Part 21: Well along
The week at the beach passes quickly and then it's back to real life - not that real life is routine.
Real life, beach life - all life points toward the due date, Oct. 31, and this gives every passing day an extra charge.
Kathy's calendar is filled with baby-related events - midwife appointments, an infant-care class, a Lamaze refresher course with Wendy. Even the non-baby-related events manage to become baby-related.
The Portuguese Festival, for one.
For decades, Joe's relatives have helped organize the North Smithfield celebration, a lively weekend of food and dance and tradition, a highlight of which is a ceremony in which an elder member of the Holy Ghost Society places a silver crown on the head of a chosen youngster.
The rite commemorates the charity of a 14th-century Portuguese queen, Elizabeth, who every year invited the poor into the castle and crowned each guest as a sign of her spiritual solidarity with them.
"Someday, maybe our baby can be in the crown," says Kathy, as dusk gathers over the VFW grounds.
She and Joe are standing by the food booth, which is manned by many of his relatives, and Kathy is holding an infant - Joe's cousin's son, Sam - in her arms.
"We've been waiting for her to hold babies like this for years," says another cousin, Alice Aguiar, of Burrillville. Of the couple's special project, she says, "we just know that this is the right thing."
When Kathy gives Joe a turn holding Sam, and the baby keeps right on sleeping, Joe seems amazed - and a little suspicious, as if this might be a trick. He twists rhythmically back and forth. "Hey, baby, baby," he coos at the tiny form, whose head rests on his bicep, near the Marine Corps tattoo. "Yeah, nice baby."
"He looks better than he did Monday," says Sam's grandmother, recalling one of Joe's previous forays into baby-cradling.
"Relax, Joe, relax," says Kathy.
"I don't know how to relax," says Joe, and then his eyes widen. "It burped. I just felt it burp."
His relatives congratulate him on this, and that gives him a sudden boost of confidence - "What do you think, I just got off the boat or what?"
"Now he's getting cocky, Alice," teases Kathy. She kisses the baby's toes, and tells Joe, "I like seeing you hold him. You're a natural at this."
And what he's not a natural at, he can learn.
* * *
One beautiful day in late summer, Kathy and Joe attend an infant-care class at Kent County Memorial Hospital. They step off the elevator, looking a little tired, and for good reason. They have been up all night, cleaning and organizing, readying the nest. Kathy tore through every room, clearing out cabinets and washing every surface.
"Vietnam was nothing compared to this," quips Joe during a break in the class. "At least I was young then."
Fifteen or so people are in the class. Most of the women seem well along in their pregnancies. Even Kathy, dressed as she is in a loose brown velvet shirt over leggings, could pass for pregnant.
A nurse, Terri Lombardi, leads the group through the events of delivery day and also a litany of potential problems - all of them very minor, she assures them, and normal.
"All of you have seen babies in the magazines - nice round heads and pink and white faces?" Well, don't worry if yours doesn't look like that, she says.
Heads may be distorted, faces puffy - it will all straighten out soon enough. Ditto for crossed eyes and rashes and hairy faces and bodies and "sucking blisters" on lips and feet.
"All these things clear up]" says Terry, who goes on to demonstrate, with a real newborn, how to bathe a baby.
The tiny boy cries himself purple during his bath - again, normal, Terri tells everyone - then as soon as he's swaddled, calms right down.
"Doll!" says Kathy.
* * *
Wendy chose Kent County because it's the hospital she knows, and as it happens, the delivery room reserved for her looks familiar.
"This is where you had Rachel, in this room," Andy reminds her one day during his and Joe's tour of the maternity ward.
Wendy glances reflectively upward, toward the TV in the corner - "I remember watching Phil Donahue."
Both of Wendy's previous deliveries were natural, but she inquires, anyway, about epidural anesthesia.
"Ah, the drugs," says the nurse, Candace Patenaude, with a laugh, and displays the equipment, which is less scary than Wendy had imagined. "I thought it was a needle a foot long in your back," she says.
She complains that during her two previous labors she could never persuade a nurse to give her an epidural; she thinks it's because she is too self-conscious to scream in pain, so "it probably seems like I can take it."
Ah, yes. It's all coming back to Andy now.
I want to go home, take me home, was Wendy's refrain while laboring with Rachel, he says. He glances at the epidural tools on the bed - "I might need one, too, before it's all over."
"Yeah, stick one in me, too," says Joe, even though he'll be in the waiting room for the delivery.
Candace smiles reassuringly at everyone, and tries to prepare them for what may happen on the big day. They shouldn't be alarmed, for instance, if they hear the midwife say, "Get the hook"; that's an instrument she'll use to break Wendy's water if that hasn't happened by then.
As for cutting the umbilical cord, Kathy would be the logical choice to do that, Candace tells her - and also, "we want Mom to hold the baby right away after the baby's born."
Kathy is smiling, but her eyes have a vague expression, as if she's unsure whom Candace means by "Mom." But she settles the issue with a Solomon-like compromise:
"Wendy and I are gonna hold the baby."
* * *
This matter - of mom-ness and aunt-ness, and how to make it all work - has been pressing on Wendy's mind.
She wonders, can she really be an aunt, as Kathy's been an aunt to Nicole and Rachel and Jamie? Can she even give the baby up? And what about her marriage: Will it be okay, as she promised Andy it would?
These questions are big and nettlesome enough that, in August, Wendy meets with a counselor whom her midwife recommends.
They talk and when they are through, the counselor assures Wendy that she's fine. It's plain to her, she says, that Wendy is very clear-headed about the situation: She does not want this baby.
This is nothing that Wendy didn't already know, and yet, she is greatly relieved to hear it.