I’m dying, she tells me.
Looking square in my eyes, her face only inches from mine as she clings to my neck from the bathtub she tells me again, as if I hadn’t heard.
But oh, I sure did.
And he looks to me in horror from his perch on the toilet seat, as I continue to allow her to scratch my neck, twist my shoulders closer to her, time and time again with each subsequent contraction.
And he is weaker than he’s ever been. Sick with worry for her and their unborn babe.
He never signed them up for this. He wouldn’t.
Except he did. Because this is labour, I remind him softly and confidently. I remind them both she can do this, and is- perfectly.
And I knew we’d get here to this point, this scary part- because we always do. Every mama, every labour, has this breaking point. Every mama wants to give up here.
And so we hang on tighter.
She is sweating, she is writhing in the bed, she is tearing the flesh off both of our arms, gripping for an escape, begging for an end. And between contractions, she collapses in a heap.
All our work on focused breathing be damned, this is transition, and this is mere survival.
And he’s pacing now, stepping back when he ought to be stepping in- too scared of this unearthly woman his wife has become. She’s no longer someone he knows. His wife is no longer the one who giggles between surges, the one whose smile lit up the room just hours before. That woman is gone.
Her being reduced to this- the creaming, the torture, seems unthinkable. And yet here we are. And I remind him this is the end. I remind him to step up, as she is, for them.
I remind them both that they will get through.
And so we lean in.
And when the next contraction hits her again we start back at square one, bringing her face into ours, reminding her to breathe. Making our hands ready and available, our shirts close enough to twist, our forearms flexed enough to grab.
She screams that she is dying and asks for her own mother, she cries between each breath. And he wonders if he really ought to call her, and though I shake my head no, I hear him fiddling through her backpack.
Two more surges pass.
And then while he’s still away, still rummaging, the switch is flicked.
And then the magic happens. She has arrived.
And all of a sudden there’s acceptance in each raging storm that graces her body every two minutes. All of a sudden she sees it for the force that it is- the one that will bring her baby one moment closer to his resting place in her arms.
And suddenly her words come back to her. Murmuring affirmations of her power back to herself, inquiring with curiosity about when to expect the end, instead of pleading for it.
As fast as the transition door opened, it closes behind, just in time for dad to arrive with the phone. Just in time for me to grab it from him, just in time for me to take a video of the last push , the last birthing contraction, the last page of their parentless chapter.
And she will smile again, laugh again, breathe her life back into her lungs. And she will be beautiful- now more beautiful than she ever was before.
And though he and I will remember the moments of transition, the magic of birth will take those horrid memories away for her. She won’t be able to recall, exactly, that hurt. That will be out of her life for good, as soon as she lays eyes on the life force she’s created within herself, as soon as her power is realized physically in her very own arms.
The magic of labour is twofold: that she felt like she might die but didn’t- and that anyone was there to see it and come to understand her strength.