I’d just come home from a wedding in Chicago when my friend, about to give birth to her eighth baby, sent me a message that she had contractions pretty regularly. If I wanted to be there to photograph the birth, I might want to come hang out.
There were a million reasons not to go. I’d already been up late at the reception the night before. We’d just rescued a one pound kitten off the highway. Leaving meant my husband and children were saddled with the responsibility of our new ward. I let the excuses swim around in my head a bit and then texted her back:
“I’m on my way.”
The truth is, my biggest reservation was fear. While I’d had my own natural childbirths, one in the water with the assistance of a midwife, they were both in the hospital where I was left alone unless emergency assistance was needed. None of that would be present at my friend’s house. Saying yes meant setting aside my own fear to give her the space she needed to bring a life into this world.
The birth took place in her back yard on a cool summer night inside a pagoda lined with delicate fairy lights and lanterns. Most of the ground inside was taken up with a large pool that her oldest daughter filled with pots of warm water. She carried these pots one by one to her mother, and I couldn’t help thinking of her as a kind of initiate in her own labor. Her husband sat beside the water and rubbed her back when she needed it. Her mother stood at the entrance, her eyes looking up at the sky. She said she’d heard the Northern Lights might be visible.
A little after two in the morning, I watched the moment of birth build to a crescendo. There was blood. The low, primal sounds from my friend as she confronted the doorway of creation with a pain that only belonged to her. She reached down into the crimson water. She threw back her head, arched her back and announced, “The baby is here.”
A mother in full control of the most definitive and fundamental act of creation.
I won’t ever deliver my own baby in the literal sense, but what I witnessed has challenged me to ask myself if I have truly taken my creative actions into my own hands.
We are all much more powerful than we think.