On a chilly night two weeks prior to the due date, my wife’s water breaks and we are suddenly in labor mode. After three labors, two of which were preceded by an agonizing false march of contractions days before the actual labor, we welcome the water breaking as a sign that we are definitely going to have this baby soon. We call the caretakers for our kids, bundle all of our luggage and the three of us into the van, and zoom off to the hospital. Thankfully, I purchased a six-pack and a slew of iced coffees a few days ago. Everything is in place.
In the controlled chaos surrounding the transport and the tedium of medical papers, and the business-like clip of wandering through hospital corridors searching for ice, I tend to forget—or avoid—the fact that we’re experiencing something totally out of this world. I remember that first birth, knowing nothing and fearing everything, posing thousands of questions to healthcare professionals, dead-tired and just wanting the pain to stop for my poor wife. It was awful. My wife and I still disagree, because for some reason every labor she ever had was beautiful and magical and there might have even been a unicorn or two. I decided shortly after that first experience that labor and delivery were probably my least favorite part of having kids. It’s so out-of-control. Even the mother is attempting to figure out what her body is up to and get in sync with that. Nobody really knows what will happen in the end. We only hope.
We are settled in now. The beer is in the fridge and Linnea is still in early stage labor, happy and chatting with her midwife and her sister-in-law and doula, Andrea. We found out when we called the hospital earlier that her favorite midwife—the one who had been there for the labor and delivery of two of our children—was on shift all night. She would be there for our fourth. Linnea was over the moon. I am sleepy and anticipating a very long night, so I doze off and on in the chair while they talk and watch TV for a couple of hours. When I’m lucid I attempt to steel myself for the inevitable long haul of transition through late labor. Right now, the delivery is far away, and we’re excited about the prospect of it, perhaps because it is far away. The idea of it is more exciting than the actual thing happening.
We walk the halls for a couple hours, trying to get more active labor going. Our midwife has three or four other births happening at the same time, and twice we see her with a crowd of nurses and doctors, stone-faced, swiftly guiding a laboring mother on a gurney down the hall for an emergency C-section. The goal of everyone here is a healthy baby and a healthy mommy, and perhaps we will all win by the end of the night. It is sobering to think of the violence of cutting one out of my wife’s abdomen, though. I suddenly feel as though we don’t deserve the three natural labors we’ve experienced, and that this is the one where we will pay our dues. Nothing here is sure.
I shake the thought and stop walking so Linnea can lean against me during a contraction. The labor is progressing, and Linnea is quieter, more intense. She isn’t laughing as much. She focuses inward on what her body is doing to her, trying to get in rhythm. We’re moving into transition, the part where contractions are erratic and we begin to doubt things and get discouraged. We’ve been here before.
We were here when I accidentally left our daughter in the car for five minutes and it ended up sinking our adoption plans. We were here when we heard of one of our sibling’s attempted suicide. We were here when our sister-in-law almost died after labor. We were here when Kai got out of the house and wandered down the street. All of us are in this place too often, a normal stage of the labor of life we’re in, and maybe we only make it through these stages because we can look at it and say, “Yep, that’s definitely transition. That means we’re moving forward to final stage.” In my life I’ve not seen near the amount of pain and difficulty that the people I walk with have seen, but my life experience is relatively small. With the little that I’ve seen, however, I have started to count our moments as utter miracles.
It seems to me that the word of our world is death—the essence of humankind, that we choose ourselves over the good plan laid out for us. But God responded with an unconscionable mercy—he shortened our days. Short as they are, they are indeed full of trouble. Death is the everyday. We are either experiencing it in various forms or seeing others experience it. So when I realize that the first four instances of uncertainty to pop into my head were all near-misses, I can only think of one word to describe the life we—and these four people—still live: miraculous.
And here, laboring in a small birthing room on a Sunday morning, we are about to usher in another miracle.
Linnea has moved past transition, into the violent part of the birth, the part where her entire body takes over to shove a living human into the world. The contractions are forces of nature, and her instinctual reaction is to fight the urge to push, but Andrea and I gather around her and remind her of the truth—the push, however painful, is what will bring the baby out. Let the push take over. We help her, in between contractions, to climb into the tub for the water birth.
Our midwife returns with a nurse to aid her, two babies delivered this morning already, both cut out. As she helps my wife find the best position to push, I am stunned again by how violent this whole thing is. There will be great pain in childbirth. When Linnea was in labor with our first I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could lose the two most important people in my life in one wrong moment. Now I think this again, shove it from my mind, and return with a cold cloth to my groaning wife’s side. The struggle is the priority right now, and the only thing we can think about is getting through it.
Then there is blood in the water, and when I panic like I always do at the sight, the midwife announces that she can see the hair—lots of it. We are so close to the end, these four focused women and one terrified man who doesn’t understand any of it. My wife groans again and again, waves of contractions and waves of the pain of childbirth. The head is out, but the shoulders are stuck, and in one swift movement our midwife physically twists the body of our baby sideways and scoops it out of the womb, out of the water.
In the thirty seconds after birth, everyone is listening. We are all gathered in communion together around this delicate body, willing it to wail, longing for the sound that signifies pain, and fear, and grief, and anxiety, but that will always signify life first. The tiny human coughs, clearing vocal cords that have never vibrated, gasping in the first gulp of oxygen, and then screeches at the top of its lungs.
We laugh at the strength in that cry. And then we laugh more and cry some too, because she’s a girl—and we’ve always wanted a girl.
At certain points in my life, and more so as more pass me by, I have no words. There is nothing here to say that has not already been said, is there? The baby is born, the family is full and the eye is tired. The writer in me stumbles and thinks maybe everything has indeed been said, and repeating it has no new value.
But every time the repeat that is taken is variation, not repetition. I see myself and my wife in our little girl, but it’s never us, and it’s never our other kids, and it’s never anyone in the entire world. How can there be nothing new under the sun and this little girl? We could say, in our unimaginative and reductionistic state, that it’s just another baby, another human, another soul, another moment like so many others. Blips on the radar. But likeness is not sameness. How can it be? This is our little girl, and she is unique, and she has come through blood and pain and tears and is here, screaming on her mother’s breast, making such an awful racket that the world has no choice but to notice her. And we laugh, and we cry, and we rejoice, and we are in awe of this new noise.
Her name is Louisa Kate, which means “pure warrior,” and in the moments following birth nothing seems more appropriate.
The day is coming when the struggle will end. However bloodied and bruised and exhausted we are from the wrestling through, however frightened of the passage or even of the light beyond it, however overcome by a reality we’ve never even imagined inside our cocoons, this birth is inevitable. My bloody birth was wrought by Christ, my rebirth was wrought by Christ, and my new birth will be wrought by Christ. In this delivery, violent and scary and death-like as it is, the end becomes a beginning with far more promise than we’ve experienced in this dim earth we call home. Perhaps when we get there we will laugh, or maybe we will cry, or maybe we will rejoice. These reactions are somehow all so similar.
Cover photo by Alex Pasarelu.