“Make her laugh?”

“Yeah. Laughter is good for everyone. I didn’t used to know that. . . . Oh, yeah, every hour or so check the baby’s heartbeat again.”

“Yes. Yes. Dr. Blum insisted on that.” I am scribbling fast. I’ll make an outline later.

Patience goes on to tell me how to support the perineum, how to check for a cord around the neck, how to deliver the shoulders without a tear, and how to get the baby to breathe if it has trouble. Then she describes what I do in the third stage of labor, the most dangerous time for the mother. She instructs me to be vigilant, watch for a show of blood, never pull on the cord, and so on.

“And I have a suction bulb in my birth kit.” She tilts her head. “Which will be your birth kit for a while, Becky . . . if you are willing. . . . I know you’re reluctant, but that’s what makes you brave. Even when you are scared you do what needs to be done. . . . These are the women who are due in the next six months.” She hands me a short list.

Brave! I think as I stare at the names and break out in a sweat. Am I really going to be able to do this? The first name on the list is Lilly Bittman.

“Childbirth is such an intense experience,” the midwife acknowledges, putting a hand on my arm and looking into my eyes to encourage me. “Think of it. The moment a new person enters the world, everything changes. Everyone must move over to make room, every person, every rock, every tree, every star, and the midwife is privileged to witness the miracle.”

Lilly

I’m driving too fast, I know I am, but if I don’t speed up, Lilly is going to deliver without me. I run the one stop sign in Liberty, make a U-turn in the middle of Main, and pull up in front of Bittman’s Grocery, trying to remember all the instructions I wrote down.

It’s three A.M., and no one’s around, so the U-turn doesn’t matter, but I had forgotten that the grocery store would be closed at night and the way into the young couple’s apartment is up the back stairs.

I make another U and cut down the alley, where I have to decide which stairs are the Bittmans’. I hadn’t realized that all of the storefronts on Main have stairs in the back, but I finally decide the one with the lights on must be it and, grabbing Patience’s birth satchel, I take the steps two at a time.

At the landing, I stop for a few moments to compose myself, pull back my hair, and straighten my top. If I had time to take my own pulse, I’m sure it would be one hundred and twenty! Breathe, I tell myself, like I was the one in labor. Breathe.

Then I knock twice on the back door. “ ’Bout time you got here!” B.K. laughs. (He sure is calm!) Maybe Lilly’s not in hard labor after all, though on the telephone he certainly sounded like he thought she was.

“I came as soon as I could. You only called me forty minutes ago. How’s Lilly?”

“Come in. You’ll see.” He leads me back to their small bedroom where I find the mother holding her newborn infant with her little boy in his pajamas sitting next to her on the bed.

“See how soft he is,” the sightless woman says, showing her five-year-old, her face calm and radiant. “Oh, Miss Becky! I’m sorry I couldn’t wait. The baby was coming about the same time you did that U-turn on Main, not more than five minutes ago. How does he look? I can tell he’s healthy because he cried right away. Does he have all his parts? I mean, I know he has his boy parts, but everything else. . . .”

The young blind woman amazes me. “Did B.K. see me out the window, skidding around?”

“No, I heard you.”

“You heard me while you were pushing the baby out? Weren’t you screaming?” Here she laughs.

“No, I was singing right up until the end and then I gave a grunt and B.K. caught the baby . . . Well, not exactly caught, but supported it as it slid out on the bed.”

“I helped too,” announces Little B.K.

“What did you do?” I ask, just to be polite. Really, I’m horrified. The end result is apparently fine, but anything could have happened.

“I got the blanket and helped Pa wrap him up. There’s still a cord on him, though. Ma said we couldn’t take it off ’til you came.” Here he turns to his mother. “What we gonna call him, Ma? He has red hair, but it can’t be B.K! Not B.K. That’s already taken.”

“Well, at least there’s something for me to do. I can trim the cord,” I tell them.

“Can I help?” asks Little B.K.

“I guess . . .” This is a request I’ve never confronted before.

I gently take the newborn out of Lilly’s arms, but not before the mother kisses him three times, then I weigh him with Patience’s hanging scale, assist Little B.K. to cut the rubbery blue cord with sterile scissors, and do my newborn exam.

The baby is perfect in every way, but one. He has webbed toes. I don’t know how to tell the parents. They will surely be upset, so I put it off until later.

“You are to do nothing to the cord,” I tell them, “except to change the dressing. It will fall off on its own in about two weeks.”

“What about the afterbirth?” B.K. asks. “Shouldn’t it be coming?”

“Yes, anytime now, yes.” I shiver inside. The fact is, I was so concerned about missing the birth, I’d forgotten the placenta and thought my job was done. Patience told me the third stage of labor is dangerous for the mother, and here I am gabbing away.

“Are you feeling any afterbirth pains yet, Lilly?”

The blind woman pulls down the sheet, pulls up her nightgown and rubs her lower abdomen. There’s very little blood on the bed, so I don’t think the placenta has separated.

“Can’t you pull it out? I feel so sweaty, I’d like to get up and wash.” She pulls her damp curls away from her face.

Lordy! Fifteen minutes after giving birth and she wants to bathe? “No, we should wait. It won’t be long.” B.K. sits in the rocker singing to his older son, his long, thin legs up on the bed frame: “Sleep my child and peace attend thee. All through the night. Guardian angels God will send thee. All through the night.” The boy is almost asleep so it’s as good a time as any to give them the news about the baby’s birth defect.

“Well, you were lucky,” I tell the couple moving over to a stool next to Lilly, in case she gets upset. “The birth went fine. Sometimes there can be a cord around the neck and that can be dangerous but all’s well that ends well. . . . There is one thing about the baby I need to tell you though.” Here B.K. stops singing and Lilly’s sightless eyes get big.

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