This story first appeared in 2004 in Washington Square Review.
By Chris Evans
The nurse forgot to turn off the epidural. My baby’s down there, but I can’t feel her.
“Push, Samanta. Push!”
There’s no noise in here but she’s yelling. This nurse is Spanish and screaming my name Samanta, with no proper end to it. “Move your bowels, Samanta. Move your bowels!”
Over to the left somewhere, Aiden’s not allowed to look or stand. He fainted when they put the epidural into my spine. He’s up all night with me during my whimpering and then he faints as soon as the numbness takes over. He leans forward, holding his sad paper cup of orange juice, while he should be seeing the birth, letting me feel it on his face.
“What will you call her?” the nurse asks.
“We’re not sure,” says Aiden. He begins to stand.
“Keep him down,” says the doctor. This male ob/gyn has his hands on me, probably in me. The Spanish nurse puts a palm out and Aiden sits.
“Courtney,” he says. “Or maybe Ariana.”
“Ariana is a beautiful name,” says the nurse. “Come on, Ariana.”
“Maybe Ana for short.” He’s sweating.
“Come on, little Ana.”
She keeps saying the name. “Ana.” Back home in Ohio, they would never accept it. “Baby Ana.” They would all use the nasal A—Anna—they’d never say Ana, with that resonant beauty. If we insisted on our own way of saying it, they’d call us snobs. “Ana, Ana.” This resonance, the only reason we even considered it.
I hate to think of this moment as the moment that will name our baby, the moment when this short fat Spanish nurse will name our baby.
“Push, Samanta. Move your bowels. Here comes Ana!”
How can I push if I can’t feel it?
“Not so much in your face, Samanta. Your face is all red. Not so much up there. Push here. Here! Move your bowels.”
“I can’t feel anything,” I whisper.
The nurse squints at the epidural’s distribution tank, just behind me, and maybe she realizes that she forgot to turn it off. She looks at the male ob/gyn, who glances at the tiny tank and shrugs.
“We’re almost there,” she tells me. “Push. Your face is too red. Don’t push so much with your face.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” I say.
I know this experience should be momentous. Aiden will stand at the end of the bed, watching Courtney come out of me, he’ll smile and hold my hand and tell me I’m doing fine. I’ll scream and call him obscene names and he’ll hold my hand and love me and tell me that I’m going to be a wonderful mother.
“Come on, two more pushes, Samanta. Two more.”
He’s watching the nurse’s face instead of mine—looking into the glasses of the male ob/gyn, trying to see our baby’s head in the reflection. There’s no noise. I’m not grunting. I’m moving my bowels.
There’s no urgency. Nothing hurts. Nothing.
She’s out. Aiden sits in the chair, holding my hand. They wipe at the child and put it on my belly. Aiden sits there and looks.
“Oh my God,” he says. “Would you look at her?” He reaches out a hand and traces a line across her forehead. “Honey, she’s beautiful.”
But there’s no emotion in his voice. There’s nothing. This is only what he’s supposed to say.
And the baby—she’s there, blinking, looking at me like I’m a stranger, her eyes all but dead.