Yesterday I got a call from my daughter. She thought she was in labor—but couldn’t be sure. I had agreed to come and take care of her nearly 3-year old son, Kaden during the at home water birth. I had planned to head to Lincoln, NE in a day or two anyway, so I packed my things and headed down the road about 2:30 in the afternoon from St. Paul.
The sun was out and all around the January snow was blindingly white. Milt had gone north to collect sound for the Iron Range radio doc he is working on, so I was alone. It’s strange. My mind was drifting through all of the other times I had headed down a road alone for one event or another, my body in a kind of tense waiting and anticipation.
When I was younger and first living in South Dakota, I felt this as I was speeding across South Dakota, into Minnesota and up to the North Country. In that stage of my life, the thing I was anticipating was the moment I would drive up to my parents’ house and they would run out to hug and kiss me. In particular, I wanted my dad. He was never shy about planting a kiss right on my lips--and I waited a hundred miles for that kiss.
Another time, I was traveling from Tucson to see Milt. We were newly in love and had been separated for a couple of weeks. I drove straight through the night, and all I could think about was the moment I would drive up to wherever he was and then I would be in his arms again. It was almost like a terrible beautiful thirst—the need for his arms around me.
Then, a couple of years later, it was a racing trip across SD and into northern Minnesota. I was trying to make it home before my father died. That was a terrible feeling, a moonless summer night, endless miles, my heart heavy in my chest, my need for my dad so great that I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I made it before he died. In fact, all eight of his children made it. We circled his bed with my mother and said our goodbyes. The most beautiful and terrible moment that day was when my dad pulled the oxygen mask off of his face, and my mother’s hand automatically went to put it back to his mouth. The doctor standing next to her very slowly and so sweetly put his hand over hers to stop the movement. My father died just moments later. It was as if the doctor said, without words, there is no better time for him to go. He knows he is loved.
And then the times, like yesterday, when I was skimming across so many miles anticipating not a kiss, not an embrace . . . and not a death . . . but the birth of my granddaughter. I was tired, but each hotel or motel I passed by I just thought about how disappointing it would be if I chose to get a room and ending up missing the birth. I drove and drove, thinking about how close to death a birth can be—and how close a birth can be to death. It is sometimes confusing, but we handle it all because it is the cost of doing business as a human being. We live. We die.
Mackenna Marie Millard entered the world at 5:11 in the morning. We were all around her and she was laboring in a birth pool in the middle of her living room. The strain of the contractions was both terrible and beautiful and both showed on her pretty face.
And then—a new life . . . and it begins again.