So there we were, in a sterile room somewhere near the corner of 59th and Maryland on the South Side of Chicago, my wife leaning against me on the floor. Per her request, I’m supporting her from under her arms, almost like a headlock. We’re surrounded by people, most of whom we don’t know. Our doc and nurse are on their knees in front of us, and my parents, whose flight leaves in two hours, are right behind them, taking pictures of my wife’s vagina.
Then it happened so fast. She started pushing. Huge, grunty pushes that turned her whole body into a steel pillar, thick and immovable. Every time she did, she screamed, and the rest of us screamed with her. We couldn’t help it. It was like when you involuntarily start clapping at something on TV even though the person you’re applauding can’t hear you. She pushed three times, and then I heard the doc say, in a voice that seemed like it was coming from across the room or across the world: “It’s crowning. We can see the head!”
“What color hair does it have?” Sarah asked.
“It’s dark,” Kim said.
“No!” Sarah grunted, her face ridiculously pink. “I want a redhead!”
Dr. Harth told Sarah to stop pushing. When the fetus crowns, a woman’s vaginal opening stretches so wide that she feels an intense burning called the “ring of fire.” It’s considerably less pleasant than the Johnny Cash song. No matter how strong the urge is to push, when a laboring woman feels the ring of fire, she’s supposed to wait, or else she risks tearing.
But Sarah couldn’t wait. She couldn’t be stopped.
I knew that the fourth push was the one, because I was watching my parents’ faces and saw their eyes get really big. Sarah’s whole body undulated against me and went harder than ever, then it abruptly emptied and her limbs felt like Jell-O and there was this big splat of blood and fluid and God knows what else on the floor.
Suddenly, there was another person in the room.
In our doctor’s arms was a purple, slippery baby, its genital area covered by the umbilical cord. “Somebody move that thing,” I demanded. A second later, I saw it: “Hey, it’s a girl!” The whole room was laughing and crying and whooping and hugging. “Everyone,” I said, when it got quiet. “This is Hannah Miriam Ruby.”
We all looked at this scrawny, screeching lump, covered in blood and muck and no hair to speak of, and started calling her Hannah right away. (Sarah and I laughed about that later. We could have said, “This is Gertrude Hephzibah,” and everyone would’ve happily called her that.)
It was 10:42 a.m. Sarah’s labor had lasted nine hours.
Oh, yeah: Sarah.
She still had her eyes closed and her nails were digging into the flesh of my arms while the room swarmed around her. Out of nowhere, she whipped off her shirt and tried to get the baby up to her chest. But the umbilical cord was too short, so she kind of rested on Sarah’s stomach. Then Dr. Harth clamped the cord on both sides, handed me some thick scissors and asked me to cut it. It was a ropy white thing that had just stopped pulsing, and it was so thick it took me three snips to get through it. Kind of freaked me out.
The staff cleaned up Hannah while Sarah and I kissed and said our I love yous. We weren’t alone. At that moment, everyone in the room seemed to love everyone else, and all were audibly expressing it.