I could barely remember the story I was going to tell about how we flew to Milwaukee mere days after our wedding and after moving to a new child-friendly building in the indistinctive lower southwest corner of the Upper West Side.
There had been premature cervical shortening, and then premature cervical dilating. It was very stressful. I had many doubts about the entire project and felt a lot of fear and guilt.
Mary had been admitted to the hospital for so-called bed rest and monitoring. She was very bored, but things had stabilized. With the passage of each additional day, the prognosis for the twins she was carrying -- the twins that we were intending to parent -- improved.
We called the twins Machu and Picchu, antenatally. Asaph had not wanted to know their sexes, but I had, so Mary had told me the moment it had been discerned. When Asaph went to stay with Mary in the hospital prior to our wedding, a nurse had accidentally said, "How lucky that you are having a boy and a girl!" Mary, her mother, and her son (who were all sitting in the hospital room but had known of Asaph's desire for ignorance) all gasped in horror.
We spent our days in her hospital room and our nights at her house near the great lake. We helped with her adolescent children, who were still too young to drive. It was hard to know what they were thinking. They had temporarily lost their mother because of us.
I went to sleep with a sick feeling of dread each night, worried that she would call us to say that she was in labor. A non-heterosexual maternal-fetal care doctor, who was a very sharp and even dapper dresser and who had a tiny waist, had told us that the birth would go very quickly -- that we might not even see it if we weren't in the hospital.
One day Asaph and I walked around downtown Milwaukee, looking at possible short-term apartment rentals for the time after the twins were born -- GOD WILLING!! -- and -- GOD WILLING!! -- released from the hospital.
I was so superstitious I didn't want to plan anything. We were already following the Eastern European Jewish superstitious practice of not buying any supplies -- no cribs, no clothes, no bottles, no diapers -- before the birth. People thought we were insane.
A valued friend and correspondent had agreed with us, however. He had said, "How awful to come home from the hospital to a house full of baby items, and: no baby."
I was aware of persons to whom this had happened.
We had already looked at a few hotels and motels in very suburban locations, but we wanted to spend the first days with them in an actual city, so we wouldn't have to drive.
We had bought car seats, however.
Milwaukee seemed fine.
We visited the parents of one of Asaph's business school colleagues in a wealthy and leafy area. Their beautiful dogs helped calm me down.
We went out to some bars one night with a friend of Wisconsinite origin whom we knew from New York. We visited several semi-deserted locations. The architecture reminded me of Chicago.
We finally found a crowded venue. There was a pornographic film performer or actor wearing little more than a red hat with white fake fur trim and tassel.
We posed for photos.
"I'm so sorry," I said to him.
We spent the rest of the night talking to a little person.
Mary was released from the hospital right before Christmas, which we did not celebrate. We had the first Jewish surrogate since Bilhah (בלהה), so we lit a hanukiah (חנוכייה) at her house each night. I enjoyed cleaning it on the lawn with boiling water from a tea kettle the following morning.
We had gotten out of extreme danger, gestationally.
We walked Mary's dog in the cold. I realized that Wisconsin was much more arid than Ohio. One could feel that the plains and prairies were nearby at each early sunset. I understood why some considered Ohio to be disingenuously Midwestern; Ohio was little more than Pennsylvania's rump.
A few days later we brought Mary back to the hospital for another examination, conducted by the dapper doctor. He loved to talk to us for hours at a time. We were grateful, and then sometimes we wondered if maybe he had somewhere else he might need to be.
There had been further dilation, and Mary hadn't even noticed anything.
Back into the hospital she went. We went with her.
She started to have painful contractions almost immediately after being put back in her hospital room, but when the nurses administered extra intravenous fluids, they subsided. Still, the nurses said, "I think she may be ready. This may be the night."
They would say this for many nights.
We slept in a spare room on the labor and delivery floor.
Snow fell. There were still no babies the next morning. She felt fine.
We developed funny relationships with the nurses on the labor and delivery floor, in part because they had gotten to know Mary so well. They all had very strong Great Lakes accents, even when they were of Latin American (latino) descent.
The dapper doctor stopped by nearly every day. He and his partner had adopted one child from the emergency room and had conceived another one with substantial help from a surrogate. Their surrogate's water had broken at 28 weeks, and she had been confined to a hospital bed for a month. The dapper doctor told us this often to make Mary feel better about her situation.
But it didn't, really. She was bored and uncomfortable.
I took occasional walks around the area near the hospital. It was cold and uninteresting.
We would go back to Mary's house to walk her dog.
We briefly checked in to a strange residence for people who had sick relatives at the hospital. It was decorated in an aggressive Midwestern country-kitchen Holly-Hobbie style, with many framed inspirational quotes and lots of the color known in the United States (at that time) as burgundy. There was a communal kitchen. At dinner, Asaph asked an older woman sitting alone if she wanted to join us. She was eating a plate of cookies and drinking a glass of milk.
"No, thank you," she said.
We checked out after one night. It cost as much as a motel, but you had to clean your own room and launder your own sheets and towels.
Screw that, I thought.
I joined a gym located next to the hospital complex for a week. It cost US$10.
There were lots of strapping young Teutons. I felt insecure. I was relieved one day to see an Orthodox Jewess, wearing a snood.
I would walk from the gigantic gym back to the hospital.
I stopped in the hospital café to buy string and cottage cheeses, which I ate in unwholesome quantities.
Mary seemed to have painful contractions every night, but they didn't produce noticeable results. I felt so bad for her, as I slinked or slunk away to an unused room to sleep, or to attempt to sleep, since I expected to be awakened to news that things were progressing.
But every morning I would slink back to Mary's room, and she and Asaph would be sleeping peacefully.
We had an extremely stressful New Year's Eve in the hospital. It was Mary's birthday, and she was in a lot of pain. I went to bed out of anxiety before it was 2012 in the Central Time Zone.
The nurses advised us to go to a franchised fondue restaurant for dinner. I objected but was eventually forced to submit.
It made me very uncomfortable, 1970s nostalgia notwithstanding. The waitress gave an excessively long explanation about how the food was to be ordered and prepared by us.
I preferred going to an upscale, casual, full-service dining restaurant known to be the worst family restaurant in the United States.
Every menu item contained thousands and thousands of calories.
I hadn't realized that a charming and conservative village that we had visited on earlier trips was within easy walking distance.
I was comforted by this discovery.
Had I known that there would be so little cold weather that winter, I would have appreciated the chill.
A non-nurse who sat at the front desk of the labor and delivery department -- a grim and mannish prairie woman -- objected to our continual presence on the floor, especially my use of unused rooms. I hated feeling like I was unwanted or doing the wrong thing. One of my worst memories was an illicit stay in student housing for the Institut d'études politiques de Paris with my friend Christopher in 1997. After having been discovered and reprimanded, I went to stay with chain-smoking, far-left friends in the banlieue. It was awful.
The other nurses rallied to our defense, and the next day the nursing supervisor came to tell us that we were welcome to stay as long as we needed.
Asaph responded by making himself so comfortable that Mary was displaced from her rest-bed.
I bought what the British would call a pot plant to cheer up Mary's room.
Americans wouldn't have called this a pot plant, of course.
We went and got American Chinese food one night and brought it back to the hospital room to share with Mary.
I couldn't take much more of this, I thought.