Finding that special letter that brought tears of relief

by Elizabeth Carr

I sat staring at the beige carpet on the floor in my parents’ bedroom through hot tears silently streaming down my face.

They weren’t tears of anger or sadness. Instead, they were tears of relief.

Finally, I thought, someone had recognized that my life was going to be, well, different.

The tears were brought on by a letter

I discovered it in a scrapbook at the bottom of one of the closets in my  parent’s bedroom. I started snooping in the closet when I spied their wedding album.

I was 10, and was drawn to the retro-styles my parents were wearing. After flipping through the wedding album, I found more photo albums – one of which was filled with candid family snapshots from the time right before I was born.

In the photo it was Christmas. Mom was decorating a small, fake tree with petite colored lights and red velvet bows

She was in a maternity dress, her face beaming with happiness. What held my attention to that photograph, though, at the time, wasn’t the joy in her face: Instead it was the fact that the woman was wearing 3 inch heels at 9 months pregnant!

The next page contained more photos–this time of dad opening an antique level and bottle of cologne.

And then I spied something tucked between the pages.

It was a 12 page letter, written in blue ink

All caps.

The printing was neat and straight. It was on unlined paper, so I caught myself, at times, wondering how he kept the lines of text so perfectly straight.

Dr Fredrick Wirth was the neonatologist on staff the day I was born in Virginia

It was his job to determine my score on the ever-important Apgar test, and his job to tell the rest of the team of doctors his assessment of if I was a “normal, healthy” baby or not.

I had seen Dr Wirth before in the NOVA documentary of my birth: He was the man who carried me out of the delivery room. He had me wrapped in a blanket and tucked under his arm as if he were carrying a football going in for a touchdown: Snug, tight.

He was wearing a hospital mask, though in the documentary, so I had only ever seen his eyes: Piercing bluish grey. Like a wolf.

That day, on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, my 10 year old mind got to know a bit about Dr Wirth

This man had taken it upon himself in the hours shortly after my birth to sit down and write me a letter (he left instructions with my parents to have me read the letter when I was old enough to understand my origins).

“You are special, Elizabeth,” he wrote . . .

“But not because of how you were born. Because of how much your parents love you, and wanted you. You are special because you are theirs.”

That paragraph sticks with me to this day, and, I have actually told people interviewing me that exact quote, stealing it from Dr Wirth as my own.

Dr. Wirth was the only person who helped me really understand what my parents went through emotionally, and physically

. . . without laying out the gory details involved in the medical procedures, or the mundane details about just how frequently they flew back and forth between Virginia and Massachusetts just for my mother’s check-ups.

Dr Wirth left the hospital in Virginia shortly after my birth, so I never ran into him at annual reunions, and he never greeted my parents and I when we came to visit

It always bothered me that this man whose words meant so much to me, I had never formally met, and that I had only seen half of his face in a documentary

When I was an intern at the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, I told one of my editors about Dr Wirth.

One of them asked me if I had ever tried to track him down. I was, my editor reminded me, an adapt reporter who could find a needle in a haystack if I needed to.

My editor was right. I could. What had taken me so long to try?

I made up my mind to find Dr Wirth

In my head, I started calling him Fred.

I did Google searches. Searched public records in Virginia. Scoured medical licenses in various states.

I went to the motor vehicle registry. I looked to see if he filed for bankruptcy.If there was a public record out there, I searched it for his name.

Finally, after about a month, I came across a website for a clinic in Pennsylvania, and, it turns out, my man Fred had just published a book – and the jacket flap mentioned he was the neonatologist for the first ‘test-tube baby’ in the U.S.

That’s my man, I thought

I studied the picture on the book flap. It was in black and white, but he still had the same piercing eyes.

I sent an e-mail using the contact form on his website, since I couldn’t find a phone number. And then, I waited.

Months went by. My summer internship ended

My e-mail to Fred went unanswered.

I was disappointed I may never meet the doctor in person.

In a way, I felt like I was missing a piece of myself I needed to know about, and somehow, it involved meeting him

And then one day, I got an e-mail back.

Dr. Wirth told me that my e-mail had gotten stuck in a spam filter, but that would absolutely love to meet, and asked if he could come to Boston to see me.

He told me my e-mail made his day, because I had thanked him: Something, he said, neonatologists rarely hear even though they are often the first people to take care of a newborn.

We exchanged a flurry of e-mails.

I called my parents.

Dr Wirth and I spoke over the phone, and set up our meeting in Boston

A newspaper reporter was on hand to document our first hug.

“I’ve saved hundreds of children’s lives, and none of them have bothered to even call me. I’m overwhelmed,” he told the reporter.

 

I was overwhelmed that day, too – mostly because for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t know what to say

So, I started by telling him the story of sitting on my parents floor, and bawling my eyes out.

Elizabeth x

 

Elizabeth Carr is the first IVF baby born in the US in 1981 and second in the world

On meeting with Elizabeth Carr back in 2003, Dr Wirth said how he had always wondered what kind of woman Carr had become. Read more here

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