I promised myself I would not mention Sarah Palin ever again. Or at least not any more than was absolutely necessary. And I’m sticking to that. But I did want to recognize one thing, politics aside that we share.
Sarah Palin says that she is thrilled in advance at becoming a first-time grandmother, and I am thrilled to now be a grandfather. There are a few differences. She is 44 and trying to get herself elected Vice President of the United States. Her unmarried, five-months-pregnant daughter, Bristol, is 17. I am 59, trying unsuccessfully to imagine life on social security. My daughter, Cloe, is 31. She has been married for three years, and she has a good job. She’s a doctor.
Alexander Robin Bucklin began breathing the air of the outside world at 3:24 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008. He weighed seven pounds, eight ounces, and he was a long 24 inches. It must have felt very good for him to stretch his limbs after so long in such a confined space. And indeed as I was holding him today, he pushed his perfect, miniature toes out beyond his swaddling blanket, and his perfect, tiny fingers up by his ears, and quivered. Needless to say, he is perfect.
Mother and son (and father, Adam) are doing fine on the Mother and Baby floor in the new wing at University of New Mexico Hospital, Albuquerque, the same hospital where Cloe works as a radiologist. Alexander was born in one of the spacious rooms on the Labor and Delivery floor. So spacious, at one point with 10 people in there, including doctors, interns, med students, nurses, expectant mother, father, grandma, grandpa, and Cloe’s sister, Cecily, there was still room to pace.
Everything happened in that one room infused with blue-sky New Mexican light and the amplified sound of the baby’s heartbeat: Cloe’s ever-strengthening contractions; the doctor smiling and slipping on her gown and saying, “Let’s have this baby”; the final, excruciating stages of labor; delivery into the gloved hands and immediately up onto Cloe’s chest; the subsequent cleaning and warming of the baby, the women pinching him and patting him, helping him to clear his lungs. The brief display, like a totem, of the amazing placenta. And everyone was welcome to be there and participate. Adam and Cecily held Cloe’s legs while she was pushing. Adam snipped the umbilical cord.
This was a far cry from the experience Ellen and I had when Cloe was born. Montrose Hospital in 1977 had not quite emerged from the 19th century. There was no birthing room, and the nurses didn’t think it was proper for me, the father, to be in the same room with Ellen while she was in labor, never mind delivery.
Luckily, our doctor was the formidable John Peters, who kept a machine gun on the floor of his office in Norwood and bestrode the halls of Montrose like a god. He issued brisk commands to the nurses, who scowled but didn’t talk back, told me to get into some scrubs and ushered me into the delivery room, where at least I got to whisper encouragement and steer wet strands of hair out of Ellen’s eyes. I’d never seen anyone work so hard.
The name Alexander comes from Ellen’s mother, Alexandria, known as Zandria or Zan. The Robin comes from my father, whose real name is Robert, but has always been known in the family as Robin, a handle that reminds me still of Robin Hood, Robin the Good.
I have no idea, of course, what Bristol Palin and Levi Whatshisname will decide to name their child. It’s none of my business. And I hope their birthing experience is as astonishing, as miraculously normal as Cloe and Adam’s was.
I do find it ironic in the extreme, though, that Grandma Sarah told the enquiring media that the decision to have the baby was entirely Bristol’s. And that as Vice President she will work to make abortion illegal in the future, and thus eliminate the choice her own daughter enjoyed in 2008.