The telephone rang at 2 AM. Since Cassandra’s due date had passed three days earlier, I knew what it probably meant. But I was skeptical. I had a previously uncontested theory about birth order as it relates to my parents’ grandchildren. Each had entered this world one day of the week after the other, starting with Cassandra herself on a Sunday evening. Her brother Shannon arrived on a Monday, their sister Rachel on a Tuesday. Next came cousin Lexi on a Wednesday, followed by cousin Erica on a Thursday. Cassandra’s first son Patrick arrived predictably on a Friday morning. And he had been 10 days late. This call came on a Thursday, only 3 days late. And it didn’t sound urgent. In fact, Cassandra sounded perfectly normal. Not really sleepy, though. And more than a tinge excited. “I think I might be in labor,” she said.

“Oh, good,” I yawned, anticipating a false alarm and a groggy morning commute. “Call me back when things look more definite.” I expected to hear from her on Saturday. But I wasn’t asleep for long. Two hours later, Hugh called me from his car phone. Cassandra was in the midst of a contraction, unable to speak. And they were on their way to the Birth Center.
Still not quite believing, I pulled on my clothes and grabbed my camera. It was a warm April night, and there was no traffic. A pleasant, relatively speedy drive. At about 4:45, Hugh unlocked the Birth Center door and let me in. “She’s in the jacuzzi,” he whispered.

I stashed my things and headed for the bathroom. I found her on her hands and knees, rocking gently in the rolling waves. On arrival, she had been 6 cm dilated. Her midwife smiled gently, as she unobtrusively reached beneath the bubbles and intermittently monitored the baby’s heartbeat with a waterproof doppler. “She’s doing great,” she said.
I sat down on the floor. “Do you want some back pressure?” I asked her. She nodded, so during the next contraction, I applied the heel of my hand to the small of her back as she rocked and moaned softly. It helped, she said.
But it wasn’t long before everything started to annoy her. The contractions had turned themselves up a notch, and they were just short of overwhelming. She needed her hair tied back. She needed the sweat wiped from her forehead. She needed the jacuzzi turned off. She wanted the back pressure stopped. And without warning she felt something she hadn’t felt with Patrick. She felt an overpowering urge to push.

She seemed surprised. This magnificent urge was new to her. When she labored with Patrick, her midwife determined that she was 10 cm dilated and gave her a choice to either begin pushing or wait until she felt the urge. She chose to push. She never really experienced that awe-inspiring moment of relinquishment, that undeniable surge of control taken by some higher force. She never experienced the inevitability of birth. This time was different. She had no choice but to surrender.
And surrender she did. Gracefully. Beautifully.
Did you expect anything less? She relaxed into her body and let it do its work. Between contractions, Hugh and I helped her out of the tub and into the adjoining bedroom. She positioned herself as comfortably as possible in a semi-reclined position. We helped her arrange her pillows. She pushed with a determination born of abandon, a strength born of letting go. And between pushes, she rested. She rested so deeply that she actually dozed off at the fall of each contraction, awakening gently with the rise of the next.

Walter was born at 5:32 on a Thursday morning. He weighed 7 lb. 13 oz. Riding the crest of an inspired surrender, he oozed out slowly and deliberately, amniotic membrane still intact. The midwife nicked the membrane lightly with an amnihook, whereupon it peeled back around his emerging head to reveal an alert, ancient-eyed creature with straight black hair and a kitten’s gentle cry. He nursed strongly about 15 minutes after birth. He is amazing. So is his mother.

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