The birth of my niece was one of the best days of my entire life. She was the first baby I ever caught. How lucky am I? Every year on her birthday I’ll remember how she was the first, and she is truly perfect.
It was such a surreal experience it has been very difficult to encapsulate, I still don’t think I did it justice with these words, but nonetheless, here is my best crack at her birth story. The story of the night Faye was born. The night life began anew.
Your birth was the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed. That might sound like an exaggeration but I can promise you that it’s not. I have stood and marveled at the Taj Mahal, walked through ancient vine covered temples in Cambodia, seen cities lit up in the valley below from a quiet place on a mountain, and run my hand through Caribbean water so blue it hardly seems real. And your birth beat them all.
I hope one day, as you read this, that you remember how special you are. I hope you feel in your heart how much your family loves you. I love you so much it scares me that anything would ever make you sad, or hurt, or angry. Your mom, my sister, grew you in her belly and read your older brother books about what it would be like to have a little sister. We were all worried he would be upset at your arrival but in a testament to your sweetness, he was obsessed with you from the time you were a little baby. Even now, he hugs and kisses you all the time, calling you his Faye Faye, inviting you everywhere he goes. He tries to hand you toys he knows were meant for you. When you’re all dressed up he says you look like a princess. I think, Faye, that you are love personified. You are so sweet, you smile endlessly, you snuggle into your mom’s arms and sigh your little baby sighs. You have the best head of hair- since day one!- that we all love to fuss with. You are a miracle. I know, because I caught you in my arms the night you were born. I thought you might like to hear the story of how it all happened, so, here it is:
You were born in the cool month of October, late at night, three days before Halloween. Your Dad called me that morning, just as he had when it was time for Wayland to be born, and told me “today is the day”. I asked if he was sure and he said, “I’m not. Shan is.” I was so excited! We all were. When your brother was born we all had to stick it out for hours at the hospital since your mom’s water broke early. But with you, everything was going according to plan, except for the fact that even though your mom was in labor with you Wayland was demanding her full attention. She had planned to labor mostly at home, but he was climbing all over her, saying “Mama, Mama” while she groaned and smiled at him through gritted teeth. The hospital, I realized, was the only place she could probably relax. So, Grandad and Grammy K took Wayland out for ice cream to distract him while your Mom, Dad and I made sure everything was packed in the hospital bag and ready to go. Momo and Aunt Mez had planned to spend the night with your brother, and after laboring at home for awhile you mom’s contractions started coming on more quickly. We left for the hospital as the sun was setting, chattering in the car to help take your mom’s mind off the pain and guessing what time you’d be born as we drove down Napoleon Avenue. We called the midwife, our favorite, Kate, and she told us she’d meet us at the hospital. I had ordered a shirt that said “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” when I found out you were going to be a girl. It’s an old midwives shirt from the 1970s and I had been saving it in my drawer, looking at it and smiling for months, waiting for the day I’d get to rock it at your birth. I didn’t want to “ruin it,” which makes me scoff now, because in a matter of hours there would be birth fluid all over it. I had on a flowery skirt that I’ll never get rid of because it’s the skirt I caught you in- and Birkenstock sandals. Before I left my house I had packed snacks and supplies I thought your mom might need, and when we got to the hospital and checked in everything started to feel surreal.
Kate met us in triage and we got checked in. Your mom needed an IV because she had bled so much during Wayland’s birth, and they thought she might again. They wanted to give her Pitocin after you were born to contract her uterus and stop any profuse bleeding. She would bleed profusely anyway, but we’ll get to that. The nurse who did the IV couldn’t stick your mom’s veins anywhere other than her inner elbow, the only place your mom requested the IV not go. But everything was so exciting she didn’t even care, we joked and laughed through the multiple sticks of the needle, and with the IV port finally in place we started to get into the swing of laboring around the room.
As your parents worked together to bring you into the world, I smiled from the doorway of the birthing suite, happy that they’d found each other. Your parents are an awesome couple- they truly understand and don’t try to change each other- they appreciate how much the other does and the unique skills they both bring to the relationship. I love them and was thinking about how excited and nervous they must have been in those moments, hugging each other as your mom laughed between contractions remembering your Dad’s frazzled first few minutes at the hospital when he had forgotten all the supplies they’d brought in the car in all the excitement and nerves. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned around to Kate the midwife beckoning me into the room next door. I followed, unsure of what she needed to talk to me in private about. One thing about me that you probably already know: I’m a bit of an alarmist and a worry wart, so I immediately started creating scenarios in my brain that something was going horribly wrong and we were going to have to approach your parents about it together to break some tough news about a C-section, a test result, a slow heartbeat.
“Hey,” she whispered to me in the dark, “do you want to catch the baby?”
“ME!?,” I blurted out, “CATCH…THE…BABY?! BY MYSELF?!”
Of all the things she wanted to talk to me privately in a dark room about, this was not what I thought she’d say.
“Yes,” she laughed back at me. “You can do it! It’s the easiest part of the whole birth usually. I’ll talk you through it. I just needed to know if I should get you some gloves.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied nervously, “I…totally will, I’d love to. That would be…”
“Great!” She said, walking out of the room, “I’m gonna go finish my charting, so hang with your sister, but wait…let me see your hands.”
I held my hands out in front of me, looking at them differently than I had just seconds prior. These hands were about to deliver a baby, these hands were about to deliver my own niece. These hands were about to do the most important thing they had ever done.
“Mmmm ‘bout a six I’d say,” she squinted at my hands, “Cool.”
She made her way off down the hallway, relaxed as ever, as I stood in the dark room, totally shocked that I’d just been offered this opportunity. You see, Faye, I was taking my prerequisites to go back to school for midwifery. I was signed up for a doula training in the spring, and I’d read a lot of birth books, but no one had ever just nonchalantly offered to let me deliver a perfect human child into the world, from the body of my own beloved sister no less. I had seen a few births, but I’d never been part of one.
I slowly walked out of the room and settled back into the doorway.
“Holy shit.” I kept thinking, “This is going to change my entire life.”
It did. Your birth changed my life; it changed all of our lives for the infinitely better. I looked at your mom and dad again, holding each others’ arms, your Dad intermittently kissing your mom’s head and shoulders. Your mom smiling between contractions, knowing as they intensified it meant she was one contraction closer to meeting her daughter. It was surreal. You are a miracle.
Your brother’s birth was long and arduous and action packed. It seemed at points that every minute was a hour and every hour a lifetime waiting for him to drop, but with you, your mom was in pain, but making jokes almost the whole time that were actually really funny. We played music as she sat in the tub, with the lights all the way down, navigating through her contractions without medication or intervention, just like she wanted. I don’t know what birth will be like by the time you read this, my Faye, but I hope a birth like yours is the norm, because every minute was beautiful. I sat on the edge of the tub and watched your dad stroke your mom’s hair. She inhaled sharply when contractions came on, and exhaled slowly as they left her. Kate the midwife was in and out of the room, working on charting, coming in to chat and check your mom’s progress, and just generally being the best. She told us about her band to take your mom’s mind off the pain, we discussed what bands were classified as ska (a genre your mom was very passionate about in middle and high school), and your mom told us about all the food and wine she planned to have once you were out of her belly and in her arms. No oysters or cocktails in a town like New Orleans is hard, Faye, but your mom knew you were worth it.
And so the minutes turned to hours and the tub turned to the birthing stool, and the toilet, and the birthing bed. Your mom moved to each new place, taking her sharp inhales with her. The dance of labor is an interesting phenomenon. Women in labor without intervention move how their bodies tell them to move and oftentimes that can look like hips swinging about in the shower, moving on hands and knees to make space for the baby to drop on the bed, or perfect stillness in the bathtub where eyes squinting shut and the body tensing up tell us on the outside when the pain wave has crashed onto the shore of the laboring mother. We waited patiently for the dance of labor to turn to transition, when the jokes stop, and the business of bringing you earthside would really begin.
Around 10:30 pm, it happened while your mom was sitting on the birthing stool with her arms on the bed. Transition began and your mom’s mood started to plummet. Transition is when women start to doubt that they can give birth at all. They’ve been in labor for hours, their body is tired, their mind is clouded, and they need encouragement to keep going. Kate asked if your mom had eaten anything, she said no through huffs and that she didn’t want anything either, but Kate knew your mom’s energy was depleted and she needed something STAT. “I have nut butter!” I screamed. One of the few supplies I had brought was packets of Justin’s almond butters, which I ate a lot before workouts. “Perfect,” Kate said, “easy to eat, get her one.” I will never forget squeezing that vanilla almond butter into your mom’s mouth straight from the packet. Even in her transitional labor pain, your mom and I made eye contact and cracked up. “Wow,” she said through giggles, “This really is the perfect snack. Thanks, Ern!” She bit the packet and dragged her teeth along the outside to get the last bits and we laughed again. I would feed her another packet of nut butter before this night was over, right after you were born, and it would be just as funny as the first time.
With some healthy fats and calories in her, your mom started to perk up, sipping water and saying she felt ready to push. We called for the nurse to get the supply cart, and as it was wheeled in Kate handed me my size six gloves.
“Here ya go,” she said, “try and keep them as sterile as possible.”
“No problem, of course,” I said, having no idea how to keep gloves sterile.
Your mom didn’t really want to move much, so she stayed where she was, alternating between sitting on the birthing stool and standing, bent over, with her forearms on the bed. Kate assembled everything around her, laying out absorbent pads and arranging towels and tools in easy to reach places, all the while encouraging your mom. She’s an amazing midwife. Turning to the nurse she asked if the Pitocin was in place for after the birth to stop the uterine contractions and prevent your mom from excessive bleeding.
“Yep,” the nurse said, “it’s right…wait, where’s her port?”
In the throes of bathtub and toilet and bed and stool and chair labor, the IV port had fallen out of your mom’s arm. There was nowhere to put the Pitocin. Kate gave your mom two options, she could get stuck again to put in a new port and get Pitocin, or Kate could give her a pill that did the same thing but would make her hot and itchy. Your mom chose the pill option, she was ready for a few icky side effects if it meant she could push you out now.
“Alright, let’s push!” Kate announced. We were now crouched behind your mom, your Dad was holding her, trying to peek around to see what was going on where we were. If he got too far away, your mom pulled him back to her, gritting through her teeth that he was NOT to move from that spot.
She pushed, and there was some blood and fluid. She pushed, and there was more blood and fluid. She pushed once more, and there was poop. Your mom pooped right on my glove. It plopped right onto my gloved hand during the third push, following the comedy rule of threes. I still laugh when I think about it. I looked at Kate, she looked back at me. Wordlessly, I wiped my hand on the absorbent pad, transferring the poop onto the pad and off of my glove. Then, I looked back to Kate. She nodded, “Perfect,” she laughed. So much for keeping my gloves sterile.
With the next big push, your head emerged and Faye, you were en caul! Babies born en caul (in their amniotic sacs) are rare and beautiful. They’re good luck babies, extra special blessings, perfect displays of the miracle of nature; you, my little love, are all of those things. You were covered in a silvery film, perfectly encased in what had helped grow you on the inside, emerging now on the outside, earthside. Kate and I gasped and announced what was happening to your parents. Once more, your Dad tried to get a glimpse and after craning his neck to see, your mom pulled him back down to her. She was ready to push again and needed everyone in their places.
Pushing is hard work, and as your mom struggled to muster the strength to bear down as a contraction hit, the amniotic sac burst with the pressure and covered my “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” shirt in ammonia tinged, yellow-white amniotic fluid. My shirt was ruined but it was such a message from the universe: the strength of your mother, pushing you out of her body where she had grown you for months from a bundle of cells to a full fledged human girl. The burst of fluid was a testament to the power of your little body wiggling and dropping downward, ready to fill your lungs with air and scream that you were here. The trust of the midwife to allow the process to happen naturally and to turn over the most special, life affirming part of it to me, never underestimating me for a moment. And then there was me, nervous but determined to do right by you and your mom, to catch you in my arms, be the first hands to ever hold you, and help my sister deliver you, my niece, into the sacred sisterhood of women. It was the circle of life and the wonder of women. We were women ready to hear you roar.
With a newly wet ensemble and my poopy gloves, I was starting to feel like maybe I had no idea what I was doing but Kate assured me if she were the one getting ready to catch her scrubs would look the same. I sighed, and hoped the rest of the process would feel more intuitive. Your mom pushed and out came the top of your head, covered in thick dark hair.
“She a brunette!” I squealed, “A Kelley girl!” Kate rested her hand on your little head, encouraging your mom to take a deep breath and get ready for the next push. She turned to me and asked, “You ready?”
“I don’t feel like I’ll ever really be ready but yeah I’m ready,” I said back, being honest, feeling scared and excited.
Your mom groaned through gritted teeth and pushed again. Out came your whole head.
“Oh my gosh!” I said, “she’s beautiful!” I looked up at your dad, seeing him cry for the second time ever. The first time was at Wayland’s birth. It takes a lot to make your dad cry, but you two are the best things in his life, so you make it look easy.
I looked at your hazy eyed Dad and then back at your perfect little head resting in my glove and started to cry too. I tried to be tough and hold back my tears, going into midwife mode, but this was too beautiful, so I listened to Kate’s instructions and just let the tears roll down my cheeks, disappearing into the wetness of my birth covered shirt as they dropped from my chin. Your shoulders came, and then, with the next push, your mom delivered you, standing up. I caught you, kneeling behind her, and you were slippery and cheesy and perfect. Your mom turned around to reach for you and I tried to hand you to her around the side of her leg.
“No, no,” Kate laughed and sighed, “through her legs, she’s still attached to the cord!” Your mom’s legs were shaking as she took you in her arms. Everyone was crying. She handed you to your Dad, the first person to ever really hold you and take you in. “Ten fingers”, he said. “Ten toes. She’s so cute. She’s perfect.”
At this point, there was blood everywhere, Faye. Your birth was beautiful to be sure, but it was messy. Crime scene messy. Your mom had blood dripping down her legs, and that was the first moment I looked around and saw just how much blood she had lost. There was blood on the birthing stool, on the bed, on my arms and hands, on the absorbent pads, some of which had absorbed so much that the blood was now trickling off the sides of them onto the floor.
“Is this a normal amount of blood? It seems like a lot,” your Dad asked Kate.
“Yeah, yeah, she’s fine. It’s gonna be fine,” she answered. Your Dad smiled and looked back down at his perfect new baby while Kate turned to me and gave me the this-is-actually-a- shitload-of-blood-SOS-we-gotta-save-your-sister-look. I started cleaning up the blood on the floor and putting it into the biohazard bins so it wouldn’t freak your mom out while Kate got to work stopping the bleeding and delivering the placenta. Your mom took the pill the nurse gave her to stop her postpartum hemorrhage and laid back on the bed while Kate pressed on her uterus, waiting for the placenta to make its way out. Once it was delivered and placed into the cooler for the placenta encapsulation ladies to pick up and your mom had stopped bleeding profusely, I fed her another nut butter and felt like the situation was under control and I could really take a look at you.
Faye, you were perfect. Down to your little toenails and soft downy little eyebrows, you were beautiful. One thing about your Grandad is that he hates to be left out of the action. When your mom’s labor had begun and we’d first arrived at the hospital I begun to receive texts that read “UPDATES??????” About every half hour while your mom sighed and swayed and groaned and exhaled. I’d texted back probably three of the forty seven times he texted me, but this time I got to make The Call. I told your grandparents who were fidgeting in anticipation in the hospital waiting room that they had an absolutely perfect granddaughter, but would they mind going to Wendy’s because their daughter wanted a cheeseburger really badly, and a frosty too.
“Anything for my girl!” Your grandad yelled into the phone, followed by one of his famous yelps of joy and he and MoMo hustled off to Wendy’s together. They returned, handing your mom a bag of greasy fast food she had never deserved more. Your mom held you in her right arm, and ate a cheeseburger with her left. What a broad! We all marveled at her. She was pale from the blood loss, but “nothing a cheeseburger can’t fix,” announced Kate, walking into the room to check on us. Everything was perfect, your Grandad said, looking at you in your mom’s arms as she sat in bed next to your Dad, all of you together at last. “Everything is perfect.”
It’s been almost a year since you were born, Faye. You’re eleven months old with a Faye-esta themed birthday party in two weeks as I finish writing this. It’s taken me all year. Your birth affirmed a lot of things for me. Your subsequent eleven months of giggles, smiles and cries have affirmed even more. Since the beginning of time women have helped other women give birth in a sacred act of sisterhood that binds us all together. Birth stories are our war stories and now I can say not only have I gone into battle with my sister twice, I’ve helped her win the battle with my own hands. I caught you in my arms, Faye. I’ll never forget how slippery you were. I’ll never forget how easily the gasp left my lungs when I saw you en caul, how my mind cleared when it came time for me to pull you out of your mom during the final push, and how my heart opened up instantaneously to make room to unconditionally love you for the rest of my life. Your birth was the most exciting night of my life, and the morning after, when I woke up, my hair still in the braid it had been in the night you were born, I had never felt such peace. I knew, a few blocks away, you were sleeping soundly in the pink blanket your mom had picked for your hospital bag. I knew, in a few hours, your family who waited for you and was so ready to love you and watch you grow would fill that hospital room with laughter and happy tears and camera flashes. I made myself a pot of coffee, put on my favorite overalls, and sat with my legs folded on the couch and my eyes closed reliving that night.
As I walked down the street to the hospital on that cool October morning to go see you again, feeling a little bit like a real deal midwife, I saw a feather on the sidewalk. Your Aunt Mez told me when you find a feather on the way to where you’re going that “you’re on the right path”. I knew, in that moment, that I was. I felt the same heart opening feeling that rushed over me the night before as I’d crouched behind your mom, ready for you to enter our lives and never leave. When your brother was born I realized how much my aunts loved me and always had. That love happened all over again when you were born and hasn’t stopped for a second. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much the three of us love you until you’re an aunt yourself, but when your Aunt Mez and Aunt Cez and I stood around you, sleeping in your moms arms, I again felt the bond of family and sisterhood, and knew you’d get to feel it one day too when Aunt Mez looked up at us and said with a smile, “Kelley girls rule.”
“Yeah we do,” your Aunt Cez agreed, stroking your little baby hairs with her fingers, “and now there’s one more.”
You’re our girl, Faye. I wished for you. I love your brother, he’s the most wonderful, sweetest boy, but when we found out you were a girl I was seriously over the moon. Girls rule, as you know. There is so much I want to teach you and show you about being a girl in the world and yet, I have no idea if I’m doing it right. I want to help make you unstoppable, confident, and strong. I want you to know that you are capable of anything.
You are almost one and already take no shit from anyone, including your older brother. You are sweet as can be until someone crosses you at which point you let them know they have wronged you and demand reparations. I say it’s the Scorpio in you, but really, it’s the Kelley girl. Your mom is assertive and magnetic, funny and confident. I am driven, capable, and kind. Your Aunt Mez is philosophical and sweet, stubborn, but nurturing. Your Aunt Cez is independent, adventurous, beautiful and brilliant. Your Momo is a trailblazer, a force to be reckoned with, and a one-of-a-kind woman who has raised four daughters to be a veritable coven of women warriors. In short, you don’t mess with the Kelley girls. On your Dad’s side you have your Grammy Sally who is an incredible woman with insights on just about anything you can think of. She has a quiet strength I admire and she loves you fiercely. Your Aunt Sarah is brave, outspoken woman navigating what is traditionally a man’s world with courage. Her daughter, your cousin Ada is sweet and sassy. You even got a bonus grandma, Grammy Kerry who has an easy way about her that disguises the true grit and fortitude that give her a fiery spirit. We all bring different things to the table and lay them at your feet, Faye. We hope you love us, learn from us, and join with us in the circle of women that have come before you to make your place in this world.
Of course, you have even more family, men and women alike, who adore you. Your brother is sweet and protective over you, his Faye Faye. Your dad is absolutely wrapped around your finger (though he may deny it all he likes, it’s simply the truth) and calls you Sweet Pea. Your Grandad is smitten and talks about all the places he can’t wait to take you. But for right now, you are just a baby. You have no idea how adored you are by everyone who knows you. Right now you just like to do you. You carry things around in your mouth which never fails to get a laugh, sleep best (and sometimes exclusively) when snuggled up with your parents, and will eat just about anything you can get your hands on, including dog food and markers.
I wonder who you will be as a kid, as a teenager, as a young woman. I can’t wait to see what strikes your interest and show up for soccer games or ballet recitals or karate belt ceremonies or math league championships. Whatever you choose, just know I’m all about it and super proud. I love you so very much, Faye. You light up the room with your sighs and giggles. Your cry breaks my heart. When you get frustrated and smush your face into my neck it is simultaneously the cutest and saddest thing that has ever happened. And it’s just the beginning.The night you were born is one of my happiest memories. Something tells me you’ll be the star of a lot of my happiest memories from here on out, as you grow and change and learn and make your place in the world. I’m here to help you every step of the way. We all are. You’re our girl. Whoever you become, you’ll always be our Faye Faye, your dad’s Sweet Pea, your mom’s little lady that she fought for and wished for and fell in love with at 11:21 pm on October 28, 2016. The world is a better place with you in it, Miss Faye. Happy first birthday. I love you.
Forever your family,