They gave her the baby on Christmas, so she calls him Immanuel. For his circumstance, he is remarkably healthy. He weighs seven pounds and can barely open his eyes. We go to visit; eat burritos on our laps before washing all the plastic bottles floating in the sink and the heap of sheets and tiny baby socks. Everybody holds the baby. He is warm, his head fits perfectly in our elbows. Conversation floats above his tiny features and he sleeps on.
“He was born on the street,” his new mother tells us. Her body holds none of the signs of post-pregnancy, though I haven’t been involved in enough pregnancies to know what they would be. All I know is that she looks exactly like the last time I saw her, though she moves slow and there are shadows under her eyes. “They took both the baby and the mother to the hospital by ambulance. She left without even seeing the baby.”
We all shudder and feel out stomachs turn inside out at the thought. Gruesome scenarios play through our heads. In our minds, babies are born in hospitals. Doctors cut women open and then sew them back up. Drugs are administered, heavily. Babies are a joy, a wonder, a gift. Mothers want them desperately and fathers plan their lives around them. Relatives drive hundreds of miles, fly thousands, and dozens of rolls of film are snapped of one new little body in the world. Births are a big deal.
But what do we know? As the new-mom, the mom who counts, the mother who will feed her child, wash her child, and drive Immanuel to his first day of kindergarten wonders aloud on which street in Oakland he was born, someone shakes his head.
“Probably better not to know,” he says. “Give him a fresh start in life.”
My heart gives a pull and I wonder which is best, to know the exact location of your personal urban tragedy, or to lie still in your ignorance and desire for specifics. I wonder until I finally stop, disgusted with myself, realizing I don’t know anything at all.