Childbirth As Baptism and the Family of Things


This old neighborhood seems to shudder and groan under the weight of winter, our geriatric houses holding up generations of stories under beams that ache like knees when it snows. My own home has seen a hundred such winters, and I can't bring myself to trade the richness of its heritage for a shelter less drafty and with more than one toilet. I long to find my place in the family of things, as Mary Oliver wrote, and there's something about homes with creaking floors that make me feel one step closer.

Downstairs, a child belts his ABCs from the couch he's been restricted to. From the bedroom next to me hums the sound machine that has lulled a toddler down for another day's nap. I type from my bed as a two-week-old infant squeaks in his sleep, and I wonder how many babies this house has rocked. Where are they now? What are their stories? Who were those mothers who sat in this room leaking milk and tears in the middle of the long night?

I labored in this room for two hours a few weeks and a lifetime ago. We didn't turn on the lights as the sun went down at 5pm, flickering off the snow outside our windows. Eric lit candles and put music on while I lay in bed, reveling in the fact that the time had finally come to meet this son. He touched my arm when my stomach burned and I told him it comforted me. He did it again every time my body quaked for the next five hours, and I loved him more than I ever had.

The labor was longer than I would have liked and more intense than the one before it. By the end I was gasping for an epidural but there was no time for that; my uterus had done its work and a few breaths later I was pushing him out while the midwife came flying into the room, shoving gloves on late hands. My sister beheld her first childbirth experience and when nurses put him on my chest I looked over their heads to see her choking back tears.

He was perfect. (Aren't they all?)

Oscar Abraham. I'm glad he wasn't planned. It's better to feel this kind of surprised, in the end.

But we brought him home to a house that can be surprised by nothing. Surely she's seen it all. Maybe there were babies born within these walls. God forbid any died within them, but Midwest winters are hard and I can't help but wonder. So many stories that I will never know, yet mine is now entwined with theirs. And who will come after us? What groaning mothers and husbands who touch tenderness to their laboring limbs? What babies with stories of their own to unravel?

Childbirth is the closest I've come to touching death, and mine have all been healthy and without complication. The very nature of the process is a mirror of the life cycle: there can be no new life without suffering to bring it forth. Every mother must dip down under the waters before emerging, heaving, with a new child at her breast.

Every childbirth is a death, every childbirth is a baptism. Every childbirth "calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things."

(if birth stories are your thing you can find Moses' here and Taavi's here, as well as Alyosha's adoption story here.)

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)