THE PROMISE

THE PROMISE

From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

The Promise

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.

George Santayana

There was a great deal of blood on the floor, and she just kept bleeding. Lamaze class never mentioned anything like this. Doc was cool as ice. A small-town obstetrician, he didn’t care much for chitchat. Oh, he was friendly enough, just not in the way we, expatriates from New York City, had envisioned a rural doctor to be.

This delivery was different, even for Doc. I could tell by the way he kept talking. There was no sense of panic that anyone listening in could hear, but the nurses, who had been by his side for more than twenty years, well, they were practically hysterical at the sound of Doc’s monotone voice just going on and on about how everything was all right.

Everything was not all right. I looked down at my wife, strapped into a torturous birthing position. All color had drained from her lips, lips I thought I knew so well after all these years. I cursed myself. After all, it was I who had begged to have a child. She looked at me with noncommittal eyes. These were not the eyes I saw flashing intense pain and a plea for help at me earlier, as our baby refused to come out, forcing her through eleven hours of labor.

With one final gasp and a terrifying scream that made me think the baby would come flying out of my wife’s mouth, our daughter came into the world. Whenever I wonder why she’s such a loud child, I think back to what she must have heard and gone through as she fought her mom, trying to ignore the eviction notice on her warm, quiet womb.

“Everything is going to be okay,” the nurses kept telling me as I stood by my wife’s side. Thinking it best not to lie to her as well, I told her jokes:

“Do eleven toes run in your side of the family?”

She forced a smile, trying to get me to calm down, seeing the near panic on my face; I was unable, as usual, to hide my emotions from her.

“Hey, be patient. They haven’t taken the other one out yet. Didn’t I tell you we were having twins?”

This wasn’t far from the truth. A part of her placenta had remained inside, preventing her womb from sealing up properly, making for a spectacular mess. I had seen the placenta come out, and it seemed almost as big as our baby.

And what a baby she was. She didn’t scream, but immediately she started making a stuttering sound. She arrived a month early, but showed no signs of being a preemie. Bluish-purple and covered with a fine white membrane that reminded me for some reason of chicken fat, she looked my way for the longest time before turning back to the nurse who was cleaning her and trying to record her size with a tape measure, only to have to gently take it away from Lina, who had managed to close her little fingers around it.

“We have to take her to the OR,” said Doc. He finally stood up from the stool between my wife’s legs and addressed us both, a faint smile crossing his face, which made me very nervous. I reached down and kissed Lizy, tears streaming down my face. I thought I had seen her in her finest hour during the birth of our daughter, showing courage and strength I hadn’t imagined any human possessed.

I smiled as hard as I could. Her eyes came to life, eyes I had fallen so in love with years earlier and which lately I had begun to take for granted as we settled into the monotony of marriage. A soft glow returned to her for a moment as she reached up to caress my cheek, wiping the tears away and saying, “Don’t worry, sweetie. Go have a long talk with our daughter.”

As they wheeled her through the doors of the OR, I stood there paralyzed, the clean antiseptic smell of the place making me nauseous. I wanted more time with her. Just another minute to tell her the thousands of things I never got around to somehow, but I managed to yell out “I love you!” before she completely passed through the swinging doors. A nurse caught my arm and walked me over to the birthing room, where another nurse handed me my daughter, bundled up but stretching her neck and head back to get a better look at the world about her. Precious child. The nurse walked us to my wife’s room, encouraging me as she continued to guide me by the arm until I couldn’t hold it in any longer and broke down crying.

My daughter looked at me with intense black eyes—her mother’s eyes—as I sat down in the room to wait. Wait. I laid Lina down in the hospital bassinet and sat on the bed next to her, leaning close as we talked in private for the first time in eight months. It was then I made her a promise—a promise to be kind and gentle to her, a promise to be strong like she was after having gone through so much to get here. We talked about her mom, and how she would be right back, and how there was no need to worry. This time, as I heard myself say it, I actually believed the words, and I watched and listened to my baby making her stuttering sounds, gripping my index finger tightly.

I made the same promise to her mother years ago. She looked long and hard at me after I proposed, leaving me there on the cool terra cotta floor of the rooftop bistro, waiting. She cocked her head ever so slightly, squinting hard, something she did when she was thinking with her heart, a heart that was patient and methodical from a life lived with disappointment.

“How will you treat me?” she asked quietly. It could have been her mom or grandmother asking as it seemed that the men ran out on all the women in her family.

“With kindness and gentle hands,” I said.

It was enough for the moment.

Time stopped hounding me in that little hospital room as I held my daughter, rocking her back and forth as she yawned, closed her eyes and fell asleep, with one hand holding on to my finger.

The door opened and Doc walked in, smiling. I tried to get up, but he motioned me down.

“She’s fine. Recovering well and should be back up in an hour. The bleeding has stopped, and it’s just a matter of letting her regain her strength for a few days before she can go home.”

I thanked him with such enthusiasm that the man blushed. He turned, hesitating a moment at the door as if he had forgotten to say something, but instead an enormous smile took over his face as he wished us a good night.

I felt a sudden release and draining of energy, as if my body would crumble, thinking of my family and how hard I would work to keep the promise that held up my world.

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