The baby aquarium is my name for where the nurses weigh, and clean the babies. You know, that area with all the glass, and the little infants mostly sleeping inside as various medical professionals handle them.
Judy followed close behind the nurse, as Stella was wheeled into the aquarium. I didn’t fully understand why she seemed so attentive, but she soon explained it to me.
You see, she explained, sometimes they switch the babies, either by accident or on purpose. And, being southern, she had a fairly gruesome story on tap to make me extra worried. This trait is something I joke about with my wife and in-laws: they love tales of woe, and horror, even as they pretend to hate them. But I have never watched so many cable TV shows about senior proms gone horribly wrong, haunted nursery schools, and unsolved animal murders as the during the time I have spent in their presence. The rest of the time they watch cooking shows.
Here is the gruesome story, though. My forgiveness requested in advance from my mother-in-law if I’ve muddled some details.
“There was this pregnant woman, you see, and this other woman murdered her, cut open her stomach and stole her baby,” she said. “She’d stalked her, and the worst part is, she had befriended the pregnant woman!”
So armed with such details I, of course, paid extra, extra close attention to as these suddenly much more suspicious nurses and doctors worked their voodoo magic from behind their plate glass window.
Of course, we still also beamed with pride. The first thing the staff did was sponge her off, then they dried her, and then started to weigh her; 7 lbs. 1 oz. Right on. The nurse looked, in my opinion, rather taken with Stella, and turned to us and smiled, raising a thumb’s up in our direction.
After that they put some identification tags on her ankle, in the baby version of those the ID bracelets they make prisoners wear on civilian leave. Then a doctor walked by, stuck a rubber-gloved finger in her mouth, and watched approvingly as she sucked. After that she was put in a bassinet right in front of us, and looked in our general direction. Although both Judy and I both knew that baby’s eyes don’t really work all that well in the first few weeks, we still felt quite pleased that she kept on looking in our direction.
Then Stella passed out. Eventually Judy went back downstairs to get back to her daughter, but I stayed at the window, watching my sleeping baby.
Soon a larger, much fatter baby was being washed behind Stella. I mean, this baby was fat! He looked kind of like a shar-pei dog, that Asian dog with all the fat rolls? He had rolls on his arms, and a round, bullet-shaped head. He had black hair, and his eyes were little slits. Actually he looked kind of adorable, even if I felt for the mother that had to push that one out.
To my right a doctor, in full surgical scrubs, stood, looking at the little boy. The doctor was fairly tall, with droopy eyes, and dark hair as well.
“Wow, that’s a big boy over there,” I said, making conversation.
“Yeah, 9 lbs. 6 ounces,” he said.
Man! Stella was over two pounds less and getting her out was an ordeal. I can only imagine.
I turned to the doctor again.
“Yeah, that’s a chunky monkey over there!”
We stood in silence looking at our respective babies for a few moments. Then I looked more closely at the doctor, and at the baby. Black hair, check. Droopy eyes, check. General fatness, check. Uh-oh.
We chatted a little. It turns out that his wife had had a C-section for the Chunky Monkey, although I didn’t ask what the extenuating circumstances were; this explained why he wore scrubs. I reddened, feeling pretty bad that I had basically insulted this guy’s new baby just a few moments after it was born. But he was on such a high, smiling through the glass at his new child that he didn’t seem bothered.
I, of course, continued to stare through the glass too. Partly out of adoration, partly out of stark terror that somehow someone will try to steal my new baby.
Eventually a doctor looked her over, and signaled me to go around a corner and speak to him.
“Congratulations,” he said, extending a hand. The doctor was a shortish man, with sharp eyes, and salt-and-pepper hair. “That’s a beautiful baby! Good work!”
I didn’t have much to say to this, as it hadn’t felt like work at the time. But I took the compliment in the spirit it was given.
The doctor handed me a card, and was very complimentary about the baby, saying that she was in perfect health, and her limbs and proportions were in the top 25% of some obscure baby-metric that I hadn’t heard of. I don’t know if this is what all doctors say to new parents, but he seemed sincere. Needless to say it made me favorably disposed to him. Then he handed me the card for his pediatric practice, and was on his way.
I continued to stand at the window for as long as I could, then I finally steeled up my nerves to walk to the desk of the aquarium, and find out what’s next.
“We’re going to keep her here for just a little while longer,” the nurse said. “We are going to examine her more, and do a few more tests. Then we will bring her to your room.”
“But how long will it take?”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll get her to you soon.”
Reluctantly, then, I turned away and walked back to my wife.