Carondelet Hospital, Nogales, Arizona.
Five miles from the United States/Mexico border.
By the time the young woman reached the front door of the building, she was exhausted and ready to give birth for the first time. That is: Ready or not, she was about to give birth. She was too tired to be scared, but if she’d been scared, she likely would have been terrified.
An older, uniformed nurse caught her when she collapsed to the tile floor of the entrance, then helped her into a wheelchair and called for assistance. A male orderly appeared and rolled the young woman to a delivery room. She was already well into labor—indeed, she was at the end of it. Her baby would arrive momentarily. But the young woman would feel little pain, at least. She was too tired to feel pain. She had walked the five miles from her home to the medical facility, by herself, in the dark. The sun had risen as she’d made the journey, growing ever larger in the belly as she’d trekked. When she’d first set out, she hadn’t yet even been showing—which she understood, even in her exhaustion, isn’t the way these things usually happen.
In any event, her abrupt and brief pregnancy was now coming to an end.
• • •
“Baby,” the young woman said. A nurse was holding one at the foot of the delivery bed. Before the nurse could hand the baby to its mother, the young woman in the bed, however, the baby had to be cleaned and certain precautions taken. The young woman, who had just given birth to the baby, wasn’t asking for it, though. She was asking something else. “He is... alien?”
The nurse turned to look at the young, new mother. The baby was perfectly healthy, and seemingly content, not crying, just breathing, blinking, yawning. The mother, on the other hand, had already fallen asleep, before the nurse could answer her.
• • •
“She wanted to know,” a doctor was explaining to the nurse, who hadn’t been at the hospital in Nogales long, “whether her child is an American. That’s why they come to border hospitals—on this side of the border, I mean, these girls. They want their children to be United States citizens, not Mexican. They want their offspring to have better lives than they have, and being American is the golden ticket, after all. Land of opportunity, you know. Every boy can grow up to be President. And every girl...,” the doctor said, stubbing out his cigarette, “well, every American girl can marry her high school sweetheart, captain of the football team and maybe one day a well-paid physician.” The doctor laughed.
“That girl just wants the best for her baby,” he said. “And she walked five miles by herself at night—with the kid crowning—to give it to him. God bless her. And God bless America.” The doctor stood from his chair in the lounge. “I’m heading home. Call me if you need me. But I’ve been here for two days straight, so try not to need me.”
It was seven a.m. and already a hot day.
• • •
When the nurse stopped by the neonatal ward, she saw the baby, lying peacefully in an institutional bassinet, swaddled tightly, eyes open, looking back at the nurse through the glass.
The nurse checked in on the mother, who was again—or still—sleeping.
• • •
In the evening, the young woman woke and the nurse came to her room, bringing her dinner. The mother did not ask to see her baby, so the nurse asked if she would like to. The young woman nodded and sipped some water from a plastic cup.
So the other woman went to the nursery for the child, but the child was not there. The nurse did not panic. She returned to the young woman’s room and asked her directly, “Where is your baby?”
The young woman did not respond.
“Did you take your baby from the nursery?” But the nurse didn’t think the woman had.
The young mother continued to drink water.
“Who is the baby’s father?” the nurse asked.
The young woman said nothing.
“Where... where is the baby’s father?”
The young woman slowly raised her arm and pointed to the window of her room. The curtains were closed, so the nurse walked to the window and opened them. The sun had set, and it was very dark outside.
But the stars were shining brightly, and it was to these—or one of them—that the young woman in the hospital bed was pointing, the nurse saw.