The sound of the baby crying had been going on for hours. His intense screams filled the otherwise quiet hallways of Austin General Hospital. Located on the WestSide of Chicago in the rapidly gentrifying community of West Austin; Austin General or A.G. as it was nicknamed by the staff had quickly gained a reputation as “the place” to give birth in all of the Chicagoland area.
The nursery was the center hub of the third floor maternity ward. Its waist-to-ceiling clear glass windows topped a bow- shaped viewing area that allowed parents and visitors to observe the infants and staff at all times. The walls inside were tinted in the softest of green color so that they radiated both warmth and calm to those who beheld it. The interior space beneath the window area was configured to hold a maximum of six of the specially designed Lucite baby bassinets. Each bassinet was embossed with the A.G. signature crest—a physician with outstretched hands holding a naked newborn baby while the mother reclining in bed reaches out her arms to embrace the newborn.
Normally the nursery was filled with at least four infants. But tonight in a rare moment of delivery room slowdown, the only occupant was a newborn baby boy. Swaddled in receiving blankets, wearing a sky blue skullcap and barely six-hours-old, he had done a stellar job of making his presence known to anyone entering the floor.
Nurse Myra Lipscomb, the head nurse in charge for the evening had done everything she could think of to calm down the fretful baby. With over thirty years of nursing experience—the last twenty spent specializing in neonatal nursing; rarely had she encountered a baby like this one. Everything she did seemed to bring out deeper and louder screams from his tiny lungs. “Wah….wah…wah!”
Nurse Myra glanced down at her watch and saw that she still had four hours to go before her twelve hour shift ended. As usual, she was ensconced in her traditional uniform of a stiffly starched white nurse’s uniform that was cinched at the waist by a fitted waistband, a matching white nurse’s hat with a bright red cross emblazoned across the front, sturdy white leather lace-up shoes, and corresponding white silk stockings. Anyone who saw her for the first time immediately felt like they had been transported back to the 1960s. Nurse Myra represented the last of a dying breed of nurses who believed that her traditional uniform gave off a more professional aura than the smocks and pants worn by her younger colleagues. She glanced at her reflection in the nursery window and admired what she saw. Her average height and build gave her an authoritative presence while her shoulder length black hair, streaked with gray, and pulled back into a neat bun at the nape of her neck added to her matronly appeal.
Nurse Myra went down her mental list of everything she could think of to soothe a hard to please infant. She changed his diaper expecting that a clean, dry bottom would soothe the fussy child—yet he continued to cry. “Wah….wah…wah!” She picked him up positive that the movement from a walk around the empty nursery would pacify the baby—but his whimpers continued. “Wah….wah…wah!” Spying the huge wooden rocking chair tucked into a corner, she strolled to it, convinced that the gentle sway of the chair’s movement along with the baby’s body pressed firmly against her ample bosom would do the trick and finally quiet down the fussy infant.
Nurse Myra quickly settled down onto the fluffy white- cushioned rocking chair and nestled the frazzled infant against her chest. She proceeded to rock to and fro using the hard leather soles of her sturdy shoes to create a steady rhythm and pattern that should have hypnotized the newborn baby boy into a calm slumber. Only this baby didn’t fall asleep. Nor did his screams subside. Rather all her efforts to calm him down seemed to do little more than fuel his ability to cry even louder. “Wah….wah…wah!” The baby’s tiny face contorted and redden as he used all of his strength to let out the kind of shrieks that were able to penetrate Nurse Myra’s normal calm. My God, I think I’ve finally met the one child who can get on my last nerves, Myra thought to herself.
She placed the infant on the changing table and redid his blankets. She swaddled him in an even tighter cocoon of hospital receiving blankets hoping that they would simulate the confinement he had experienced in his mother’s womb and therefore still his cries. His shrieks subsided and Nurse Myra congratulated herself for a job well done. But her self-accolades were premature. With a deep intake of air, the baby hollered even louder, his squeals irritating her eardrums like someone running their nails across a chalkboard. “Wah….wah…wah!”
Nurse Myra paused to ponder at the newborn. Never in all of her years of working in a hospital nursery had she encountered a baby who could cry with such continuing vigor. Most infants whom she allowed to shriek would eventually grow weary and fall asleep; their tiny bodies spent from not only having endured the birthing process, but their lungs usually weren’t strong enough to allow them to spend hour after hour screaming relentlessly. This new baby was different. The more he screamed, the more energy he generated. “Wah….wah…wah!”
Eugene Adam Walsh, Jr. was born at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24, 1985. His entrance into the world had been a normal childbirth delivery for Dr. Myles Kelvyn, the preeminent neonatal/OB-GYN/fertility specialist. Dr. Kelvyn had purchased the once shuttered Austin General Hospital overlooking Columbus Park and brought it and the surrounding neighborhood back to life as he focused on his practice involving in-vitro fertilization, problem pregnancies, and neonatal surgery.
As Austin General began to make a name for itself under the auspices of Dr. Kelvyn, so did the surrounding community of West Austin. The reopening of the hospital had signaled a permanent economic rebirth for the area. The gentrifying West Austin community not only attracted the staff members of A.G. to live there, it also attracted the couples who were patients of Dr. Myles Kelvyn. Some of them were currently under treatment by him as part of his infertility clinic. Others having already had their first child opted to live near the hospital not only in support of Dr. Kelvyn’s work, but also in anticipation of being close by as they planned on future pregnancies. Still others just wanted to live in West Austin and help it to become another newly recognized community within the boundaries of an already established neighborhood as defined by the City of Chicago.
All of the above were the reasons that Rhonda and Eugene Walsh, Sr. had moved to West Austin. Both of them were in their late thirties. They met while attending the University of Illinois - Chicago Circle Campus where both had been enrolled in the newly established engineering program for minority students. Rhonda had pursued a degree in Chemical Engineering while Eugene went after one in Nuclear Engineering. They had married shortly after they had graduated from college and now thirteen years later, after struggling for over a decade for Rhonda to become pregnant, she had just given birth to their first child.
Nurse Myra’s patience with the screaming child had finally reached her breaking point. Exhausted after trying every trick in her book to get the tiny baby to stop screaming, she released the brakes on his hospital bassinette and pushed it out of the nursery and towards the room where his mother was peacefully napping. The chart on his bed read that he was to be breastfed. The first time he had nursed had been just over three hours ago. He had suckled for only a few minutes. He sucked just long enough to get the fuel he needed to revitalize his energy and then his screams began again, piercing the silence with a steady stream of “Wah….wah…wah!”
Rhonda was resting fitfully in her private hospital room after her exhausting labor and delivery. She had labored for two full days while her son took what she termed “the scenic tour delivery route.”
Dr. Kelvyn’s belief in “natural” childbirth was just one of the reasons so many women who had experienced problem pregnancies had chosen to utilize his clinic and then subsequently deliver at his hospital. A.G. took great pride that the patients chose it over the various other options available in Chicago. Under Dr. Kelvyn’s guidance, there weren’t any shots to be given to relieve the pain. Nor was there any medication given to hurry up the birthing process. Rather, there was soft music; rooms that looked like fancy hotel suites and for those that wanted; a warm water bath where the woman could stand while giving birth.
Nurse Myra pushed open the door to Rhonda’s hospital room. As the sounds of her son’s wails burst into the room, Rhonda too, began to tear. She had waited thirty-seven years to have a child and her son sounded like he had waited just as long to get his “scream on.” The sounds of wah….wah…wah filled the room as Nurse Myra maneuvered the clear bassinette next to Rhonda’s bed. The first thought that came to Rhonda’s mind was that the room had to be soundproof. Because until the door opened, she had existed in a world of comforting silence punctuated only by the occasional soft snores of her husband Eugene as he nodded in the reclining chair by the window.
“I think he wants to eat,” Nurse Myra said while gently lifting the crying baby from his bed. “He’s been crying for hours and hasn’t stopped. His cries have gone from soft whimpers to all out screams. I have personally examined him and can’t find anything physically wrong with him!” “Wah….wah…wah!"
Rhonda reached out and took her son from the nurse’s hands. Eugene, Jr. or Gene as she and her husband had already decided to call him had taken most of his features from Rhonda. He was “light-skin” and based upon his ear coloring, would probably not darken much even though Eugene, Sr. was a “chocolate” brother. Rhonda had yet to see his eyes, but assumed that they would probably be dark brown like her own. Gene was born with a full head of dark curly hair which was now hidden beneath the sky-blue colored skullcap all the male babies wore while in the nursery.
Rhonda turned so she could position herself on her side. She cradled the whimpering baby in her left arm and offered him her left breast. Gene’s screams had awakened his father Eugene who now stood by the bed watching as his son was situated to allow him to nurse comfortably.
Rhonda lifted her left nipple for the baby to suckle. Eugene smiled at the sight and whispered down to his son, “Eat hardily, my son. That used to be my favorite breast. I’m only allowing you to use it temporarily!”
Rhonda smiled back up at her husband. She was pleased when Gene quieted down and took her breast in his mouth and began to nurse. A peaceful calm settled over the room. Eugene took in the scene and thought that Rhonda and Gene looked like they could be poising as models for a modern day painting of Madonna and Child.
Gene’s eyes were closed as he nurse. Rhonda looked down at her son and basked in the glow of love she felt for him because of the miracle of his birth. This was the child she and Eugene had tried for years to conceive. She felt a rush of emotions come over her as she watched him nurse intently. Gene nursed greedily and his actions only gave off the impression that he wanted to get it all down before the breast would be taken away. Rhonda pushed the skullcap away from his face so she could gently stroke his head while whispering soothing words of love and comfort to him. Eugene leaned over the bed and reflected on both the enormity of seeing a child he had created along with the knowledge that his life would now be forever changed because he had a son to raise.
Gene nursed until the milk flowed from his mouth and ran down Rhonda breast. He released her nipple and Rhonda held him across her shoulder and began to rub his back to help him burp. Gene let out a small “urp” sound and then drew a deep breath and began to howl even louder than before. “Wah….wah…wah!” His face turned a crimson red and he spat up half the milk he had ingested. Rhonda like Nurse Myra before her tried everything she could do to calm Gene down. Nothing was working.
“Give me my son. He probably just wants his daddy,” Eugene said reaching to pick up his child. Eugene held the baby close and began to talk to him. But all Gene did was cry even louder.
“Wah….wah…..wah,” was the constant retort from Gene to anything that Eugene said or tried. Eugene was both physically and mentally on edge. He had been on call with his job even while at the hospital for the past forty-eight hours. He had spent half the night alternating between taking calls from the job and coaching Rhonda as she labored away. Eugene handed the baby back to Rhonda and told her he couldn’t deal with it. He was too tired and exhausted.
“You can’t deal with it? You can’t deal with our son? He’s not even twenty four hours old! What am I to do? This baby hates us!” Rhonda lamented in response to her husband’s acknowledgment. “Wah….wah…wah!,” was Gene’s response to his father’s statement.
Rhonda immediately feared what life would be like with a child who literally cried all day and night. Eugene had promised to take time off from work to help out at home but that was a reality Rhonda hadn’t put much stock in. Already she had watched her husband continue to take calls and check his beeper because his job was experiencing an if-it-can-go-wrong-it-will-go-wrong crisis.
After fifteen additional minutes of Gene’s incessant crying, Rhonda couldn’t take it anymore either. She pressed the call button for the nurse to return and take Gene back to the nursery. Nurse Myra saw the light for Rhonda’s room come on. She was in the process of prepping for a new arrival to come into the nursery at any moment and now she had to retrieve Gene from his mother. She briefly considered ignoring the call button, but paused and had second thoughts. Patients at Austin General paid top dollar for medical services and her job meant more to her than having to deal with a screaming baby for a couple of more hours until her shift ended.
Nurse Myra quickly responded to the call, retrieved Gene, and rolled him in his bassinet back to the nursery as he howled the entire way. “Wah….wah…wah!” She situated Gene’s bassinet next to the empty spot where the incoming new baby’s bassinet would soon be located. That new baby was due in the nursery any second now. Nurse Myra glanced up at the exact moment the nursery room’s door swung open to see the delivery room nurse wheeling in the new charge.
Nurse Myra took a glimpse down and saw that the new baby was a little girl. Her dark walnut brown skin contrasted against the bubble gum pink skullcap she wore and the soft white of the receiving blankets she was swaddled in. Nurse Myra picked up the beautiful newborn and quickly went about her duties of weighing and measuring the child. With every touch of her hands against the newborn baby’s skin, the young girl cooed and smiled, gurgled and grinned.
“My God! You are the happiest baby in the world compared to…‘Young Grumpy’ over there,” she said jerking her head so as to point it towards Gene. She spoke to the newborn baby girl as if the child could understand every word she was saying.
“Young Grumpy” was the nickname Nurse Myra had affectionately given Gene. She looked down at the chart to note the name of her newest patient. Sundiata…wow…that’s different. Hmm…I wonder if her parents are from the Continent? It sounds like an African name, she thought to herself.
Nurse Myra thoughts quickly returned to the tasks at hand as she continued running all of the standardized tests on the beautiful baby girl. When she was finally done, she realized that throughout the entire process of enjoying Sundiata’s happy personality, Gene had continued crying. Wah….wah…wah! was his constant retort to everything. Nurse Myra had been so concentrated on the new little girl’s arrival that she had been completely oblivious to Gene and his incessant noise.
Nurse Myra smiled down at Sundiata. “You have such a sunny personality. Your smile can warm even the most cantankerous of heart,” she told her. “Maybe your happiness will rub off on him?” she said eyeing Gene. “I’m going to roll you over there by him.”
She stationed Sundiata’s bassinet next to where Gene lay. She stood at the foot of the bassinet where she could easily read from his chart. Nurse Myra reached down and picked Sundiata up in her arms. She held Sundiata just above Gene’s bassinet and made the introductions. “Eugene Adam Walsh, Jr., I’d like to present to you Miss Sundiata Albizu Marshall.” Turning her attention towards the smiling grinning little girl, she continued, “Sunny meet Gene.”
Gene’s screams had him moving his tiny face from side-to-side. Almost as if on cue and with the formal introduction made, Gene opened his eyes and looked at Sunny. He stopped mid-scream. “Wah….!” It was almost like pausing a videotape. Nurse Myra couldn’t believe her ears. She looked around to see if anyone else was nearby to view and hear this newfound phenomenon of silence. Unfortunately, no one was there to witness ‘the miracle’. But the quiet that came was ensuing; like the pleasure you immediately feel when you lower your body into warm bath water. It was soothing, pleasing, and comfortable. Nurse Myra placed Sunny in her own bassinet and sat down to enjoy the silence.