A Baby Named Jesus
December 8, 2010, by Prudence Baird
Prudence’s personal story provides a morality tale for America today
This is a story about a baby I call Jesus. No, not that Jesus—the other one, pronounced “Hey, Zeus.”
I admit this may not be his name and he may not be a he; I don’t know. All I know is that somewhere out there in the world is a teenager I call Jesus and his birth certificate is almost identical to my son’s. And what better time to have a Jesus story than now—on the eve of the holiday season that culminates with the birthday celebration of a man so many Americans claim to know personally, the other Jesus, Jesus Christ.
Jesus (the Hey Zeus one) was born April 6, 1995, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles—the same hospital, the same day, the same hour as my second and last child, Casey. The reason I know about Jesus is that my labor and delivery nurse helped bring him into this world.
Jesus’ Spanish-speaking mother (let’s just call her Maria for the sake of simplicity) arrived at Good Samaritan a few hours after I did, but instead of proceeding directly to the 6th floor maternity ward, she came into the hospital’s emergency room entrance seven floors below.
Maria arrived in what is termed “full fetal distress,” her baby’s cord wrapped around its neck. The E.R. appealed to the maternity ward to send a nurse stat to assist. My nurse entered the room, gave me a critical once over and announced, “You’re not having this baby anytime soon, so I think I’ll go help.” It wasn’t a question. And besides, my husband was there—albeit asleep in the corner—and my oldest sister, but never mind her as she soon chose to leave as well. My nurse then disappeared for 45 minutes to the E.R. to help Maria.
A lot can happen in three quarters of an hour. A life can change, irrevocably and unspeakably, pulling every other life, however tenuously connected, in the same uncharted direction.
My child’s birth date was planned long in advance. Because of complications following my first birthing experience, I was under close supervision. My OB decided, and I agreed, to squeeze Casey’s birth into a Thursday morning slot so she could depart L.A. the next morning for a long weekend away. “We’ll crank up the pitocin,” she smiled, reassuring me that, because Thursday was the baby’s hypothetical due date, he should—according to medical science—come barreling down the vaginal canal just moments afterwards.
My husband, bedraggled after a night of editing his first feature film, slumbered peacefully in a green vinyl armchair; his head tilted back with his mouth closed in a tight line. Nearby, his glasses perched on top of It’s a Mad, Mad World, the video I had brought as a distraction, but that now lay on the table, still shiny in shrink-wrap. Feeling no pain thanks to Fentanyl and numb from the waist down, I was content to listen to the fetal heart monitor’s hypnotic ker-thump, ker-thump, ker-thump and watch dangling tubes and wires quiver gently overhead. The tracking devices that delivered information about my baby and me to the nurses’ station whirred and beeped. Feeling at peace, I lapsed into a trancelike state.
Only when the ker-thump stuttered did I startle from my torpor. All moisture evaporated from my mouth and throat as I realized the green line that had gone up with every ker and down with every thump was now flat.
“Honey,” I croaked in a whisper composed of only hot breath. My husband slumbered on. “Tim! Tim!” I shrieked in a cracked voice I didn’t recognize as mine. He awoke in a panic, knocking his glasses to the floor. While he scrambled frantically around trying to locate them, my eyes lighted on a big red button marked “Emergency” on the far side of my bed.
“Hit the button!” I gestured so frantically that the embedded IV needle tore the flesh of my forearm.
“What button?” he shouted back, putting on his glasses, unable to grasp what had transpired.
The baby’s heart monitor was silent yet my ears filled with the rushing roar of water. The room slipped into a timeless place where Tim, my bed and all the objects nearby seemed suspended in some kind of thick ether that muffled all emotion and softened edges so that one three-dimensional object blended into the next; a shadowy continuum devoid of emotion but filled with acute, aching awareness. Moments became hours if not lifetimes. Angels danced on the heads of pins, a thousand lotus petals opened, empires rose and fell as Tim—in slow motion—fought his way through the tangle of wires and the tubes, trying to reach that button, which seemed forever unreachable.
This is the story of a baby I call Jesus, who was born in a hospital fifteen and a half years ago. And another baby who struggled to be born, but was instead revived. My baby is the second one, pulled back from that light-filled tunnel by a roaring vacuum that sucked his still little body from mine; the little body that had grown weary from pushing and waiting for his mother’s body to respond by pushing back.
This is also the story of two mothers, one who had access to healthcare and another who didn’t. One who took home a healthy child and never knew about the woman seven floors up, the woman whose life was forever altered, as were the lives of all around her, by the birth of a child with disabilities, disabilities caused by lack of access to appropriate healthcare for Maria, who for lack of proper neo-natal care, wound up in the emergency room of the aptly named Good Samaritan Hospital at the exact same time my baby was slated to be born.
As painful as it is to relive this incident, I share it as a morality tale for those Americans who are Christian in name only. For all those high-minded moralists who are salivating at the possible repeal of the new federal law they sneeringly call Obamacare, I ask them if they would want this heartache in their family. Would they want to spend the first five years of their child or grandchild’s life frantically searching for the right therapy that will fix what cannot be fixed; scrambling for the cash to cover what insurance companies refuse to cover; and trying to keep a family together that is torn asunder by worry, pain, regrets and recriminations?
In October, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced grants of $727 million for 143 low-cost community health centers across the nation, funded by the Affordable Care Act. This will increase access to care for the working poor, for communities of immigrants and others who crowd our emergency rooms for no other reason other than there is no place else for them to go.
My child’s future and my family’s peace of mind were sacrificed for lack of healthcare in a community of people whose presence is tolerated as long as they clean our homes, mow our lawns, diaper our children, spread blacktop and wash our cars. But the true cost of having them here is our nation’s unspoken shame.
On the eve of what should be a time of gratitude, forgiveness and remembrance of a man who spent his life dispensing care to the poor, of counseling and giving hope to the wretched and the unwanted, do we want our legislators to take aim at a law that clearly and for all intents and purposes, would have the endorsement of Jesus?
(I leave it up to you to figure out which Jesus I’m talking about.)