Mind On The Run: Accidental Parent
Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia Division
I swear that I am telling the whole truth, or at least most of the truth, as I remember the events through the special glasses my mind’s eyes were wearing on that Saturday morning at Magee-Womens Hospital. Therefore, this story is less about a baby than it is about the writer.
(Musical accompaniment: “Moon River,” the theme song from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”)
Although it was a Saturday morning in late summer, I was unable to escape my self-imposed treadmill as I power-walked my way through the lobby of Magee. The tight schedule had excluded any breakfast (other than coffee) and I had to finish rounds at the other hospitals before I could rendezvous with my wife, at noon, for lunch. Additionally, I had to keep my promise to Little Man Aidan by making a quick house-call on my way home to reassess his severe pink eye and judge whether we could discontinue the mainstay of his treatment: sunglasses. He had become so critically ill in previous days that he had narrowly escaped admission to the hospital. I knew that the seven-year-old boy (who I called “Sweetness” after football legend Walter Payton) would be waiting for me, donning the sunglasses and the unrelenting smile made even sweeter by the uneven eruption of his upper permanent teeth.
Suddenly, I heard, as I had a thousand times before, the old salutation: “Dr Kovatch, Dr Kovatch!” It was one of the mothers I admired most, with her rarely-seen-by-me husband— parents of an eight-year-old girl who I called “Tiny Dancer.” (The girl was learning ballet and was very proud to demonstrate her positions for me during office visits. “This is my plié,” she would say, and I, feigning familiarity with such maneuvers, would nod approval and applaud.)
“Are you here to visit someone?” I asked the young dancer’s mother, suspecting I would know the party.
“No,” she responded with a cautious smile. “We are here to pick up a baby boy we are hoping to adopt! We just got a call from the social worker last night. The baby is waiting for us at the second floor nursery. We just have to sign in and complete the paperwork.” She had a guarded excitement.
“I had no idea!” I responded with unrestrained excitement. “I will run up to the nursery and check out the baby and meet you guys up there!”
“How wonderful!” she countered. “Should take us about a half-hour.”
“What a fortuitous encounter!” I thought as I rode up the elevator. “The rest of rounds will have to wait. ‘Breakfast at Magee’ — I wonder if I’ll see Holly GoLightly.”
The circumstances had elevated my mood. I entered the ordained nursery, empty except for one nameless baby nestled silently in one of those electronic “MamaRoo” infant seat devices that come complete with lullabies and rhythmic rocking. I asked the first nurse I saw if he was the infant who was to be adopted, and indeed he was. The biological parents had already signed out of the hospital.
“I will perform his discharge exam in his basinet.” I imperiously stated.
Before I could get the ball rolling I suddenly became aware of an old woman quietly sitting in a rocker in the corner of the room. She appeared to be at least 70 or 80 years old and had a beaked nose which appeared even larger because of her wrinkled, drawn face. She wore a drab blue smock and a white net cap, like a member of the dietary department. I had a vague recollection that I had dealt with her in the remote past. She was staring into nowhere, as if watching an old video in her mind. When our glances crossed, she spoke to me with a wry smile on her lips, but with eyes deep with compassion: “Your daughter has been waiting for you.”
I must admit that, for reasons unknown to me at the time, a chill — a shock wave — went through me. I uneasily countered: “The baby is a boy, and I am only his doctor.” The expression on her face did not change. I assumed she was either senile or demented, and proceeded with my exam.
As I was dutifully completing the electronic medical record with my back to the nameless baby, I sensed a surge of positive energy in the nursery. I turned around and noted the adopting father beholding the boy, his face glowing with admiration. His wife was holding the sleeping infant in her arms for the first time in a state of paralyzed emotion — so much so that I felt compelled to interrupt the sacred silence.
“Everything is perfect!” I diagnosed in my hackneyed way, as I had done for countless years. “Let’s take some pictures. I am glad that we rescued him from that artificial parent, “MamaRoo,” contraption! We laughed, and what ensued was very joyous. I realized my relief that the old woman was gone.
“I will leave you guys alone to admire your son,” I remarked. “We should see him in the office on Tuesday. And be sure Tiny Dancer comes too. You will all be so happy!”
However, as I left the hospital, an old scenario from years gone by unabashedly leaked from my aging brain:
A dainty, long-anticipated baby, born about 2 hours before, lies quietly in a warmer in a large empty recovery room — empty because it is 5:30 in the morning and her mother is undergoing dire emergency surgery to attempt to stop a massive postpartum hemorrhage. The baby does not know that her mother will not die, that the bleeding will be controlled without a hysterectomy, that she will subsequently have 3 loving brothers whom she will eternally dominate, or that she will have a happy life. The father does not know this either, so he has spent the past two hours in desperate loneliness, hiding in a bathroom stall, praying and bargaining with his Creator. When he finds out from the surgeons that his wife will live, he finally seeks out his daughter in the barren recovery room. (He’d barely had any chance to behold her because of the chaos that followed the delivery necessitating his prompt evacuation from the room.) He remembers that it was a girl and remarks to himself that she is singularly beautiful. He holds back his tears because he knows he will not be able to do so when he sees his wife. He makes a solemn promise to his Creator that he will never keep her waiting or allow her to be lonely again.
By the time I had made my way to the parking lot my mind was engulfed in philosophical commentary. In the overall scope of things, what is a mother and what is a father? Is it not true that we all can have many surrogate mothers and fathers? Am I not, as a pediatrician, at certain times a parent to the children I try to care for? Am I not their third parent? Is not my main professional responsibility to dispel fear and anxiety? Or to stop a bleeding heart? Or to starve the dark side of the soul? Was I the baby boy’s parent in the eyes of his Creator for that transitional half-hour in Magee’s nursery? Does a fetus know that it will be adopted? Does it care? Perhaps these questions can only be answered by a poet — or a mystic — or by one who is demented.
On the road again and back — on the treadmill of life — my leaky mind turned to more immediate and practical matters. Little Man Aidan was waiting for me. Would he finally be well enough to be able to ditch his cool sunglasses? I would have to eat a hearty lunch with my wife to make up for my “Breakfast at Magee.” And the currently nameless baby boy will never want for love, I was sure of it, because Leo Tolstoy was absolutely right when he declared: “All happy families are alike.”
P.S.: As for the mysterious old woman, I imagined that our encounter was also nothing more than an accident.