When I was pregnant with my second son, fifteen years ago, Damon was in the Air Force. That meant that all my maternity needs were covered through the government, and when the medical clinic on base couldn’t meet the demand of gestating women, we were sent off-base to a rather swanky clinic in the nearby town of Bedford, Massachusetts.
Here I was given an ultrasound and told we were 100% having a boy. I was disappointed, because I felt sick and nauseated and already had one lovable boy in my arms, and therefore dreamt of a girl. But a boy was brewing, and now he needed a name.
I returned to our home on base, and crawled into bed where I poured over every entry in my Baby Name book, hoping something would jump out at me. Nothing did. Weeks went by, but still I had no idea what to call our imminent arrival. Or where to put him. Our house was very small, and while Jacob had a nice room, I worried about putting a newborn in with him because our two-year-old’s nap and bedtime were sacrosanct. Keeping them operating smoothly was the key to everyone’s mental health.
So, Damon and I opted to put a crib for the new baby at the far end of our bowling-alley shaped bedroom. We had very little extra money, functioning as we did on one military salary, so I had to use my utmost creativity to dress-up the space. As our baby was due in December, I bought some bright blue material with candy canes and snowballs on it and thought, “At least his bedding will be happy and fun.” Soon afterwards I found a Mary Engelbreit card at the local Hallmark store. It was a little smiling elf, and the card read, E is for Elf. I put this card in a frame and hung it over the crib. Ta da! The ‘nursery’ was complete.
As October rolled into November, Damon and I agreed upon the name Jonathan for the new baby. This was a name I had always liked – I thought it conjured up a nice, smart, handsome man. Damon agreed to it because he liked the classic John. Then one day in late November, I took Jacob to the local play group on base, and two women arrived with newborn baby boys, both named Jonathan.
I drove home, weeping all the way. I promptly put Jacob down for a nap, then went to bed with ten Oreo cookies and two glasses of milk on a tray. I sat in bed and cried, all while shoving cookie after cookie into my mouth. I stared way down yonder at the far wall with the one little picture above the baby’s crib. “E is for Eli,” I repeated in my head, between sobs and bites, until I corrected myself and said, “No, it says E is for Elf.”
When Damon returned from work I told him about the myriad baby Jonathans. He shrugged. “It’s still a strong, nice name.” he said. “Who cares how many other people have it?” I told him one woman had spelled it Johnathan, while the other had opted for Jonathan. Which way did he want? Damon replied, “Johnathan needs to be spelled with the ‘h’ in John. Otherwise it looks wimpy.” I burst into tears again. “But I only like it without the extra ‘h’!” I wailed. “It looks ridiculous and clunky with both of them in there. Surely you see that?”
Of course he did not. Many arguments over the spelling of Jonathan ensued, with no clear winner. Eventually December rolled around, and I found myself back in bed, in hysterics, with constant Braxton-Hicks contractions but no baby. “E is for Eli,” I’d say in my head, peering over at the little Elf through those long, cold nights. Then I’d wonder why I kept misreading the card. “No, it’s E is for Elf. Our nameless Elf who will never arrive and has no bedroom of his own. Who has parents with no money and a freaked-out mom who eats way too many Oreos. A poor little boy baby with no adequate winter clothes and nothing fancy at all to welcome him into the world.”
Then one morning, the same morning I went to the hospital, I woke up and thought, “Duh! It’s been here all along. E is for Eli!” I asked Damon what he thought of the one name I had repeated a million times by mistake over the past few weeks. He said he liked it, a lot. “Can we spell it E-l-h-i?” he joked. As we drove to the hospital, I decided on Elijah for the birth certificate. Damon could have his ‘h’ at the end, after all. Plus, I’d conjured up the story of the biblical Elijah, rising to heaven in a golden chariot, and decided that maybe my baby’s allotment of ‘fancy’ would come later in life, with such a name.
Early the following morning we had ourselves a baby, in the comfort of Beth Israel Hospital in downtown Boston. Damon was able to sit in a comfortable chair and look out at the twinkling lights of Bean Town as we waited for our Christmas miracle to arrive. I was able to have an epidural and a bed, pillows and warmed blankets, then, finally, two lovely nurses and a female doctor who all exclaimed, “Look at his lips! They’re shaped like a heart!” the moment my baby was born.
Today, Eli is fifteen years old. We’re celebrating while decorating the house for Christmas, a holiday that celebrates the birth of a baby born to a mom with far less than I’ve complained of. As the story goes, this poor mother had to ride on a donkey, nine months pregnant…imagine! She had no tray full of Oreo’s, no candy cane blanket. She must have been worried mightily about the baby’s paternity and her mental health as well as the state of her marriage. She was young and inexperienced and probably trembled at the thought of giving birth, whether she’d live through the day. And as if that weren’t enough to fill her with terror, she and Joseph had no money, no home, no family or government able, or even willing, to help them.
Mary, if alive today, would most certainly be one of the 99%. She would have no health insurance, which in and of itself would cause money woes and hardship for years to come. This is what happens to women in similar circumstances in our country today, day after day after day: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/04/new-york-spider-us-private-healthcare .
Fifteen years ago I had a baby, and the military and the government took care of me, and him, and my husband, too. That’s one of the reasons people in this country join the military… for the benefits. When Damon was in the Air Force I received the best health care that the US had to offer. I hope that one day our country can offer that same level of care to all women who labor, even if they show up to the Emergency Room on a donkey.
Because wonderful things do emerge from unexpected places. Because E stands for empathy, as well as entitlement. Because every birth day should be a happy one, and cause for celebration. Because today, E is for Eli!