lasted for years and a longer-term reliance on the author’s insights and sensibility that carried through all the way to my reading his A Grief Observed the night after Ned’s funeral.)
The urgency of Will’s delivery hadn’t left time for an episiotomy, so I was much less sore and uncomfortable than I’d been after Sarah’s birth. That urgency had been harder on the baby, though: he was wrinkled and blotchy red, his little facial features squashed and misshapen in those first few days; I would write in his baby book under “Whom does baby look like?” the sardonic, “Old man Finkelstein the greengrocer,” plucking the name and epithet from James Mitchell’s novel about Israel.
But he was adorable, and all those hours alone with him—in addition to school, Ned of course had to spend as much time as possible with little Sarah—helped solidify a bond between us. I mentally called him “my little friend” and had an odd sensation of somehow mentally communicating with him. So it was with fondness that I said to a motherly maternity nurse, “He’s a homely little thing, isn’t he?”
“Oh, no, he’s real cunning,” she said, using the Boston-area variant of “cute” (which Bostonians use to mean “clever”—or “cunning,” in fact). I think she took my remark as an indication of post-partum depression or failure to bond or something, because after that I had a string of nurses coming in to exclaim over how handsome he was. I just started agreeing in self-defense, and in fact his color evened out and his features acquired a normal shape over the following days; he was, when unstressed, a handsome baby.
My only real objection to my time in the hospital was the hospital-standard lousy food; once again, this was not Lake Forest. I did have one wonderful meal when Ned brought me chicken soup his mother had made. The broth was incredibly rich and flavorful, but the chicken and vegetables were still moist and firm, not the cooked-out lumps they usually turn into during the hours of simmering it takes to provide a full-bodied broth.
Wilma hadn’t been raised to expect to cook for herself, and had never become particularly good at any but a few dishes. I leaped at this opportunity to offer a wholehearted compliment, and got Ned to ask her for the recipe.
She proudly responded with instructions that began, “Place chicken in deep pot, cover with two large cans College Inn chicken broth.” Ned didn’t understand what I could find to laugh about in a recipe.
I was glad to get back home, especially since I’d been longing to see and hold little Sarah again; they hadn’t allowed her to visit me in the hospital at all. It was a great help to have Wilma there, especially during the first few days when I still felt a little tired and was trying to establish a breast-feeding regimen.
However, it was crowded in our little four rooms, with two babies and four adults—or more precisely, three adults and my teenage sister, about whom more below. After a week, I was itching to get back to our normal life and not have to be on constant “company behavior” with my mother-in-law looking over my shoulder.
As it happened, she took the initiative, sitting down with me one day to say, “I’m perfectly willing and happy to stay here as long as you need me. But Mother hasn’t been well, and she’s anxious for me to get back. So tell me honestly, would you like me to stay another week?”
I said carefully, “It’s been great having you here, and I’m really grateful for all you’ve done. But I do think that it would be good for all of us to get back into a regular routine, so thank you, but don’t feel like you have to stay. I know Hazel needs you, too.”
In the car on the way to the airport, she said to Ned, “I’ve never been so insulted in my life.”