Isaac was born in our upstairs bathroom.
Truth be told, I hadn’t been officially cleared for a home birth. Isaac’s older brother, Rowan, had been born via Cesarean section, and at the time my midwives weren’t authorized to attend a VBAC (that’s Vaginal Birth after Cesarean) home birth. Still, that didn’t stop me from planning, on the sly, to stay home unless circumstances dictated otherwise.
In the end, though, I never would have made it to the hospital on time: in the space of approximately 11 minutes, I went from lazy, wide-spaced contractions to a full-on, rip-roaring labour that ended with me kneeling, stunned, next to my newborn on the bathroom floor. Our midwife didn’t show up until after the baby was born: thank God for our doula, who caught Isaac and talked me through the entire, truncated, experience — what I now refer to as “the best 11 minutes of my life.”
That story is part of our family lore. We talk about Isaac’s birth, and also about Rowan’s (he was so stubbornly breech, we tell him, his head nestled just under my heart; we think he must have liked to hear it beating). We also talk about death: since they were tiny, both kids have been utterly fascinated by the stories surrounding my mother’s death, and Rachel’s father’s, events that took place before they were born. They ask the most intimate of questions with utter frankness: What did he say when he died? What did she look like when she died? Were you very sad? What did they do with the body? And Rachel and I do our best to answer the questions with equal frankness, to not let the pain and the almost inevitable tears get in the way of the telling.
As a writer and a blogger, these kinds of stories — quirky and one-sided as they sometimes are — are important to me. When I started blogging, I wanted a record of the things that went on in our family. After too many times of hearing my mother say, “We thought we would remember every ridiculous you said, but we forgot,” I wanted to remember. I wanted my kids to know that I was paying attention, chronicling this family, trying to make sense of the narrative of our lives together in all its glories and challenges.
And now, it turns out that my blogging impulses may actually be doing some good. In a recent New York Times article, happiness researcher Bruce Feiler reports that the single most important thing resilient families do is tell stories about themselves. The more children knew about their families — where and how their parents met, what their grandparents did for a living, the terrible things that happened, and, yes, the story of their own births — the higher they ranked in terms of emotional health and happiness.
Since reading the article, I’m trying to remember to talk to the kids more and more about their family’s history. They’re lapping it up — sometimes to the point where Rachel and I are grilled with questions, peppered with requests to tell yet another. A few nights ago, after we’d spent the afternoon bowling, I managed to transition Rowan from the novel he didn’t want to put down to lights-out by telling him the story of the first time we took him bowling: as a toddler, he was so scared of the lights and the noise that he clung to me in terror and refused to put on the adorable shoes. And then, maybe half an hour later, we lost track of him for a few moments and then heard a resounding THUNK — he’d come around and had started hurling balls down a neighbouring lane. We couldn’t tear him away.
He grinned, soaking it up. “Can you tell it again?” he asked. “But can you tell it with lots and lots of details? Can you tell other stories about me?”
Oh, honey — yes I can. And I will.