The kids from across the street came over this afternoon and asked if they could come over.
"Sure," I said. "Why don't you all play in the back yard?"
They looked ill-at-ease.
"My mom is having the baby right now," said the older one, a boy.
"Oh good!" This was the event we'd all been waiting for, a new baby on the street. "So she's at the hospital right now?"
"No," said the little girl. "She's at home."
"By herself?" I was prepared to charge down the street and catch the baby, aided by the expertise of my five deliveries.
"No, Dad and Grandma are there, and the ambulance is coming."
Sure enough, we heard the sirens in the distance and all went outside to wait and watch. As we sat on the lawn, the kids volunteered information about the impending joyous occasion.
"Mom was sitting on the toilet, and she could see the head in the mirror!"
"She was screaming, and Grandma told us to go outside."
We discussed the having of babies. I assured them that many babies were born at home, and were none the worse for wear. My three youngest, prime examples of this, sat out with us. The little girl absently bounced Baby on her knee.
"I bet she yelled," I said. "Having a baby is hard work, and it hurts. Have you ever had diarrhea, or felt like you were going to throw up?" They had. "Having a baby feels like that, only lots worse. But then the baby is born, and the pain goes away. She'll do fine."
By this time the ambulance was wailing down the street, followed by a fire truck that set up in the middle of the road. We all strolled down to see if we could catch a glimpse of Mom being loaded into the ambulance. It was an exciting moment, and fraught with change. One morning you go to school and your family has four people; that afternoon, you come home, and by suppertime you've got a new sister.
"Look, your little sister is stopping traffic on her very first day!" I pointed out, as the firemen placed cones in the road. Everyone was fixated on the empty stretcher in the yard. Sure enough, a moment later we saw Mom being wheeled up to the ambulance. She was able to wave to us, but as they were loading her in I saw her face contort and her back arch. I felt sympathetic vibrations down my sciatic nerve.
Grandma and I exchanged cell phone numbers, and as she dashed off for the hospital (fortunately only a five-minute drive away) the kids and I returned home. The little girl was quietly anxious.
"Shall we make cookies or a cake for your mom?" I asked her.
She considered. A cake could be split into almost sixteen pieces, but cookies were more compact and so received her vote. At home, there were cards to be made, wrapping paper to be chosen (I blessed the previous owner of the house, who had stockpiled gift wrap in a drawer upstairs) and dough to be mixed. The kids worked with purpose while I whispered Hail Marys for the laboring mother. In the midst of all our scrambling, there was a knock on the door. It was Grandma.
"What? Has she had the baby?" I exclaimed.
"Twenty-four seconds after they got into the hospital!" said Grandma, beaming with relief and pride. Already there was a picture of baby, and we crowded round to admire. The little girl held the phone and gazed at her new sister, swaddled in a blanket and hat. Grandma was on her way home to change before heading back to the hospital, so the little girl opted to stay with us for a bit longer. The cookies weren't done yet, and she had been rolling out the next batch.
As they baked, we sat outside and chatted with another neighbor, a teenager with autism. Babies were much on our mind, and after we told the story of the hectic afternoon, she was thoughtful.
"I had a friend who was going to have a baby, but it died when it was three months old, in her stomach. She wasn't even pregnant yet!"
"Well," I gently corrected, "she was pregnant, but the baby died inside her. That's called a miscarriage. I had one once, before Isabel was born." Isabel sat straight beside me, her glossy hair gleaming in the late afternoon sun. She knows that there was a little baby who died before she came. Once she drew a picture of her and the baby. She had big tears running down her cheeks, and the tiny baby is ascending to heaven. I can't bear to look at it -- nobody draws sad like Isabel can -- but it hangs on the fridge nonetheless.
The little girl was tired after her big day -- even a second-grader can only take so much excitement -- and was ready to go see her sister. We wrapped up the cookies in a ziploc, which we placed inside a little blanket that Julia had crocheted, which we put in a box, which we wrapped with pink Pooh paper, which we placed in a big gift bag. The bag was an item of note. The little girl had given it to one of us on a birthday, and now it was going back to her house again. Everything today had a special significance, because this was the day that the baby was born. Every detail was being filed away so that one day, everyone could tell her, "This is what happened on the day you were born. We remember."
This evening, after the kids were in bed, I sat and thought of my own miscarried baby, something I had not done for a very long time. The pain of the miscarriage subsided long ago, eased by the subsequent arrival of Isabel, she of the blue eyes. That baby had blue eyes too, as do all babies at eight weeks of development. It, he, she, would have been seven years old in October. I tried to wrap my mind around a seven-year-old, maybe even a seven-year-old boy, but the idea was just too strange to contemplate, and I soon let it go. But I had remembered, and the remembering was sweet.