Memorable birth was a lifelong gift

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20140815-AMX-FATHER-ESSAY15 The Washington Post Marie Friedland with daughters Carolyn, left, and Molly in 1989 at Annapolis Hospital. Picture: Bruce Friedland

Washington - August marks the 25th anniversary of my youngest daughter's arrival in the world in a most surprising way.

At the time, preoccupied with delivering her on the bathroom floor, it didn't occur to me what Molly's emergency home birth might mean in the grander scheme of things. Now, a quarter-century on, I've been trying to put her accelerated entrance into perspective, and the question I keep coming back to is this: Where did the time go? How do infants turn into toddlers overnight and then seemingly leap to adulthood when you can distinctly remember wondering why it was taking them so long to get out of diapers?

But I am getting ahead of myself.

On that Monday evening, August 14, 1989, my wife's water broke around 11pm I called the doctor on our “mobile” phone (the landline with a stretch cord) and advised that Marie's contractions were slight and seven minutes apart. He advised in return that we could come to the hospital, but until the contractions became more intense and closer together, not much was going to happen.

This being our second child (2½-year-old Carolyn was fast asleep downstairs) and proud graduates of Lamaze classes that I puff-puffed and pant-panted my way through with smiling ambivalence, we figured there was no rush. Marie decided to shower before facing a long night of labour.

“These contractions were puzzling,” I wrote in a Parent's Magazine article in 1991 describing Molly's emergency birth. “They were coming closer and closer together, but they weren't at all intense. In fact, they were so mild that Marie brushed her teeth right through one of them - a far cry from what she had gone through with Carolyn's delivery.”

Then came Marie's frantic scream: “The baby's coming!”

When I ran into the bathroom, Marie was sitting on the toilet. Molly's head was fully crowned. There would be no time for the hospital, a 911 call or even a mental note to later thank the doctor for his sage advice minutes before.

I helped Marie lay on the floor, on top of what must have been one of K-Mart's finest bath mats, and in that wild, heart-pounding moment when anything might have happened, my brain somehow manufactured a single word that invaded my consciousness and came flying out of my mouth:

“Push!”

Molly's head, now exposed to the neck, turned slightly. Then a shoulder appeared, and within seconds her gooey body slid into my waiting hands. “It's a girl!” I exclaimed, just like they do in the movies, and held Molly up for Marie to see.

It was an extraordinary moment. The three of us there on the bathroom floor, but really more like one than three, each so much a part of the other. Molly even got into the act, opening her eyes and looking around as she let out a wail that was music to our ears because it meant she was breathing.

As I look back now on the minutes immediately after Molly's birth - before the 911 call, before the paramedics cut the umbilical cord, before the ambulance took Marie and Molly to the hospital - it feels like time was suspended, as if we had received those incredibly intimate moments and all the emotions that went with them as a permanent gift rather than an experience whose significance would fade with time. Maybe that sense of permanence is what makes it so extraordinary still, and why I remember it so vividly all these years later.

When children are small, a parent's responsibilities are endless. Soccer practice, piano lessons, homework can turn days and weeks into a blur. A new school year begins, the next thing you know it's Thanksgiving, and then they're off to summer camp. You can get so caught up in tending to the kids and shaping them into the special people you know they are that it's easy to forget to simply enjoy them.

Grandparents and parents of older children are forever cautioning young moms and dads about how quickly the little ones grow up. As a young father I always found the implication, no matter how well intentioned, a kind of rebuke, and vaguely annoying. I wanted to ask those older parents, when was the last time you car-pooled six giggling grade-school girls to a soccer game in the minivan and realised halfway across town you left the juice boxes and snacks on the kitchen counter?

Now that I am one of those older parents, I better understand the sentiment, and the crazy dance we do with time. We are forever encouraging our children to take the next step, to hit the next mark, but even as we do, we know deep down that what we are really doing is preparing them to leave us. So instead of thinking about that inevitable loss, we sidestep and focus on the tasks at hand. And that's why the time slips by so fast. We see it, but we don't want to see it. We want our children to grow up, and secretly dread the fact that they will.

When Molly was young, every August 14 we would tell the story of her birth. Her little friends at pool parties and sleepovers were always fascinated, but in those early years Molly wasn't sure what to make of her special story. Why was it that everyone but her was born in the hospital? Our standing family joke probably didn't help - that if she had been a boy born in a bathroom we would have named her John.

Molly has since come to appreciate her father's sense of humour and her remarkable birth. Others have been touched by it as well. When friends in the construction business were renovating our bathroom years later and heard that Molly was born in that very place, they carved a letter “M” out of the linoleum when they took up the floor so Molly would have it as a one-of-a-kind keepsake.

I'm not sure it's reasonable to infer anything about Molly's personality from the circumstances of her birth, but it is fair to say she couldn't wait to come into the world and she's been an enthusiastic participant ever since.

After high school, she decided on a gap year before going to college and took it upon herself to volunteer at an orphanage in South Africa - this from an 18-year-old who had never been out of the country. She arranged the trip largely on her own and embarked on the journey by herself, with a sense of independence that makes a parent proud and terrified in equal measure.

She went on to college, earning a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a spot on the mountain biking team. Along the way, she has worked on a farm in Vermont, as a gardener in Maine, has travelled in Latin America, jumped out of an airplane and become a yoga teacher. Did I mention that she is also a beekeeper?

All these years later, I realise there were many things about being a parent that I didn't anticipate - how difficult it would be for me when my daughters went from idolising their dad in grade school to barely tolerating him in middle school, how little they seemed to need me when they became teenagers. Of all the things I didn't anticipate, though, was how wonderful our relationship would be when they grew up. I was so busy worrying about getting them to adulthood that I never considered what it would be like when they made it. Now we are closer than ever.

It's true that your job as a parent is never finished, no matter how old your children become. But little by little, we begin to worry less about our kids even as they start to worry more about us. (“Dad, you're wearing sunscreen, right?”) That transition can be deeply satisfying, and also bittersweet, because it comes with the knowledge that so much time has passed, and passed so quickly.

It seems to me that if anything can counteract that relentless passage of time, it must be the unshakable bonds of love we share with our children and the memories we make with them along the way. For my wife and me, the very first memory we made with Molly came 25 years ago, and I have no doubt it will last a lifetime. - Washington Post.

* Friedland is a writer living in Annapolis.

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