This story is by Selma Writes and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A persistent low backache had Grace moving a little slow all morning. By noon a bloody show confirmed what she already knew. The contractions, fifteen minutes apart, started before dinnertime.
Like a pelican, she waddled into the bedroom where Tim was busy working on the pipework for a bathtub he hoped to have in place before the baby came.
“Where’s my favorite plumber?” Grace chimed.
Tim hurriedly got up from the crawl space and chimed back, “Here I am my queen. What can I do for you?” He embraced her with his elbows and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Tim, guess what,” she started.
“Easy. Dinner’s ready, right?” he smiled. “I’m starving.”
“Right. Guess what else?”
He winked at her. “You miss me-”
“My labor’s started,” she interrupted.
His face jerked forward in a comical way as if he had been struck on the back of the head. “How could that be? It’s only the first of November. I thought it’d be later. I still need to finish the bathtub. You said close to Thanksgiving, you–”
“Babies are unpredictable that way,” she interrupted again, “they don’t wait for things to get done; they come when they’re ready.” Tim stuck his thumbs into his back pockets. His breathing grew rapid, his gaze darted from her to his pipes and his lips trembled.
When she insisted on giving birth again in her own house, with or without his help, he rushed to the library in town and checked out every book about the birthing process. He memorized everything and came to visualize the procedure in his head. In principle, he was ready, but with her sudden revelation, his nerves got the best of him. Grace smiled at him and nodded. His breathing steadied. He slapped his thighs.
“What can I do?” He took her by the arm and led her to the bed. Grace refused to sit and pointed to the bureau. He put his hand on the small of her back and walked her there.
“Serve the kids their dinners and get them ready for bed, please. And you eat something as well.”
“I’m on it. I’ll be right back Mrs. Parker.”
Tim left Grace standing by the opened drawers. Less than three minutes later he reentered and found her poised on the edge of a hard wooden chair— eyes closed, back arched, and hands gripping the edge of the chair.
“Grace!” He stiffened.
She motioned for him to come closer. He knelt in front of her on the hard floor. “It’s going away now,” she whimpered. She sank back into the chair. She sighed long and managed a smile. “Now listen to me, darling…” Grace gave him instructions about what she needed him to prepare. He stood and started preparations immediately. She could hear him talking to the boys in short sentences.
Tim was in and out of the bedroom. Out, he was soothing the boys and getting them to bed; in, he was soothing his wife when he found her contorted in pain. The responsibility started to ground him as at the end of each contraction, her face turned peaceful, unafraid. Eventually, her serene face brought him a measure of ease.
“Tim, I’m awful glad you’re here,” she cooed.
“So am I, honey,” Tim replied as he knelt next to her.
Grace touched his shoulders and rested her chin on his head.
Poor Tim, he’s lying, Grace thought.
When they met for the first time, she was already five months pregnant. He, a scrawny good looker who had answered her desperate ad — WANTED: Husband/Handyman – had turned out to be more than she had bargained for. He had never been around babies before and he’d tried hard to convince her to let him take her to the doctor. But she’d declined. That’s why she knew that at this moment he’d rather be in the car on his way to fetch the doctor.
Sorry darling, it’s too late for that now.
Grace pulled away and faced him. “Tim, I mean it. Thank you for being here.”
Former Mrs. Grace White thought Tim, I don’t know how we got to this point, but in the short time that we’ve known each other, you’ve helped me to fit into my own pants and have taught me what it means to be needed and appreciated. I don’t know what I did to deserve this.
Holding her gaze he said, “Oh Grace, I won’t lie to you – I’m scared. But no one has ever shown me the confidence that you have. I just pray to God that I don’t let you down. I’m your husband now and I don’t take that lightly.”
Tim and Grace paced in the small bedroom for a little over two hours, stopping only for a new contraction.
“I’d like to lay down now,” Grace announced. His empty stomach flipped. His mouth went dry. He helped Grace onto the white sheets on the bed.
When the last contractions hit, they hit them both. Every acute shock Grace felt Tim felt too. When she held her breath, he held his. When she grimaced, he grimaced. When she bared her teeth, he bared his. When she rested, panting, he did the same.
“The moment her head is out you hold it and from there on you give her all your attention.”
“I got it, honey, I understand.”
I will not fail her, he thought as they went through the three-minute-apart contractions.
“I’m here for you and you’re doing great Grace.”
Just then she reared up and a gush of transparent fluid flowed from her. Even a handyman knew what that meant. Tim found his purpose. His hands spread out, ready.
Grace exhaled long, he inhaled deeply.
Grace inhaled deeply and the baby’s head, tiny and sleek, slipped into his waiting hands.
Don’t panic. Don’t try to pull her out. Clean out her mouth. The memorized words appeared in his head. The handy plumber inserted his finger into the baby’s mouth and cleared it.
“One more big push, darling and it’s over,” he called out. Grace called forth her energy reserves, bore down and the full birth happened right before his eyes. His face radiated wonderment. “It’s a girl, just like you said, Grace. She’s here. And she fits perfectly in my hands.” He smiled.
“Is she pretty?” Grace asked, panting.
“I have never seen anything like this before, but she’s a mess I tell you.” He laughed, relieved.
Grace smiled, reached down and touched the baby’s head. “Take care of her. Tim,” she said wearily.
Measuring an inch and a half from the baby’s body, Tim tied a string around the cord. He grabbed the scissors and severed the baby from its source. Now you’re on your own little angel.
Tim waited, holding his breath. A slap, cold water, the words in the books had read.
There’s no way I’m going to slap this baby. He shook his head.
With lips shut tight, he picked up the baby. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
The words echoed in his head.
Come on little angel, breathe, he ordered silently through a clenched jaw.
Fifteen seconds zoomed by. Thirty seconds… Breathe dammit, breathe. Panic gnawed at him.
He tickled her feet. He inhaled – Like this, he demonstrated – swelling his chest. Nothing!
He rubbed and tapped her back. Her fists, like butterfly wings, beat against his hand. Her legs kicked. But still no sound. He rubbed her nostrils. She opened her mouth, hiccuped and out poured the music that he wanted to hear. Tim looked into the comical face in relief and laughter roared from his lungs. His eyes welled and he too started to cry. “You’re my hero, little angel — way to go, girl,” he said between sobs. Tim kissed her button nose.
He turned to Grace. “She’s breathing. She’s breathing,” he announced.
Grace smiled meekly. “Thank you. Take care of her first.” She closed her eyes, which until that moment had been watching him intently.
But Tim knew it was not over yet. Laying the baby on Grace’s chest and keeping one hand firmly on her, he helped to rub Grace’s stomach with the other. Oh, the pain! Exhausted, Grace gave a long push delivering the afterbirth. She wailed in utter relief, wilting.
“Take care of her Tim.” Her words came out inaudible.
Tim kissed his wife on the forehead and draped a blanket over her shoulders.
“You did great, li’l mama. Rest up. I’ll be right back.” Grace looked up at him, smiled and nodded.
Cradling the baby in the crook of his arm, Tim opened the door and carried the baby to the kitchen sink for her first bath.
“Happy birthday, Elizabeth Parker,” whispered Grace, “In a moment I’ll introduce you to your daddy.”