We leave the house around nine. It’s a bright August morning. You are two weeks old and we are going to visit a pediatrician at Nyack Hospital. During the two hundred and sixty six days you were a guest in your mommy’s womb, right through your birth, midwives attended to yours and mommy’s needs. Never has a guest been treated more graciously, nor assisted to depart more gracefully. There is an old saying that a man needs a nurse until he’s ready for the doctor. Well, I think you’re ready.
The truth is, we aren’t ready. It’s embarrassing that in all this time we haven’t given a thought to pediatricians. I think we are delirious. I’ll call it expectancy-induced hysterical silliness. Each visit with the wives sends us back up the Palisades singing oldies. We just can’t wait to get home.
So it was just last week we dug out the phone book. I expected to find a long list of pediatricians. It does seem half the county is pregnant, and the other half is busy jamming the village sidewalks with strollers and baby carriages.
But no, all the pediatricians for miles around are stacked up in two clinics. There are a few hiding in the woods, but we figured, start close to home. I cold-called Nyack Hospital, which hosts a large clinic. They said, ‘Who is your attending physician?’ Rather than respond I said, ‘I’d like to make an appointment with a pediatrician for the first visit of an infant boy.’ There was a long hesitation. I thought, damn, she’s going to call the cops. But I did know I was being discounted. Man, its cold out there.
And here we are. And damn if it isn’t cold. The first room we enter is enormous. I can just see the top of a head behind a curved counter to our right. To our left are a dozen rows of empty chairs. The center of the room e opens on a long, wide corridor. Somewhere, way toward the other end of that corridor, a baby is crying heartily.
I had been told to come early, to allow time for the copious paper work. I stand quietly for a while looking over the barrier at the gatekeepers’ head. As always I’m vigorously dandling you. It seems you have renounced stillness. Finally I clear my throat and introduce us. Now, honey, I swear I have never seen this woman before, but she slings a sheaf of papers on the counter and instructs us with such enmity that a person might think I was her obstreperous son in law. What she does not know is that your mommy is to paper work what one of those four story tall combine harvesters is to a field of wheat. It’s all buzz and flying dust. When we gently drop the completed forms on her desk she flinches.
By now I really do not want to be here. In fact, everything inside me is screaming to just forget the whole thing. I do not see anything ahead but further pain. Yet I hesitate. We do need a pediatrician for you. The difficulties we are having with your feeding and sleeping must be overcome. And our failure each day is debilitating my general confidence, and it can’t be good for you. The stakes seemed so high, and this is the customary path. I have to fight my instincts, ignore the imploring of my soul. I feel I am being trapped by ignorance. I hate it, and I promise you I will figure out how to live our lives and not some role we are forced to fulfill. I think our survival depends on it. In the process I will do my best not to become an iconoclast and turn you into a recalcitrant child. Wish me luck.
In preparation for the pediatrician’s visit a nurse appears and shows us to a room. ‘Undress the baby,’ she says. I ask her why, and immediately I see I’ve done it again. Two up, two alienated. With one tiny word I have made it onto her shit list. Her body displays impatience, her face displays condescension. ‘Because I have to weigh him,’ she tosses at us just before the door slams behind her.
It’s a large room, almost empty, with a hard asphalt tile floor, and the A/C is cranking like a nor’easter slamming down the Hudson Valley. It is cold. I got a bad feeling. This is not good, I am thinking.
There is a counter with cabinets running along two walls and I sit you down on one, never letting go of course. It is August, so we did not dress you for this winter climate. Your immediate destination is on the counter opposite us. A bare stainless steel tray shaped to accommodate a reclining infant, rests on a shiny balance scale. I do not need to touch it. I know that to lay you naked on that bed of steel would be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, and the biggest mistake or your little life.
I strip you down to your skivvies and we wait. When the nurse reap-pears, she says, ‘Take his shirt off,’ and takes up a position next to the scale. Now this piece of cotton she’s calling a shirt could be packed into a thimble. It’s so fine it could pass for threadbare. It’s so short it fails to cover your navel. If it was on one side of a balance beam and a diaper pin was dropped on the other side, it would fly into the air.
I say to the nurse, ‘I know you want to track his growth. I understand that, but when we come back in two weeks he will be about a pound heavier. So at that time I will have him dressed in this same shirt, and…. And then she was gone. Just like that. The sound of the door made me think of the gates of hell.
I zip you back into your little tracksuit, and we go out to the waiting area to encounter the doctor. He is relatively young and relatively good looking and has a relatively pleasant voice. He starts off by saying that we would be back in two weeks to begin your series of inoculations. And I say, ‘Doc, I was hoping we could talk about that.’ And he says, ‘Mr. Freeman, I think you would be happier some place else.’ I say, ‘thank you doctor.’
Now we can go home.