It’s So Empty
Where are the people?
The waiting room is totally empty and it’s already 8:30 a.m. It’s only me and signs that say, “PLEASE DO NOT SIT HERE” on every two out of three chairs.
I choose the seat closest to the electrical outlet to keep my phone charged. I don’t want to run out of juice.
I’m expecting a very important call. It will come from the other side of the heavy door that separates this Labor and Delivery waiting room from the actual Labor and Delivery birthing room.
My baby girl is in there. Jenna is having her first baby. My first grandson.
But I’m out here alone.
In the Old Days . . .
It’s not supposed to be this way. Our big family has a tradition of piling into waiting rooms whenever a new baby is on the way.
We take up every available seat, crowding the chairs together to keep the party going as we await news of the pending birth. We have snacks. We laugh. We visit. Way back in the day, we sometimes even gathered in the hospital hallway with our ears to the delivery room door, waiting to hear the first cry of a niece or nephew.
But there’s no big party today.
This is birth in the pandemic age.
The Designated Visitor
The clock ticks on. It’s now 11 a.m.
Only one lucky visitor will be allowed to see the baby after he arrives. As the mother’s mother, Jenna picked me to be the “designated visitor.” The previous night I’d reported in with the hospital doorman. He wrote my name on the list and gave me a name tag.
This morning they tell me that my husband Jeff can join me at least in the waiting room.
I’m waiting for him now.
He’s caught in heavy traffic and torrential rains somewhere between Birmingham and here. We hadn’t expected baby Henry to come three weeks early. We thought we had plenty of time. But the clock is ticking quickly now.
I look at my phone again. I want it to ring.
But I want the first ring to be from Jeff, saying he’s in the parking lot, not from Trey saying his son Henry has just been born.
I want Jeff to be with me when we get the good news. It doesn’t feel right to hear it alone.
Who Will Call First?
Someone opens the Labor & Delivery door from the inside. I turn. It’s 11:45 a.m.
It’s a hospital worker, but she has no news for me.
She asks if I’m waiting for a birth. She asks how it feels to be a grandmother. She says she is excited for me.
Her name is Annie. She’s 40ish, looks me in the eye when she talks, and has a Canadian accent. It’s been several months since I’ve had a long conversation with a stranger, even through our masks. It feels oddly normal in this abnormal time.
I return to my solitary waiting. It’s 12:43 p.m. Will Jeff make it on time?
My phone buzzes. I look at the screen.
It’s not Jeff.
It’s Trey. It’s a picture of my new grandson. He’s beautiful. Henry is here!
I cry. I’m happy!
But I’m also sad. Jeff didn’t make it in time. We miss this first moment together.
Behind the Next Door
The hospital sound system is playing its 30-second lullaby chime, a signal to everyone in the hospital that a new life has just entered our world.
I feel even more alone.
Until I hear footsteps. I look up.
It’s Annie. She’d heard the chimes, too, and knew they were mine. She congratulates me. I show her my new phone photo of our glorious baby Henry. She hands me tissues. She stays.
Silly me. I was never all alone. There is always a Designated Visitor behind the next door, even if it’s not who I expect. Thank you, God.
And thank you, Annie. I’ll always remember you, my new special friend who celebrated with me on the day Henry was born.
When have you felt alone during the pandemic? When have you felt community?
The rest of the story . . . Jeff rushed into the waiting room at 1:06 p.m. and together we rejoiced that our new grandson Henry was here and healthy and that Jenna was fine. Jeff didn’t get to go back to see Henry when I did at 2:23 p.m., but he did go to Chick-fil-A and bought us all chicken sandwiches, for which we were extremely grateful. (He got to see Henry two days later when Jenna and Trey made it home.)