August 1, 2006
This is what I remember about Oskar’s birth. Not the moment I first see his face, or his first cry. It’s a Dutch doctor slapping me on the stomach. “Get angry!” she yells. Her attempt to get me to push harder. I am too shocked to be angry. Thankfully, My doula Jackie puts a strategically placed needle into my ankle at that very moment, and I push Oskar out before the battle can escalate.
In the U.S., pregnancy and birth are treated both as a miracle and a medical condition. In Holland the attitude is more “ You’re having a baby, get over it.”. After having my first two children in hospitals in San Francisco, I am surprised at this attitude. Especially when it translates into me being thrown out on my extremely sore ass two hours after giving birth. The nurse starts getting antsy about an hour after they finish stitching me up. She keeps asking me if I need to pee yet. Finally, since I’m “ taking so long” she suggests my husband, new baby and I would move into the next room, which is empty but for two hard wooden chairs. She wouldn’t ask, she explains, it’s just that the custodian leaves at 9, and if we don’t leave, she’ll have to clean up the room herself.
Under the pressure of her impatience, I decide to fake pee and soon I am being wheeled down to the lobby of the hospital, baby in my arms and piled into a cab.
I look down at our son as I hold him in my arms in the backseat of the cab. Although he has received a quick sponge bath, he still has blood caked in his hair. His face is red and bunched from crying. The cab driver, who clearly picks up stunned couples with newborns in their arms in front of the hospital at 10 pm all the time, regales us with tales of his own children’s difficult newborn phase. It is hard to hear him above the screaming, but I note that he recommends celery water and rooiboos tea. He pulls up in front of our flat and dumps us at the curb where we are greeted by my ebullient Belgian landlord, who yells at random people passing by to come take a look at the new baby. I am also greeted by the 40 steep wooden stairs that lead to our flat. At this particular moment, living on the 4th and 5th floor of a walkup building seems like kind of a bad idea, even considering the view of the park. Luckily, the ebullient Belgian landlord carries Oskar up while my husband helps me gingerly climb the stairs. The older kids run over to look at their new brother, and within an hour, I am sitting on the sofa eating Dominos pizza. Except for the 10 stitches, the bloody baby and the mental scarring, it is all like nothing ever happened.