1. i am with my sister. i am holding an ill-fitting oxygen mask just off her face to keep it from cutting her skin and watching her contraction progress on the machine as the fetal monitor plays for us the sound of her baby's ever-lowering heart rate. the contraction passes, and the heart rate stabilizes. nurses whisper in the corner. when my sister holds her breath, so do i. she won't let go of my hand--she is too alone and utterly afraid. they are getting ready to wheel her into the delivery room, which is separate from the labor room--a bad design. she won't let go, and her doctor throws a gown on me and i am dragged along. i watch her and touch her and talk to her as she labors, as she sqeezes the handles on the birthing table so tightly that the IV needle creeps out of her hand. the staff is worried. the get out a vacuum extractor and literally pull the baby out of my sister's body. the baby girl is bright blue--so blue she seems made of plastic and not flesh. they take her limp body away to the corner, under hot, bright lights, and she is surrounded by people. my sister and i are alone. my sister is almost unconscious but is weeping, tears sliding down her face as she begs me to tell her the baby is ok. long silent minutes pass, and i wonder what i will say to my sister if her baby dies. finally, a little weak cry fills the room and i am crying too--i can see the baby kicking and screaming out her anger at all the strangers touching her. she is ok. i can breathe, and my sister can breathe, because so can she.
2. i am with my friend, pushing back on her hand as she leans hard into me, trying with all her might NOT to push her baby out of her body. it's not quite time. she is focussed on breathing, looking past me into her husband's eyes for the strength he can give her. her face is a miracle. her sister has her other hand and both of us are doing whatever we can to help her. she is loved and supported literally from all sides. she is so focussed that her mind is not with us anymore--afterwards she will say that she hypnotized herself. the baby starts to appear--she has a perfect curl on the top of her head. the nurse runs for the doctor, who comes in just in time as the serious business of birth gets underway. the pushing is tremendous and powerful--more strength than i knew she had in her. the baby slides out in a great gush, and she is perfect. she cries for just a moment, and then is calm as they measure her. her father cries. the nurse does, too. it is a moment of wonder. my friend says that it was fun--she has endorphins going through her that would bring a million dollars if you could bottle them. the baby girl is serious and beautiful and sleeps on her mother as we leave the new little family alone to bask in each other.