BIRTH DOWNTOWN

My daughter Polly went into labor early in the morning on March 29, 2012. At 5:00 that afternoon she rode a mile down the road to the hospital, and soon after 7:00 Sammy came into the world. Not a walk in the park for Polly, but still so much less complicated than delivering a baby in a foreign country.

Several months later, Emily, Chan, Maya, Bill, and I drove 5 hours to San Jose, where we'd rented a house for the birth of Maya's new sister. Just because Emily hadn't complained about Nicoya Hospital the first time around didn't mean she'd ever choose to have another baby there. Emily and I had gone hospital shopping in San Jose and decided on Clinica Biblica in the heart of the city because they were having a 20% off sale on cesarians for the months of July and August. (no kidding!) Since the scheduled cesarian (Layla too was breach) was being paid for out-of-pocket, the 20% discount was a nice bonus.

The private hospital allowed one companion in the operating room. Chan told Emily he was absolutely certain he'd pass out if he saw her cut open, so that's how I was admitted to the delivery. I experienced yet another out-of-body episode on the cab ride into the heart of San Jose at 3:30am. Just a few months before, I'd welcomed my new grandson minutes after he was born in the familiar hospital where I'd delivered 3 out of 4 of my babies, and there I was cruising through a foreign city in the wee hours with Emily, who was about to have her baby.

Waiting for surgery was so much nicer in a clean, well-equipped private room. After Emily was wheeled down to the operating room I sat in the waiting area, too excited to read and trying to settle down enough to meditate. On the TV screen above my head Hugh Hefner was in the Playboy mansion being fussed over by a bevy of bombshell bunnies speaking in English, no less. It seemed an odd choice of programming for pre-op at 6:15 in the morning and so incongruous with the blessed event about to take place in my life. It made me squirm in my chair. It was distracting anyway.

I was called in when Layla was about to be born. Emily's epidural had worked beautifully and she was relieved to see me. Moments after Layla appeared she was wrapped up and placed next to Emily's cheek to bond. Emily was so grateful to know that her daughter had arrived safely. While she was being stitched up, I was escorted to the nursery with Layla, where we were told to wait until Emily could come out. Standing in the nursery with two new fathers, holding up our babies for the families to see felt like a Latino-style Norman Rockwell painting. Chan, Bill, and Maya oogled our new baby through the window. As soon as Emily was ready we all congregated in her room, so pleased that Maya could meet her new sister right away. Children aren't allowed to visit at Nicoya Hospital.

At Clinica Biblica you only get one night to recover from a cesarian. At the end of the afternoon Bill and I took Maya back to the rental house and Chan slept on the pull-out couch in Emily's room. By the time we returned in the morning, Jungle Chan was pacing around, very anxious to get outside. We're not used to being inside, cut off from real air. We felt almost as out-of-place in the big city hospital as we had in the public hospital. Once you've stepped so far outside the box, familiar is a feeling you don't encounter very often.

The aunties had to be content with a virtual meeting until they could get to Costa Rica at Christmas time. Before we moved that would have felt so wrong to me, but by the time Layla was born we'd learned there's no such thing as right or wrong, and accepted what was.

Mid-morning, Emily's beautician arrived. I guess city women can't leave the hospital without having their hair and make-up done, so that's included in the price of the cesarian. Emily's hair and face hadn't seen anything more than a comb and soap in so long that her beauty treatment became somewhat of a problem because she kept having to laugh, which hurt her fresh incision.

I came to Costa Rica seeking the simple life. What I've discovered is that living in the middle of nowhere can be quite tricky. I now know that wherever I go, life will only be as simple or as complicated as I make it.