When my friend finally gave birth today, I had my face next to her face, holding her shoulders from behind and cradling her head with one arm to help her to curl up to push. There are images in life that never leave you and seeing the tiny ear, so perfect, so defined, emerge from the mess of flesh and hair is one of those images. I whispered in Jess's ear, "There's an ear!" And when the baby slithered out, I was the first one to tell her, "You have a baby girl!"
Her water had broken 34 hours earlier and she labored that whole time. I joined them for the last 5 hours, bringing fresh energy, telling funny stories in between contractions and then just sitting quietly as things progressed sooooo slowly and my friend began to struggle. She became a Woman Giving Birth, beyond humor, focused on getting it right, focused on the intense work of pushing and focused on the animal fear caused by pain. She was exhausted and glorious. More than once, I teared up when all my eyes could register was how strong she was. Instead of thinking, "That is Jess," I thought, "That is strength." Also, I was profoundly aware of the honor of being allowed to work with her, lending her my muscles to help her change positions or to hold her legs up and out. I felt such keen affection for her body, kissing her ankles and massaging her feet, smoothing her hair and wiping a cool washcloth on her forehead, neck and wrists.
I also almost passed out but we don't need to talk about that. :-) I had locked my knees while standing at the side of the bed to hold her leg and between that and the tiny breakfast, I felt the world swim and recognized what was going on soon enough to ask her mom to take my place so I could lean against the birthing tub with my head between my knees. The sweet and awesome midwife called out a little later, "You OK, Rebecca?"
"Yes, but this isn't about me anyway."
But it was a little bit, too. My perception of my place in this world has mostly involved feeling like I was not #1 on anyone's list. I have had few seasons with best friends and many of those BFFs had other totally legitimate relationship priorities going at the same time. Have I ever told you about when I was 11 and offered a best friend charm with a heart in three pieces to girls from church and they turned me down?
My friend who gave birth today is particularly talented at making friends. And she chose me to be there. And expressed earnest gratitude when it was all over and she was herself again. (I mean, she was always herself. The worst her language got was when she shouted, "Oh! Goooosh." It was just an unfamiliar self.) This made me feel special in a way I have not felt before. It made me feel like there was something good about me that shined brightly enough that they saw it through the abrasiveness and whatever it is about me that intimidates most folks. I didn't want to be trite when they thanked me by saying, "No, thank YOU," so as I stumbled to find something else to say, all I could come up with to explain my feelings of reciprocity was, "I love you."
And isn't that the reason we want to be important to other people? We want to be given deep enough access to fully love them. The act of loving is crucial to our well-being. When too many people in our lives consider us to be in the third or fourth tier of intimacy, we don't have the chance to love them.
But today, I got to tell a friend that she had a daughter and give her periodic sips of water and so I'll say here what I didn't want to say there, "No, thank YOU."
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