The Cord


by Chip O'Brien

The doctor handed me the scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Anna began to sob, violently.

"What's wrong?" I said.

"Don't," she said.

"Don't what?" I thought maybe I'd done something wrong.

"Would you like some time?" The doctor asked.

She nodded, unable to speak. She'd lost a kid before we'd met. So, this was her second and my first.

"I won't lose this one," she cried.

"Of course, you won't. Never. That's crazy talk. You ready?"

"Do not cut it," she said with pure conviction.

I looked at the doctor.

"It's her right," he said.

"Her right?" I said. "It's her right to have a baby or not have a baby. She doesn't have a right to not cut the damn cord."

"I won't lose this one," she said.

I figured with the drugs, the labor—she'd been at it almost ten hours— she was dog tired and a little loopy.

"He's a healthy baby boy, sweetheart. We've got to let these people do their jobs, weigh him, clean him up, all that."

"We can come back in a little bit," the nurse offered. "After she's had some time."

"Doesn't this have to be done now?"

The doctor's mother stood beside him, silent. It bothered me that she was there, as if the birth of my child was any damn business of hers.

"I can move the scale over here to the bed," the nurse offered.

"That should be fine," the doctor said. "The cord's long."

I stood back, scissors in hand, and watched as they did everything they do with newborns but with the umbilical cord still attached. When they finished they handed my son back to my wife.

"Is now a good time?" I asked.

They all looked at me, the doctor, the doctor's mother, the nurse, all except Anna. She brushed the baby's forehead with a thumb. "No," she said. "You cannot do it. You will never do it."

"Is it me?" I said, thinking this was some psycho husband-hating trip she was on after going through the hell of labor. "It's okay. I don't have to cut it. The doctor can do it." I held the scissors out to him but he wouldn't take them. "Or the nurse."

"No one will do it," Anna said.

I looked at the doctor. "Your move."

"It's up to her," he said.

"What's up to her?"

"Whether or not the cord is cut."

"You're kidding. Right?" I looked at his mother. The fact that she was there made me sick. It was pathetic. Their cord, the doctor's cord connecting him to his mother, was crusted over and ancient, a vile looking thing.

"Do you want him to end up like him?" I asked my wife. "He's pushing fifty, single. Still attached to his mother?" I turned to the doctor. "Kids?"

He shook his head. "It's not a bad life. No one messes with my things."

"Except your mother?"

"We have an understanding," he said and turned to her.

She nodded.

I moved to cut the cord and the doctor grabbed my wrist.

"He's my kid. I'm cutting the damn cord."

"Call security."

The doctor was strong and held my wrist until the security guard arrived.

"Please come with me, sir," the guard said, all business.

"Take him away," Anna said.

"Jesus, Anna, he's my son, too."

I looked around the room for support but found none.

"Okay, I'll go," I said. "But is this really fair to the baby?"

Anna's face changed. "I don't know," she said. Then, "I don't care if it is."

"Oh, come on, Anna. Of course you care. That's not love talking."

Anna breathed deeply.

"We could ask the baby," the doctor suggested.

I felt stupid for not thinking of the idea myself.

We waited for Anna's response. A change came over her entire body. Surrender.

I sat in the chair beside the bed, the one I'd been sitting in for most of Anna's labor. "Hey there little guy," I said. His head seemed to bounce a bit, his blind eyes squinting and searching for the sound of my voice. "We need your help. Your mother refuses to cut the cord. I think we should cut it. So we're putting the ball in your court. The question is to cut or not to cut. What's it gonna be?"

"You might as well ask me to name myself," he said, his voice soft and small, like breath itself. "Or what brand of diaper I should wear, whether I should be breast fed or given fomula, if I think mom should stay home with me or go back to work and put me in daycare, if you should send me to public or private school, if I should be spanked or put in time-out when I misbehave, if I should be allowed to drink sodas, when I should move from a crib to a bed, if I..." He fell silent.

Anna sobbed.

"Do your job," our baby said, and didn't speak again until the appropriate time.


BIO: Chip O'Brien is a writer, musician, and teacher. He has had stories published in Barbaric Yawp, Words of Wisdom, Flash! an anthology, and SlugFest Ltd. He lives on the East side of Nashville, Tennessee with his wife, Amanda, and their two sons, Gus and Patrick.