Chapter 17

The baby wasn't due for a week and Owen was out of town when the contractions started. Ada knew immediately that these were different, that they were unlike what she had thought of as the "practice" contractions. Then her water broke. She phoned and left a message at Owen's hotel. She picked up the suitcase she'd pre-packed, added the book she was reading, and drove herself to the hospital. A cab might have been a better idea, but the drive hadn't been bad. She wondered how long the car would be in the garage, and how much the parking would cost. She hated spending money for nothing. Too late now. She picked up the suitcase and walked into the hospital.

She listened to the lectures on driving and walking and carrying suitcases. "Yes, of course," she said. Could they get on with this? "But I was in a hurry. These contractions, you see."

They put her in a gown and set her in a wheelchair, as if she were an invalid (why did they treat pregnancy like a disease?), and rolled her to a room. They wired her.

"Would you open my case and give me my book, please?" she asked. "Thank you." She settled in to read. The contractions were irregular and widely spaced, and she was bored. She wanted this over with. A woman in the next room was laughing uncontrollably.

The labor, after the first few hours, was as interminable as the pregnancy had been. Apparently the body ran on a different kind of time than Ada did, or at least than Ada preferred. She dozed, waiting out the night, her sleep interrupted by her belly. The laughing woman in the next room was long gone, replaced by a woman who moaned, stopped, and moaned again, periods of silence followed at unpredictable intervals by periods of moaning. The nurse visited several times an hour to check Ada's dilation. A sign on the wall read, "A total score of ten indicates the infant is in optimum condition". Optimum, like a product not damaged in the manufacturing and shipping. Ada went back to reading.

Midnight. A nurse came round to draw blood. She installed an IV in Ada's arm. Another nurse checked her dilation. "You're still at two," she said.

"I'm never doing this again," Ada replied.

"You'll change your mind after you have that baby in your arms. I have four. The only reason I don't have five or six is my husband got a vasectomy, the jerk."

She called Owen's hotel. The line was busy. Minutes later, her phone rang.

"The first flight leaves at six," he said. "How are you?"

"Missing you."

"Is the labor bad?"

"No, tedious."

"I'll be there around ten. Hang in."

"I suppose I'll have to. Is there an alternative?"

After the call, she picked up her book and tried to read, but she couldn't concentrate. Henry Adams was beginning to seem like a pompous ass, especially his habit of referring to himself in the third person. She set the book aside and dozed, waking when she heard the nurses in the hall talking:

"She's begging for a C section."

"Most of them do on a first delivery."

"But when you're closed?"

The doctor appeared.

"Who are they talking about?" she asked.

"No idea," he said. "How are you feeling?"


He put on a rubber glove. "Good. You're brave." He put two fingers in her vagina and hummed to himself.

He'd become too used to his job. To stop herself from making a critical remark she asked, "How much longer is this going to take?"

"No telling. You'd better cancel any appointments. You're not very big yet." He took out his hand and removed the glove and left the room.

She dozed intermittently, between having her temperature and blood pressure taken, her dilation checked, and the fetal monitor read. The baby was active all night. Occasionally a kick, or the baby swimming, or a contraction, knocked Ada out of her waking dream. Around four a.m., the contractions speeded up and grew more powerful. She remembered a roller-coaster ride, the moment when the chain had seized the train of cars and flung them forward and she knew she was committed, she couldn't escape. This was much more so. She longed for Owen. She wanted him there, to hold her hand and reassure her.

"Somebody get in here!" she yelled.

A nurse was there before she had finished her sentence. "I was on my way. I was watching your contractions at the station." She pulled down the sheet and looked. "Any time now. I'll call the doctor."

"I'd like to run away from this," Ada said. "They teach you things in class but they don't prepare you. You just hang on for dear life and hope it -- aaah. Oh. You just -- try to hang on."

A new doctor arrived.

"Where's Doctor Jensen?" Ada asked.

"Shift change," he said, "He went home." She gasped, and he grinned. "I see it's started."

"Ahhh." She gritted her teeth.

"Where's your husband?"

"He has a flight at six."

"I think he's going to miss the big event."

"He never is around when I need him. Could you massage my legs?" she asked the nurse. "They're killing me... Oh my God. Oh no. This is too real. This is too real. Make it stop. I never thought it would be like this... Am I making that horrible smell?"

"Do you want that epidural now?"

"What? Oh, yes. What was I thinking?"

The drug had barely taken effect by the time the baby arrived. The birth itself was quick, and less trouble than the labor had been, at least in the time it took. But she felt as if she would split open. It was the most difficult work she'd ever done, much harder than she'd ever thought she was capable of. She thought the effort would burst an artery in her brain.

The girl was born at sunrise, protesting. She was small and red and blotchy, covered with slime, eyes shut and face screwed tight, her head elongated, her nose covered with whiteheads. Her cheeks were like pouches, the nails on her hands long, the skin of her fingers as wrinkled as a nonagenarian's. She was perfect. The doctor handed her to Ada, and the world shifted. Now there was nothing but this child, the most beautiful ever born, the apotheosis of humanity.

"Hello, baby," Ada said. The child started, and turned her head. She recognized her mother's voice, and the phrase Ada had been saying for months to her own belly.

"What are you going to name her?" the nurse asked.

She and Owen had never agreed on a name. She hadn't liked his favorites, and he hadn't liked hers. What else might there be? "Clover," she said impulsively, thinking of the book she was reading. Henry Adams' wife. And add her own mother's name. "Clover Nora," she said. She held the infant to her heart. The child looked around, blind and unable to decipher this foggy new place. Ada watched her. Motherhood was going to be interesting. Someone wheeled the two of them to a room. After a while Ada fell asleep.

When she woke her husband was sitting next to her.

"How are you feeling?"

"Sore. Imagine... No. Don't. I can't explain. Just be glad you're not a woman. Have you seen her?"

"Yes. They said you named her Clover."

"Is that all right? We can change it."

"I like it. It's a good name. Why didn't we think of it together?"

"I don't know. Where is she? Why isn't she here?"

Owen called a nurse, who brought the girl. Ada held out her arms for her child before the nurse was through the door. Clover was asleep, and would remain so for most of the day. Ada slept, too. Owen, the only one in the family who wasn't tired, spent his time making business calls from the pay phones in the lobby, and watching television in the room, and looking out the window, and browsing the gift store. The next day, the three of them went home. The three of them, no longer two.