Only after Luc’s arrival into this world did Monsieur le Docteur make it to the château. Early into the process of labor, while I was still on my feet and moving around to help gravity pull things along, and while Randall and I were still joking and bantering and praying, in other words before I assumed the kneeling-on-top-of-the-bed-singing-like-a-large-mermaid posture, I conspired with my midwife about the delivery itself. Christine and I plotted that, if everything proceeded as smoothly as it had to this point, we could simply skip calling my doctor. Eyes low, voice restrained, Christine said she was legally required to call him, but wouldn’t do so any earlier than necessary, and kidded she’d summon the doctor the moment we would hear our baby squeal. And sure enough, only after Christine placed our little boy in my arms did the doctor walk in. He made his obligatory surveillance of things, congratulated Randall and me, took a good look at our delicate baby, signed his name, smiled for our family photos, and returned to his home and to his slumber. Then ah, that familiar welling up of maternal satisfaction and breast milk.
Just in that moment when I was feeling competent – I’m now a mother of four? – the next nurse, the one responsible for our baby’s care (weighing, cleaning, swabbing yellow antibiotic ointment around his eyes) entered the room and turned to me, asking, “Do you have your baby’s layette? Diapers? Body bath? Cotton swabs? Lotion? Head cap? Mittens?”
Non. I had one long-legged newborn onesie, but none of the rest of the above. Hadn’t the hospitals I’d delivered in before provided those basics? Like party favors?
“Bon, alors. . .and for yourself, Madame? Makeup? Postnatal creams? Jewelry? Fresh clothing to greet your visitors? Your peignoir, perhaps?”
Uh. Um. Non. Encore non. I had none. I did have an overnight bag with a toothbrush and soap, though, and this fetching men’s XL checkered flannel nightshirt the nurse couldn’t have helped taking note of. You see, well, as gruesome as it must sound, I’d sort of planned on sleeping most of the day. In those very clothes. If no one minded.
“Was I supposed to have brought a . . . a peignoir?” Did I even have a peignoir? Do women in this century for that matter, reputable women that is, honestly have peignors? What else had I forgotten to bring, I wondered, what other deficit suddenly singled me out as a hillbilly? What? No fluffy high heeled slippers? No powdered wig? No corset? I was sponging up sweat as it now pooled in every possible ravine of my physique. The yokel in me blushed, and I readjusted the greasy-sweaty whale spout up-do I suddenly remembered I was sporting.
“Well, most women do bring lovely postnatal lingerie and clothing, Madame. You know, of course, to celebrate the return of their prenatal body. It’s customary. You might want to note that the photographer makes his rounds in the early hours,” she tapped at her wristwatch, “which is when the natural light is best. Maybe you will want to be presentable, Madame. You will, as you know, receive today.” She smiled. The yokel smiled back but also gaped inside at the word: recevoir.
Recevoir?! Présentable? Photographe? In the flurry and quiet thrill of giving new life to this world, somehow I’d totally misunderstood: in Versailles I couldn’t just deliver and then hunker down as I had in Norway in an amoeba-like shapeless spread for three formless and blissful days. And without a trace of lace.
No. I had delivered. So here I would recevoir, or receive my public.
The pattern had been set at least as early as Marie Antoinette, I reasoned, who had given birth in her château with the entire royal family and the whole court as audience. The birth as well as the product of the birth, of course, had to be demonstrated, authenticated, and celebrated by a stadium full of witnesses and well-wishers, kind of a one-stop package deal.
And because in Versailles what was still is, I, the delivered mother needed to present myself and my baby to the visiting entourage and the planned paparazzi.
I had Randall run home to grab lipstick, pearls and something in silk.