September 22, 1984: The air in the room is heavy, suffocating, moist. We are on the second floor of a 100-year-old house near downtown Eugene, Oregon. There is a small wooden sign on the patch of lawn in front of the building: Lucinia Birth Home.
We’ve been here all through the night, pacing, murmuring, moaning. The room is dim in the pre-dawn hours. There is a single lamp lit with a small bulb somewhere in a corner of the room. It’s like we’re cave explorers, my wife and I, feeling our way by touch through this new phase of our life. Our midwife is here with us, slumped against the wall, too exhausted to even raise her head from her knees. She has been riding the waves of contractions with us, but now she has given up and fallen by the wayside, dozing in a corner. We couldn’t care less; in twenty-eight years we will no longer remember her name.
There are only two people of importance in that room and that’s us—a 21-year-old boy and a 24-year-old girl—trying to get through this as best we can. We are panting in the thick, moist air and our eyes are locked. This is happening. This is really happening. We are excited, we are scared, we are curious.
Our child—sex still unknown since we have adamantly refused an ultrasound—shifts beneath my wife’s skin and she releases another low, trembling hum which in other circumstances might have sounded like a growl. Our right hands grip tighter. With my left, I reach up to brush aside a rope of hair, heavy with salted sweat, which has fallen across the bridge of her nose. She shakes her head, silently telling me, “Not now. Not now.” Because it has arrived, the now we’ve been waiting for.
This is the moment, the penultimate push, the last huge gulp of air we will take as a single couple, the final breath of childlessness. A sudden sharp cry rises from my wife, splits the air of the room like a knife slicing a bedsheet hung on a laundry line. She has been so brave for hours, relentlessly stoic in her approach to the pain, and I know she feels even this brief yelp is a sign of weakness.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I whisper.
Her cry cuts the heavy air, dividing it between the Before and the After. Because now it is Now. Beneath the lingering pulse of my wife’s triumphant yell comes a wet, slithering sound. I have moved from my night-long position next to her ear, where I’ve counted and sympathy-panted and encouraged, to the place between her legs where the drama is unfolding. And so I can see it happen: my son’s entrance into this world. For nine months, he has been this mystery—identity unknown, a shifting shape behind the barrier of my wife’s skin. To us, he’s been only pieces and parts—a kicking foot here, the knob of an elbow there—but now here he is, pink and wet and complete. He comes out of my wife’s body and his arms spring open wide, as if he’s at the end of a dream about falling from a skyscraper.
He gasps—the very first sound he’ll make in this world—as he takes it all in: the dim, close room (not unlike the place he has just left) and the giant faces leaning in to welcome him to the world. I take him into my arms and bring him to my wife and together the three of us cry.