It is Monday, May 7—my due date. I’ve enjoyed being pregnant. But today, I am a little bit irritated at nothing in particular. Tired, too. Instead of taking advantage of another day off work to walk five miles, as I’ve done nearly every day throughout pregnancy, I turn home after a mile and take a nap. Sleep comes easily, deeply. Only after a cup of green tea am I able to climb out of a post-slumber stupor. When Stephanie calls to see if I’d like to take an evening walk, I rally. Her company brings me a second wind, and we walk for an hour. Lee and I eat a late dinner on the front porch. The past two weeks off work have felt to me like a second honeymoon. Each day yawns before us, unhurried and rich with time to garden, cook, walk, picnic, and put the house in order. Despite being “due” today, it is still somewhat difficult for me to grasp that this pregnancy is not a permanent state, that soon I will be holding my daughter. It is midnight before we finally put ourselves to bed. Though I’d like to surrender to sleep, the nagging urge to pee prods me to make half a dozen unproductive trips to the toilet. By 1:30 a.m., I realize that the subtle Braxton-Hicks contractions, whose beginnings and endings I’ve never been able to discern, are different tonight. They are punctuated. I can count them. Maybe a warm bath will quiet my body and let me sleep. Or maybe—could it be?—I am in the early stages of labor. In any case, I remain wide awake and entirely disinclined to lie in bed, sleepless, after my bath. Household chores and wondering what time my mother rises occupy the next two hours. By 3:53 a.m.—6:53 in Blairsville, Georgia—I am sure that these contractions mean that my baby is on her way. I’m less certain that my mom is up for the day, but I call anyway to deliver the longawaited news that labor has begun. Through her own excitement, my mom recognizes that it will be a long day for me and calmly advises me to get some sleep. I crawl back into bed with Lee and resolve not to bother him, to let him sleep as long as possible. Less than five minutes pass before it becomes clear that there is too much discomfort to lie still, let alone sleep. I want Lee’s company, his strength and his humor. “Lee… are you awake?” There is no answer to my soft whisper. “Lee.” I poke him. “Will you hold me?” He wraps his strong arms around me, still half-asleep. “I’m in labor.” Now he is awake. We lie in bed a few minutes longer, enjoying the warmth and the quiet, before we rise. I need to move around. We pass the next few hours wondering when to call Ruth, our midwife, and trying to distract me. By 7:30 a.m., I am ready to call Ruth. She asks how long the contractions are. She’s not concerned with their frequency at this point (every four or five minutes), but wants to know their duration (only about 30 seconds). She advises me to go about my day, as if things were “normal.” I plant parsley in the garden. We weed. Lee makes gluten-free crepes. I am excited, feeling chatty and happy. Somehow we pass the next four hours, as the contractions increasingly occupy my attention. We call Ruth again. She wants to see contractions that last 45 seconds to a minute, for a solid hour, unperturbed by a warm bath. The afternoon is a merry-go-round of timing contractions, of me getting exasperated with the exercise of watching the clock (although Lee is watching and I am at liberty to focus on finding my way through them), of taking warm baths (which I usually love) to the point that my skin feels aggravated by the mere mention of warm water. Above all, I spend the afternoon trying to relax into whatever sensations arise. By 4 o’clock it seems that we might be ready to go to The Birth Center. But when we call Ruth, she says that I still sound “too present.” Clearly I’m not too far along. Does she know how much I am struggling to stay calm, to remain sufficiently detached to talk on the phone? But I trust her. I know she is adept at gauging her patients’ progress, and we do not want to drive to The Birth Center only to discover that it is too early for me to be admitted. So we labor on at home. As the contractions have gotten stronger, I have managed to find more coping mechanisms, primarily in the form of big hip movements and positions that seem to lengthen my spine. Before the onset of each contraction, I snap to attention and prepare myself, because once a contraction is upon me, it is painful to work through any position that feels awkward en route to a position of ease… I like squatting while pulling down on the file cabinet. I like pulling down on Lee’s shoulders. But there is little relief to be found, at this point. I can only hope to take the edge off and stay calm and breathe. Lee suggests watching a movie. He watches the first third of Parking Lot while I pace the house and cope with the contractions. Shortly before 6, I am in tears, contractions are lasting a full minute, and the midwife advises us to come to The Birth Center. I dread getting in the car, all the more so given the end-of-day traffic. But it is surprisingly comfortable to labor on all fours in the back seat of the car. I’ll never forget watching the faces of the other drivers during the twentyminute drive. I am 5 centimeters dilated when we arrive. Relieved to be at The Birth Center, I ask for the tub. Our doula, Jen, fills the tub and offers encouragement… I still can’t stop crying, but I feel safe, calm, and glad to be here. Throughout pregnancy, I’ve taken baths whenever I’ve felt any discomfort, emotional or physical. But this time, discomfort does not dissolve in the warm water of the birth tub. Still, I am grateful for the ease it affords in finding labor-friendly positions. But I need more than positioning to support me now. “Help,” I tell Lee. But how? Eyes. Yesterday I read that eye contact can help a woman through transition. Through each contraction, Lee’s eyes are the lifeline that keeps me afloat. The midwife checks us shortly after 9 p.m. I’m fully dilated. She says I can push when I feel like it. No baby pops out, nor does it seem that she is coming. The midwife asks me to get out of the tub and sit on the birth stool. Midwife, doula, nurse, and Lee: all four of them are with me as we rotate from birth stool to squatting to sidelying on the bed to a supported reclining position. We continue to change positions, to try to ease baby girl out, for an hour. Then another hour. Still no baby. As we approach midnight, I start to feel discouraged. I’ve been pushing for more than two hours. Contractions are painful; so too is the space between them. Lee tells me I am safe. I know that I am probably safe, but I do not feel safe. I feel so many things at once—scared and unafraid, desperate and calm. It occurs to me that everything I’ve ever done, up to this point has been easy; writing my doctoral dissertation, sitting through a 10- day silent retreat, starting my first job. I hope that, when this is over, I will remember how I found the strength to get through this, and call upon that strength to find new ease and fearlessness in everyday life. But for now, it is difficult for me to imagine that this will ever be over. There is only right now, and right now, I don’t know how to help baby find her way out. Various concerns float across my mind, but I am too occupied by the present moment to connect the dots and conjure up the worry that would otherwise be appropriate. Will I be transferred to a hospital for a C-section? Will I need an episiotomy? Will baby girl’s heartbeat continue to hold strong and steady? I do feel confident that baby girl is helping me as best she can. She has been a very cooperative fetus, giving me an easy pregnancy with minimal morning sickness and positioning herself left-anterior occiput at week 32. More than I actually feel tired, I am aware that I must be getting tired. The only sleep I’ve had in the past 42 hours was a nap. Though I don’t want to admit to myself that my confidence diminishes with each apparently unproductive contraction, I do want my team to boost my morale… so I admit that I’m discouraged, that it seems to slow. Ruth looks at me and tells me everything is fine. We want this baby to come slowly. (Otherwise I will tear. A lot.) But I just don’t seem to be making progress? Lee assures me that I’m making progress. Someone asks if I’d like a mirror to see this progress. “No.” I don’t want to see what’s happening down there. Then, just as reflexively, I change my answer to “Yes.” There is a full head of hair emerging between my legs. This gives me new hope. Though it seems impossible to push any harder, I try to push harder with each contraction, pushing into the spot that hurts but that is the baby’s way out. Midnight comes, still no baby. And then, suddenly, her head is out. Before Ruth can complete her next instruction to me, baby girl has rotated and, with Ruth’s help, found her way out entirely. I am shocked, elated, happy. I feel wonderful. My baby, whose cord is too short to allow her to move up to my breast until the placenta is delivered, is on my belly. Lee speaks, and she looks at him. Lee’s eyes are the first that she sees. She stares at her father. Moments later, baby girl is on my breast. I am being stitched for minor tears, but I cannot feel a thing and do not care anyway. Lee and I had agreed, two days prior, to call her “Samantha Brooks.” I look at Lee and ask if he is sure she’s not “Lucy Margaret.” Lucy Margaret nurses within the next few minutes. All three of us go home in the wee hours of the morning. All three of us sleep deeply that night, exhausted but happy.