The Story of a Birth. 1. (For my niece, Alice.)

She is one year old. I saw her enter this world and, per the request of her mama, my sister, I wrote about it. One day Alice will read it, but in the meantime, I'll post a few excerpts over the next week because if there's any experience I want to share with you, it's this.


To Alice: This account of your birth comes purely from my own perspective. I am describing how it looked and felt to me, your aunt. Much of this is from memory, some is from notes, and all of it was written nearly a year after the fact, having been postponed out of fear. Words, after all, can hardly touch the start of a life.
Friday, May 14, 2010. We came to wait. It was five days past the due date, which was on Mother's Day and would have been perfect but of course it didn't happen that way. By this point, we believed something would happen at any moment. Something huge, magnificent, and wholly inconceivable. Something we didn't want to miss. What we hadn't anticipated, my mother and I, was how long we would actually be there, in Burbank, slowly sinking with everyone else under the heavy stubbornness of this baby that just wasn't ready.

This baby -- this solid, curled mass that had made its home in my sister's body. A being still unknown to us, a fact we understood intellectually, but beyond that could hardly imagine. Erin and Jon are having a baby, I'd think to myself. It sounds so simple and, of course, it was. Reproduction, the survival of a species, the most basic truth of nature. Yet it was somehow impossible to grasp as reality. The meaning of it -- Erin and Jon are having a baby -- was beyond my scope of understanding. The creation of human life? Here? Now? This, a part of me thought, this could not possibly be.

As we waited, sitting around that little blue house, Erin's hands slid constantly over the hard, round surface of her belly. She'd chat with us, make jokes and laugh, all the while her hands roaming -- seemingly of their own accord -- around and around and around. Her fingers were swollen, her knuckles dry and cracked, and she was always warm. It was May in Southern California, granted, but the mother-to-be carried a dense heat with her, generated by something, an energy, that the rest of us couldn't feel.

My own hands reached instinctively for her belly time and again, wanting just to be near these layers of muscle and flesh that protected beneath them the beating beginning of a life. I'd find a thin, delicate layer of sweat escaping from her pores, seeping through her blue flowered dress and onto my palm. It was as though her very skin was hard at work, preparing for the tremendous feat her body would soon take on.

We've all seen pregnant women before, but being around a woman so close to giving birth does not feel commonplace, it does not feel regular or ordinary. It's the closest I've ever felt to standing in the presence of a higher being, a holy entity, like some kind of prophet or angel that's leading you into an unknown, and somehow, you trust her.


  1. This is SO gorgeous Shannon. I love what you have written so much, about how being around your sister was a sacred experience. New life is so beautiful! And your little niece is clearly so loved! What a gift.

  2. Absolutely beautiful. This really is something Alice will grow to cherish. Who can say they have such memories recorded for them? You really are a phenomenal writer; the flow of your language and choice of words is truly inspired.

    Can't wait until the next installment!

  3. Dearest Shannon,
    As always you touch my heart. I spent 30 years attending deliveries as a nursery nurse. I can assure you that each one was an amazing and magical event to me. It does touch you in a way that nothing else can. Beautiful! Kathy

  4. I wish I had a sister to share this with! So touching. I had my son almost a year ago and it brings tears to my eyes thinking of that very special moment I got to finally meet him.
    I can feel the love between you and your sister, it is so precious!