I was still groggy when the nurse at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital held her up to me. I said to no one in particular, “She looks just like John,” referring to my 4-year-old nephew, who looked nothing like this tiny infant. I was too drugged up to even hold her then, and I dropped off to sleep at once.
Some time later, they wheeled in the clear plastic bassinet with the pink index card that said “female,” followed by my last name. A young nurse handed the swaddled bundle to me, and I got my first real look at her beautiful face, her perfect lips and round cheeks. I pressed my lips on those cheeks and took a deep breath. I had never felt so wonderful, so complete, so euphoric as I did at that moment.
I spent a few minutes unwrapping this little mummy that made me a mommy. My eyes filled with tears as I looked at her beauty, my husband at my side, he, too, crying with joy.
Melinda was born Oct. 25, 1975. I was just 19. Those first few days were a whirlwind of emotion. I had many visitors, many gifts, much laughter. When I was surrounded by family and friends I felt elated, but on the second evening, when everyone went home, I suddenly was filled with a deep sadness. I cried quietly in my bed. Perhaps it was a touch of postpartum depression, or perhaps it was just a taste of another reality.
I had a roommate in the hospital who had given birth just before me. The young woman, whose name I do not recall, also had a baby girl, also her first child.
We chatted briefly. While my noisy family gathered around my bed, she sat quietly alone in hers. During our brief time sharing the room, she never had a visitor. She received no gifts. At one point, she asked whether I had a rocking chair. My best friend, Chris, who also had been the maid of honor at my wedding, had given me a beautiful rocking chair at my baby shower. Before I could tell her, the other woman said, “I wish I had a rocking chair to rock my baby girl.”
This new mom seemed to be alone in the world, except for her new baby. I did not dare to ask about the baby’s father or where she lived. I could tell by the things she said that she had very little, and she was scared.
The hospital gave care packages to all new mothers — sample packs of formula, diapers, ointments and lotions. At my shower, I had received nearly everything I would need. My roommate was so excited about the care package, and all I could think was, this is all she has.
My husband and I were not well off. He had a decent job, but money was tight, yet I knew we were much better off than Charlene, so I offered her my care package.
She hesitated to answer, and I felt that perhaps I had offended her. Then she said, “Are you sure? You must need stuff too, right?”
I assured her that I had a lot already. She was so happy and grateful. I felt inadequate. It was no sacrifice for me to give up a gift I didn’t really need. I wished I could have done more for her. I hoped that she and her baby would be OK.
That was more than 40 years ago. I’ve thought of that new mother and her baby throughout the years. I’ve wondered how they fared in life.
In my 23 years as a case worker for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, I met many like her. Every time, I said a prayer of thanks for all I had been given. It was an accident of birth that brought me to a happy home in a country where all things are possible. My own children and grandchildren have never wanted for food or shelter. I think of her now in much the same way that I think of the Syrian refugees. War and terrorism have taken away all that they had, and they are left to start over with only care packages and the good will of others.
People are resilient, and I want to believe that my onetime hospital roommate is happily retired and perhaps, like me, enjoys time with her own child’s child. I hope that whatever circumstance left her to bear a child alone, her life turned into an opportunity for growth and prosperity. I know that not all stories have a happy ending, but I also know that happy endings are possible.
On this Mother’s Day, I send up a prayer for her and her family, and for all people who need a helping hand.
Reader Linda Clark Levering lives in Yaphank.