|Midwives Marilyn Milestone (left) and Pamela Truzinski|
So we had decided on midwives to help us deliver our second child. I don’t think we knew its sex, because we had both boy’s and girl’s names picked out. Our first-born, Jacob, was born nine years prior in a hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, because, though we were literally dirt poor—I was earning perhaps two dollars an hour—the province had good medical coverage. Out of pocket charges amounted to literally just a few dollars, if they cost us at all. Besides, after Jacob was born, we received a monthly family allowance check of sixteen dollars to help offset the costs of raising a child. That’s what they paid in those days for an infant, up to a maximum of sixty-four dollars a month for older kids.
When Jacob was barely two years old we returned to the States, lured by the prospect of ‘free land’ and a homestead in a hippie commune in Oregon. The commune was, of course, ‘spiritual,’ but it wasn’t quite what we expected when we visited it. We opted out, unwilling to entrust ourselves to the ‘commune’ of Ahimsa, where anything was permitted, as long as it was ‘spiritual,’ even at the price of losing that ‘free land.’ But that is another story.
|Andrew in his baptismal suit|
It was a frosty October that year, the clear night sky speckled amply with stars. We retired to bed fairly early, darkness falling by eight o’clock, knowing that this might be the day. October the sixth, thirty-one years ago from today as I write this. Our little house was getting chilly as we went to sleep. We had to give up using our furnace for central heating, because it burned oil, and the price of oil was too costly. We used a Fisher wood stove, burning tree prunings and mill ends from the furniture factory when we couldn’t afford to buy a cord of partially split oak or alder for firewood. This year, we were better off. I had landed that seven dollar an hour job and we now could afford to buy real firewood. We even had a car again, after being unwheeled for a year or two when I was still making only half as much.
|Andrew (3 mos) and Jacob (9 yrs)|
Next, to start a fire. Well, easier said than done, especially when you have only a little bit of split wood in the house. We needed the stove to be good and hot, hotter than usual, and the upstairs bedroom which was going to be someone’s place of birth would only be heated by gravity, the hot air rising and ascending the stairwell and coming up through a grate in the floor. I got my clothes on, and went out to the wood shed to split wood and start a fire. Though I don’t exactly remember when Jacob, up to that night our only son, joined me, whether it was when I was chopping wood and starting a fire in the stove, or later, he was intimately involved in the events of that early pre-dawn, and the sunrise birth.
The midwives arrived. The house was toasty hot, even up in that second storey bedroom. Jacob was with us there, sitting by the wall next to the big four-poster bed where his pregnant mother lay. Labor was not easy, but not being the mother, I’ve forgotten how hard it was. We had been up all night. Soon pre-dawn purple was showing through the eastward facing windows.
‘Push! Push!’ we urged over and over again. Like every birth, there’s a point where the mother feels she must give up, it’s too hard, and then—he’s out! No, no, not exactly, not this time. A tiny head had appeared at the door of the womb and the midwives massaged it out, and now it hung there, limply, eyes closed. A very scary moment.
|Andrew, about age 2 years|
Sploosh! With no further coaxing, a final muscular spasm ejected the baby with measured ease, his head cradled and protected as if by angelic hands, as a flood of uterine fluids, clear and dark red, poured onto the floor. The body followed, falling into welcoming, open palms, and then—quickly now!—the team of four, midwives, father and son, divided, again instinctively, into two teams: one lifting the mother back to at least a little comfort on the bed, the other keeping the baby right behind her, anxiously looking for signs of life. The little body was complete, all fingers and toes counted, a perfectly formed male child, but unbreathing. Startled, one of the midwives drew back, while the other gently massaged the tiny chest and puffed air into the little face.
|Andrew, Byzantine chanter,|
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
It was time now for the new mother to get up, with the assistance of the midwives, and go to the bath room and get properly cleaned and dressed. The newborn son was placed in my arms, and I quietly whistled like a flute the melody of a Provençal lullaby, as a first offering to welcome my son and give thanks to God for his safe birth and the health of my wife.
Flowers in the meadow softly sway
And all the little birds sing, merry May Day
Rabbits in the orchard sport and play
And all the little creatures smile and are gay
|Showing Andrew his apricot tree|
Sing out your joy
I am near
My darling, do not fear
Love is all around you
With gentle lullabies
To make your heart sing
October the seventh, nineteen hundred eighty-three, sometime between seven and eight in the morning, closer to seven, our second-born son, Andrew, was born, humbly and dangerously, at home in the upstairs bedroom with the flowery wallpaper and the four-poster bed, assisted by the eyes, hearts and hands of his father and older brother, two mystical midwives, and of course, his musical mother.
And the music of that morning has never left him.
A sad postscript
We are all still in that twilight time as we wait for our new lives without her to sort themselves out. ‘Memory eternal’ is deeper and more everlasting than we can imagine, but that now she lives where she can walk into all moments she ever lived, in the light that never wanes, and hear the music she always loved to hear, without end.