You were conceived at the Honeymoon Hilton in Bensalem, PA, and your cells began dividing on the ride to Quebec. By the time we boarded the train back to Trenton, I just knew.
Nonetheless, your existence was officially confirmed by Bunny, who got me a free pregnancy test at Lower Bucks Hospital during her midnight shift. I was holding the baby-blue push-button phone on my lap, waiting for it to ring. “Congratulations,” she said in her hospital operator voice. I was transformed, and the joy felt almost forbidden – nothing like the first time someone told my teenage self I was going to have a baby.
I’d be several months into my 20s by the time you were born.
It might have been the very next day when I was making my bed, radio on, and “Danny’s Song” came on. The words made me sit down on the bed, “Pisces Virgo rising is a very good sign, Strong and kind, And the little boy is mine.” That was how I knew you’d be a boy, as illogical as it all seems now.
Not long before your birth, Dad and I – in search of our better selves, and a little redemption – went to a prayer meeting your grandmother enjoyed. The pastor saw us sitting near the front and asked if he could pray for our unborn baby. He put his arm around Dad and placed a hand on my belly, and everyone in the room bowed their heads. He prayed aloud. I don’t remember the words exactly, but I remember him saying that you would be a blessing to us, and to the world, and that God had great things in store for you. It sounded right, and it felt like an insurance policy, or maybe a transaction with God. In return for seeking him out, he would make sure that you would be OK in the world.
I deliberately selected the most progressive obstetrician I could find. He believed in gentle birth. He was building a birthing center in Yardley, and it was supposed to be ready in early 1980. Just in time.
Your “due date” was Leap Day, but you weren’t ready to make the leap. At my check-up that week, the doctor looked at me and said, “We can be patient a little longer,” and so we waited. Two false alarms brought us to the birthing center in the middle of the night – driven by Dad’s parents, because we didn’t even have a car of our own yet – and the doctor’s staff arriving with supplies, since the birthing center wasn’t quite ready.
But the third time was a charm – we got there around dinner time, me and Dad, your grandparents, and Aunt Jean, and we settled in. Dad was able to keep his mind off things by watching “M.A.S.H.” which was on from 9-9:30. (Trivia – it was Episode 193, “Back Pay,“) and the crescendo of my labor kicked in just as the show wrapped up. You were born within the hour.
Ten days “late,” on your own terms – right on time.
The miracle of birth, as seen from my vantage point, included the look on Grandmom Robidoux’s face, mother of eight, having for the first time the opportunity to witness a birth. And it included the intensity on my sister’s face, who was holding the mirror so I could see it, too. And it was the magic of the moment as the midwife laid you across my belly, umbilical cord still tethering us, and your 10 tiny fingers splayed as you filled your lungs for the very first time with oxygen and sent it back out into the universe, a cry for a safety net in a world where gravity was taking over from the security of your personal baby pool.
I reached for your hand and you clutched my index finger with all your strength. Our eyes locked. I swear, you smiled. You stopped crying as if you’d found what had been lost, and the tears of instinctive love came to me. I looked at Dad and realized the name we’d settled on, and the reasons why, we’re out the window.
After nine months of deliberation, we’d settled on your name, Neil, a Gaelic name with Viking roots that made its way to popular favor in the states by way of Scotland and Wales, the land of your mother’s mother’s people. A name shared by the first earthling to step on the moon. It means champion. How could you choose a better name for a son?
“Let’s name him after you,” I gushed to Dad, who had no choice but to nod in the affirmative after what he’d just experienced. James, a form of Jacob, means supplanter, and that is how your double identity was born. James supplanted Neil, although I never intended to call you Jimmy. In fact, we’d thoroughly discussed and agreed that we weren’t going to make you a junior. We wanted you to be your own person, have your own identity, be a champion.
But all that was lost to the moment when I saw my beautiful son and somehow realized that there would always be some part of you, as a boy, that I might not fully understand. You belonged to us, and for all the internal labor I contributed to nourishing you and bringing you into this world, we were suddenly two completely different beings.
As soon as the cord was cut, they wrapped you in a thin blue blanket and handed you to Dad, who gently slipped you into a warm bath. Your whole body relaxed – your arms extended toward the ends of the earth as he cradled you, returning you to a familiar baby pool. Your legs floated, and your unusually beautiful feet splashed from water to air and back, easing you into your new reality. You didn’t make a sound.
By morning, the ground outside was covered with a layer of snow. Dad walked to Wawa to gather some provisions – maybe a banana and some coffee. And a short time later, we were taking you out into the world, headed for home. No hospital bureaucracy. No needle pricks or blood tests. No strangers taking you from my arms and checking for defects. The perfection of the experience would never be replicated for me.
Thirty-eight years later, it has all been foretold. You are a Pisces [Gemini rising] strong and kind. You are blessed, and you are a blessing. You are a champion. You are a junior, but you are uniquely you. Water soothes your soul. My sense of connection to you is natural, concentric, like the miraculous cord of life that sustained you and joined us as one – something you will never fully understand because of our chromosomal differences. You are a man who has had to learn to live his life on his own terms – without a constant hand to hold in times of uncertainty, without your father’s cradling embrace to ease you into a familiar place.
The forces that brought us together have created a natural space between us. That is the truth of a boy’s life. That is the beauty of what love between two people has wrought, two people who are fortunate to create a miracle and see the promise of the future in the eyes of a child, a unique being who reflects the best of both of them.
Happy Birth Day to you, to me, to us.