It was 10:30 at night, in a gas station an hour away from home, when I saw them. She was exhaling loudly and he had one arm around her shoulders and another on her belly. A belly that looked like it was ready to launch off her body.
I was on my way out of the station, but when I saw her stance and big eyes, I asked them immediately if they were okay.
“We’re on the way to the hospital” he said, stating the obvious. Then he took her into the washroom and I waited with my daughters outside the door, half expecting to hear a splashing sound from the toilet and the cry of a newborn.
When they emerged, still just the two of them, I asked them if they had family with them. In the short exchange that followed I learned they were alone, this was their first child, and we knew each other! He was from my home town. I hadn’t thought about him in twenty years but when he said his name a faint vision of him with a snowboard and less facial hair re-surfaced.
Another woman standing nearby, filling up slurpee cups for a gaggle of young children, (presumably a family of night-owls since it was now nearing 11), gave her one look and said with a sigh, “Oh, I always hate that stage.” Then she went back to the slurpee machine as if labour was nothing more than a daily irritant.
I told them I was going to follow them to the hospital, still an hour of wheat and canola fields away. “If you need to stop on the side of the road, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Babies can be born anywhere.” I thought of the beach towels in my trunk, still damp from our river swim, and figured they would make a fine swaddle. “Where are you from?” I asked quickly before jumping into the car, having noted an accent. “Argentina,” she replied, and then I told her how brave she was, in Spanish. It’s not often you meet someone from Patagonia in the prairies.
For the next hour I waited for the brake lights ahead of me to come on, but they never did. By the time we made it to town I had coached my kids on how they would have to jump out of the car, run down the block, and wave at the front door once their dad let them in. I was planning to take the couple to the hospital and stay with them until no longer needed.
For the next three and a half hours I got wet towels, rocked with her, massaged her feet and gripped her hand when she was ready to crawl out of her own body. She took turns moaning through her contractions then vomiting during the breaks. In a way, she was the perfect picture of grace; she feeling as if her body was breaking in two to give life. By 2:30 am, high on oxytocin with my empathy levels still shooting through the roof, I knew I should leave so I would be able to function the next day with my own family. Plus, the couple was heading for the showers and I wasn’t planning on jumping in with them.
I went home exhausted, but feeling lucky. I am now more convinced than ever that a woman needs another woman’s hand to hold during labour. This time it was mine. And, how could I have known so many years earlier, I would be in the hospital with this sweet, gentle, father-to-be; rubbing lavender oil on his wife’s feet and supporting her while she buried her cries into my chest?
Life sometimes offers up weird and delicious moments such as these; when you feel like you’re sinking your teeth into the main course instead of picking at the carrot sticks and pickles before the meal begins.
… Oh, and it’s a girl.
Remember how I was so excited about those scavenged apples? Well, they’re still sitting pretty in my basement, lined up on egg cartons, awaiting their fate. I’ve been thinking about drying them, thinking about juicing them, thinking about making sauce out of them, thinking about freezing them… And then my Auntie Fritz sends me these doing pictures. She makes her juice out of tiny, coin-sized apples that most people consider inedible. Instead of letting “the birds go drunk on them” she cans up 100 jars of this stuff. Here are her photos to inspire us thinkers: