They lived a mile up a narrow trail in an old, ramshackle cabin next to a clear, cool stream. They had to pack in all their supplies on their backs, and cook on a small pot bellied stove, using candles for evening light. It was a hardscrabble life, but they were miners on a small claim, and they stuck with it, hoping to strike pay dirt and get rich.
She hadn’t wanted to get pregnant. It was not part of her plan. “One slip of the birth control and BAM,” she cried. “Now a baby I definitely don’t want is coming.” Her unhappiness permeated the still air of the exam room, overwhelming the small space, making it hard to breathe. As her belly grew, she became more withdrawn, and seemed disconnected from the lively movements within her body.
Her partner did not share her feelings. “I’ve always wanted to be a dad. We’ll make it work. You’ll see. I feel hopeful,” he countered, trying to antidote her negativity. As the pregnancy progressed, his growing excitement massaged the edges of her misery, but could not penetrate it. He couldn’t keep his hands off her belly when the baby was kicking. “I would trade places with you if I could. Imagine feeling life inside of you like that,” he marveled.
As her delivery date approached, I convinced them to move into town to a little apartment. He agreed. “Just till we get settled in with the baby and get the hang of things,” he reasoned. “Before the snow comes. It’ll be safer and warmer.”
Two weeks later she went into labor. As the contractions swept over her, she did not call out or even moan. She seemed almost disembodied, indifferent to what was happening. He gave her cool juice to drink, wiped her face with a wet cloth, rubbed her back, and provided steady support with his encouragement.
When it came time for her to push the baby out, I said to him. “Would you like to help deliver this baby of yours?” “Oh my God! Can I? Hell yes, I would love to do that,” he stammered. “Go wash your hands then, and get over here. This baby’s ready to be born.”
As the baby descended, dark, wet, matted hair appeared at the opening of the vagina. “Here’s some oil. You can gently massage all around the baby’s head,” I suggested, as I coaxed the mother to do slow, little pushes. Tenderly, he touched the baby’s head, tears filling his eyes. The baby slipped out slowly into his hands—a little boy. His eyes opened wide and he stared at his father. Their eyes locked as they held each other in their gaze. Then the father bent his head and began to nuzzle his neck, as I cut the cord. “Sweetheart, we have a beautiful son,” he said as he offered the baby to the mother. She stirred a little and reached down to place the baby on her chest. Instantly he latched on to her breast and began to suckle. As he nursed, her eyes gazed vacantly out the window as the sun broke through the morning mist and flooded the room.
I did home visits for the first six weeks and the baby seemed to flourish. She continued to nurse him, but the rest of his care fell to his devoted father who attended to his every need. I did not see them after the final checkup. They never returned to the office and I lost track of them.
Two years later I saw him in a supermarket holding his little boy’s hand. “Hello. It’s so wonderful to see you again. Your son is beautiful. How are you?” I asked. His eyes became sad. “She left us when he was four months old. Said she couldn’t do it any more. It’s not her fault. She wasn’t cut out to be a mother. She just up and disappeared. I haven’t heard a word since she left,” he said. “It was so hard at first. I thought I would go crazy. But you know, when he was born and my hands were the first to touch him, and when he looked into my eyes like he did, something happened to me. I knew then that we would make it somehow. Thank you for that gift—for letting me help deliver my boy. We formed a bond in that moment that has held us together through these difficult times. I have never loved anyone like I love my son. Our bond will never be broken.” He gave me a hug, then turned and picked his son up in his arms. I saw him whisper in his ear and heard them both laugh as he pushed the cart down the aisle.