MIND ON THE RUN — “Triple Crown Winner”
(Musical Accompaniment: “Someone to Watch over Me” by George and Ira Gershwin — sung by Ella Fitzgerald)
The events of this story are a blend of fact and creditable fiction and are not exaggerated, but…Once Upon a Time…
“There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them…only she herself knew that at the center of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody.”
— The opening lines of “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence.
On the morning of the day that American Pharoah finished his fairy tale horse racing saga, the gates of life opened for a beautiful baby girl. (Let’s call her Baby X, for she remained nameless for reasons this tale will tell.) She was one of the growing number of home births — “home” being the “system” into which she would be thrust, by necessity, for the whole of her life. You see, despite an uneventful pregnancy and vaginal delivery, the storm clouds of her life were starting to form over the warmer in which she lay — beautiful, motionless, and abandoned.
“What will become of her?” I asked the nursery staff, thinking out loud. By then it was common knowledge that her mother had severe mental health disease and had had six previous children removed from her custody. Nobody had an answer and all were too busy preparing the privileged infants for their discharges. “The grandfather insists that he wear the Pirates’ sleeper to go home!” I heard one nurse exclaim. “This mother is a loser when it comes to breastfeeding, so I gave her twelve bottles of Enfamil,” I overheard one nurse tell the supervisor. “Good thinking” she assented. “Just don’t tell the Lactation Gestapos!” And they laughed contemptuously.
Having finished my own discharge rituals I finally studied Baby X, hoping that some pity would turn the scales of life in her favor. She was, indeed, not only beautiful but quite robust-appearing for a newborn, even in her repose in the warmer. Her muscularity seemed exceptional to me for a newborn — tall and slender, like a race horse. But — she was born into the system and will likely be a part of the system to the end of her days. As a pediatrician, I had been a card-carrying member of the medical arm of the American socio-economic support system for too many years to harbor any optimism. The card was insurmountable despair: single-parent households, neglect, privation, abuse of all kinds, truancy, borderline intellectual functioning, institutionalization, violent death. (And, for me, a host of no-shows thrown in.) Efforts that were once a conflagration had dwindled into an ember. I reminded myself that I was neither an athletic scout nor a social judge.
What transpired next in the short life of Baby X was not for me to witness, but only to contemplate. Later that morning her mother eloped from the postpartum unit. Just picked up and left without a word of farewell or a touch or a long-lasting glance good-bye. No maternal-infant bonding — the nurses would feed her Enfamil and be the only souls to smile upon her. “What happens now?” I inquired the next morning on rounds. I already knew the cascade: social services, foster family, ADOPTION, love, opportunity, remediation of mental health issues, a life like all the rest of us voyagers. And I would bet my bottom dollar that athletic fame was in her cards.
Three individuals were champions that day, but only one was aware of it at the time. Baby X would figure it out over the years. The lucky family that would adopt her would figure it out over a few months. The birth mother had figured it out at the moment she had decided to elope from the hospital and transfer the life of her daughter to a better “home.” By virtue of a mysterious love that transcends the understanding of us mortals, the ultimate sacrifice had been made — the horseshoe of flowers had been placed upon the hero’s neck. No pages would have to be turned in this story to tell who would be the hero of this baby’s life.
PS: I heard later that week that the birth mother had tried to return to the hospital with second thoughts and a package in her hand wrapped in newspaper. The hospital security guards turned her away and in the melee that ensued, that package landed in the trash. I would like to think that it contained a miniature replica of a rocking horse.
(Image: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 6/7/15)