My Son Aaron is Born
I 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,
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,
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 country. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 thing 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.
Arty 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
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.