The student nurse knocked, then peeked her head around my door. “This little bundle must be yours. He was all alone and so are you. And I think he’s hungry.”
I was hungry too – hungry for a glimpse of my baby. I’d heard the soft crepe-soled footsteps along the corridor as nurses carried babies into the other rooms in the maternity wing. I was in the last room, furthest from the nursery.
“There was no first name on his tag. Have you picked one yet?”
She smiled. “A good Hebrew name: God has given. That’s beautiful. People don’t always realize what a gift a child is.” She placed Nathan in my arms as I sat up against the pillow. “His chart says formula, so I brought along a bottle. I’m Mary Alice”
“Yes, thank you.” As I took the bottle from her my eyes filled. I couldn’t help it.
“Hey, it’s okay. I know everyone says nursing is best, but my oldest sister bottle fed her son and he grew up to be six feet four.” Apparently she thought I wasn’t able to nurse, and I didn’t correct her. “They look so fragile, don’t they? Well, look, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.”
“Mary Alice.” I swallowed, choking on the lump in my throat. “Thank you for bringing him in.”
“You’re welcome, little mother.” She gave me a smile and a wink as she left. She didn’t know. Little mother. I rolled the words over in my mind. If only…
I settled Nathan in the crook of my arm and held the bottle while he sucked. His eyes stared up at me, never leaving my face, as if he was trying to figure out what he was looking at. I hoped he would remember this moment for the rest of his life, but I knew he wouldn’t. I would never forget it. How precious he was. How small. My eyes took in every part of his face: the contour of his cheek, the tiny mouth, the perfect little ears, the sweep of his nearly transparent lashes. Something welled up in my heart – a love, a longing so deep that it formed an ache in every part of me. If only I could hold onto him forever. My heart wrapped around his heart just as surely as my body had covered his while I waited for his birth. And yet my heart was breaking.
“Oh, God. Oh Father. Let me keep him, let me…” I held the sob inside. I already knew I was asking for what I couldn’t have. As he stopped sucking and started to doze, I placed the bottle on the night table and carefully undid his blanket. I looked at every inch of him. His little feet and legs were perfect, bowed in as if he was still curled within me. I placed my finger on his palm and his tiny fingers clenched around my large one. I savored the moment. “Nathan.” I whispered his name tenderly. “Mommy loves you, Nathan.”
Suddenly the door was thrust open and the head nurse came storming in, stern and angry, followed by Mary Alice.
“She wasn’t supposed to get him. He’s being adopted. It will only make it harder on her.” Her loud voice startled Nathan and he started to cry.
“I’m so sorry” Mary Alice met my eyes, tears flowing freely down her face. Her voice was a whisper.
The older woman plucked Nathan out of my arms, leaving them empty. He was wailing now with little ragged pauses as he caught his breath. He was frightened: my baby needed me. I reached for him as my heart seemed to rise into my throat. “No. Don’t scare him. You’re scaring him.” But I couldn’t take him back. I couldn’t protect him. I felt the tears running down my face as my crying baby was taken out of my arms, out of my room, and out of my life. I would never hold him again. Only my mother’s prayers could follow him into the unknown.
Mary Alice came over to the bed. “I didn’t know.”
“I’m glad you didn’t know. At least I got to hold him. Oh God, I love him so much”
She took my hand and squeezed hard as if to push away the pain as our tears dropped and mingled on our clenched hands.
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