My oldest child was the 16th baby born that October night in San Diego. My husband and I lived nearby in Scripps Ranch, and my water broke at 7:30 that evening.
He had gone off to play basketball. I had complained about a persistent backache before he left. I had even gone to the doctor that day. He had prescribed a laxative. It turned out I was having labor in my back, an uncommon way for it to present itself. My oldest child has been anything but common (that’s another story).
So with husband gone and amniotic fluid gushing out of me, I called one of his co-workers to take me to the hospital. I had only lived in San Diego for ten months and didn’t know anyone else to call.
These were the days before cell phones. The co-worker’s wife called another co-worker’s wife, and they tracked down my husband, who had finished his game and had just ordered a burger at a bar with the guys.
I heard about that missed burger for years.
Excuse me! I am having a baby here!
My husband showed up at Sharp Hospital a few minutes after we did, looking mortified as he thanked his co-worker for giving me a ride, and as my labor pains made it hard for me to stand. Someone got me a wheelchair, and we did the paperwork between contractions.
Women on roll-away beds were lining the halls in the maternity ward. I was admitted to a room with a roommate, since I was fully insured. I realized later the women in the hallway were from Tijuana, the town across the border from San Diego.
The nurses were spread thin that evening with seventeen of us in labor. I asked to use the bathroom at one point, and the obese nurse said, “No, unless you want to have your baby in the toilet!”
After that I kept to myself. It took hours to get the job done. By 3:00 a.m., it was finally my turn to go to the delivery room. I was told I would be the 16th delivery that night.
The women in roll-away beds were not there when they wheeled me down the hallway. Where had they gone? Were they in the recovery wing? Were their babies in the nursery? I was too busy giving birth to find out.
The same toilet-shaming nurse assisted the chief of OB that early morning. I had asked for no drugs, and I pushed that baby out with the doctor’s coaching. My stinky-gym-clothes husband was still grumbling about his missed dinner right up to the end.
When our daughter came out, covered in dark hair just like her dad, the toilet nurse slapped an i.d. tag on her tiny little foot. For some reason I reached over to read it.
“Who is Kathy Stankowitz?” I asked.
The nurse went pale as the OB cleared his throat. Kathy Stankowitz would be the 17th woman to give birth that night. The nurse had jumped the gun.
The mix-up was fixed, and two days later my husband worried that we were taking home the wrong baby.
“She looks just like you,” I said.
Those other babies either went back to Mexico with their mothers or disappeared into the shadows to stay with relatives already in the country. The hospital didn’t keep track. Its job was to help the birth happen and keep both mother and child alive.
Those babies were the first Americans in their families. The fact that their mothers traveled north while nine months pregnant and maybe even in labor tells me something. Where they came from was either not safe, or there was no work. The mothers were gambling with their own lives to give their children a better one, by ensuring that they become U. S. citizens, born on U.S. soil.
When you think about it, that’s what our relatives did, too, no matter how many generations ago.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
I should’ve snapped a photo of that foot band with my phone. Oh, that’s right, cell phones weren’t around back then.
I looked up Kathy Stankowitz in the online white pages just now and found six pages with that name or variations there-of. Email me, Kathy, if you want to chat about our now-grown babies. I’d like to know if yours is a tall female who loves to dance. Even if so, mine is a keeper, so no swapsies.