He matched her pound for pound throughout her pregnancy and took pride in that fact—even kept his own paper in her chart to record it every visit. When she experienced nausea and heartburn, he likewise complained of digestive upsets. “I wish men could be pregnant,” he confided in me one day, a wistful glint in his eye. “Imagine it—feeling life growing inside of your body like that.” He’d get a faraway look on his face and heave a big sigh.
Michael was Irish—passionate to the bone and madly in love with his wife. He’d bring her breakfast in bed most mornings. Take her for walks by the river in the evenings. Sing Irish ballads at night to her and the “wee one.” Massage her feet.
He never missed a prenatal visit. They would laugh uproariously to the point where she would pee her pants, and then they would laugh even more. Usually, other members of their close family or friends would also fill the exam room, everyone talking over each other, all wanting a feel of the babe and to hear the heartbeat.
When she went into labor on Christmas Eve day I wasn’t surprised to see fifteen other people pile into my clinic, a reconverted cottage where I had a little birth room for people who lived far out in the woods and wanted to be closer to town for the delivery. They arrived, arms piled high with food and libations, as well as presents and a small, fully decorated Christmas tree. The table was laid out with snacks and someone began pouring the wine. A fire was soon blazing in the fireplace. Michael had a flask of whiskey, which he sipped from time to time, “to help with my nerves and such,” he explained.
Her labor puttered through the afternoon. Candles were burning and Christmas lights twinkled on the tree. Spirits were high. More guests arrived towards evening. The place overflowed onto the front porch where the men gathered, their breath visible in the frosty air, their hands warmed by their mugs of steaming hot tea and whiskey.
I sat quietly with the mother, watching her as she tucked in, quiet and focused. Her contractions intensified, and she got down to serious work, seemingly oblivious to the swarm and buzz of the people gathered around her.
Michael was by her side, breathing in synch with her every breath; sweat trickling down his face, hair standing on end, his flask in his back pocket. After every contraction a roar would erupt from the crowd, encouraging her on, carrying her on the waves of their robust enthusiasm.
When she started to push, Michael kneeled at the foot of the bed, ready to “catch” the baby. Just as the head was beginning to appear, she looked aghast at her husband, “MICHAEL, FOR GOD’S SAKE MAN, COMB YOUR HAIR. THE BABY’S COMING,” she shouted.
“Seriously, woman…at a time like this, you are worried about my hair? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” The room exploded in laughter while someone whipped out a brush and brought his unruly hair into submission seconds before the baby was born.
It was a girl. Her beaming parents gathered their daughter into their arms and later passed her around to every member of her boisterous, loving, extended family—each welcoming her and imparting a little blessing.
Hours later the celebration continued unabated; the wine flowed; the baby content and nursing. I gave them a final hug. “Lock up when you leave. Merry Christmas. I will check in tomorrow,” I said as I quietly slipped unnoticed out the door. Snow was falling steadily as I left. The streets were empty. All was well.