From the Start: A Birth


The call comes at 7 a.m. on a February morning, when my daughter Naomi knows that I’ll be up and getting ready for the day. She’s been in labour since the middle of the night and wants to know if I’d like to come over and keep her and her husband Matthew company.

Of course I would! I’m self-employed and my schedule is flexible, so there’s no one to ask permission. I finish getting breakfast on the table for Naomi’s two much-younger siblings, then head over.

I don’t even have to drive to be at my daughter’s side. She and her husband live in a suite on the neighbouring property; I let myself through her door less than a minute after leaving my own.

“It’s happening,” my daughter says, catching her breath between contractions. She’s smiling and looking impressively calm for a first-time mother, her face glowing with sweat and anticipation.

The midwife arrives shortly after I do, and I try to be unobtrusive as she makes her assessment. Naomi is far enough along that she’s ready to be admitted to the hospital—but the perinatal unit’s rooms are full, and she’s asked to continue her labour at home. And so, we hunker down: Naomi, her midwife, Matthew, and me.

Between contractions, the atmosphere is cheerful. Everything is proceeding as it should, and the four of us are enjoying the shared experience of this unfolding miracle. I watch my daughter with admiration. Can it be 26 years already since her own birth? She is a twin, born by caesarian at 35 weeks. At an impossibly tiny 3½ lbs, Naomi was almost 2 lbs lighter than her sister—and yet from the very beginning she was tough. She has remained the most petite of my three adult children, and yet she has always gravitated towards physical labour. I am grateful for her strength now, as I watch her bend into each contraction.

I am grateful for Matthew as well, his unwavering focus as he leans in beside his wife. They were friends long before their interest turned romantic. I knew him as a loud and impetuous adolescent; now he’s a man who knows when to be strong and when to be gentle. He is exactly the birthing partner Naomi needs.

Suddenly the contractions accelerate. If Naomi doesn’t want to deliver at home—and she doesn’t—it’s time to get to the hospital. NOW. We drive the 20+ minute distance in separate vehicles, and I panic when I can’t find a parking place. Please, I beg, as I circle and re-circle the lot. A space comes open and I seize it. Somehow in my less-than-focused state I manage to figure out the parking kiosk, then sprint to the maternity ward.

My sense of urgency is well-founded; Naomi is in active labour when I get to her room. Things are moving more quickly than even her midwife anticipated, and it’s only a few minutes before she’s on the bed, pushing. She tells me later that she knew I had arrived only because she saw my boots on the floor. Her world has shrunk to the point that she can’t hear my voice or take in the rest of me.

And then, less than 20 minutes after her arrival at the hospital, Naomi’s baby is crowning. I hold my breath as a head emerges, then the unfolding body of a little girl. There’s a flurry of activity at the foot of the bed, but my tiny granddaughter remains purple and still. My prayer in the parking lot was nothing compared to the plea I send to Heaven now. I have no idea how long we wait, but I swear the whole world is holding its breath with me. Until—finally—little Rhea wriggles and cries. I cry, too.

It’s been three years since Rhea was born, and as I write this my daughter and son-in-law are preparing to welcome their second child in a matter of weeks. If all goes as planned it will be a homebirth this time, and I will be at my daughter’s side again. I’ll have to travel a little farther to get there, however; Naomi and Matt have become homeowners in the intervening years and have moved to a new neighbourhood. But we’re still in the same community, and for that I am immensely grateful.

For Rhea

2 am is the time you choose

to begin your birth

to end nine months of

hoping, praying

retching, craving

sleeping, dreaming

waking, waiting –

for your mother.

Your mother, who I held in the crook of my arm

not so long ago

my smallest child

my toughest child

now woman-grown

bent over, breathing.

Your father stands, gentle-eyed

hands on her back.

The midwife works with quiet efficiency

while I watch, grateful witness.

You arrive, purple and still.

Time catches, until

your cry

a small cry, but enough

to reset the world spinning.

Snow falls outside the window

Winter’s benediction

but you, tiny child, are Spring.

Rachel Dunstan Muller
Rachel Dunstan Muller
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at