A Fine Romance 1
It was midway through October 1985, as I waddled in a huge plaid tent dress through the ground floor of Bergdorf’s. I’d put on almost fifty pounds since becoming pregnant. A woman kept peering at me, looking away, looking back. Finally she approached. “You know, you have Candice Bergen’s face.”
“But not her body,” I said.
Old friends saw me lurching along the street and burst out laughing. I scowled back. Would this baby be born in a hospital or at SeaWorld?
The due date was the second half of October. I’d been hoping she’d arrive on Halloween, which was the day after my husband Louis Malle’s birthday. As the date grew closer, then passed, I went in for a checkup. Whoever was in there, she was hyperactive, that much was sure. She somersaulted and flipped around. Then she landed wrong. Her feet were tangled in the umbilical cord and she was upside down and feet first. There was a high risk of her cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients. A risk of brain damage.
My obstetrician, the ironically named Dr. Cherry, was an affable, easygoing guy, but he grew concerned after the recent sonogram. “We need to think about scheduling a Cesarean,” he told me. Meanwhile, I was to go home and stay in bed with my feet up. No activity. That would be interesting, as Louis and I lived in a two-story loft and were having people for dinner that night.
That was the beginning of the real bonding. Until that point, I’d kept a bit of distance, thinking of the baby as a kind of invader in my comfortable routines. I’d dragged my feet about preparing her room. No longer. It was ready, wallpapered in tiny pink rosebuds. I’d bought a white rocker and a white crib with pink ticking on the mattress and bumpers and found a pink Kit-Cat clock whose eyes and tail moved rhythmically back and forth.
Now the Alien was in jeopardy. I could not lose her.
Louis and I had been invited to a state dinner at the White House in honor of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It was the big wingding of the fall, and the royal couple was causing quite the stir. It was possible we could make it if the baby was prompt. The dinner was November 6. I figured we could take the train with the newborn and a baby nurse and stay in DC for a night. I would look like a blimp, but we could attend.
As the date inched closer and there was no sign of a baby, I called Nancy Reagan, who has been a family friend all my life, and apologized for the delayed response. “Mrs. Reagan, she’s not moving,” I told her. She couldn’t have been sweeter. “Well, they’d love you to be there, Candy. Let us know when you can. Of course we understand.”
What I didn’t understand was where this baby was. What was keeping her?
At almost two and a half weeks past the due date, Dr. Cherry told me he’d decided to extract the baby by cesarean in three days; he was afraid she might have “exhausted prepartal nutrients.” Apparently my amniotic fluid was drying up. She was running out of snacks.
The Kit-Cat clock was ticking. I was not in the market for abdominal surgery. I wanted to have this baby naturally. More or less. I did the few primitive things that were suggested to induce labor. Three of my closest girlfriends took me out to dinner and I ate the spiciest things on the menu, hoping to bring on contractions. Sweat streamed down my tiny head and pooled under my newly enlarged breasts. Nothing. I heaved my 180 pounds sixteen floors up to my apartment to see if that would get her moving. Zilch. Louis was giving me a wide berth; I was getting testy.
Louis and I went to Mount Sinai Hospital the next day, November 8, 1985. The surgery was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. We were shown to a pre-op room and I undressed and got into a gown. They gave me oxytocin as a last gasp to start contractions. No dice. The baby was dug in. Dr. Cherry came in with the anesthesiologist and introduced him. He had clammy hands and a mustache that screamed “Shave me!” This was not a guy who seemed cool under pressure. He recognized me and appeared nervous. This was the guy who was going to give me the dreaded epidural? Women had been warning me about this shot, which is given in the base of the spine and is generally successful at blocking pain, except when it results in paralysis. The anesthesiologist told me to curl into the fetal position, which I did, but I was babbling incessantly, compulsively. I am not a good patient. The anesthesiologist also seemed stressed. He mentioned a movie I was in. I was freezing and shivering and the needle looked like a harpoon. Finally, he managed to give me the epidural, and I was wheeled down the battleship gray hall into the operating room. Louis walked beside me in his gown.
The nurses erected a discreet sheet to screen any activity below the waist. Louis sat by my head. They started to swab me but I could feel it, and then I really panicked. The upside of the epidural was, I wasn’t paralyzed. The downside was, I wasn’t numb. Hey, guys, I’m not numb! I CAN FEEL EVERYTHING! This was a definite crick in the procedure. “Give her a shot of Valium and administer another spinal,” someone said. I resumed the fetal position. The anesthesiologist came at me with another harpoon. I wondered, Is this really the best guy you got here?!? Things got blurry; then I got a third epidural. Enough medication for a rhino, which in a sense I had become. I was groggy beyond belief, but I could still feel a prickling in my legs. I might have heard the word paresthesia. Was I going to feel it when the surgeon cut through my abdomen? Because I would not be okay with that. I was stoned and ranting and raging.
“Do you feel this?” Dr. Cherry asked as he jabbed a pin in my leg. And then . . . murmuring, movement, a team at work. Louis watched it as the director he was. The curtain set up. People beyond it performing together.
And suddenly a cry. A really loud cry. That would be my daughter crying. Bellowing. All nine pounds two ounces of her had been pried out of my ample abdomen, where she’d made a home—carpet, armchair, reading lamp, sound system—she was not happy about moving out. Now the trouble begins, I thought. Schools. Mean girls. Boyfriends. SATs. Now it hits the fan.
Mademoiselle Chloe Malle. I heard Louis singing softly to her in French: “À la claire fontaine . . .” She’d been wrapped like a burrito and he held her gently in his arms, crooning. She relaxed and quieted, scrutinizing him. I was sobbing. So much emotion. So many drugs.
She was placed in my arms now, cautiously, since I was so medicated that I was completely gaga. As if I would let anything happen. Again, the tears streamed down my cheeks. My baby girl. My baby girl. Who knew love was this huge? All-enveloping. All-encompassing. My baby girl.
My God, I can’t believe I almost didn’t do this. It was clearly the beginning of my life.
In the recovery room upstairs, Chloe was brought back to me, steamed and cleaned, fierce and irresistible.
Ali MacGraw and Anne Sterling, two of my closest friends, had been waiting in the hospital lobby. They came up to meet Chloe and give me a pat on the head. I was having trouble speaking clearly, what with my dozens of epidurals, plus I was still weeping. But I was aglow.
Chloe is here. Chloe is here. I was happier than I ever thought possible. Chloe is here.