The Seat in the Window
By Arlene Uslander
On the day I started my eighth month of pregnancya very difficult pregnancy that necessitated staying in bed most of the timeI was examined by my obstetrician, who gave me such a good report that my mother and I spent the afternoon picking out a layette. Tired from the shopping expedition, I lay down for a nap at my mother's house. When I woke up, I felt terrible pains in my abdomen, and as I stepped out of bed, saw that I was bleeding. My mother immediately called a taxi (that was before the days of 911) and took me to the hospital.
The baby, born by C-section, was a girl. I was told that she was perfect, but weighed only three pounds ("the size of a chicken," an insensitive neighbor remarked when she heard about the baby). I also was told that because she weighed so little, her chances of survival were only fifty-fifty. I couldn't see the baby yet because she was in an incubator, and I was too weak from my surgery and loss of blood to be wheeled to the nursery. I could only imagine what she looked like. But my husband had seen her, and he said she was beautiful.
During my second day in the hospital, my obstetrician told me the baby was "holding her own." But that night, I awakened from a deep sleep and heard a nurse say something that sounded like "The Uslander baby." That was all I heard, but something in the tone of her voice made me suspect that what I had been dreading so much had happened.
The following morning, nurses flitted back and forth in my room. They all asked how I was feeling, but not one of them said a word to me about my baby. And I was afraid to ask. The phone, that had been ringing continuously the day before, was ominously silent. There was no sign of my doctor.
At eleven o'clock, my cousin's husband, Bob, an intern at the hospital, came into my room and pulled up a chair beside my bed. He took my hand and said, "I'm so sorry. She was a real fighter, but she was just too little to make it. Her tiny lungs gave out."
I didn't say a word, but from what Bob saw in my eyes, he realized that I hadn't been told. "Wasn't Dr. Reynolds in to see you?" he asked, an astonished look on his face.
I shook my head, no.
Bob took me in his arms and held me. My husband walked in crying. I couldn't cry. I just listened numbly as Bob and my husband angrily discussed the fact that my doctor had neglected to tell me that the baby had stopped breathing sometime around 2:00 a.m.
Nothing seemed real to me that day. Friends and relatives who had heard the news started calling to console me, and I spoke to them easily and rationally. I was still in shock. Thanks to a sleeping pill, I even slept through the night.
But on the following day, the grief began to grip me like a shroud. Though in a private room, I was still on the maternity floor. Through the open door, I kept seeing nurses bringing babies to their mothers to be fed. When the closet door opened, I saw the brown maternity suit I had worn to the hospital. I couldn't bear to look at it! As the day wore on, I felt worse and worse. I kept visualizing the room my husband had painted pale yellow for the baby. I kept seeing the white baby furniture, and the tiny little clothes my mother and I had picked out only a few days before.
During dinnertime, I was alone in my room. My husband had gone down to the cafeteria for a sandwich, and an orderly had left my dinner tray, which I hadn't touched. It was dark outside, and it seemed even darker inside. I started feeling very tense, agitated, as though all my nerves were standing on end. The idea of going home and seeing that empty bedroom; spending days alone in the house (having given up my teaching job to be a full-time mother), and perhaps worst of all, the thought of becoming pregnant again, and possibly going through this terrible nightmare again, filled me with absolute panic! I kept staring at the partially open window, and I broke out in a cold, sickening sweat. The open window was beckoning me.
Suddenly, the door opened. A good looking young man called me by name and asked if he could come in. I didn't recognize him at first. Then I realized who he was, a rabbi by the name of Richard Hirsch, who was a good friend of my father-in-law's. I assumed that he had been sent on an official mission, to talk to me about the death of my baby. But then he explained that his wife was in a room down the hall. She had given birth to a boy the day before. Richard had heard my name mentioned by someone visiting another patient, and he had inquired about me at the nurses' station.
Richard walked into my room and sat down on the window seat. "Are you cold?" he asked.
I nodded, and he reached up and closed the window. He stayed for about twenty minutes, telling me how sorry he was to hear about my baby. He said that his wife had lost two babies before finally giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
He told me how thankful my husband and family must be that I was all right, because, apparently, my life had been in danger, too. And he assured me that time would ease the pain, and that like he and his wife, my husband and I would have a babyperhaps many babies.
When Richard left, I suddenly felt much calmer. And I finally criednot so much for myself and my husband, or for my parents or my husband's parents, but for the tiny baby who had fought to stay alive, but "just couldn't make it." Something in Richard's eyes, and voicein the soft, gentle touch of his hands on mine when he said goodbyefinally allowed me to cry.
That was many years ago. I eventually gave birth to two wonderful sons, and now have three beautiful grandchildren. And yet, if not for that timely visit from the young rabbi, those sons and their children might not be here today.
Rabbi Richard Hirsch now lives in Israel. A friend told me that he was in town. "Do you remember him?" she asked me.
"Oh, yes," I said. "I remember him well." What I didn't tell her was that I will never forget how he sat down on the window seat in my hospital room and then closed the window. What I didn't tell her is that I have never gotten over the feeling that the young rabbi's appearance in my room that night was a case of more than someone just happening to be in the right place at the right time. I believe that Rabbi Hirsch was sent to be with me that night.
Note: 40 years after Rabbi Hirsch visited me in my hospital room, I was recently able to contact him in Israel, where he serves as Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Department for the FSU, Baltic States and Eastern Europe, to tell him that I wanted to send him this book so that he could read the story about himself. He was amazed and very touched to think that he had unknowingly played such an important role in my life so many years ago.
Reprinted from The Simple Touch of Fate, Real People; Real Stories, compiled and co-edited by Arlene Uslander and Brenda Warneka. (iUniverse, December 2003). The book can be purchased on www. Amazon.com and other online bookstores, or by calling the publisher's toll free number, 877-288-4737.
Arlene Uslander is the author of 14 non-fiction books and is an award-winning journalist. Her co-editor, Brenda Warneka, is an attorney and author of articles on legal topics, travel and human interest. Because of Fate, they met on the Internet.
from the June 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine