Part One: The Beginning
Day 1 - Thursday, December 8
I was driving home from campus after my last official class of the semester when I got Janelle’s text that she had been having very mild and very infrequent contractions since about six that morning. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I immediately became aware of the sudden importance of navigating traffic and making it back home to her. I was excited but also somewhat in disbelief. For the most part we had maintained our expectations of going well beyond the due date, which was still a day away. When I got to the apartment, Janelle looked like she had been having contractions--excessively normal but with a thin, underlying awareness of something new about her body. I looked at the notepad where she had been jotting down times and was surprised to see some as close as fifteen minutes apart. We were both excited and decided to go to Whole Foods for a few groceries.
It was bright out and felt good to have an activity. Janelle was untroubled by contractions, which were very brief and marked by one or two moments of pause on her face. At the store Janelle was excited to buy oranges, which she wanted as soon as she saw the stack of them. I bought a six pack of Stella Artois because it was on sale, and Janelle filled a small container with garlic and olives at the olive bar. At some point in the store contractions began coming more frequently, sometimes down to seven minutes apart. I picked out yogurt while Janelle spoke with our midwife on the phone. We stood at the end of the dairy aisle while Janelle had a contraction she could not walk through.
She set down whatever she had been holding and leaned forward until it ended. At this point it felt as though we should be going, although I think we both realized nothing was extremely imminent.
By the evening contractions had continued quite regularly and were still coming close together. Janelle did not seem bothered by them, but they were lasting longer and our midwife dropped in to listen to the baby’s heartbeat during one. I had been in contact with Kiva at this point. She wanted to make the drive from Lawrence immediately, but I told her to hold off until she had finished her appointments for the evening and we could get an idea of how things were progressing from Jessica. She ended up leaving at some point and was already an hour or so into her trip when we realized Janelle’s contractions had consistently slowed back to about twenty minutes apart. We felt guilty Kiva would be missing her fertility surgery, scheduled for the morning of the due date, but at the same time relieved that she would be with us for the weekend if we needed her.
Janelle went to bed and I waited up for Kiva. She arrived earlier than expected, and we all went to sleep for the night. Kiva and I slept some, but Janelle’s contractions kept her up. They were still mild but regular and she could only sleep for the few minutes in between.
Day 2 - Friday, December 9
In the morning Janelle’s contractions were still light and infrequent. I woke up after Kiva and Janelle. We ate breakfast and hung out in the kitchen. Kiva was excited to have felt the baby’s hiccups for the first time. After breakfast we listened to Mississippi John Hurt and then several of Janelle’s favorite Talking Heads songs. We all felt good listening to these and danced some in the study where the speakers were. We had decided to go out for the morning and planned a trip to the art museum where we could get a good walk in. It was cloudy out and quite cold. The art museum was rather busy. We went down to the lower floor where there were fewer people. Janelle’s contractions had slowed quite a bit. There had been one outside during the walk from the car, then none until we got to the main staircase to walk back up to the upper levels. As soon as she started up the stairs one hit and we had to stop and wait for it to end before we could continue upward. Contractions came more regularly after this and required Janelle to stop walking until they passed. The museum was full of students on school field trips, and different gallery rooms were filled with classes seated on the floor. In one empty darkened room a long art video was on loop. We walked in on a wide, sweeping shot of a desolate landscape. It looked like a long fault line running across a vast rocky desert. The shot was so high and wide that as it panned upward a line of dark upper atmosphere seemed to appear. The shot held for a moment, then the credits came up and we decided not to wait for it to begin again. The panel on the wall indicated that the video’s subject was chess and to some extent the cosmos.
We went back down to the main floor and asked for directions to a water fountain, which we found back beneath the main staircase. It was tucked away behind the stairs and made for a nice spot to stand and rest some. The walls on either side were mirrored, and we played with our reflections where the mirrors didn’t fully line up, moving our legs a few inches to the side of our torsos. After getting some water and a few more stand-still contractions, we got free tickets to the main exhibit, which was a small collections of Monet paintings. Inside the exhibit were several wall-sized black and white photos of an elderly Monet painting in his water lily garden. On display were the three massive panels of his triptych called Agapanthus.
Kiva remembered a restaurant by a park where we had eaten at together before, so we went there for lunch and all had a nice meal. Janelle was very hungry and I think glad to be eating something yummy and nutritious. After lunch we went to Winslow’s Home to look around for some gifts and supplies. Janelle and I showed Kiva a children’s book about two mice that we liked and read whenever we went there. She bought it for Liam because it was about about being scared, which was something Liam had been learning about. We bought farm eggs, and Kiva bought us a bamboo scraper for pots and pans and a tiny music box for Edith that played Happy Birthday. We had been milling around in the store for a while when Janelle realized it was time to go. She indicated this to me and we checked out quickly and got in the car to drive the last few blocks home.
It was around the middle of the afternoon and it felt nice being in the apartment again. Janelle’s contractions became stronger, and she used the birth ball in the living room to get into a more comfortable position. We did some counter-pressure and breathing during the contractions, and eventually put on some Christmas music and started decorating the apartment with Janelle’s bag of old collected decorations. We put Christmas lights on the lamp, and Kiva wrapped the green rocking chair with striped white and purple yarn. We listened to The Current, Janelle’s favorite radio station, on the internet. Contractions were still coming regularly, but it felt good having fun and listening to music.
At this point I had begun thinking about filling the birth tub in the bedroom but wasn’t sure if it was time to start. It was getting closer to evening and at some point the contractions had gotten stronger and more frequent. Janelle decided to go to the bedroom, and it was after this that things started to change. The contractions were more intense and the light-hearted quality of early labor passed. Kiva and I began filling the tub while also staying right with Janelle through contractions. The hot water from the shower was not enough for more than the bottom of the tub, so I tried filling it in installments. This was slow but we were largely occupied with helping Janelle through contractions. She had been mostly on hands and knees on the bed, and it was obvious the contractions were much more difficult. They were also lasting longer, around forty-five to sixty seconds or more.
At around six in the evening contractions were still very intense and increased to about three minutes apart. This caught everyone’s attention, and I quickly contacted Jessica with the update. She told me she was on the way to another mother’s house who was also at three minutes. The woman had already had a few children, and Jessica told me she would continue on to her house, as she was likely to go much faster than Janelle, then call back after she got there. She said she would send Natalie, her assistant, to come check on us and that she lived about forty-five minutes away. I told Janelle Natalie was coming but not that Jessica was headed to another birth. We continued through still intense but somewhat more manageable contractions until Jessica called me back to check in. Her other mother was progressing quickly, and I told her we had gone back up to about six minutes apart. We both felt much better about the situation at this point, and Jessica confirmed that Natalie was on the way. After the call I told Janelle about the situation with Jessica, but I attempted to downplay it, saying that Jessica would be coming very soon. She was not happy but was too overwhelmed with the contraction pain to focus on it. Natalie arrived a short time later, which was a relief to me and I think reassuring to Janelle.
Right away Natalie had to do a vaginal check, something they normally would not have done at all unless it became necessary. But Jessica needed to know how far along Janelle was in case a back-up midwife needed to be called in. Janelle was at three or four centimeters, which everyone was pleased with because it meant that she actually had begun labor progress but was not so far along that Jessica wouldn’t be able to make it. After this Natalie left the room to give us some space, but we quickly enlisted her to help finish filling and heating up the pool, which had unfortunately taken in some cold water from the shower hose and was not nearly warm enough for Janelle to begin using. We only had a small lamp on and the room felt very dark and warm. I stayed with Janelle while Kiva and Natalie rushed pots of hot water from the kitchen back to the bedroom. During this time the contractions became gradually much worse again and were obviously wearing on Janelle. She was still on the bed, leaned forward onto a stack of pillows, and not getting much of a break in between. She began asking about the pool, if it was ready yet, and eventually whispered to me that she was going to have to get into the pool soon. Her face was full of pain, anxiety, and the exhaustion that I think at this point she was largely only anticipating to come. She glanced at me, scared, and said that she couldn’t keep doing it like this.
At some point not long after Natalie had arrived she confirmed in passing that Jessica’s other mother had given birth. She had said “And baby’s here!” while busy with something else, and I didn’t even register for a while what she meant. But now we knew that Jessica would be on her way soon and that Janelle was finally able to get into the pool, so at this point we were all feeling a bit better about the situation. It was still only around the middle of the evening.
Being in the pool was immediately a relief to Janelle. She had stripped her dress off quickly as soon as we told her it was ready and then climbed in. They continued bringing hot water in, which Janelle enjoyed, but the contractions were still strong and painful. Kiva and I had been worrying for some time that the pool’s heater wasn’t working properly, but eventually Janelle was able to feel the heat from it on her back. The pool finally felt resolved. It had been worrying me all evening, and I was happy it was done and a comfort to Janelle.
At around nine Jessica arrived, which was another comfort to everyone. She listened to the heartbeat through a contraction before people began to settle in for the evening. Janelle was doing very well in the pool. We had been vocalizing some through contractions and continued this periodically whenever they came on a little stronger. The night was long but extremely calm and sometimes very quiet. Jessica and Natalie alternated checking heart tones every half hour or so. This way they could both get about an hour of sleep through the night hours. I don’t know if Kiva slept at all, but I got the feeling that she did not. Sometimes she was in the bedroom with us, sometimes in the front room with Jessica and Natalie. I stayed in the bedroom with Janelle. Large portions of the late night and early mornings hours were spent in the tub. I think Janelle found it restful to be in the water. For hours she moved steadily and easily through what I think continued to be rather intense and very regular and frequent contractions. She was for a long time so unfazed by them and so comfortable with them that it was sometimes hard to tell one had come until it had passed.
She was beautiful in the pool. One of the positions she seemed to like the most was sitting directly in the middle of the tub, her back very straight, with one leg curved forward and one curved back. She would balance like this with her arms suspended in the water. Her body was so calm with the labor at this point that sometimes for a few seconds she would nearly fall asleep. Eventually I began reaching out and supporting her shoulders so she wouldn’t slip too far down into the water. I would hold her like this between contractions in hope that she would get a few more moments of rest. During this period she never seemed to show any signs of pain or in general to even notice the difficulty of the labor.
Later in the night she alternated more between the pool and the bed or the pool and the bathroom. For a long portion of the very early morning she was on her side in the bed. I stood with her and held her through contractions and massaged her legs in between. She again would nod off for a few seconds occasionally between contractions but got no sleep. She could takes sips of water now and then but couldn’t eat anything, all of which by morning made her body very weak and exhausted. At some point she lost her mucus plug. This was good but also a definite and obvious sign of how slow things were going. I eventually began feeling exhausted and at times rather distraught. Janelle seemed to be deep within herself, which I think was good, but it was difficult for me to keep up without having her really there the way I was used to. It was at some point in the middle of the night that everything began weighing on me enough that I continually felt as though I were holding back tears. This feeling persisted and increased through the rest of the labor.
Day 3 - Saturday, December 10
Janelle had been in the bed resting between contractions for some time when it began to get light out. The room was pale and we were both exhausted but I think also relieved that the night was over. Jessica came into the room soon after this. It was morning now, around seven, and she told Janelle that since she hadn’t been able to eat anything or drink more than a few sips of water that she wanted to give her an IV to get some fluids in her and get her energy back up. Kiva and Natalie helped get the IV ready, and Kiva hung the bag in the window. Jessica also checked Janelle. She was at seven, which meant that the long night had been productive. The IV was very successful. Janelle perked up right away, and for the next few hours we spent a lot of time up and walking around the apartment.
Eventually Janelle’s energy wore down again. She wanted to rest more, but Natalie encouraged us to stay upright as much as possible. At some point Janelle was in the tub and I think was feeling discouraged about the lack of more progress. Jessica began suggesting that once she started pushing the contractions would feel totally different. Janelle had been having heavy contractions for around sixteen hours at this point. She was worn out emotionally and physically and I think somewhat scared about pushing. Jessica and Natalie encouraged her more and then ended up checking Janelle again to see if it was time. She was extremely close, and Jessica quickly got permission to break the rest of her water and do a sweep to help open the cervix the last little bit to ten. This was extremely uncomfortable for Janelle and she continued to dislike anyone performing vaginal checks, which unfortunately only began to increase in frequency.
Since she had successfully labored to a ten, it was time to begin pushing. We alternated between the bed and tub, and Jessica and Natalie did a lot of fetal heart monitoring through this time. Janelle pushed well, but it was difficult work and more painful than everyone had hoped. There was no drastic change from contractions to pushing the way Jessica had described. This was extremely taxing on Janelle. She was already exhausted, and this added element with no sign of change or relief was sometimes too much to manage. She continued pushing strongly, but it came as a challenge each time. Since hard labor had begun the evening before I don’t think she ever got the sort of break between contractions we had both anticipated. The labor had taken her to a different state of mind, something that must have been necessary for her to be able to cope as smoothly and easily as she did, for as long as she did.
Jessica continued to monitor the heart rate after contractions and occasionally during them as Janelle pushed. There was some deceleration during the contractions at this point but followed by a quick enough recovery that Jessica felt it was okay to continue. They had Janelle try different positions to see which would be best for the heart rate. The best seemed to be leaning forward on her hands and knees. Natalie monitored in this position and there seemed to be no deceleration. The position was difficult for Janelle, but she pushed in it well despite the additional comfort. Her pain level continued to worsen and at some point she asked if she could push in the pool. This was a good break for her, but progress was still slow and eventually we moved back to the bed. The continued difficult pushing and lack of progress became overwhelming for Janelle. I was standing near her head. Kiva, at some point, was sitting next to her on the bed, helping me support Janelle when she pushed. I remember seeing Jessica’s face as she checked through a contraction, the side-glance at Natalie that meant the baby wasn’t really progressing like we needed. This terrified me, the look specifically. Jessica had a calm and stoic demeanor, and the expression was a surprise to me, both because of what it meant and because of the person making it.
Part Two: The End
December 8, 2012
It has been a year since this story began. For several weeks following the labor, I could not think in detail about the events. For my entire adult life, it had been a clear and apparent goal of mine to take care of Janelle. It is not an exaggeration to say this impulse was engrained, entirely and fundamentally, into my being. Recalling the labor in the following weeks was overwhelming. It was not something I could speak about. The labor was simply a staggering, astounding event. I was in shock, I think, not from becoming a father, but from being witness to the sustained and intense endurance--this beautiful, breathtaking endurance--of my wife, my human partner, the other half of my own existence.
Jessica was not terrified. I was terrified. But Jessica was not. The moments that followed her glance to Natalie--that telling glance that began within me the thoughts of another story, some other story unfolding that I was not yet aware of--were the most intense of the labor. Janelle was still on the bed, pushing. Kiva was on the bed as well. There were pillows stacked up. Janelle was still on her hands and knees, but this position was unsustainable for her. She turned and pushed on her back. I remember, at some point, a towel laid out on the bed was slightly bloodied. I don’t know when it became so but as Janelle shifted I caught sight of it and it caught me.
On her back the decelerations worsened. Jessica needed Janelle on her hands and knees and Janelle could not. Janelle had become desperate. The other four of us had been upright around her, surrounding her. Jessica and Kiva propped upright on their knees with Janelle on the bed. Natalie and I standing upright at either end of the bed. My head, as it had been all night, and through nearly every moment of the labor was next to Janelle’s--in warm-breath proximity to Janelle’s where it belonged--but still we were all upright around her, she down on the bed. She could not continue pushing and said so. She sat up, I remember. She went from down on the bed where she had been for so long to sitting up. She said she could not keep going and meant it.
The four of us around her knew as much, I think. But no one spoke. My downfall, I know, was that I could not verbally encourage Janelle the way a coach should. I was her partner, without question and without fail, in every moment of every hour of the labor except this one. She was pleading for the rest of us to understand what was increasingly apparent--that the labor was not progressing, that the last drops of energy within her were quickly being spent while the progress from that final reservoir was slow, and stalling.
Kiva and Natalie were silent. Jessica did respond, calmly. She spoke at low volumes and evenly. This was not unlike her in any situation, but still it was an intentional tactic. She responded evenly, without raising the volume of her words, when a woman pushing became spent, exhausted, desperate. So Jessica responded but it was as if she hadn’t.
Janelle, now upright, was I think attempting to return herself, via her position, to some sense of normalcy in our eyes. It was a strange moment. She was seeking a response that, if this were any other situation, she might have been able to expect--she needed help, some acknowledgement of the obvious emergency this had seemed to become. But it was not any other situation, and so no one spoke. Here I know is when I should have stepped in. The person whom it had been my sole guiding focus to take care of needed me, and I paused for the same reason Kiva paused. Natalie, at some point, spoke but this was peripheral--some stock words of motivation with the welcome heft and gusto that Natalie offered, but it was as if it were just outside of earshot. We were all paused not wanting to accept what Janelle was seeing but not able to offer any other approach or solution.
The moment held--just a moment--and Janelle regained something, from somewhere, from that ever-deep pit of will and determination that I had recognized in her within weeks of the beginning of our relationship. Back when we were teenagers. She had always been like this.
“Can I push in the tub?” she said. Her hair was sweat-matted to her head. She was still sitting up but in the speaking allowed herself to slump back into the powerful but resigned position of the laborer.
And the labor continued.
There were two pictures taken that I know of. If you see photographs of Janelle in labor they are of her in the following moments--in the tub, still pushing.
We were going on close to twenty hours of hard labor--approximately 54 hours since the first contractions began. The transition from the bed to the tub was not easy. The movements of labor felt at this point technical in a way that they had not previously. Jessica was now in a different mode, much more nurse-like, direct. She said something along the lines of “Colin, in” and I got in the tub as soon as Janelle was settled.
We pushed this way. I was grateful to be able to hold Janelle against me. The position itself was comfortable--it felt right to me to push this way. But otherwise it was not right, something was not right. Janelle forced through the contractions. Natalie and Jessica used the monitor continuously and did checks between. Pushing was as difficult as ever and began, to me and I think to Janelle, to feel less effective. The position was easier to be in but otherwise not allowing any progress. Soon after the decelerations became unacceptable, and Jessica requested Janelle return to the bed. The adjustments seemed to degrade the remaining optimism. They were technical and felt like little more than motions. Janelle couldn’t push on her hands and knees and wanted to push while on her back. There was some number--some threshold--that had been ever-present on Jessica’s mind. I don’t know what exactly it was, what particular change pushed us from one side of it to the other. But since the tub the decelerations had continued and the quick recoveries were still quick--but less so. One contraction ended abruptly--all of us, Janelle, and all of us having become increasingly stressed and dejected and wary--and Jessica ended it.
“We’re going,” she said, as calmly and evenly as ever. But quickly and assertively, so that immediately on her speaking we were all acting. Clothes--a blue cotton dress--for Janelle. And everyone else, everything else, suddenly swept up in motion. In the background Jessica said directly, “This is not an emergency. But we’re going quickly.”
I drove Jessica’s minivan--she and Janelle propped up in the backseat. Kiva and Natalie were in my car behind us. The hospital was only minutes from our apartment, but I drove as swiftly as possible, speeding essentially but in the carefullest way this can be done. It had been startling to step out into the bright December daylight. It was cold but pleasant--a nice day. Because it was the only acceptable position, Janelle had to remain on hands and knees in the backseat with Jessica contorted around her to use the monitor. The contractions in the car, in that position, speeding down Clayton Road, were excruciating.
We entered the hospital quickly through the emergency entrance--Kiva and Natalie taking care of the vehicles. Jessica had called the hospital to tell them we were coming in. We stood in a hallway momentarily while someone in receiving attempted a phone call upstairs to obstetrics. A man brought a wheelchair and took us directly instead. Being in the hospital was disorienting. The wide clean halls. Shiny floors and soft- colored walls. The room we were taken to seemed excessively large. We had to answer many questions. I spoke with some of the staff but Kiva and Jessica spoke most of the answers. Janelle was placed into the bed. She wanted an epidural. I gave someone an insurance card.
It did feel safe to be at the hospital, but not in the form of relief--safe somehow in the form of whatever is the opposite of relief. I had to repeatedly answer the same standard information questions about Janelle. Staff seemed to be working with separate computer systems--one dedicated in the room and others on IV-like rolling stands that nurses brought in. I only realized later the extent to which Jessica was actually attempting to handle everything with the hospital staff. She was immediately less involved with Janelle, literally often far away from her person. This was another professional stance that she took on as intentionally as everything she did. But away from Janelle she was at work speaking, quietly, with nurses and doctors. Kiva was also in the room, also helping without Janelle and I even knowing, and often seemingly close behind my back wherever I was. At this point she felt like a voice over my shoulder--a reassurance that made it that much more difficult to sustain any pretense of strength.
They could do the epidural, but it would be another forty or fifty minutes. The prospect of that time, added on to the time for it to take effect, added on to the completion of the labor, felt insurmountable. At this point the order of some events is unclear. I know I stepped behind a room divider to cry. I know they insisted on doing an ultrasound to determine position. I know it became clear--though it never became clear why it had not become clear earlier--that the baby was posterior. I know the epidural--with Janelle sitting upright on the side of the bed, me holding her steady, Kiva and Jessica and everyone else out in the hallway--was terrifying. I know the anesthesiologist was skilled, that this procedure went well and was very effective and useful. And I know that after it, after Janelle reclined back onto the bed, that this was the first moment in the last twenty hours that she looked up and saw me. Our heads and bodies had never been more than so many inches apart. But without even momentary relief, even between contractions, she had never been able to rise up out of that altered labor state, and so she had not glimpsed me with any sense of normalcy or comfort. Until then.
We had come to the hospital midday and after the epidural were instructed to “labor down.” The staff dimmed the lights and left the room. Jessica reasserted her presence and suggested to Janelle that we could push--that we could finish the labor right now, together, that she could deliver the baby. We were all excited at this. Janelle was rested and refreshed. The relief meant everything to her and allowed her to regain her footing over the situation--which she did, entirely. She pushed with Jessica’s guidance and felt I think finally the sense of traction and gain in the pushing that she had previously expected.
The baby was close--closer, even--but still extremely slow in progressing downward. There was a fetal monitor strapped in place, and occasionally a nurse was in the room with us. The decelerations continued, but the monitor was continuously slipping out of position, making the decelerations seem worse than they actually were if we had been monitoring manually. Jessica kept a hand on the monitor, pressing it where she knew it should be, but still it would frequently pick up Janelle’s heart rate, causing at one point the nurse to press an alarm button near the monitor’s display screen. The button, however, seemed not to work and Jessica quickly corrected the misplaced monitor, registering the correct heartbeat and delaying whatever intervention would have otherwise come from the nurse’s panic.
We continued pushing discreetly with Jessica until one of the doctors--there would be three of them in total, all female--returned and eventually, some time later, decided it was time to begin. The transformation was startlingly abrupt. The bed was altered. The lights brightened. The room filled with people. The labor had worn on into the early afternoon and a sense of weariness had returned. Janelle had been pushing steadily since the morning, back at the apartment. There was progression, but little. And much of what would seem to be gained would then seem to be lost. Janelle, again, exhausted.
Weeks before, sitting quietly on an unfamiliar couch during one of our birth classes, we had been instructed that, should we have to transfer, and in the event of a c- section or other medical emergency, it was possible, it was conceivable, that the mother and baby may have to be separated. “As the father,” our instructor said, “it’s your job to go with the baby.”
The doctors were patient. Their voices and gestures were loud. They were a strong and assertive presence. But they were patient. With them as well, I knew there was a threshold I was not aware of. Their faces slipping momentarily away from Janelle after a contraction--toward each other, toward equipment, toward unseen rooms on other levels-- were the same as Jessica’s sideways glance.
Janelle was pushing harder than ever. The pushing was better, more successful. But also more taxing. She was quickly depleted of what little had been regained of rest and energy. She pushed with ferocity. The doctors beckoned her to, and I whispered now as well into her ear. The baby was close, but not coming. The closeness, in this case, seemingly worse somehow--fetal stress, too long in the birth canal.
I was exhausted. And increasingly worried. It became clear to me that the story unfolding was maybe a very different story than I had imagined had been unfolding. Janelle pushed--harder, straining. All the events had perhaps been building the beginning of something, and I had just not seen them yet for what they were. The doctors were resolute--their figures like pillars at the foot of the bed, the three Moirai, the sisterly fates, etched into stone. It had been nearly sixty hours since this story began.
But it was not that other story. It was--though perhaps beyond our ability to reconcile--the story we always knew it would be. Janelle pushed. More and more. Hours of this and she was even stronger, pushing longer when she could not, but knew she needed to. Pushing more frequently and more intensely--beginning again even as she had just stopped. This worked. It had all worked, had all been working. It was this story. The story where a woman gives birth. With her own body, she gives birth to a child. It’s that story.
When the baby came out--finally, distressed--they cut the cord and on a table nearby checked what they needed to check. Janelle spoke repeatedly--asking, I think, if the baby was okay, though everyone was answering, happily, yes--and I was between the two. From the table she heard her mother’s voice and lifted her head toward it, at least twice--an intentional, instinctive movement. She knew her mother’s voice.
They asked me in a rush if I wanted to cut the cord and confused, though knowing what they meant, I said no and a nurse set her quickly on Janelle’s chest. These are the other pictures. If you’ve seen photographs of the three of us with pink, crying faces and hospital bracelets, they are from this moment.
The subsequent moments were as perfect as that one. Edith did the breast crawl amazingly. Janelle held her to her chest. The doctors left. The lights were dimmed. A nurse kindly and discreetly returned us our placenta. Kiva left to retrieve the baby clothes we had forgotten--and to get us food. The birth happened just before four in the afternoon. We stayed in the hospital room until eight. The lights were again dimmed. Jessica and Kiva and the occasional nurse and the doctor who brokered our early release were all tucked with us neatly into the now again large-seeming space.
Eventually Jessica left, herself exhausted. Soon after Kiva pulled the car around and Janelle and I carried Edith outside briefly into the now frigid night air. I rode in the backseat with the baby, Janelle and Kiva in the front. We walked up the back stairs to our apartment and into the baby’s room. These are the last pictures, if you’ve seen them. Janelle is reclined slightly in the rocker, the baby wrapped and tight against her chest. I’m under the window, against the wall, breathing for the first time in days.