A free story from “Midwife: A Calling” by Peggy Vincent
Dennis was attending grad school at the university, and he and his wife, Sylvia, lived in a complex of small apartments built for married students and families.
When I arrived about mid-point in Sylvia’s labor, she was in a rocking chair in the living room. Ten terracotta planters lined a narrow balcony off the living room. Some had seedlings in them, and others were already bursting with greenery.
Dennis stared out the sliding glass door. “That dove…” he said.
A mourning dove with a mouthful of twigs and fluff had just landed in one of the planters. Dennis pulled the door open, shooed the bird away, discarded the nesting material, and righted the little plants. Then he stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at the dove, now sitting on the roof of the apartment block next door.
The dove glared back.
“She’s determined to build her nest there. It faces south, so it’s sunny and warm, but I’ve got radishes in that pot.” He explained he’d grown up on a farm in Iowa and missed the feel of earth between his fingers. Now, with no plot of land to call his own, he had to make do with a few planters on his balcony.
Sylvia got up and walked around the small living room for a few minutes, then stood still, looking distracted. She sat in the rocker again but was on her feet within minutes, saying it was “too tippy.”
Women giving birth in hospitals are often confined to a bed; if they walk, it’s usually just within their own labor room. Other than the hallways, there aren’t a lot of other options. But for a woman giving birth at home, the choices are endless. And some women have a hard time deciding exactly where they want to be, experimenting throughout labor as if searching for the perfect spot.
Sylvia was such a woman.
She stood up, looked at the rocker, and said, “Too tippy.” Then she got in the shower. That lasted maybe ten minutes. She emerged dripping wet, wrapped herself in a big towel, and said, “Too wet.”
“Too wet? It’s a shower, Sylvia,” said Dennis. “Of course it’s wet. What did you expect?”
She didn’t answer, just wandered into the bedroom. She knelt on the wooden floor and rested her head and chest on the bed. “Too hard,” she said. She rubbed her knees, then went looking for the next location.
She headed for a dresser covered with framed photographs, jewelry, hair ties, makeup, paperback books, and more – and created a small space for herself. She leaned over, resting her elbows on the dresser and her head in her hands.
“Too messy,” she declared, and headed back to the living room.
I agreed. The dresser was cluttered. I cleared off half of it and began setting out my equipment. Then I thought, This is a woman who doesn’t have a clue where she’s going to be when the baby’s born. So I took the bowl that Sylvia had set out for the placenta and put a few basic bits of gear in it. I could grab that and carry it around with me as she wandered from place to place.
She tried being on all fours on the living room rug but said “Ouch,” and stood up immediately. She tried curling over a beanbag chair: “Too soft.” She paced back and forth on the twelve-foot long balcony, but it was “too windy.”
Several hours passed this way, and then labor kicked into high gear. All the while, I had the placenta bowl of my supplies close at hand.
Sylvia became a little frantic, went into the kitchen, and opened the door to the freezer. She stood there, inhaling the frigid air during the next several contractions, then spun around and threw up in the kitchen sink.
While Dennis was cleaning that up, Sylvia hurried down the hall to the bedroom but halted in the doorway. As a contraction began, she grabbed the knobs on both sides of the open door, crouched and began swaying from side to side. This is actually a technique we sometimes suggest to women, calling it Doorknobbing.
Sylvie swung from the doorknobs for a good fifteen minutes, and then she began pushing.
I had my supplies nearby. A pair of sterile gloves in a paper wrapper rested on top.
Dennis said, “Really? You’re going to have the baby here? In the hallway? I mean, there’s a perfectly good bed just ten feet away, and, I dunno, but it’s kinda crowded here.”
She didn’t respond. I smiled at him.
“Whatever, I guess. What do I know?”
But then she gave a primal roar, leaped to her feet, and headed for the bathroom. She hurled herself toward the toilet, landed with a thud, and oh boy, the baby was coming.
And my supplies were in the hallway, fifteen feet away.
No time for anything but a quick barehanded catch. As I guided the baby’s head over the front edge of the toilet seat, his little butt and feet splashed into the water.
Fifteen minutes later, all calmed down and tidied up, Sylvia and her baby were settled in the bed. Dennis popped the cork on a bottle of Champagne, poured three glasses, and we toasted and sipped. Then he said, “I’m gonna fix some pasta. Okay with everybody?”
Sylvia and I both nodded, and soon the smell of tomatoes, onions, and basil filled the air.
From my spot in the bedroom, I saw Dennis come from the kitchen into the living room, carrying a tray. Before turning toward us, he stopped and stared at the balcony.
I walked toward him. “Need some help?”
“No, no. It’s that dove…” he said, and indeed, while Sylvia had been busy birthing their baby, the dove had been busy too – building a nest. She’d almost finished.
Dennis watched her a few moments, then said, “You know, I’m gonna let her stay. Sylvia took all day to figure out where she wanted to have our baby. But this dove decided a week ago, and she’s never once changed her mind. I can afford to let her have my radish planter, I guess.”