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Search of Eden
In Search of Eden
December 11, 1995 Nashville, Tennessee
Wanda stifled a yawn. Ever since the hospital had gone to ten....hour shifts, she’d begun feeling her age. It crept up and settled in her back after a long day on her feet. Especially on days like today. She felt another pang of sympathy for her patient. She was just a girl, not quite sixteen, barely past childhood herself. Much too young to be having a baby.
But she had. They had whisked the newborn away so quickly Wanda had barely gotten a look at the child herself. They hadn’t wanted Wanda’s patient to hold her child or even look at it. They Dr. Herbert and the baby’s grandmother, who reminded Wanda somehow of the wicked stepmother in all the fairy tales she’d read. Oh, she was pleasant enough to look at with her red hair and heart—shaped face, but there was something to the narrowed eyes that gave Wanda a shiver, like feeing a cold hand clamped down on the back of her neck.
“The baby’s being adopted.” Dr. Herbert had said with that same pursed....lip expression. “It’s been privately arranged.” Emphasis on privately. Wanda thought that kind of secrecy had gone out in the fifties, but you didn’t argue with Dr. Herbert. Not if you wanted to keep your job. Wanda had a sudden image of some rich socialite buying the baby from that horrible grandmother. She shook her head and dosed her eyes. Where had her patient’s mother been when her daughter had been crying and frightened out of her wits during her labor? Nobody had sat with her. Wanda had made her as comfortable as she could and held her hand throughout, hut it had been a long, frightening ordeal for her. Dr. Herbert had finally done a Cesarean. which had made it easier for them to keep the baby away from her.
The infant was fine, though. Born healthy and squalling. Apgar scores of nine, but Wanda hadn’t even been allowed to tell the young mother the vital statistics. Not the birth weight, length, not even the baby’s sex.
“The family has decided it would be best if the girl doesn’t know,” Dr, Herbert had said. The family. Meaning the bride of Frankenstein.
Wanda glanced at the grandmother, now sitting in the waiting room. Every so often she would go outside to smoke a cigarette and when she returned, she’d pace the room or rearrange all the magazines in that nervous way she had. Wanda shook her head and glanced at her watch. It was a sad situation all the way around. She sighed and left the weariness again. It was time for her shift to end, but she wanted to check on her patient one more time.
She walked down the hall to the postnatal wing. Here was another cruelty she thought. Wasn’t there any place they could have put her besides here on the same floor as the other mothers and babies?
She found the room—5 10. At least it was a private room, and Wanda thanked the Lord for small mercies. The door was closed. Wanda opened it slowly. The lights in the room were off the curtain on far window pulled shut, It was gloomy and dark. She heard sniffling. Sure enough the young girl was crying. Who wouldn’t be? She thought with a surge of anger. Here the child was not even sixteen, trying to cope with all the emotions of having given birth, the baby’s father absent, her own mother absent, not to mention the physical pain she was in from the long, fruitless labor and resulting surgery. Why, just the anguish and fear of going through such a thing by herself at such a young age would be enough to leave a scar on the heart. Not to mention having her baby taken away.
“Hey there,” Wanda said gently, approaching the side of the bed. She leaned over and smiled. Her back gave another twinge, but she barely noticed.
The girl opened her eyes, and Wanda saw them light with recognition and then fill with tears. The girl turned her face away, looking ashamed.
“It’s ok” Wanda said. She took the girl’s hand and stroked it, arid that seemed to open the floodgates. Wanda put down the rail and sat on the side of the bed and opened her arms. The girl let herself be gathered in close, as close as she could get with her fresh incision, and she cried against Wanda’s chest for quite a while. The shoulder of Wanda’s scrubs got wet, but she didn’t care. She hugged the thin shoulders and kissed the thick, slick hair and murmured, “Hush, now. It’ll be all right. It’s okay.” just as she did to her own daughter, but somehow those crises seemed minuscule compared to this.
After five minutes or so the little mother seemed to have cried herself out. Wanda handed her the box of tissues and then rose up and filled the plastic pitcher with water, feeling another little spurt of irritation at the nurses on the floor. This child was just a few hours postpartum, post surgery and no one seemed to be paying much attention to her. But even as she thought these things, she knew they weren’t true. They would be monitoring her closely. In fact, someone would be coining in to check her any moment. She knew her irritation wasn’t really toward the nursing staff but toward the situation in general.
“Here, drink this:” Wanda said, holding down a plastic cup of water and bending the straw so the girl wouldn’t have to raise herself up.
The girl took a sip. Then another. After a minute she moistened her lips and spoke. “1 never got to see my baby. They wouldn’t even tell me if it was a boy or a girl.”
She looked at Wanda with a question in her eyes, and Wanda felt torn between hospital policy and her tender heart.
She was opening her mouth to speak when she heard the patient’s mother. She couldn’t make out the words, but she could tell from the tone that she was complaining about something. She caught “left me sitting out there in the waiting room” and “went downstairs for some food and took the wrong elevator.”’ The door opened and in she came with a whoosh.
“There you are,” she said, her presence, if not her slight frame, filling up the room. Her tone was accusing, as if her daughter had done something wrong. Well, perhaps she had, but Wanda thought this was not exactly the time for blaming and shaming.
“Hey, Mama”’ the girl said weakly, her voice containing more misery than Wanda could stand to think about.
The woman gave Wanda an accusing look, as well, though she had no way of knowing Wanda really had no official business here. Wanda patted the small hand, now trembling slightly, and left the mom. She waited at the nurses’ station feigning nonchalance, talking and sipping coffee until she saw the woman leave.
“There’s a piece of work.” the charge nurse said, shaking her head in the new grandmother’s direction . Wanda nodded and waited for more. She was not disappointed.
“Adoptive parents are on their way. They’re taking the baby home today.” Wanda and the nurse both watched Grandma march toward the elevator, heard her heels clicking on the polished floor, saw her cross her arms and wait impatiently, tapping the button several times before the elevator arrived and she stepped inside. The doors slid shut. So she had left without even saying hello and good....bye to her grandbaby. Wanda shook her head and exchanged another glance with the charge nurse, who shrugged, grabbed up a chart, and headed toward the other end of’ the hallway, leaving Wanda alone.
‘Wanda hesitated just a moment and then went straight to the nursery, not letting herself think too much about what she was doing. Not thinking about the fact that this could mean the loss of her job, just knowing what she would want someone to do for her if she were in the same situation. She punched in her code, then stepped inside the nursery doors. The attendant was Martha Green, nearing retirement, too. In fact, Wanda had gone to nursing school with Martha back in the dark ages. Martha was busy bathing and weighing a new arrival, the father helping, all thumbs and elbows. She gave Wanda a quick smile and a nod before going back to her task.
Wanda looked across the cluster of Isolettes and found the one she was looking for. Oh my. What a sweet, beautiful baby. Pink cheeks, dark hair, and a tiny pursed mouth. But then, they were all precious. The baby was wrapped in an anonymous white blanket, and she remembered the charge nurse’s words: “Adoptive parents are on their way.”
She had only a minute. She picked tip the tiny bundle, opened the door, and headed back across the hail, moving quickly and holding her head high. Acting as if she were on official hospital business and had every right to be doing what she was doing, not as if she were breaking hospital policy and maybe even the law. She went down the hall toward the girl’s room and pushed open the door, pulling it closed behind her.
The girl looked up then dropped her mouth in shock “Oh,” she said before tearing up again. “Oh, thank you!”
Wanda helped her sit up, put the baby in her arms, then went to the door and cracked it slightly. So far, so good. She flicked her eves back and forth between the scene on the bed and the hallway outside. The girl held the baby gingerly and was saying something too quietly for Wanda to hear. She reached down to touch one tiny hand, bent her mouth to brush the baby’s check.
Wanda checked her watch and moved to the bedside. She didn’t want to interrupt the sweet scene, but she put a hand on the young mother’s head and another on the baby’s. “Lord Jesus.” She prayed aloud, “your heart is loving and forgiving. You said just as a mother would never forget her child, so you would never forget us, for you have engraved us on the palms of your hands. I pray now for these two, that somehow, someday your love would bring them back together and that in the meantime you would guard and keep them. In Jesus name. Amen.”
The little mother wept and wiped her eyes on the back of one hand, the baby gripped with the other. A noise from the hallway jerked Wanda’s attention away. She went to the door and looked out. Someone was coining out of the elevator. It was Dr, Herbert with a couple who looked so excited they could only be the adoptive parents. Oh dear.
“I’m sorry:’ she said, “But I’ve got to get to get the baby back to the nursery. Now.”
The girl didn’t fight her, hut she didn’t hand over the baby either. Wanda gently pried the child out of her hands, and the mother began to cry again. Wanda didn’t look backward, slipped out into the hallway, and cut through the medication room just as Herbert and company were rounding the corner. She put the baby back in the Isolette and then, for no reason except sheer panic, went to the sink and began washing her hands. They were shaking so badly she could barely manage the simple task. Dr. Herbert and the adoptive parents came in just then, and there was such a joyful buzz that no one noticed when she slipped out. She went to the nurses’ lounge and just sat there, waiting for her heart to stop pounding, thinking about the possible repercussions of what she’d done and trying to calm her self The new little family was checking the baby out of the hospital when she passed them in the hallway on her way out. The adoptive mother was a pretty blond woman and in tears herself. She was clutching the baby as if someone might try to take it away from her. The father was beaming, his arm around both of them protectively. What a pleasant—looking man he was! Warm skin and eyes and a soft brown heard. He reminded Wanda of the way some people painted Jesus, and her heart softened a little.