Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Laura Ann

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Sarah was what we called seriously pregnant.  She was sitting on our thrift shop sofa in our Berkeley apartment.

“Come sit by me”

I sat on the couch collapsing the middle cushion. Sarah immediately tilted and started to fall on me.

We laughed.

I had just come home from my job in the hospital, I was still in my Army dress uniform, complete with my one little medal.

Sarah grabbed my hand and put it on her tummy.
“Its  really kicking hard.”  “Maybe the baby will come tonight!”
I asked, “Do you have any cramps?”
“No” “It’s just jumping around a lot.”

We were so excited.  None of our friends had children. Both of our parents lived far away.  So, it was just the two of us.  And we had Dr. Spock’s book on Common Sense Baby Care. 

We were going to have  our first child.  We painted our extra bedroom a bright yellow.  Sarah made curtains.  I assembled a crib. We went to garage sales to pick up things that would be good for our new baby.

I was happy  and worried at the same time.  What did I know about being a father?
We read our Dr. Spock book as if it was a bible. We were sure Spock would tell us what to do.

We were in full baby mania. That is all we talked about. It was November, we didn’t pay attention to the holidays or much of anything else, it was all: BABY BABY BABY.

Sarah picked the name: “I want to call her Laura Ann.”


Sarah seemed to be healthy and doing fine, yet I worried at every stage of the pregnancy. We took a natural childbirth class in downtown Berkeley.  We practiced breathing.  They showed us scary movies.

I wondered “Was I up to this?” I was sure Sarah could do it.
“Could I do this?” Could I be a father?

The next morning, I drove our  VW back to my work at Letterman General Hospital where I worked on the locked psychiatric ward as a social work technician.  Sarah had stopped working at the University. She stayed home. Waiting.

The Letterman psychiatric unit was a separate building from the main hospital.  I found my usual parking spot under the freeway and hiked up to “the unit”. Almost as soon as I was buzzed in through the big locked front door, my phone rang.  I closed the door to my tiny office. It was a very thick door and I could close out the ward sounds. 

“Specialist Gorodezky, Speaking Sir!” I said as I picked up the phone.
We enlisted Army folks always talked like that until we knew who was on “the other end of the line.”

“Its me, Sarah”

I took a deep breath, thinking this was it!  My 16 mile  morning drive had taken 1.5  hours in rush hour traffic. I thought:  If the baby was coming, I would have to drive back to Berkeley, pick up Sarah and then fight my way back to the hospital which inconveniently sat at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge.  I felt far away from Sarah.

Over the phone Sarah said,”
“I think this it. 
I’m not sure.”
Come back but don’t drive crazy. Be careful. I’m not sure.”

I got out my keys and let myself into the next ward to find Sergeant Embry.

“I gotta go home now Sergeant.”
He knew what was going on with Sarah.  Chuck Embry spun around in the hallway and said: “OK Mike, Get going!”  He had a big grin and was genuinely happy for me and Sarah.

I ran about a mile to my car, jumped in and started back to Berkeley. Panting, I tried to calm myself. The car radio music made me crazy. I had to turn it off to concentrate on getting home.

This trip only took 60 minutes. I ran into the apartment. Sarah had her bag and was ready to go.

“My water broke. I called the hospital they said we probably have time to get back into the City.”
I said, “How do you know your water broke?”
Sarah looked at me with that “You-can-be-so-stupid-look.”

We began to drive back.  Suddenly the traffic stopped dead.  I got out of the car to see what was happening. It was a long train.  I had never seen a freight train crossing University avenue. Never in the several years we lived in Berkeley. But there it was.
“Ok Mike, calm down.” Sarah said.  I might have been slightly freaking out.
“The train isn’t even moving”, I whined.

After  what seemed like an hour,  I heard the clanging of bells as the barriers rose and we could move onward.

We got to the hospital. I drove fast up to the gate, but then went very slow once I passed the flags and cannons.  The Presidio, where the hospital was located, was also the home of a school for Military Police.  They were very aggressive with speeding cars even when carrying a pregnant soon-to-be mother.

 Since I worked at the hospital, I knew how to get to OBGYN right away. I navigated the warren of little service roads behind the hospital. The  Maternity ward  was in some old wooden light green barracks.  

I knew the medic who took Sarah away in a wheel chair.
“Hey Mike!”
“Hey Charlie”
“Big day, huh! We grinned.”
Charlie,  told me to wait in the hall outside the double doors to the ward.

This was not the waiting room I had imagined.
No pacing men.  No men at all. It was just a long hallway with a bank of windows facing a parking lot. I was completely alone. Various people casually came and went but nobody was waiting.  Just me.

I spent my time worrying. I am a specialist at that activity.  I had nothing to read, no radio. I just that there and vacillated between the thrill of finally meeting our baby and the fear that something might go wrong.

The night before the trip to the hospital, I got up during the night and found Sarah watching tv. She was a bit weepy.  It was the story of a mother who had a baby that was ill.
“God! Why would you watch that now?!”, I said
“I just want to.”
“But why that”
Sarah continued to watch the melodrama. I went back to bed, confused.

In my hallway waiting room, the time seemed like hours. This time it was several hours..  Finally, a nurse came out and told me the baby wasn’t coming and they would wait a while and then if necessary they would induce it.

They let me in to see Sarah.

The Nurse told me, “You should just go home and go to sleep. We’ll call you.”

Sarah agreed, but said to the nurse: “You promise you’ll call him if I want Mike to come back.” “Right?”
The nurse smiled and promised.

I thought briefly about sleeping on the tile floor of nearby office in the Psych Ward, but, in the end, I drove back over the bridge home to Berkeley.

About 4 in the morning, I gave up trying to sleep and drove back to the hospital. I walked into Sarah’s room. She was awake.

She said: “I asked them to call you. Did they call?”
I shrugged “No I just was worried so I came back.”
“Well they are going to induce the baby.”

They sent me back to my empty hallway.  The hall had a long vinyl green couch with huge cushions. It had metal bars at each end. It was a real institutional treasure.  I lay on it briefly until an officer came by and told me to sit up.

A new morning shift was coming on and I recognized one of the interns who had just rotated through the psych unit.
“Hi Captain, Smitham,”
“Hi Mike,” I’m coming over to deliver my first baby.”

I thought, “that would be our baby!’

Another hour passed and Captain Smitham walked by me  still sitting on my couch.

“Don’t you want to see your wife and your baby?”, he asked.
“Oh, didn’t anyone tell you. You could have watched. The baby is fine”

I rushed through the ward doors, crashing them against the walls.
Sarah was sitting up, a bit groggy.  There was no baby nearby. 
Sarah said, “I just feel very tired. I’m ok. They said if I want to see the baby, I have to walk to the nursery, down the hall. “Let’s go see the baby.

I asked, “Is the baby o.k.?  Does she have all her fingers and toes?”
Sarah laughed. The baby was o.k.  I felt a rush of relief and joy.  I felt I could finally relax a bit. But only a bit. I was excited to see baby Laura.

When we got to the nursery, there were only a few babies there. A nurse handed our Laura to Sarah.

According to Army hospital policy in 1966 Sarah had to stay for 5 whole days regardless of how she felt. 

Sarah said, “I feel like I’m in jail.” “I want to go home now.”

On the fifth day of maternal incarceration, I had the day off. It was a Sunday.

Sarah, said “You have to go buy Laura a baby dress to come home in.”
I asked, “Where do I get a baby dress?”
Sarah ignored my question, turning to baby Laura.
“Just get it now, so we can go home.”

I drove off base to the big Sears store on Geary.  It was my first foray into dress buying.
“How big is the baby,” the clerk asked?

“I gestured with my hands?”
I was a in a foreign land, of sorts. The baby department.  I was amazed they had dresses for babies.
“She is about this long.”
The male clerk held up a dress. I grabbed it anxious to be out of the store and to get back to the hospital.

I returned to Sarah’s ward.  Now, on a Sunday afternoon the place was crowded with visitors with gifts of balloons and flowers.

Sarah yelled at me. “It’s yellow!!”  “Go back and get pink!  Laura is  a girl.”

“Really? I have to go back?”
“Yes Really!”
Another trip to Sears.

I returned with a pink dress covered with tiny, tiny white buttons.
A medic with huge hands more suited to construction work, began to try to put the squirming, crying Laura into the little dress.
“Damn it,” “hold still” , he cried.
He couldn’t hold the baby and do the tiny buttons.
Sarah sighed “Give her to me, “finally said as she rescued the  medic and the baby.” The medic and I watched as Sarah magically assembled Laura in her tiny pink dress.

As we left, the nurse casually explained that Laura’s clavicle had been fractured during delivery. They had used forceps. (Remember, Dr. Smitham’s first baby?)

The nurse went on
“Its no big deal, we don’t do a cast, just an ace bandage.  Come back in 3 days and we’ll check it”  I passively mumbled some acknowledgement, took our discharge papers  and we headed to our car.

We were given a case of Enfamil along with other things. I put the case on top of our VW, helped Sarah into the car. The medic handed the baby to Sarah and I drove off. Sarah held the baby in her arms. I went about 2 blocks before an MP stopped me to inquire about my case of Enfamil on top of the car.

We went home to our apartment and began to study our Dr. Spock paperback. Far from our own parents,  we felt alone. Just the 3 of us.  A new mom, a new baby and a new father.

I thought, “My god, what have we done. I don’t know anything about babies.”  Fortunately Sarah was the oldest of 4 children and she knew a lot about  the care and feeding of babies.


In a few days, we took Laura back to Letterman to have her bandage checked.  We were directed to the Orthopedic Clinic. It was an  area with perhaps 50 chairs in a waiting room.  That  room was full  of severely injured soldiers from the Vietnam war.   Many men were smoking. It was loud.


I showed the Sergeant on duty our paperwork.  He pointed to some empty chairs.
“OK, take a seat. Today is cast day, so I don’t know when you’ll get seen. We sat as far away from the crowd as we could.  I sat for only a moment.

I thought, now, I was not Specialist Gorodezky, I was Laura’s father. 

I stood up.
I checked my uniform.
 I walked passed the Sargeant who told me to
stop.  I whacked  through the DO NOT ENTER doors.  I walked into a hall filled with busy doctors and nurses.

I stood in the middle of the hallway.
I spoke in a loud clear voice.
Heads turned to listen.
“I have a 3 day old baby out there and I don’t think we should wait out there to see a doctor!

A nurse with Captain’s bars took me by the arm and lead me back into the waiting area.  She ecorted Sarah and I to bring Laura in to see a physician.

We silently  waited in an exam room, I began to understand a bit about becoming Laura’s father. I had a new important job. This job mattered.

The doctor arrived
As he removed the ace bandage around Laura’s shoulders, I asked
“Why is her clavicle broken?”
“What happened.”
The physician calmly and perhaps condescendingly answered:
Oh this isn’t unusual. It says right here on her birth certificate that forceps were used during delivery.  It was the forceps.”
“Don’t worry, this will heal quickly. Babies heal fast.”

Sarah held our fragile baby close to her.  I held on to Sarah. Our tiny family walked out of the clinic.

Laura did heal quickly.



Happy Birthday Laura Ann

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