An Alien Named Maria

An Alien Named Maria

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

An Alien Named Maria

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

The Dalai Lama

It was indeed a dark, stormy night, much like a classic horror film, when I met Maria. Tropical storms often flooded our department with water and excess patients.

“Alien at the door! Alien at the door!” the hospital overhead paging system announced.

UFOs hadn’t landed. “Alien at the door” was the code used to announce the imminent arrival of an illegal alien to our OB department. Our visitor would probably be in very active labor and unable to speak English.

I worked as a nurse-midwife in a large inner-city hospital, which served primarily the poor and indigent. Most of our patients were young, poor, and frightened . . . especially of being deported.

To remain anonymous, the illegal immigrants developed a strange policy of literally dropping off their laboring family member at the emergency room entrance of the hospital. When a woman was in labor, someone borrowed the only working car in a neighborhood, then drove around the hospital perimeter in the junker car, trying to time the patient’s arrival to within minutes of the new baby’s delivery. Squealing around the circular drive to drop off their precious cargo, they hoped their timing was such that they were not caught—and the baby was.

I heard the overhead page again. “Alien at the door!”

Tonight was my turn, so I quickly donned the requisite blue gloves and ran for the elevator, expecting I would be delivering the baby, or at least the placenta,with in minutes.

The elevator door opened. I saw her eyes first: wide and dilated in pain and terror. These huge chocolate-colored orbs beckoned me to help. Long black hair glistened with raindrops and perspiration as she writhed on the hospital stretcher.

Clenched fists were rigid at her sides. I tried in my limited Spanish to ask her to relax her arm. Hospital policy required an IV before delivery, if possible. But she would not, or could not, relax. As I looked at her arm, I saw she clutched something in her left hand. It appeared metallic. I wondered if it were drugs or a weapon.

I stepped back to try a different approach.

“Mucho dolor?” I asked her. (Much pain?)

“Sí, sí!” she cried.

“Lo siento, Senora.” (I am sorry, ma’am.) “Agua?” I asked her. (Water?)

“Por favor.”

I handed her a small paper cup with cold water in it, but as she reached to accept it, a deep guttural sound escaped her lips.

I dropped the cup, but managed to catch a beautiful screaming baby girl. The universal journey of a life began for this new little one. I gently handed the baby to the now sobbing mother.

“Felicidades,” (Congratulations) I told her.

I patted the Cuban Madonna’s cheek and watched the awesome miracle again, as if for the first time.

All too quickly I heard the persistent overhead page and ran to the next emergent delivery.

The next day, I visited Maria’s room and learned more of her story. She had been born in Cuba, one of eleven children. Her family had saved money for almost ten years to send one of their members to Florida. When it came time to take the dangerous trip, they chose her because they wanted her unborn baby to be born in America. The handlers in Cuba charged $8,000 to ride on a makeshift raft made of Styrofoam and inner tubes. I could not imagine being pregnant and riding for three long nights on the open ocean with twenty other people on a 10x15-foot raft.

What in life is so desperate that one must escape at all costs? What hope lies within a woman who will do anything to provide a better life for her unborn child?

Instead of feeling angry or disgusted, I felt admiration for her bravery and dedication when she told me stories of persecution, confiscation, and even torture of her family members.

Sorrowfully, Maria related how badly Americans had treated her, criticizing her for laziness, or accusing her of trying to take advantage of American tax dollars. Maria was not lazy or selfish, but courageous, motivated, and self-sacrificing. Maria wanted what every mother wants: a safe and better life for her baby As I entered the hospital the next day, Maria was being wheeled out to the same circular driveway on which she’d been thrown out of a car only forty-eight hours earlier.

“Buena suerte,” I said. (Good luck.)

“Señora Doctor,” she called out to me. I was not a doctor, but she did not understand the difference between a midwife and a doctor. “Para usted,” she said (for you).

She reached inside the baby’s blanket and brought out a beautiful silver, fan-shaped brooch. I realized that it was the same metal object she had been clenching in her hand upon her arrival at the hospital.

In Spanish, Mana told me that her favorite aunt had given it to her. “I want you to have it,” she went on in Spanish.

“No!” I protested. “I cannot accept this.”

I could see in her eyes that it meant everything to her that I receive this gift.

She tried to explain her feelings to me. In English, it went something like this, “You were the first American to treat me with respect since I have been here. Wear it and do not forget. There are many other women like me. It is the hope of all women, not poor or rich, but all women, to sacrifice for their children. Do not despise the steps they take to move beyond their difficult circumstances. Tell them my story.”

And I have.

Cheryl Herndon

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