Bright (Mari)Gold

This is a story about my family, and how we became. . . a bigger family. And about their strength, and how some of them risked certain death for me, and others asked to be paid in cheese. In short, it is a story about Gratitude.

I hadn't gone past my due date in any of my pregnancies since Abraham (who was a day late) (and a dollar short) (ha ha), and as much as I told myself I was prepared for whatever happened, I wasn't expecting that. We had our last day of school, Sam went back to work after his time off, I had one last YW presidency meeting, and as the days passed, I suddenly found myself with less and less going on. I'd tried to be vague about the due date, even in my own mind (it doesn't ever help to be firm about such things), but, people being what they are, I'd been pinned down by the Compassionate Service leader, who sounded slightly put-out that I wasn't planning to be induced ("We like to be able to plan ahead!"). I thus found myself in that awkward state known to anyone who's run into a neighbor in the grocery store, had a pleasant conversation, said goodbye---and then crossed paths with her again! Everyone had already said goodbye to me, and yet here I was, rearing my head again every time someone turned around. I felt defensive and apologetic at the same time.

I turned my mind, and my children's arms, to cleaning instead. (I don't know if this was "nesting," or sheer desperation to find anything else to think about.) They were so good and helpful. Abe and Seb, especially, had been great painters' assistants the week before, and now they were just as industrious with cleaning. We cleared out drawers that hadn't seen the light of day for years. I had someone come wash our windows, which proceedings Seb watched with great and abiding interest. By the time the guy was done, Seb had found our squeegee, made a holster for a squirt bottle around his waist, and was ranging around the house with an eagle-eye out for any wipe-able surface. He and Abe played "Window Washer" for the next several days. A person couldn't lay a finger on our back door window without Abe or Seb running over to wipe off the prints (with an accompanying reprimand: "Can't you see I just cleaned that?!"). We vacuumed and dusted, and I made everyone follow me around the house wiping doors, light switches, and walls with cleaner and the Magic Eraser, until everything shone.

After a few days of this, I started eyeing the ledge by the stairs with a dark hatred. It had been a long time since it had been dusted, but I couldn't get out there myself (in my condition!), and I didn't dare send the boys up there to fall to their deaths. But the cleaner the rest of the house got, the worse it looked. I asked Sam if he would take care of it (and perhaps fall to his death; sorry Sam) as soon as he could. I had---no joke---dreams about climbing up there and dusting the vases and scrubbing off the spiderwebs and grime. (One of these dreams ended with me becoming a Census Taker and getting a perm, so analyze that.)
At last the week was over and it was Saturday. I was at 41 weeks or so. I'd had contractions all week (all month!), of course, but I'd firmly decided to ignore them unless forced to do otherwise. The day was blissfully free of duties. Slippery-fish-Junie and I took a bath together (I can't resist her when she takes her clothes off and says "Choonie get in?" while hopping around excitedly) and then Sam and I made pancakes for breakfast. I made shapes out of them: a bunny and a bear and a worm (that last was an accident) and we ate them with lemon curd and yogurt and strawberries. Junie got her nice bathy-clean hair all sticky and pancake-y. Sam asked what was on the agenda for the day and I said THAT LEDGE!

After we cleaned up breakfast, I napped while most of the kids played outside. Sam recruited Sebby to help him clean off the ledge, and it made me happy to drift in and out of sleep, hearing them talking to each other as they worked. Sam lifted Sebby out over the railing onto the ledge (Sam, apparently, not sharing my qualms about people falling to their deaths) where Seb scrubbed off the dust and dirt, and put back the cleaned and dusted vases. I didn't know who was doing what till afterward, which is why I was able to nap, I suppose. When I got up, I oohed and aahed over the clean ledge and the sunlight coming warm and golden through the clean vases. It was like Christmas, I tell you. I felt like all was finally, finally right with the world.

That night around 7, Sam and I went on a date, leaving Abe in charge. (What a blessing to have our own babysitter! I think I will never get over the joy of that.) We went to dinner and talked about baby names, and family history (I'd been looking at our ancestors' names on, which is endlessly entertaining---Louis Brigham Young Nielson! Anna Borkersdotter!) and lots of other things. Every so often I would sit back and take a deep breath while a surge came. They were low and crampy, but, as you recall, I had decided not to think too much about them. After dinner we tried to think what else we could do, since the kids are always sad when we come home too soon! We decided to stop at Harmon's and get the cheese Abe had requested, in lieu of being paid for his work pulling grass in the yard (Sam had given Seb $5, but Abe wanted cheese. Beecher's Flagship Cheddar, to be precise). We got that and some other groceries. Sometimes I stopped in the store and breathed for a minute with a stronger surge, but it wasn't too noticeable and I didn't bother saying anything about it, since I didn't want to get my hopes up for having the baby anytime soon!

When we got home, the kids were at the counter eating carrot cake ice cream (weird, but it had been on sale for $1). They finished up and Sam helped the little ones get into bed while the older boys got themselves in. I rested on the couch, feeling tired and crampy. Sam showed me a video clip of Commander Riker (from Star Trek) sitting down. It got funnier and funnier as it went on, until we were both laughing and gasping for air. I said, "Let's watch a Star Trek episode from Netflix and see if he does it again!" Star Trek, incidentally, has brought us much joy. Having never seen it myself as a youth, I never realized what a treasure trove it is. This episode was, naturally, about a mysterious disease that made people grow old in just a few hours. (These fake episode summaries are all-too-accurate.) While we watched, my surges continued, sometimes becoming quite intense. I couldn't handle just sitting on the couch, so Sam got my birthing ball and I rolled or leaned on that, which helped. And I never imagined that Star Trek would take up a whole paragraph in this birth story, but there it is. After Star Trek, we went to bed.

I may have slept a bit, but I was up again by 11:30 or so with stronger surges. And okay, I'm not a total idiot. At this time I was finally allowing myself to think this might be real labor. But you have to understand, I was fully prepared for five days of this. I got up; walked up and down the stairs; scrubbed the counters. (Again, the trouble with a clean house is that any untidiness stands out. Also, I like to clean when I'm in labor.) I rocked back and forth through the surges. I couldn't decide if they were intense or not. I didn't want to wake Sam or call Cathy (my midwife) till I had a better idea of where I was. I got a free contraction timer app to see if I could tell how far apart they were, but I kept drifting off into sleep between surges and forgetting to press "stop." They seemed to be lasting 30 seconds or a minute, maybe 3 minutes apart. Looking back on it, it sounds like they were pretty close together, but I had a sort of out-of-body feeling. I knew I should probably wake Sam, but I also I wanted him to sleep. I just couldn't make myself decide to DO anything. Finally, after one surge, I was wide awake and I shook Sam awake too. I asked how he felt about babies and he said he liked them, and was I just asking in the abstract or did he need to set up the birthing pool? "Set up the birthing pool," I said.*

At 2:33, I texted Cathy, saying I was ready for her. I was actually starting to feel a tiny bit urgent, wondering if I should be more insistent that everyone hurry, but I just didn't know, and I kept telling myself there was a long night ahead and there was probably nothing to hurry for. Sam was reading the instructions for setting up the pool. He inflated it, but the sink attachment broke off when he tried to hook up the hose. Then it turned out the old attachment was still IN the hose and wouldn't come out. Annoying. The surges were getting quicker and stronger. I had to stop walking around and bend over, kneeling on the floor and leaning onto the chair or the bed. Sam was trying to get the hose thing out, and rubbing my back during surges. I texted Cathy and asked her for another hose, which she said she'd bring. But I was worried it might take too long. I couldn't decide if I was imagining the intensity. I sounded, to myself, like I was moving through transition (I noticed myself wanting to moan, rock a lot, etc) but I also didn't feel TOO panicked and the surges didn't seem to be right on top of each other; I had time to gather strength between them most times (although not always). Sam said, his hands on my back, "You're getting close! I can feel the difference!" I thought he was just trying to be encouraging, because there was no way I was actually getting close. Mostly I was worried not to see Cathy yet. I asked Sam to go get the big boys out of bed and put them in the loft because I didn't want him having to go get them later, and I wanted them to be able to come see the birth if they wanted to.

Finally I heard Cathy's car drive up. I was making lots of low moaning noises, rocking myself back and forth like crazy during each surge. I wanted Sam. He started working with the new hose, asking if he should still try to fill the pool, and I said sure, thinking maybe it wouldn't get all the way full but it would be nice to have a little water to be in. But then one surge came and suddenly I felt the baby pressing strong against my tailbone. And I felt like pushing! But I couldn't believe that. I thought for sure I was just interpreting things wrong; there was no way it could be time. But I told Sam not to bother with the hose because I need you! He came and pushed on my back and it helped. I got into the (empty) pool and leaned over one edge. I moaned and rocked, and then I just couldn't help it, I yelled as loud as I could and pushed! And I felt something moving, so I pushed again, and I felt a head come out, so I just kept pushing and yelling, and then I felt a body slip out, and that relief; that amazing, transcendant, exquisite relief; and Cathy, appearing out of nowhere, was saying, "Marilyn, reach down, reach down!" And I was thinking, What? What is happening? This can't be. I had felt the baby coming out but I just couldn't believe it was really happening; my brain wouldn't process it. Cathy said, "Oops, there's the cord!" and she reached down and slipped the cord off of the neck, and then "Another loop!" And she slipped it off again. And then I reached down, and held my baby. I was laughing and crying and saying, "I can't believe it!" over and and over. There was such relief. I couldn't stop thinking how fast it had all gone. I had been all geared up to continue for hours longer. I had been praying for help earlier, but I'd even thought, "I'm not to the hard part yet so I don't need to do all my praying yet!" (Strange logic, I know.) I turned over that white-grey little baby and it was a girl! I couldn't believe it! I had been convinced by Malachi and the random but self-assured Indian lady who had stopped me on a walk the week before ("Oh, congratulations! Looks like a boy!") that it must be a boy.

I hugged and kissed our baby girl, still laughing and crying and shaking with relief and surprise, and finally figured out how to untangle my legs from below myself (surprisingly difficult!) and lie back against the side of the pool. I asked someone what time it was, and it was 3:23 a.m., 50 minutes after I'd woken Sam and texted Cathy. My dear friend Laurisa, there to assist Cathy, appeared in the doorway, smiling. Cathy had caught the baby barehanded because she hadn't had time to get her gloves on. Sebby and Abe came in, wonderingly. They smiled shyly at their new baby sister.

I asked, "Were you scared when I yelled so loud?"
"No," said Sebby, "but I covered my ears!"
"I don't blame you," I said, and we laughed.

Sam woke Junie and Daisy and Malachi to see the baby too. They looked awed and happy. Daisy kept saying, "NOW is it May?" I had told her the baby would come sometime in May and she was so happy it was finally the time! We all laughed and smiled and cried. In the lamplight, as I watched everyone bending over me, helping and loving, their faces shone like gold. Even Junie ran into her room to get her Blankie for the baby. She tried, over and over, to put the blanket in the tub with me so Baby wouldn't be cold.
The baby started nursing almost immediately, and she was so pink and so strong! Cathy said, "That's at least an 8-pound baby. Maybe 9." I was so surprised, since she hadn't felt that different from Daisy and Junie (both around 6 pounds) and she didn't look big! She looked tiny! I immediately had the silly worry that everyone would always say how big she was and it would somehow make her feel bad. "You're perfect; you're just right," I whispered to her, just to make sure. I kept talking to her and kissing her and showing her to Sam and the kids, saying, "Isn't she sweet? Do you love her?" They all did. Finally it was time to cut the cord so I could get out and clean up (I wasn't very comfortable on the crackly plastic liner of the pool)! Seb was close by, so I asked if he wanted to cut the cord, and he did. He seemed very interested and pleased to have such a responsibility.

After I had showered and cleaned up and settled in bed with baby, we finally told the kids to go back to bed and get some sleep. I kept shaking and shaking. The placenta wasn't coming out, but it finally did, about 50 minutes after the baby was born. The baby nursed some more and I had to get a stitch. I had one large cramp that hurt almost worse than the labor had, so I held tight to the baby and breathed kisses onto her head. I felt like floating away when it finally stopped.
Midwives Cathy and Laurisa. I love them.

The daylight was coming in our windows when Cathy and Laurisa left. The older boys came in, all dressed in their Sunday suits already, eager to hold the baby again. Abe didn't want to let go of her. Sebby couldn't stop telling me how sweet and cute she was; how she was the cutest baby he'd ever seen. My adrenalin was finally wearing off, and I was so tired! We sent the boys out and finally slept for an hour or so. After we woke, we went through our lists and decided on her name. We knew it was right for her---so strong and joyful, cheerful and flourishing---our bright little Marigold flower.
As Cathy said when it was all over, this was (finally) the birth we've been expecting since Malachi's: fast and intense. And it made me think about how different in detail each of my children's births have been, and yet how similar in substance. The excitement, the self-doubt, and then the transforming, transcending joy, tie them together in my memory like bright beads on a string.

This birth felt like it belonged to all of us at once, Sam and me and the big boys and the little girls all joining our love and our wonder to welcome this baby earthside. It's such a triumph, helping a baby into the world, such a long and sometimes lonely journey; and every time I've felt angels with me in those sharp final hours---but this time more than ever I felt lifted by my real-live angels, days before the baby even came. Daisy, patting my tummy and watching so seriously as Cathy listened for the baby's heartbeat. Sweet Junie, squealing and splashing me in the bath on her last day of being my tiniest one. Abe and Seb, my little worker bees, reminding me to drink lots of water and telling me solicitously to "sit down and rest!" while they helped clean up after meals. Ky, snugging his little hand into mine as he said, "Remember when you start to have your 'compressions,' Mommy, that it's hard work, but it will be worth it in the end because you'll have a cute little baby." Sam, secure and comforting and knowledgeable, ready in those last minutes to catch the baby himself if need be, and totally unfazed by that possibility. I felt like I spent that last, long week pulled forward along the steady, shining track of their love.

And there's the feeling---it was there when our family was just Sam and me, but it just gets stronger and stronger---that we are meant to be together, that we need each other. That the eight (!) of us together make up one strong, bright whole. That there is nothing else deeper in my heart, or that fills me with more gratitude, than the fact that I am one of us. And I think Marigold knew it too, because she was so strong and ready when she made her entrance into the world. She didn't come timidly, worried about what she might find. Instead, I felt like she'd practically pushed herself out, beautiful, confident and calm---knowing we'd all be there to greet her when she came.

Just as, I hope, we will always be there for each other.
And how we love her, this little Marigold!
Two days old

One month old

*Home birth reasoning here, if you're interested. Slightly outdated, but after my third birth at home, I only feel more strongly about this.


  1. Congratulations!! I am so happy for you and can't wait to meet her--even though she will probably be all grown up. I love you all!

  2. Every one of your posts makes me wish I was in your family...or that I had created such a family for myself. You deserve every bit of it!

  3. Marilyn, I love reading everything you write! Your family is absolutely beautiful! So happy for you! :)

  4. So inspiring, Marilyn! Your strength and love really inspire me to be a better mom. I wish I could have a home birth. I have loved reading all of your accounts. It really is so beautiful. And even more amazing that you delivered the baby yourself!!

  5. I love the two day old one best!


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