September 5, 4:00pm
Four members of our little family had gathered at the bus stop and stood or sat as we waited for Jack to return from his first day of fourth grade. We sat in grass, assembled on curbs, rested and laughed as Slade recounted his day, sat and waited while patiently enjoying time together. It was a wondrous day, the type of Michigan cloud watching afternoon that resulted in four assembly line supervisors scheduling good-talking-to-meetings with seventeen strangely absent employees.
As I watched Crispin’s bare feet circle a tree for the thirteenth time, I heard Tammy mutter to Slade, “Water, something, something,” and quickly toddle in the direction of our house. For 11 seconds I continued to sit and watch Crispin as Tammy hurried home to check the water for her rice.
“Dad,” Slade’s panicky voice shot out, “Mom said her water broke.”
By the time Slade’s remark registered in my mind, Tammy, in a maddened hip rocking motion, had nearly speed-walked halfway home. I jumped to my feet, instructed Slade to corral Crispin, and raced to the aid of his beautiful mother. As I gained on her, I immediately took notice of the amniotic fluid free and surging down her pant legs. I sighed and began to smile as my feet flew forward; this was it, the precursor, the shift in barometric pressure, the red-yellow-green indicating an imminent event that would forever alter the life of our family.
“Tammy,” I shouted as I ran past a blur of pumping fists frantically propelling her body forward, “I’ll get you a towel.” From the corner of my eyes, expecting to find a face of elementary school wet pants embarrassment, I caught glimpse of beatific determination, a visceral beauty imparting red sea tranquility. So agile was her movement that I had only been in the house a few seconds before I heard feet entering the doorway.
Tammy quickly headed downstairs to change clothes and I picked up the phone to notify our midwife. In my best feigning calm voice, I filled her in on the circumstances of Tammy’s water breaking and asked her to come over. As she caught Crispin and was intimately attuned to Tammy’s rapid birthing history, she assured me that she was already on her way. After hanging up the phone and watching Tammy meander about the house in fresh clothes, something clicked and further solidified my understanding of the Midwifery practice. These women, these professionals and mothers, these compassionate empathic beings, exude an ethos of mothering. They are at once the soothing voice we search for that conveys an air of fervent understanding while sharing an intimate knowledge on a level of realness not found since childhood. They are the hand holders, the breath givers, the “I love you; you are strong,” at just the right moment sharers. They are nothing short of professionals; yet, unlike most, they never hesitate to impart their knowledge. In effect, they do their best daily to subvert the hierarchy of the American medical institution and its culture of anti-patient autonomy one hug at a time.
Both my excitement and nervousness grew with each passage of the second hand around the clock. Through the fog of my emotions, when I attempted to read Tammy, I wasn’t finding the familiar pause typically associated with mounting contractions. Something was amiss and in my characteristic denial of all things out of kilter, I refused to accept it. By all accounts, Tammy’s water broke around 4pm and I would be holding my new child by six.
“How are you feeling Tammy?” I asked her, attempting to mask my concern.
“I don’t know. I’m not feeling anything.”
Ugh, these were not even remotely the words I wanted to hear. How could this be? Surely she has to be feeling something and simply not recognizing it. In my preeminent impatient and insensitive ugly husband mode, which would grow much worse, I attempted to persuade her into relaxing enough to allow her contractions to begin.
“They’ll start Tammy. Remember with Crispin, they didn’t start until after we picked up in the kitchen.”
After a few minutes passed, Amanda and her assistant arrived. They immediately went about their work of preparing our home for a birth while simultaneously checking on Tammy’s progress and my emotional well being. Amanda is remarkable at this, the venerable punk rock Mary Poppins of Midwifery; she arrives in the home, hugs the mother, and amazingly spins in a circular formation leaving marching tinctures and dancing blue pads in her wake.
Jack was now home and happily playing with his brothers beneath the looming clouds of family expansion. As the clock neared 6 and Tammy’s progress had clearly stalled, my birthing experience took an unplanned right into uncharted territory. With her water having been broken for nearly two hours, I grew concerned for the safety of my unborn baby and the health of mi amor.
Recognizing my distress, after I quietly asked Tammy if there were any risks associated with a prolonged rupture of membranes, both Tammy and Amanda attempted to assuage my worries. Amanda thoughtfully explained that the primary risk was that of an infection and that Tammy and I should pay close attention to any increase in Tammy’s temperature. While this helped and offered something tangible for me to watch for, the first pangs of unease began to manifest in my stomach. The truth for me is that once the worries begin, no amount of talking or scriptural reference will help them abate. I wanted to hold my red faced baby; I wanted to hug my exhausted wife, but most importantly, I wanted the emotional release of knowing that they were both alright.
And so began the long night.
Acknowledging Tammy’s desire for space and with no contractions on the horizon, Amanda and her assistant prepared to go home for the evening. Amanda verified that we were comfortable with her departure and left instructions to immediately contact her at the first sign of change.
September 6, 2:00am
After fading in and out of a troubled sleep and periodically checking Tammy’s neck and forehead for fluctuations in temperature, the dark mask of 2 in the morning tore off like unblemished knees on hot blacktop.
“AHHHHHHH,” Tammy screamed, “Clint, Help Me!”
I awoke to find Tammy at the foot of our bed. She was perched on all fours in the dark with her head hanging down in absolute pain. A throbbing burning sensation that felt like 27 electrified cat claws was shooting from her lower back into her right leg.
“What should I do?”
“My legs, I’m going to die, you have to help me!”
There was nothing I could do, not anything. I’m no doctor and when I touched her it seemed to increase her pain. My only solution was to lift her in my arms and race her to the emergency room, a way out that she wanted no part of. As an alternative, I prayed for her and my unborn baby and began to pace the floor between her cries of pain.
“Ohhhh, help me Clint, help me!”
My stomach ached with soreness and I quickly found myself standing near the bed hacking up the nauseating grasses of anxiety.
Tammy’s pain seemed to depart as rapidly as it started. To our consternation, the pain had little to do with labor or contraction and everything to do with the baby’s position against a nerve in Tammy’s back. Throughout the rest of the night, like theological doctrine distributors or that annoying neighborhood kid, Tammy’s nerve pain returned too many times for comfort. The beginning of each visit flooded my senses with the emotions of first kiss exhilaration or the racing heartbeat of pre-fight posturing. Unfortunately, the excitement subsided as soon as Tammy was able to convey that the pain was once again unrelated to her dilating cervix.
My stress and anxiety levels escalated to pink slip intensity as the labile atmosphere of the night wore the polished edges from my everything-is-always-cool facade. Apart of the pain, Tammy appeared to be doing wonderful and I unintentionally stepped into position as the most difficult component of the birthing process. The remaining night and following day were filled with the unremitting badgering of a nervous father.
“Are you feeling anything yet…Still no regularity? I don’t want to hear about anything less than regular…We should go to the hospital…How do you know the baby is alright…I hate this Tammy, I hate this.”
September 6th, 1:00pm
As the sun traversed beyond its apex, Tammy, the boys, and I decided to go for a walk to pass the time. The morning had come and gone with no consistent contractions and I needed to go for a stroll in an attempt to redirect my focus. The boys were permitted to miss school so they could be home should Tammy give birth to their newest sibling. As we journeyed past the green grass and trees of our neighborhood, I slowly became more and more of an asshole and began directing my frustrations at my family members. I was tired of this and sadly my poor wife was bearing the brunt of my anxiety induced aggravation. No matter how I resisted, I could only picture my tiny baby, the newest member of our family, no longer floating but uneasily spelunking face down in a collapsed cave or painfully resting like a puppy trapped in the south end of a sleeping bag. I was scared and feeling guilty about my role in the decision of keeping our baby, the one whose very life depended on my decision managing skills, from having access to the best treatment our modern medical institution had to offer.
At one point on our trek, my growing tension boiled over and I said something unbelievably stupid to Tammy. With the afternoon sunlight radiating off her recording vinyl black hair, I grew quickly ashamed as her weary eyes brimmed with tears. Tammy hadn’t asked for this and she was doing her best to quietly deal with the uncomfortable process of her body preparing for birth. Our eyes met as her pleading face turned up towards mine and I was silently reminded of my place in this process. Gazing into the misty eyes of obsidian, I recognized the maternal presence of eternity staring back. I saw Tammy and her mother standing shoulder to shoulder with tattoos of Trust and Him curving over each forearm; I saw Abuelita guiding me around the garden, stopping at each plant to explain the preparation of nopalitos and herbal tea. In her eyes, I recognized my own mother whispering the words Patience and Strength over and over again; I saw sisters and grandmothers, teachers and doctors, aunts and friends, each quietly conveying the maternal wisdom found in centuries and centuries of owning the sole responsibility of bearing our children. This birth was not mine to question or control; I was simply a fortunate observer.
Removing the weighty fleece of worry from my shoulders, the remnants of the afternoon turned pleasant as we once again joined hands and awaited our baby in unison.
September 6th, 7:00pm
As Slade needed school supplies, later that evening found us shopping at Target. Not feeling her normal lively self, Tammy decided to wait in the van as the boys and I attempted to find the best bargain on 3 subject notebooks. The shopping went as quickly as to be expected and we returned to the van to find Tammy in the throes of what seemed to be the first true contraction of her labor. In retrospect, the act of Tammy sitting in the van as we entered Target was itself a prophecy of the immediate changes heading our way.
Watching Tammy’s contractions begin reminds me of everything good that has ever happened in my life. With each moan, she is easily the acceptance letter found between two forgotten bills. With each pause in breath, her silence mirrors the hush of my hand finding hers inside the dusty cab of a burnt and dented Toyota Tercel. With each drop of sweat on furrowed brow, she takes position aside two tiny hands on grandpa’s steering wheel. With each pain filled cry, she is every Arizona sunset forcing cars from roads and worries from hearts.
Always placing her family ahead of herself, Tammy made certain that we pick up two fresh baked pizzas from Whole Foods as we raced home for the pending birth. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves crossing the threshold of our casa and enjoying fresh slices of pepperoni pie. The excitement of a holiday pageant or one’s first rock concert hung in the air while we all enjoyed a cocktail of melted cheese and time pausing contractions. Tammy insisted that I wait to call Amanda because she didn’t want a repeat of the day before. It was clear that she was now in labor, and I reluctantly agreed to hold off on placing the phone call but only for a short time.
Allowing 15 minutes to pass, I phoned Amanda and asked her to come over. Since it was near Creaky’s bed time, Tammy decided to set up the birthing area in our living room. Without sharing any words, we decided that I would take Creaky upstairs and help him fall asleep while Tammy bounced on a birthing ball and prepared her body for the difficult course of action that was rapidly heading her way. I enjoyed my time alone with Creaky and appreciated the opportunity of offering him all of my attention as I rocked him to sleep to the words of Good Night Moon and Hush Little Baby. Whispering in his ear stories of big brotherhood and the changes he would find when he awoke, his eyes gradually closed and I held him extra tight. I could hear people arriving downstairs and a welcome smile entered my heart.
The darkness of our bedroom broke as Amanda and her assistant quietly opened the door and tip-toed across the hardwood floor in order to move the birthing supplies from our bedroom to Tammy’s location downstairs. I took pleasure in watching them sneak in and out of the darkened room like a pair of holistic cat burglars or, Sam, the thieving Santa Claus on Eight is Enough. With Crispin sound asleep and tucked in bed, I was able to finally join Tammy downstairs.
Turning the corner into the living room, my eyes rested on the sight that for the last 29 hours they had been longing to see. Tammy was in full labor. Her shaking body was propped up on the couch as she fought through the crescendo of another contraction. As the pains abated, Tammy’s muscles relaxed a bit and I took position with her on the floor and gently held her hand. While I was upstairs with Creaky, our living room had been transformed into a birthing area. We sat on a maroon vinyl sheet that was now lining the floor. A crock-pot plugged in next to the bookcase offered moist warm towels. There were the ubiquitous blue pads at the ready and disposal lined paper bags within arms length. The end-of-summer-weather offered easy warmth, allowing t-shirts and the lingering scents of trampled grass and split watermelon. Even more salient was the emotional temperature of the room; upon entrance, the exponential rise in energy was palpable as these three women began their arduous journey along the canyon’s edge of life’s foremost breath.
In the moment, I’m relieved that this is our last baby, as assisting or helping Tammy while she is unable to communicate her needs is very difficult for me. On one hand, I want to intrude on her space and hold her in my arms through the ebbs and flows of the intense tide of delivery; much like I hold my children until the pain and shock of their scraped knees subsides. On the other, I recognize that her body is communicating birthing positions that she should take in order to assuage her distress and any intrusion on my part could potentially limit her comfort.
Another contraction mounts and my tiny wife resumes her position next to the couch. With both knees planted firmly on the floor, she rests her upper body on the sofa cushion, lowers her head, and surrenders to nature. Tammy’s beautiful black hair flows over her shoulders and falls towards the ground, obscuring any vision of her face and its tear dampened eyes.
A guttural moan emanates from her esophagus and intensifies alongside the gloss of sweat collecting on her torso. Her body begins to tremble with the focus of a toddler’s first bike ride as she calmly calls on the inexhaustible reserves of inner strength that she has tucked away since childhood. These are the same reserves that at 18 moved her from Las Cruces to Tempe in order to etch out life 384 miles of arid desert away from family and friends. The same reserves that when, one year later, she found herself pregnant, allowed her to never question the act of keeping and raising our first son. These are the same strengths and resiliencies that helped a young girl make her way through the undeniably difficult and confusing lifetime of never knowing who her father is. Tammy embraces the tsunami, reaches its zenith, and glides down the other side.
With three people milling around her and wishing they knew exactly how to help, Tammy relaxed on the floor for a few minutes and began to prepare for the next contraction. Her flushed face and red swollen eyes betray any attempt at masking the intensity of her labor. She is rapidly progressing and the duress in her voice makes me wish I could be of more assistance. Tammy decides to stand and Amanda and I follow and offer her our support. Facing Amanda, her arms instinctively reach out and she embraces Amanda’s neck.
There are moments in which I am envious of the female gender and this is one of them. Reminiscent of Creaky’s birth, in one of the most poignant moments of the evening, I am able to stand back and watch as the emotional nucleus of a friendship rooted in elemental love is put on view. With Tammy’s arms around her shoulders, Amanda turns her head, gently kisses Tammy’s cheek, and says, “I love you.” I am at once touched with this potent but ever so basic expression of companionship and support.
It is only minutes before another contraction begins and Tammy continues to lean on Amanda throughout its course. Upon abatement, with the crest of her swollen belly positioned lower than ever, Tammy marches about the room with the focus and determination of a boxer preparing for a title fight or simply that of a mother making certain both the environment and her emotions are prepared for the welcoming of her new baby. Throwing out and shaking her limbs and hands as if preparing to win a marathon, she looks at me, glances at Amanda and her assistant, and with absolute authority, states, “Ok, I’m going to have the baby now.”
Tammy turns toward me and rests her weary head on my chest. Whispering, “I love you,” to each other, we embrace as she places her arms around my neck and begins to cry. Her tired body is trembling from the combined physical exhaustion and discomforting knowledge that the baby is not yet out. I can feel the contraction’s power ripple through her as her hands grasp my shoulders with the firmness and purity of an Arizona farmer’s handshake. Her cries are now audible and increase with the power of the contraction. Midway through, Tammy can take no more and begins to scream out for help.
“Amanda, help me. Help meeeeee!”
“I’m here Tammy. I’m here.”
Amanda is now on her knees and examining Tammy to make certain everything is alright and naturally progressing.
“Tammy, I can see the head.”
“I want to push, I’m going to push.”
“You can push, just push gently.”
Tammy’s arms tighten around my neck as she begins to tenderly push our baby through her body. It is now that all time begins to slow. Now, the racing swirling thoughts forever clouding my mind clear, and through the parting fog, I catch sight of the fourth peak of Familia Carter. We are summiting, setting our mini-van to cruise control and enjoying the view as we arrive at the crest. In a matter of seconds, my eyes catch the memorable image of flaying purple hands and feet as our new child begins life safe in the arms of an extraordinary professional and beloved family friend.
Because we are unaware of the baby’s gender, I begin making every attempt to establish the sex of our newest family member without dropping Tammy. Her entire frame and weight is now resting against mine. She is explicably fatigued and I am honored to stand next to and support such a beautiful, sacrificial woman. 36 months, 3 years, or just less than 10% of her life have been given to carrying our children in utero, a fact that never loses its ability to amaze me.
While Amanda begins the sometimes frightening procedure of cleaning the infant’s nostrils and mouth in an attempt to trigger first breath, I feel the rush of discovery and kept promises as I catch vision of our new daughter. Upon this realization, I am immediately lost in the thought of late night talks over steaming coffee and crumb speckled plates, talks of girl power shoe laces and feminist theory, of Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt, worn copies of Woman Hollering Creek and Where We Stand, and the asking and answering, asking and answering, asking and answering of Socratic discourse. About this time, Tammy gives me an excited squeeze and chokingly cries out, “Clint, I think we had a baby girl!”
We squeeze each other tight as the excitement and surprise of having a daughter swirls through us, around us, and begins bouncing off chairs, bookcases, picture frames, and across the dinner tables of folk in Western states. Along with the arrival of our daughter, a familiar dirt path offering an extension of a cherished maternal lineage is immediately carved from a place where only hope once stood and now stretches from the five colored rug in our living room to hidden valleys beyond the horizon. The cultura y tradiciones of a family ancestry of strong Christian Mexican women has new roots in the ten fingers, ten toes, and healthy body embracing the beautiful spirit of our new daughter, Mikaela Sol Carter.