martin zender, melody zender, home birth, midwife

My Son Aaron is Born

Pregnant womanI don't believe that men should drive their wives to the hospital anymore when their wives are going to have a baby. If men should somehow find their wives in a hospital at this time (visiting a sick relative, for instance), they should whisk their wives as quickly as possible away from the hospital and get them back home, where a woman in labor ought to be. Then the men should go with their wives for a walk under the morning stars. At 9 a.m., they can go ahead and call the midwives, one of whom will arrive in hiking boots.

None of this will happen until the man's wife stirs. Mine did this around 2 a.m. That's when the first contraction hit.

Melody turned and put her arm across my shoulder. I have never felt a contraction, just an arm across my shoulder suggesting one. Melody and the baby felt good against me, which shows what I know about it. I knew the contraction was light, because Melody's arm soon relaxed and her breathing became the deep and regular breathing of sleep.

The contraction that hit at 3 a.m. was much harder. Melody absorbed it with a breath, then released it with a pure exhalation. She swung her feet to the floor, and I had not felt that contraction. I only crawled across the sheets through the warmth of where the baby and my wife had been.

Melody and I quickly dressed.

I thought a walk would be nice.

Two years before, in 1986 when our firstborn son Arty had been born (when Melody's contractions were three minutes apart, as they were now), we had heard electric doors humming open. A nurse was putting Melody in a wheelchair and I was signing forms at a harshly-lit desk. This year, 1988, the cows in the pasture next to our road touched their noses to the wire fence and deliberately wheezed at us. It was so cold that there must have been hot mist coming from the nostrils of the cows. And yet we couldn't see the mist for the darkness.

A word about the stars we walked beneath that morning would be corny. And it was corny, only if one considers galaxies made by God then frozen into museums for humanity's sake, "corny." Even if one does, it doesn’t matter. Corniness comforts a woman in labor.

The stars were bright.

Our two year-old son Arty was unaware of the wonder of the night and of the coming day. He was asleep in the house, so we walked only a couple hundred yards south on Clip Road, then a couple hundred yards north, always keeping the lit kitchen window in view.

Walking was good for Melody and for me. I remember it being so cold that my hands were stuffed deeply into my pockets. The heat off my head went undisturbed into space. I remember that Melody's left hand was in my right pocket, squeezing my right hand. And so my right hand was the warmest and happiest of my two hands.

Two years before, in 1986, when our firstborn son Arty was born (when Melody's contractions were two and a half minutes apart, as they were now), Melody was putting on her hospital gown, the doctor was pretending to be happy, and a nurse was snapping closed some curtains to our right. A woman in the labor room had just given birth to a deformed baby boy that lived for three minutes. The woman's husband wore a chain from his belt and had greasy, black hair. A nurse asked him if he was all right, and he said, "Yes."

Melody and I went into the kitchen and made toast. We called our birth attendants at 9 a.m. That’s when Melody's contractions started coming closer together and she had changed into a pretty, pink gown.

The names of our midwives were Linda and Sunny. A friend had recommended Linda to us.

We found Linda only with detailed directions, for she lived behind many trees in Amish coAmish countryuntry. Her driveway was a path through the trees that split open onto a sunlit hilltop from which Amish country rolled in furrows to the east.

The door of Linda's log cabin home was slightly ajar. It banged twice when we knocked it—once for the knock and once when the door hit the jamb. Linda answered the door, and before we had even appreciated the size of the log beams that supported her ceiling, we were family. Linda was strong, not just physically but of constitution. Denim seemed the perfect material for her, and she wore it that day in a skirt that went to her shins. Her hair must have been long, but she wore it in a bun secured with functional leather and a stick. She let her hair down later, and it was long. But it was very thin. Her feet were pleasantly big and she didn't need sandals, but wore them anyway. She used her quick hands to push down her legs when she sat down next to us on the couch, and this made it impossible for us to doubt her ability.

Linda's four year-old son had been born with a mental handicap. I remember that his nose kept running throughout our visit. Linda was patient and loving, keeping after him with a Kleenex.

Linda had a pretty, eight year-old daughter whose hair was golden and whose dress was simple, neat and practical as the Mennonites wear dresses. The girl smiled politely at us, then looked after the boy.

We asked Linda many questions. Linda gave us many good reasons to have our child at home. These reasons included, "You can take a hot bath if you want to," "You can eat a pizza if you want to," "It's your house," "It's your birth," and "You can do whatever you feel you must do to deliver your baby." Then Linda said, "I am the one privileged to attend your baby's birth."

Melody and I looked at one another just then. We both grinned so hard that we were embarrassed, so we looked down quickly at the wood slats on the floor. That was when we knew we had made the right decision.

Then Linda talked to us about babies. Linda loved what she did so much that her eyes welled with tears whenever she talked about babies. So she was soft, too.

Linda's med kit was big, like an auto mechanic's box. It opened into three tiers, each tier held things that Linda knew she needed. Every one of the things had proven themselves in the heat of womanhood.

It was time for Melody's check-up. Melody laid on the couch while Linda checked for the fetal heartbeat. Linda said, "Fine." Next, Linda caressed the baby's form through Melody's belly. "Fine," she said again. Then Linda asked Melody how she felt. Melody said, of all things, "Fine."

Linda then brushed back her hair, told us the baby was a boy, clipped closed her med kit, then excused herself to the kitchen to remove chocolate-chip cookies from her oven.

Linda didn't seem like she needed a helper, but she had one named Sunny. We met Sunny during a subsequent check-up.

Sunny was happy to be with Linda, as everyone was. Sunny lived on a goat farm and did nothing particular about her appearance, especially her hair. She was petite and I remember her in dull dresses and aprons. She loved us for what we were doing, and told us that in so many fast words and facial gestures. Her eyes were always darting and often looking for Linda, who was often on the telephone.

Sunny was an exponent of the simple life; she lived and worked on a goat farm. In an age when pregnancy is treated as a disease (pregnant women are presumed ill until proven healthy), Sunny re-simplified the art of carrying a baby: "Eat right, exercise, and don't Sumo wrestle."

Linda and Sunny came that morning in a Chevy Blazer. The day of delivery number seven-hundred and forty-eight had become warm and sunny. Melody was still feeling good just before the ladies arrived, and had made molasses cookies. But by the time Linda and Sunny stomped into our kitchen, Melody was upstairs kneeling on the floor in our bedroom. Her hands were on her knees and she struggled with a contraction every other minute.

I was too free. It was too easy for me. The morning (it was 10:00 now) was cloudless and the thiChevy blazerng was just catered to me. It came with everything but baked chicken and cole slaw. The attendants pulled into the driveway. They walked to the house and knocked on the door. That was it. I went to the Blazer and carried their med kits to the house, that's true. But that was the hardest work I did. But I will have to admit that I was ready to drop the med kits by the time I got inside.

I ran upstairs to comfort Melody and found her in the position just described. It was easy to comfort her because Melody was strong now that Linda was here.

The women fused when they gathered in our bedroom--that's fused, not fussed. There was no fussing. I felt like an intruder at first, but then the women accepted me into their circle and made me part of it. I melted into their weld, if you will. I helped spread a plastic sheet on the bed as if we would paint the ceiling.

Some would question the wisdom of bringing Arty to the birth, or at least into the hallway of it. But the decision was right. I would never lie to my son. Taking his mother away to "have" something was, in a way, lying to him. Do mothers have babies, or do they grace their families with new additions? Here in our bedroom, Melody was not "having" something. She was hallowing something. Arty sensed that and relaxed into his grandmother's arms in a rocking chair outside the door.

Joanie is Arty's grandmother. She had brought five children into the world, including Melody. But the custom then was to disallow women the experience of childbirth. And so she rocked Arty. Or maybe she shook her anticipation back and forth, making Arty the beneficiary of nervous energy shot into the chair.

Arty will not remember entering the world. Melody will always remember it, as will I.

Bad hospitalArty was brought into the world by his head with a pair of forceps. There was no sunlight at that time, only dull hospital fluorescence. And curtains. And yellow liquids that came through beveled needle tips. And twenty-nine hours of pain that the liquids couldn't touch. There were no visitors then (No visitors allowed!) except nurses, with their I.V.'s, ice chips, and their ability to turn on Bonanza reruns "for" you, which is not what you need.

Lamaze is a joke, the kind of joke where, after it's told, everyone looks down at the floor and forces a smile for the sake of the idiot who told it. Lamaze is not designed to keep a woman's mind from the pain of delivery, but rather from what the hospital people are doing to her that make her need the yellow liquids that don't work.

Back to the precious home, and it's 11:05 a.m.

Melody was getting nervous but still managed a smile when Linda said: "You look wonderful!" Upon these three words was built a successful delivery. These words came from God, the three of them: "You look wonderful!" Not drugs, not curtains, not ice chips, not a list of instructions, not breathing like a sun-baked dog, but, "You look wonderful!" It was a thing of God. The medical world has not discovered it because it's too simple.

11:54 a.m. A woman is never so inwardly divorced as when the physical anguish of childbirth strives with the swelling joy of motherhood for control of her heart. Is she shedding tears of agony or of joy? Both. Melody passed briefly through contentious land, then came out the other side with a sigh. She opened her eyes to see an anxious husband blowing on his hands, preparing them for the child he would love for as long as he lived.

12:00 noon. In God's merciful plan, pain births joy. Boiling tears partly obscured a beautiful white face that nestled into the world of my hands. I said, "Oh, my God" because the baby's face was pure white with fine creases where a little blood was. The whiteness of the baby's face made me look toward Linda.

"There he is," Linda said, and the way she said it let me know that the baby was fine. I would have used an exclamation point there at the end of what Linda said, but Linda was not like that. But she was very happy and satisfied.

At 12:01, a son entrusted his small body to my hands. God entrusted him to me, really, because the small boy did not yet know how to trust. Both his shoulder blades pressed into my palms. He was fearfully and wonderfully made, like the Bible says, but he did not yet know he was fearfully and wonderfully made, so he began to cry.

That room would always be special to me.

I cut the umbilical cord.

The baby was not shocked at the world, and neither was it interested in us nor in the place from which it had come. It only needed us. That was its world. Its world was need. Then I held the baby, Aaron, up to his mother's chest, and he began to nurse. It was so easy for him. The joy he brought to us when he did that came just as easily.

Arty came in then, and we put Aaron on his lap. Arty was astounded. I will never forget Arty's cute, white shirt, his blond hair, and him looking down at Aaron. Today, Arty and Aaron are best friends. They are shouting happily outside my window as I write. Arty is six, and Aaron is nearly four years old.

Son returned to mother and they bonded. I wrote these words shortly after the birth:
"Human life begins at conception. For nine months, Aaron and Melody have enjoyed an unbroken intimacy nurtured through a lifeline of blood and spirit. In their private and cozy world, neither time nor space has kept them apart. Now they begin a new chapter. Each must now shoulder the risks that love demands. These are the risks of separation, difference and heartache. But all this can wait. The new one, bewildered, longs only for his mother."

Sunny ate a molasses cookie. Linda was shoeless, then removed her apron. If I have not yet mentioned that Sunny wore hiking boots, I should have. Looking back now, I see you have been informed of it.

Linda held Melody's hand (Joanie would talk for three days about what had happened) and the last of October came in through an open window.

Melody stroked Aaron's wet head. Aaron hugged his mother with the only embrace he could offer: himself. Was he happy to be here? I believed that he was. He seemed to be saying, as he wiggled his toes through the natural light of an upstairs bedroom, "It's been a long time, Mom, but there's no place like home.