My birth

New York City.

It was the coldest day of the year. The streets were covered with freshly fallen snow and ice hung from the rooftops. In a penthouse apartment facing on Central Park a young woman was worrying. She was pregnant and unmarried. She was getting bigger every week and she felt sure she could not hide her condition much longer.  Under other circumstances she might have welcomed the baby she was carrying, but because she was not married, she felt ashamed.

            That very morning she had walked down Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to ask God for help and forgiveness.  She had found solace in reading the New Testament and praying the Twenty-third psalm. “The Lord is my shepard, I shall not want…” She had felt better in church beating her breast and confessing her sinfulness before God. “We are born in sin. We live in sin. We die in sin.” This was her religion. We live in sin. But there is hope through the  bountiful mercy of God, accessible through the intercession and supplications of Our Blesed Lady. 

            As she prayed in the cathedral Marguerite watched the bishop officiate at the mass and thought, “If I had been a man, I would probably have been a priest myself. If have a son, I’d like him to be a priest.” 

            What better role in life could there be than that? Only one –to be an artist–and she was that. She had taken up art as a career in defiance of her family and the world of high society from which she came. This was an unusual step for a society girl in those days. But she could not stand society anyway. She had always been a rebel.

            Marguerite recalled Mother Deming, the Mother Superior at the convent of the Madams of the Sacred Heart where she had been incarcerated for ten years. Mother Deming knew what was most important for a young lady about to enter Society. One must always be chaste and never entertain lascivious thoughts. “Why didn’t I listen to Mother Deming? If I had remained chaste, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in now.” 

            She knew she had been playing with fire when she allowed a man to enter her sanctuary. But she was already 35 years old. How long must she wait? Must she never know a man? She had been expected to be a bride of Christ and the companion of her aging father in his later years. 

            Father…she thought.  Her relationship with him was complicated.  He loved her, and yet, he was an old world patriarch and would not allow his daughters any real freedom.  She wanted love from him, but she realized that he was unable to give her the love she wanted and so badly needed. Instead he gave her money, but with money came strings…and parental control.

            Well now she had a surprise for him. Marguerite  felt a mixture of fear and excitement. He would be furious, she said to herself, smiling with unrepressed delight. Why should she feel so pleased about defying him and disappointing him?  That was wrong, but she found herself enjoying the thought of seeing him squirm and of showing him that she could do  something on her own.  “Papa, forgive me for having such wicked thoughts towards you. But I really resent the way you control everybody, and especially the way you treat Mother. ” 

            “Mother. What will she think? She probably will have another oneof her nervous breakdowns, and go into that sanitorium again. 

I must hide my secret from her for as long as possible. She suspects something I know. Fortunately, she went back to Calfiornia a few weeks ago. If she saw me now she would figure it out. I couldn’t pull the wool over her eyes any longer. I’m so thankful that Dr. Hickey advised me to go home.”

            “I wonder if Dr. Hickey can do anything to help me now.” Dr. Hickey was a quack doctor she had recently  ment in Manhattan. “Perhaps he can  induce the labor, and bring the baby sooner,” she thought. She did not  even consider an abortion, of course. As a fervent Catholic belilever she knew that would be an unforgivable mortal sin. “I don’t want to harm the baby; I just want  to get it out of me so I won’t be so conspicuous.  If I can just get it out of my body then I can give it away and be done with it and nobody need ever know. Then I’d be free.”

            Free. Free. Marguerite longed to be free again. She looked out the window of her penthouse to study the New York skyline. She saw a large bird circling above the trees in Central Park. She was free now, in a way, like this bird. Her brother, Walter, had tried to get her to come home, but she refused. He had been full of all kinds of paranoid nonsense, trying to convince her that it was dangerous for her to stay. She didn’t dare tell Walter about the pregnancy. He was such a blabbermouth. But if he had known he might have better understood why she must stay in New York now, at least until after the baby had come. Why should she run away now? She felt she could face it alone.

            In the huge metropolis of Manhattan, Marguerite  felt  truly alone. Just like the Blessed Virgin who waited for her time to come two thousand years ago, waiting to give birth to the Christ child, she was waiting patiently for her time to come, too. What would her baby look like, she wondered? Would he be a little dark Mexican boy like his daddy? Would he look like her, or like his  grandfather, a Jewish patriarch and demagogue, who resembled Lenin?  Would her baby take after her? What if it was a girl? “No, it musn’t be a girl; I hate girls!” she said to herself.  “It must be a boy.” Ever since her childhood she  couldn’t stand  girls or feminine women, either. Even with animals she preferred males. Females were too emotional and unreliable. They tended to have female problems,  and they could get pregnant–like she had. How much better it  would be to be a man and to be able to just take your pleasure and leave.

            The doorbell rang. It was Dr. Hickey, come for his daily visit. She begged him to do something. “It’s not yet your time; you’re only seven months pregnant, Marguerite. You know. I can’t perform  miracles.”  he said. “All I can do is put my  hands on your belly and we can pray together. If God wills it , and the baby is ready to come, it will come.” They did this for what seemed to her to be an eternity, but it was of no avail, and Dr.  Hickey left assuring her that he would return the next day to comfort her and to try again.

            But that night the pains began to come, and Marguerite soon realized that the baby was on its way into the birth canal at last. She called a taxi and rushed to Manhatten General Hospital, afraid her waterbag would break before she arrived.

            The birth process went quickly and by the early hours of the morning  a little dark skinned hairy baby boy emerged from her womb. The boy was very small,  and was put in an incubator, as his hold on life seemed perecarious. She named him John and gave him the middle name Raphale because the New York Times had  carried a gorgoeus reproduction of a Giotto painting of the angel that very day. 

            John soon took hold of life, however, and  within a week he was out of the incubator. The nurses then brought her baby to her to feed with a bottle and hold as her own. She did not know what to do with this little creature, having no experience with babies, but she soon learned to feed and care for her baby as best she could.

            “What a unique realization it is to be a mother! Nothing in life can capture this feeling. No words can express the wonder of it,  when mother and child are floating in the bliss of their own world. This is the stuff that dreams are made of,” she later wrote in her memoirs. 

             This was, Marguerite felt, surely the highest moment in her life so far. She felt she had discovered a new identity and a new mission in life. Henceforth she would have two creative destinies, being an artist and being a mother. This was creativity per se, she felt. No sculpture had ever been more alive, either in body or soul, she thought to herself,  nor had its being been so truly her very own.

            Now the problem was what to do with the child. She finally decided to keep John and arranged to have the good doctor and his wife accompany her on the long train trip home to California.  As the train pulled into Los Anegeles Central Station, Mrs. Hickey,  accompanied by her husband, carried the baby safely through the station while Marguerite was met by her mother and chauffeur–who were quite unconscious of the little life that was being carried past  them to a prearranged house with a Scottish nurse waiting. 

            From the station, Marguerite rushed directly to the hospital to see her father, Lucien Napoleon Brunswig, who had had a prostate operation that very morning. He  was just recovering consciousness from the anesthetic when she arrived. His piercing blue eyes looked through her as she kissed him. “Bonjour, Madame Mademoiselle,” he said, and that was all. He thereby let her know that he knew her secret.   A circumcision bill from the New York hospital had somehow slipped into his hands. They smiled at each other in full understanding. Lucien Brunswig seemed pleased with his favorite daughter who had carried through the birth process alone and borne him a grandson.

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