DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley's son, Tommy, held by his father, Shawn just after his home birth

Tommy’s Birthday

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.

(Stefanie made a slideshow of the photos, which you can see if you click here. You can also read her account of the night if you click here.)

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.


  • Sheryll Brimley

    THIS birth story has always been so so special but now…..is so VERY special !!! Happy Happy Birthday Tommy!

  • Melissa

    I clicked on the link to Stephanie’s photos and cried through the whole video. It was so sweet and especially poignant, knowing what was coming for all of you in just a matter of a few years. Those photos of Tommy’s birth are a real treasure. It’s so wonderful your friend was there to take them. Tears continue to fall as I write this.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I know – as I told Stefanie after she sent the photos to us: I would rather have these photos than our wedding photos. They are that important to me. I love them.

  • Erin

    Stefanie’s photos (and friendship!) are always a gift but especially with these photos. The joy, calm and love in Shawn’s eyes for his beautiful wife and newborn son is so touching that I wept as I looked at each photo. What a strong, kind and wonderful man he was Marjorie. Happy 5th birthday sweet Tommy – I know one day you too will so treasure these photos of your phenomenal mother and father. ❤️❤️

    • Marjorie

      I know – lucky me (and you!) to have a friend like Stefanie who is so wonderful AND so talented! And yes…I’m so happy Tommy will have these photos forever as well.

  • Jen

    What a beautiful story and what a story for your son. In the last 10 months I’ve thought of our daughters birth so many times and it’s such a precious moment that I feel so blessed that we shared and I’ve realized I’m the only now that has these set of memories. So now it’s up to me to keep those memories alive, by doing that I feel he’s still “present”. Cancer stole his physical body from us but it CANNOT take his spirit or our memories of him and in those he was always live on.
    Happy birthday to your Tommy and sending all the best wishes to he and your family on this special day.

    • Marjorie

      There is nothing like sharing the birth of a child with your spouse. Nothing. It’s something that I think is impossible to ever recapture – though I tried to here. But there’s no way to really describe what Shawn’s eyes looked like that night. They were shining.

  • Steph

    Marjorie I’m so glad for you to have these wonderful images- you deserve them so much. Happy tears here for all our good times. Happy Birthday, Tommy.

  • Andrea

    I cried at the gorgeousness of the photos and your story five years ago and am crying over them again today, for different reasons. The way Shawn looked at you in these photos says absolutely everything anyone could need to know about the two of you. He may not remember much, but I hope Tommy always feels the love that’s so obvious in these photos. Happy birthday, Tommy.

    • Marjorie

      I think you’re right – Tommy will be able to see the love, and that will be everything that matters when he thinks about his dad.

  • Melanie

    Beautiful story! I love the photo where your husband is casually sitting in the hospital room, talking on his phone. He looks so relaxed as if to say, “ Yep, just delivered my own baby. No big deal. All’s well and it was a piece of cake.” What a special, wondrous event. Happy birthday to your little boy!

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I LOVE that photo too! I think he was calling his parents, though we called everyone that night so who knows. It was SO FUN making those calls – especially for him!

  • Kate

    I really cried reading this Post and looking at those pictures. Sharing the birth of your child with your spouse is the most intimate experience that you can have. I remember every detail of that day. It is just not right, not fair that this happened and they are no longer here for us and their children. It makes me so incredibly sad. Happy Birthday to your sweet boy. I hope he feels the love of his father every day because it is so obvious in all of those pictures.

    • Marjorie

      Yes. And there’s no one else who will ever look at me the way that Shawn looked at me after each of our children were born. That breaks my heart.

  • Cathy

    Holy moly, that is an outstanding birthstory! And such a very bittersweet memory. Sending all our love and peace. (Coincidentally, my eldest just turned 12 on 2/22 — it’s a great day for birthdays.) Happy birthday, Tommy!

  • Carmelita

    Boy, that took me back almost 30 years ago. That picture of your husband at the top of this story even looked like my own husband:The plaid shirt,the intense gaze, so much love and affection and Strength and connection. It almost seems like it was just a short time ago. Like I could jump into that picture again so quickly and easily.