I thought that since I stupidly drank a cup of coffee at 9 pm (for social reasons) I would take advantage of this time to try to write about the births that I saw. I haven't been able to describe the experiences verbally to anyone since they occurred. I feel bad about this because I know my mother was anxious to learn what I thought of it, but somehow I just have not been able to put it into words. It's something I've been "treasuring in my heart," but it might be time to try to give an account of it.
The first birth was an Amish one. Looking back, it's just a series of impressions to me-- the hushed farmhouse full of darkness and silence; the hours spent quietly and nervously waiting in the living room while the mother lay with her husband, trying to bring back her contractions; then the wide eyed scurrying about, directed by Elizabeth's calm, firm voice. "Mallory, bring me that tray." Despite my hyper-attentive state, I froze at the first command given directly to me. "Mallory, give me the tray." She brought me back to reality and I obeyed.
It was my job to chart the times of all of the birth occurences: crowning, head, baby, placenta, cord cut. I also was to make notes on the mother's position during all of this, when she moved, what kind of perineal guidance was given, whether her wiry bearded husband was stimulating her nipples, etc.
Even though I wrote all of these things down, I don't remember any of them. I remember that she was too short for her feet to reach the floor from either the toilet or the birth stool, so we put stacks of towels under her feet. She still didn't feel stable enough to push, so she lay on her back as her husband and Elizabeth's Amish assistant pushed her knees back to her shoulders. I will never forget the low, fundamental groan she produced as she pushed: was it from her diaphragm, or was it her bones creaking under the strain of birth? It could not have been from her mouth. Her sweet rosy face could not have cried out so.
For most of the night, I had been stationed outside of the bedroom, angled so that I could see Elizabeth, the mother and the clock, but so that I was unseen. I had not met the mother before and I didn't want my presence to disturb her. As she began to push and moan, though, I was clearly the least of her concerns, so I moved into the room and positioned myself at the end of the bed with a clear view.
Maybe the reason I haven't been able to give an account so far is this: As that baby's wrinkly, gooey blue head emerged into Elizabeth's hands, my entire consciousness was centered in receiving it. No matter how much "context" I try to give, I will always fail in describing that moment because it seemed too large for the sequence in which it fell. The breath in which it happened was the longest breath of my life thus far, although according to the clock it was over in an instant. There is no frame of reference for birth.
A boy was born, and after that I don't remember very much besides blood. Blood was everywhere. It took us quite a while to clean up and we had to wait for a long time for the mother to stop bleeding. She was fine, the baby was fine, the father was delighted (in a quiet Amish way) in his son. At five in the morning I walked out into the July moonlight, breathed the warm sweet-corn air very deeply, and wanted to cry.
Twin birth later, this turned out long.