Everything is different with a second child. For one thing, I wrote out Amos’ birth story within a month of his arrival. Yet here I am, six months after our second son and only just now writing his story—and I had to come all the way to Seattle to do so. I hope my memory stirs and I can recollect the pieces and put them back together in a way that mostly resembles what really happened.
With Amos, Beth and I spent a month expecting him any day. This time, we were surprised. It was a Sunday (again) and I had been working like crazy the week prior installing a hardwood floor for some friends. Beth spent that Sunday nesting at what turned out to be the eleventh hour. She put together the nursery save for hanging a fox painting made by our friend, Kristin. As we were going to bed, Beth was telling me how she couldn’t get comfortable in bed. She had slipped in the kitchen the day before and landed on her tail bone so we chalked it up to that and went to sleep.
Then she woke me up at two am.
‘Michael, I think my water just broke.’
This urgent news stumbled across my sleeping body like someone searching a heavy fog with a pen light and set about trying to rouse it. I lay in a two am stupor for a moment and said something like, ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ Beth said, with a look as sleepy as mine and yet much more alarmed.
She was four days shy of her due date and we had been convinced that Amos arriving late meant certainly this baby would come with a like timing. We hadn’t even packed a hospital bag. Given that we were equally convinced this baby would follow his brother’s haste in delivery, this lent the present situation some urgency.
Beth set to gathering a few essentials (a task made easier by experience for we knew how little we would actually need for this trip, so the packing was light) and making up a little bed on the couch while I grabbed my phone and started phoning the friends on our on-call list to come be with Amos when he woke.
Tonight, when I go to bed, I am going to put my phone on silent so that I can’t be woken up. I have that kind of control over this device. Do you know what does not allow you that kind of control? A land line. That old-fangled thing is very insistent. In a fit of technological irony, the cellphones that have us all so constantly reachable left me recording voicemails in which I tried not to sound panicked, but the wake-the-dead ring of a telephone did the trick and I calmly asked (a somewhat groggy) Grandma Polly if she wouldn’t mind popping by for a bit while Beth and I went to the hospital.
‘Polly, it’s Michael. Beth’s water broke and we are getting ready to go to the hospital.’
Then we waited. Polly had a cross-town drive to make. Meanwhile, Beth’s contractions had started, as they do, four or five minutes apart. We didn’t have the same confusion we had fought through with Amos’ birth, wondering if labor had really begun, but that was replaced with the suspense of wondering how quickly this baby would come and whether our friend would make it to our house in time for us to then make it to the hospital and for me to avoid midwifery duties. Without the freedom to just leave as we pleased, we had to accept the God-given limitation of a sleeping boy upstairs (mercifully sleeping through our mid-night flurry of preparation) with a measure of faith in our community to be there for us and in God to make this baby be born just slowly enough.
Beth perched on the edge of a yellow chair in our living room and focused on riding out each contraction. I tried to hold in my manic energy both so I wouldn’t climb the walls and stress Beth and so I would allow Polly enough time to reach our house without blowing up her phone. I think I did pace the floor a bit and I definitely kept looking out the kitchen window for her. And right when Beth and I were starting to feel fear creep in, Polly arrived and we met her on the front steps with deep, breathless thanks as we dashed to the car (as much as a pregnant woman in labor can dash).
I am thankful that we lived minutes from the hospital. I am also thankful that the month was August because I have chilly memories of driving to the hospital in the cold of January with the windows down, shivering as Beth tried to cool off. I drove to the hospital only breaking a handful of traffic laws in mild ways and scored a fantastic three am parking space right by the door.
Beth was in much more walkable shape this time around, or maybe there was a wheelchair right inside the door which I commandeered. I honestly can’t remember. Can you dear? We somehow made our way to the second floor and through the heavy double doors leading to labor and delivery where we were shown to a room. I think it was room five. We settled in, at which point I noticed our nurse.
She and I looked at one another, caught mutually trying to remember something with that simultaneously engaged and yet lost in though expression on our faces.
Slowly, I ventured, ‘I think you might have been our nurse the last time we were here.’
And surely it was true. Once again, in the middle of a Sunday night or Monday morning, in the same hospital, this was the same nurse who had so wonderfully and compassionately attended to Beth when Amos was born.
‘You know, I think you’re right.’
What a delightfully calming gift to us, on the verge of hardship, to know we were in good hands. Nurse Katie had given birth to twins since we had seen her last and we were so thankful to see her again.
Beth never dilly dallies when it comes to having babies, so the doctor was soon and quickly summoned. Who should she be but, inevitably, Dr. Margarita Terassa, Amos’ delivery doctor. Three and a half years later and on a much warmer Sunday night, we were living the same story, all new. Not everything changes. In our city life with so many strangers and through the vagueries of hospital shifts and on-call schedules, we had that old-fashioned privilege of both our boys being brought into this world by the same good people. We received this as a gift.
Beth was much more clear-headed during this delivery. I think experience kept her more grounded, less overloaded. Things seemed to go smoothly. Her contractions crescendoed, she began to push, and, before long, our baby boy was born.
He was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, bruised blue in his face. Beth and I have mourned the loss of a baby we never had the chance to meet, and this birth seemed to have been right on the edge of heartbreak. I don’t know what to make of when God gives life and when he gives sorrow, but here was his new life, preserved through danger, and I am thankful.
I remember going through many of the same motions as with Amos. The nurses cleaning the baby, cutting the umbilical cord. His weighing and vital checks seemed to take longer, but not by much. He was a healthy boy with a bruised face and the crooked nose of a boxer (it has since straightened out). This time, though, one thing was different. Beth was trembling as an after-effect of the pitocin administered after the birth, and after she held her boy for a few minutes, asked me to take him for fear that her shaking hands would lose hold of him. So I held the boy and tried to soothe his crying. He definitely cried more than Amos, so I sat with him in the hospital rocking chair and rocked him to sleep. We sat quiet like that almost until Nurse Katie came to convey us to the postpartum wing.
As Beth and I were headed down the hall, we heard another woman somewhere howling high-pitched, warbling screams. The sound was truly stunning and such a contrast to Beth’s almost repose during birth. I admire my wife.
So goes the story of how our second son was born into my and Beth’s life, but there’s still some more to tell: how he was born into his big brother, Amos’ life. This is an important part because it’s how the boy got his name. Aside from the cast of characters, one other thing was the same with the second child: we had no name for him. Like Amos Hiler, we had decided on a middle name: Grey. But unlike Amos, for whom we had two favorite names to give which ever one fit, we had no idea what to call this baby. No favorite had ever surfaced and so the list was always changing. Joseph? Calvin? Nathaniel? Lucas? Nothing stuck.
The next morning, or I should say a little later that day, Grandma Polly brought Amos to the hospital. I met the pair in the lobby and I could tell Amos was excited, though he was kind of reserved about it having woken up to a very unexpected scene at home. I took him to the hospital gift shop to buy his baby brother a balloon and a card and then we headed up the elevator to the maternity ward.
At the end of the hall we came to our room and entered. The baby was in his plastic bassinet and I think I lifted Amos up to see him. Of course, this did not satisfy Amos, who immediately asked, ‘Can I hold him?’
From the start, our oldest knew babies were meant to be loved on, not just looked at. So we situated him in a chair and Beth laid his sleeping brother across his lap.
How do you describe the pride and love you feel when your rough and tumble boy receives a newborn baby with a quietness and a gentleness that seem almost alien in him? There’s a special way Amos held his hands when he held his brother back then, with his fingers pressed together save for the pinky and making a convex curve with the back of his hand so as to only touch him with the ball of his palm. It’s Amos’ utmost sign of delicacy (a delicacy that has most certainly waned as his brother has grown and one I’m sure will disappear altogether once the two are big enough to wrestle each other). Those careful hands are maybe the most precious thing I can remember about that first meeting.
After sitting in this way for a few minutes, Amos said, ‘I think we should call him Joshua, mama.’ It stuck. Joshua Grey Morgan. Born into our family by his mama and given a name by her and his big brother, one apiece.
After that, there was nothing to do but buy a birthday cake, receive friends and family to celebrate, and finally take Joshua home. Oh, and hang that fox painting in the nursery. I think Beth got to that after a month or so. It’s hard to find time with two around.