By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After around 15 minutes of apparently fruitless searching, an officer says something about the raid having been a mistake. At this, Frances laughs, then stops herself when the laughter veers toward hysteria. Once the police are gone, and the front door is locked after them, she sits down dizzily and tries not to vomit.
“It’s really starting to hit me now,” she writes in an e-mail that afternoon from work, “that Luis is not going to be here for the birth of our daughter. All my pregnancy, we would talk about how he was going to react to her, and about Luis finally being there for Frances.”
Besides juggling the responsibilities of work and kids, Frances tries to visit Luis every day. He’s been moved from Parker Center to Men’s Central Jail, where visits are allowed in 15-minute increments. Each afternoon during her lunch break, Frances sits for a quarter-hour on a round, green metal stool in one of the visitors’ cubicles, separated from her husband by a thick glass partition.
One day when she is juggling too much, Frances misses her scheduled prenatal checkup. Her doctor, an attractive 40-something ob-gyn named Dr. Kathryn Shaw, agrees to fit her in the next day, at which time Frances learns the news is good and bad. Good, because the baby is healthy. “But she’s breech,” Frances says. “I saw her in the ultrasound. She’s sitting down, like a little Indian.” Babies often slide in and out of a breech position as they move toward term, but after the 37-week mark they rarely move back into the conventional head-down position. Since Frances is exactly at 37 weeks, the information sends her into a brand-new panic. “If she’s breech, it means I have to have a C-section, and if I have a C-section, I can’t go back to work right away, and can’t afford that. I have my bills to pay.”
She tries various home remedies that purportedly help turn breech babies — long vigorous walks, lying with one’s pelvis propped on pillows. Dr. Shaw tells her that sex occasionally does the trick. “Yeah, well, that’s mission impossible right now,” says Frances.
Something works, because, a week later, she goes to the doctor again and gets an unexpectedly good report. “The baby is back with her head down again,” Frances says happily when she returns from the examination. “I think it’s a sign that things are going to get better for us.”
In terms of the kids, the good omen appears to be true, at least for the moment. Julian, the 8-year-old, has markedly raised his grades. The most noticeable shift is with Bola, the 12-year-old, who, before Luis’ arrest, was becoming increasingly defiant. Now, the shock of the raid, combined with watching his mother struggle, seems to have produced some kind of sea change. Bola no longer hangs out with his old friends with whom he used to get into trouble. Instead, he joins a basketball team at the local recreation center and stays late for practices several times a week. On days when there is no practice, he goes directly to Father Greg’s office, where he does odd jobs for pay. Even Officer Pedroza, who stops by the office to see how Frances is doing, remarks on his maturity. Bola’s new behavior also earns him a spate of vicious teasing from his former friends. But Bola doesn’t waver. “I don’t care,” he says. “All that hanging out I used to do, it’s boring. It’s played out.”
The baby is due on February 22. When that day passes, followed by three more days, with no signs of labor, Dr. Shaw tells Frances if she doesn’t deliver by Saturday night, she should check into the hospital Sunday and the doctor will induce labor.
Saturday night, February 28, Frances goes to the market to load up on groceries for the kids, and packs a small bag of clothing for herself. Then, at 10 a.m. Sunday, Frances and Estephanie drive to White Memorial Hospital. “Estephanie begged me to let her be there,” says Frances. “But, also, a doctor once told me that the best birth control you can give a teenager is to let her watch a birth.”
At noon, Frances is put on a Petosin drip. By 2 p.m., she is still only 2 centimeters dilated, although labor has kicked in big-time. Just after 4 p.m., Luis manages to get in on a three-way phone call just as Frances howls with a particularly intense contraction. “You hear her?” asks Estephanie. By 7 p.m., things have really begun to speed up.
Gennisis Angelina Aguilar is born at 10:51 p.m. on February 29, 2004. A tense moment comes as the infant’s head crowns with the umbilical cord circled around her neck, but in an instant Dr. Shaw expertly unloops it — and the 8-pound, 3-ounce leap-year baby girl takes her first breath and begins to wail. Dr. Shaw invites Estephanie to cut the cord. When that is accomplished, the teenager at first gazes spellbound, then reaches a tentative hand out to touch her tiny new sister. “I’m so happy,” she whispers to no one in particular. “I’ve waited so long for this.”
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