They roared in on six motorcycles, dust flying behind them on a stifling hot, summer day. The woman in labor was leading the pack, her curly red hair spilling out from under her helmet. This gang was part of a wild, loving, and boisterous sub-culture of families who lived in a remote part of the county. They were a community bound together by Harleys and lots of kids.
With a flurry they swept into the birth center. The guys, dressed in leather vests over bare torsos and tattooed arms, wore hats with feathers protruding from the bands. With a cooler of beer and food in tow, they circled the wagons around the father-to-be, as this was his first child. The women wore shiny bangles dangling from their wrists and flowing bright colored dresses. They surrounded the mother, peals of laughter and maternal clucking filled the room. They all knew their roles and confidently went to work.
I watched over it all, occasionally hunkering down with the men, discussing how things were progressing, offering commentary when needed, and sometimes penetrating the clouds of patchouli that enveloped the mother so I could monitor the well being of the baby. I had delivered many of their children, and we all worked well together. We were a team.
The commentary was unceasing and I felt like I was at a major sporting event. “This woman of yours is getting down now, Buck. You got yourself a good one. Hot damn, just listen to her. She’s tough. This baby’s gonna pop any minute,” they reassured the father, giving him another beer. The women swirled around the mother with intense, one pointed attention – cooling her face with wet rags and massaging her back and hips. “You’re a fucking goddess, girlfriend. That’s it. You’re doing great. Lean on us; we gotcha. Okay, here comes another one. Ride baby ride!”
Hours passed. The energy stayed strong and steadfast. At last it was time to push. She wanted to deliver in a standing position; so two strong guys stood on either side and held her up. Her husband sat on the floor with me, ready to help receive the baby.
Now, during her prenatal care, I had persuaded the two of them to participate in an informal experiment with me. I had been studying how babies in the womb, when exposed to the voices of their parents singing, will demonstrate an astonishing recognition of those songs once they are born. I thought this was pretty cool, and found them to be willing subjects. Looking back now, the father was perhaps, ahem… overly eager. Throughout her pregnancy he drove his wife crazy because he would constantly put his lips to her belly and sing a folk song with his soft Oklahoma twang, a song that his mother used to sing to him when he was a child.
So when the baby was delivered, and the mom had sat back down on a pad on the floor, with the baby held close to her chest – Buck broke into song. The baby opened his eyes and stared straight into his father’s face, listening almost as if mesmerized. At that moment Buck was overcome and tried to scoop the baby up in his arms; I had to quickly intervene. “No, wait! The cord. We have to cut the cord first.”
When the mom was cleaned up and back in bed, she put the baby to breast where he nursed with vigor. Unable to contain himself, Buck crawled up on the bed, and began to sing again. The baby popped off the nipple, whipped his head around and locked eyes with his father. “Uh, Buck, this may not be the time.” “Right. Got it. Time to suck titty,” he agreed, though he continued to hover. Finally, reluctantly, he moved away to sit in the midst of his mates. Popping open another beer, and beaming with moist, proud eyes, he declared. “Guess that boy knows his father alright!”