When our baby arrives I am feeling a funny mix of elation and terror – what have we done? – and he is getting bluer and bluer as I wait for him to breathe. A nurse in pink scrubs fiddles with charts. My husband isn’t looking at me or our baby. Mostly he is looking green. The nurse, who should be paying more attention to the baby and less to my husband, turns to my husband and says, Do you want to cut the cord? No, he does not want to do that. Instead he faints right back into his napping chair, unconscious but the center of attention. Our baby starts to cry, and I am relieved beyond words to hear his voice, but something about his noises sounds wrong to me. Are those words I’m hearing?
Two more nurses in blue and yellow scrubs arrive to tend to my husband, who is mumbling nonsense. Yellow smirks at Pink. Another one for the ER? Blue brings the baby to me and settles him onto my chest. He is scrawny, pale, and beautiful. He has my husband’s ears, my nose, and a curly tuft of bright red hair, which belongs to no one. I do not want the nurses to take my husband down to the ER. I want him to stay with us so that he can see our baby. He can cut the cord if they just give him one more chance.
The baby is pretending to feed, but when the nurses’ backs are turned he peeks up at me and winks. What? I peer down for a better look. He turns his head back to my breast and latches on. He is remarkably good at this for a newborn. The umbilical cord is still attached, and no joke, it is horrifying, spiraling down from his belly like a pale, fleshy worm and twitching from time to time as if someone has stepped on it. Pink and Yellow are still cackling over my not-quite-conscious husband. I want to take his hand, but he is too far away.
The baby is warm and contented, resting with his bottom settled into the crook of my arm and his cheek pressed against my skin. He closes his eyes, opens them, looks at me. His whisper is quick as a swallow’s wing. Does he want to cut the cord? It is clear to me that my husband doesn’t want to do anything of the sort, but Pink reaches into her pocket and pulls out the biggest pair of scissors I have ever seen, far too big for this job. Or so I think until I look down and, lord, how that cord has grown. No worm now, it’s thick as my wrist.
Don’t look at the cord, I whisper to my husband, but he can’t hear me, and anyway, he can’t cut the cord without looking at, can he? And if he doesn’t cut it, they will take him down to the ER. I don’t want to let him go. More than anything I want him to stay with us and raise our baby with me. But I don’t think he can cut this thing. It’s still growing, throbbing as it twists around the base of my hospital bed and out the door into the hall. Maybe the baby can help? He has fallen asleep again, fat with new milk and colostrum. Does he know what a good father he has? The nurses are holding hands in a witchy circle around my husband, Pink still clutching her garden shears under one arm. They are murmuring ugly, harsh words. What the hell is going on? My husband still hasn’t woken up. Please, wake up.
Pink leaves the room and returns with a wheelchair. Oh, no. Blue and Yellow work their skinny arms beneath him and lift him into it. Wait, I shout, bring back the scissors! But I look at the cord and my god, it is writhing across the linoleum floor like a jungle snake in playroom pastels. Our baby sleeps through all of this wearing a wise man’s smile, but I know that I must wake him. Please baby, I whisper. Please help us. The cord is so strong now that it peels him from me and dangles him overhead like a toy prize at the end of a stick. I shout at the nurses again, but they don’t listen. They are wheeling my husband out the door.
Baby, we have to do something. I have to do something before I’ve lost you both. The elevator pings from the hallway, an icepick to my heart. I know that I am not supposed to move, and there is blood all over the place, blood oozing from me, but I scream through my medicated haze, heave myself to my knees, and leap impossibly to the narrowest part of the cord – not that narrow, I will tell you – where it emerges from my baby’s slick, distended belly. I grab on with both hands and bite down firmly as the cord goes crazy, whipping me back and forth across the hospital room like a flag in a gale force wind. The baby has curled tight around my neck and digs his fingers and toes into my hair like a monkey.
Don’t let go, he whispers. I don’t.