Five years ago, I had a baby in my living room.
Oh yes I did.
Before you hear the story, I have to tell you this: it was not on purpose. I grew up in Oregon and I enjoy lots of all-natural products but I definitely didn’t want a home birth.
But Tommy had other plans.
The day started out like any other weekend day with Shawn and I getting two kids fed, dressed and eventually off to the playground. I was so pregnant that I couldn’t tie my own shoes very easily anymore, and we laughed about that.
The day continued, and by the early evening when we had pizza with friends, I thought I might be in the first stages of labor. I called my Aunt Terry to come down from New York and my dear family friend Mary Grace would be in town too, just in case we needed them. My contractions were all over the place, but I was hopeful. The baby was due a few days later on my birthday and I definitely didn’t want to share that day. We took the kids home, read them a story and I tucked them into bed. “I’m going to go to bed early,” I told Shawn around 8:15. “Don’t worry about me. The contractions aren’t bad and I think we’ll probably be able to sleep through the night and go to the hospital in the early morning. Go relax – I’ll call you if I need anything.”
“Okay,” he said, and went downstairs to watch a bit of TV so I could sleep.
I got in bed and tried to sleep. Around 8:30, I went to the bathroom and felt a pop.
There was a lot of blood. I’ll spare you all some of the details, but a massive contraction followed that made me moan and woke up Claire. She ran into the bathroom. “Go get Dad,” I scream-whispered to her.
He came up. “I think we have to go to the hospital,” I said.
Austin wandered in the room. I laid on the bed and we called the doctor. Then we called our friend Kristin who was going to babysit the big kids and our friend Stefanie who was going to take photos of the birth. At that point, the contractions had become so intense that I couldn’t finish the conversation with Stefanie and had to throw down the phone.
I was starting to really yell through the contractions. It was somewhere around 8:45.
“Mama, are you okay?” Claire asked. She wasn’t even five yet, but she looked scared.
I couldn’t answer. Shawn took control. “I’ll get the bag. Kids, you get to watch a movie downstairs until Kristin comes.”
He put on the movie Brave. How appropriate. Then he helped me to the living room, where I sat on the ground. “Put on your shoes,” he said, holding my hand, “and we’ll go sit in the car and leave right when Kristin gets here. I’ll go get the keys upstairs.”
He left for a minute, and I couldn’t do anything but scream from a huge contraction.
“What’s going on?” he said when he returned. “You either need to put on your shoes or we have to call 9-11.”
“I think we have to call 9-11” I said, weakly.
“Okay, that’s what 9-11 is for,” he said matter-of-factly and started dialing as another contraction hit.
He got an operator and tried to describe what was happening but I was screaming so much he couldn’t really get the information across. I have no idea what the kids were doing and since they can’t remember and now Shawn is gone, I guess I’ll never really know. But they certainly had stopped watching the movie.
Kristin showed up. “Welcome, we’re having the baby here,” Shawn said in a voice that Kristin remembers as quite casual, given the circumstances. “I called 911, but they may not make it,” he told her.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll get the kids upstairs.” She got the kids settled in Claire’s room and then proceeded to gather all of our towels and brought them down. She kissed me on my head and said to both us “You got this!” and ran back upstairs to distract Claire and Austin with a story about baby animals. It was close to 9 pm. 30 minutes prior, I hadn’t really been in labor.
Shawn took off my pants. My water broke and I couldn’t control the contractions. The 9-11 operator told Shawn to “get me in a comfortable place, like a couch.”
“Listen to me,” Shawn said forcefully, “this is our third child and this baby is coming right now.” I was dealing with contraction after contraction, and at this point my most vivid memory is Shawn trying to clean up my body as more fluid poured out.
What happened next – the next 3 minutes – remains the most vivid memory that I have with Shawn in our 15-year-relationship.
He threw down the phone. I was sobbing. Blood and shit and amniotic fluid was all over our floor. I could feel the baby’s head crowning. “I can’t do it!” I screamed at him.
He took my face in his hands. “Listen to me,” he said, sternly but with such deep affection, “you’ve done this two other times. You can do this! The only thing that’s different is the location.”
I looked into his eyes and I believed him.
And so I pushed. We could hear the sirens coming and he kept saying, “it’s going to be okay.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
“It’s going to be okay!”
Tommy came out in one big burst. Later, Shawn would tell me that it was the most natural-looking thing to watch his son come into this world. He caught him, turned him over and patted him on the back.
Tommy cried. “Is he okay?” I screamed over and over.
“He’s okay, he’s okay!” Shawn said back. I remember how calm he was. How steady.
I’m not sure how long we waited like that. Maybe a minute? Time was frozen, and really, so were we.
But then the paramedics came in, and swarmed around us. Our friend Stefanie, the photographer, arrived with them and started snapping photos. Shawn handing me Tommy. Me holding my son for the first moment. Shawn rolling up his dripping wet sleeves as he gazes at the two of us.
Eventually, the kids came down with Kristin and the paramedics gave Shawn scissors to cut the umbilical cord. We made a plan to go to the hospital. At least a dozen people surrounded my newborn.
But in that moment, the one where Tommy entered the world, it was just me and Shawn. Even in the midst of the most terrifying moments of my life, I felt Shawn’s calm and steady hands. I felt his reassurance that it was all going to be okay.
“You’re good in an emergency,” I told him later. “But I was still scared that there weren’t any doctors around.”
“I’m glad it was just us,” he said. “It was the single best moment of my life.”
“Me too,” I said back. I wasn’t lying. It was the single best moment of my life as well.
So when my son reads this post someday, I hope he enjoys the drama of the story. But mostly, I hope he sees how much two people loved him on that day – and every day since.
Tommy, you are five today. You will grow up to be a man someday, and your memories of your father will likely only be those that I tell you. But your dad brought you into this world, and his hands were the first that held you. He wrapped you in an old Dora the Explorer towel and he held you tight on my chest as the ambulance screamed to the hospital. Your feet barely hit the ground in those first years, because he carried you everywhere. He loved you so deeply, right from that first moment.
No matter what, he is your father, and you are his son.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.