The Story of a Birth. 3.

9:05pm. Erin is perched on her blue exercise ball in her pale blue hospital gown, working through the contractions as they come every two minutes. Jon holds her hand and the two of them huddle there, like a cloud. When a contraction comes, we all watch as Erin bows her head and breathes quietly, her short hair falling in soft sheets around her face and shoulders. She is brave and resolved. At the start, she grimaces slightly and closes her eyes tight, then her face becomes clear and open, full of breath and life and strength as she guides her body through the pain. In the in-between she looks around at us, makes little comments and laughs. It's finally begun, and she feels good. "I've never been so happy to hurt, ever!" she says.

11:40pm. The pain doesn't let up, of course. It plods on, seeming to rise around her like a pool of sludge, slowly becoming thicker and more oppressive. Nurse Sheila comes in to check the monitor and tells Erin that towards the end there will be a lot more pain and a lot more pressure, and Erin wants to know if she might be able to stand for the delivery. It depends on how the baby looks and what the midwife says. Erin goes to the bathroom to take a shower with Jon to support her -- the warm water is meant to loosen her muscles and speed up the process. We all wait. The air in the room has become dense with worry. Watching this kind of pain isn't something any of us are used to.

She emerges from the steamy little room, warm and supple, her belly like a great ripe fruit. Lying on her left side facing the window, she prepares herself for more contractions. When they roll through her, she tucks her chin and folds in on herself. Her toes curl, her legs bend and stretch. Breathy, animal-like sounds come from the back of her throat. She lets out a little groan or whimper, and my mom says she looks like she's four years old, like she's not old enough to have a baby. She's twenty-eight. Jon holds her hand and I roll a tennis ball around the small of her back. A few times, we switch and the hand she holds is mine and as I sit there, gripping the hand of my older sister in labor with all the strength and love that's in me, I feel as though it is the most important thing I have ever done.

1:00am. The midwife does an exam and finds Erin dilated 3-4 centimeters, which is good progress but still far to go. The pain has started to wear her down physically and psychologically, and after 6 or 7 hours of contractions every 2 minutes, she's starting to think she won't be able to do what's coming later. "It's not going to split me open from the inside, right?"she asks the mothers in the room. Despite the fear blooming in her, Erin continues to handle the pain with grace and calm, releasing a steady, monotone humming as she finds her body's rhythm and moves with it instinctually. She seems at once wholly natural and grounded, and yet up above us all. She is somewhere else, and we are waiting down below, feeling as helpless as we are.


  1. Goodness. Gorgeous writing, Shannon. My heart is pounding! It's really not something you ever forget, or want to. Such an intense thing. Now I want the rest!

  2. This is so damn beautiful. I wish every new mom had something like this to treasure forever. Erin is lucky that you wrote this for her.