I woke to the shower running and the lamp next to the bed still shining. It was 11:30 pm and I’d been asleep for an hour.
“Jared, you need to start timing these,” Caitlyn said as she moved from the shower to the birthing tub; and with exhaustion still clinging to that space behind my eyes, I began watching the clock as I listened for my wife’s gasps and groans. Three minutes apart.
By midnight the decision to call the midwife was settled. We both spoke to Katie, our midwife, and received a few last instructions, which, in the beauty of homebirth and midwifery, amounted to, “Make yourselves comfortable – this is your time for intimacy and solitude.” And, “Oh, do you have half and half for coffee or should we bring our own?”
It would be an hour before the apprentice-midwife, Serena, arrived, and another half hour before Katie and her doula, Anne, arrived. In the meantime I attended to a few other details in the house, and sat quietly with Caitlyn while she labored in the warm tub.
The night was pitch black and unusually cold for early May. Anomalous snow fell furiously to our southeast, but the commute of our midwives was undisturbed. The house was silent as our daughters slumbered in their sheets. Our room was lit by bedside lamps and wonderfully warm with the humidity of the laboring tub. Caitlyn sat in the water, heroic and more beautiful than she’s ever been. This is our home and this is our room. This is where our baby enters the world.
Serena softly knocked at the front door, bringing with her the chill of that frigid spring night. In our bedroom she moved about like a wisp, a gentle spirit, arranging towels and blankets in preparation for the birth.
I met Katie and Anne at the door shortly before 2 a.m. After pointing them to the coffee and tea, we all nestled into our bedroom. We are Caitlyn’s team: Katie’s strong, bare arms monitoring baby’s heart rate and mother’s vital signs – her strong voice offering confidence and leadership. Serena’s gentleness providing peace and reassurance. Anne’s ease and dignity working quietly in the shadows of our dark room. I kneel beside the tub, breathing in rhythm with my wife, rubbing her hair and neck.
“I can’t do this,” she whispers to me, without lifting her head from the edge of the tub. The words don’t startle me. We know she will come to this place. The place where she recognizes that the pain and effort is more than she can give. And then she gives it anyway. This is the untapped strength and force of motherhood. This is childbirth.
Shortly after 3 a.m. Katie encourages Caitlyn takes a short walk to the bathroom and then the bed to change positions for a bit. After a few more contractions Caitlyn agrees. At the bed they check and she is 7 centimeters. I give Katie a high-five before helping Caitlyn back towards the tub. She pauses midway for another contraction, and then steps into the birthing tub.
I maintain the position that no laboring woman can ever be judged for their exclamations or expressions during childbirth; there’s just no telling what words and sounds may come. Seconds after Caitlyn returns to the tub she stands to her feet in a panic and screams a scream unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s a sound of fierce terror and pain, the kind that makes even the owls in the forest bury their heads in their wings. She shrieks, “What’s happening to me!” Without hesitation, we all surround the tub like ministers at a baptism.
“It’s okay Caitlyn, it’s your baby. Baby is coming.” Katie’s words are matter-of-fact. This is what she does. She delivers babies.
Another scream like there’s a stabbing taking place, and I look towards our door for fear that our girls will enter at any minute, awoken by a scene they won’t soon forget. He gives to his beloved sleep – Psalm 127:2. On this particular night, they sleep.
We coax Caitlyn from her standing position, but are left supporting her as she squats and leans back. I hold her hands from the front while Anne and Serena support her back. “You’re safe, Caitlyn,” Serena reassures.
Katie maneuvers to feel baby’s head and birth position. Another scream. After the next contraction Katie encourages Caitlyn to position herself on her hands and knees. Caitlyn agrees. Baby’s head is out but chin and shoulders haven’t cleared. Caitlyn pushes and screams again with a strength I know nothing about, and then instinctively reaches down for her baby and pulls him from the water toward her chest.
“It’s a boy!” She yells as she settles against the wall of the tub, leaning her head back and drinking deeply of the love and euphoria shared by mother and baby in natural birth.
He was born at 3:36 am on May 2, 2013, in our bedroom.
He was born directly into his mother’s arms and onto her chest.
He was born somewhere between Iron and Wine’s ‘Sodom South Georgia’ and The Album Leaf’s ‘Window’ on our labor playlist.
He was born when the waters of the Little Fork River overran its banks as our snowy spring melted away, and those waters wandered toward that great northern bay with which he shares a name.
He was born into a warm tub, filled with his mother’s tremendous effort and love, his father’s encouragement and joy.
Dads are tertiary during childbirth, but nowhere are they more embraced and empowered than in the home. I was encouraged to be Caitlyn’s most intimate ally and our baby’s unbridled advocate. While Caitlyn received postpartum care, I held our baby to my body and warmed his pink, wet skin with my chest. His head rested perfectly beneath my chin and our hearts thumped towards each other’s through layers of bone and flesh. A few moments ago I knew him only as the lump of life in my wife’s womb. Now he is my son and I hold him close.
There’s a point during Caitlyn’s postpartum care where she needs an IV. The midwives and doula are busy at her side. She is pale and weak and fades into the sheets like sinking into water. I glance at the clock. It’s almost 6:30 and the girls could be awake at any moment. Again, it’s not a scene I wish to greet them with in the morning. But again, they sleep.
The girls sleep for another hour, a miracle in its own right, and when they do wake up they’re ushered into a room glowing with soft morning light. We are calm and happy. When the night began we were a family of four; now we are five, and we pile into the bed to share our warmth and joy. Sophi curiously brushes his cheek while Aleah stares into his face with her dazzling blue eyes. We are hugging and laughing. We are in our home together.
It’s Sunday now, and I write this after dozing on our bed in the morning sunlight, my son on my chest and my wife sleeping peacefully beside us. All is silent except for the breath that tumbles from Hudson’s nose across my skin, and the occasional drumming of the grouse’s wings in the woods beside our house; a sound that accompanied our entire labor and continues to provide cadence to our story.
We’re often tempted to think that our life is the sum of what we do. It’s our action and advocacy, our education and vocation, our going and showing. But what about this moment on our bed in the stillness of the morning, with my wife and new child resting like leaves on quiet water? Is this just a break from the real thing, or isn’t this the real thing? Life feels more vibrant now than it ever has.