This has been one of the hardest things of my life to write about. To find the words that match the experience we have just had, that Meg and Alex have had… I have thought so much about it. I have thought that perhaps I would simply not write about it at all, or perhaps write about it, but keep it private for just us. In the end though, there is no person in this family can change what happened, which is that we had the most wonderful thing happen, and then the most terrible, but one does not erase the other. Charlotte’s birth was a most welcome, happy, beautiful time for us, full of emotions and moments we would never want to forget. She was our little Charlotte, my most darling wee granddaughter, and though we feel robbed, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate having her at all. Meg and I spoke about writing this, and Meg said she was looking forward to reading Charlotte’s birth story, I said that I was having trouble writing about her birth because I felt it had a sad ending. Meg, showing far more wisdom than I could have ever hoped for in a daughter, reminded me that the birth did not have a sad ending. What happened 48 hours later was sad, but not the birth- and that event deserves to be remembered and celebrated as much as we are able, just like when Elliot was born. She’s right, so I’ll write.
Even while Meg was pregnant this time, I wondered how I would end up telling the story of this child’s birth. I am constantly surprised in my life by what ends up being important and what doesn’t, and my spectacularly crappy ability to predict it. Before Elliot was born, I thought that when I was at his birth, it was him that I would be most interested in – him that I would adore and delight in, and I did – no doubt, but it was the strength of my daughter that ended up rocking my world. Her strength was the defining thing about that birth, and I was so proud watching her become a mother. So graceful and gentle and strong. In the hours that it took to move her son from one plane to another, she was amazing to me.
So it was this time, that I got another big surprise. We had high hopes for this birth. Meg and Alex had planned for it, arranged for it as best as people can, considering that you’re trying to plan for something that you can’t predict, and they had weighed and chosen their options carefully. Everyone has their own ideas and dreams and realities about what constitutes a perfect birth, and in my not insignificant experience as a birth worker, not very many of us get it. Labour and birth involves the powers, passenger, passage, and psyche, and there are so many times that the fates conspire outside the influence of the dancers that it can be a pretty serious mistake to hope for a perfect birth. Meg knew this – and had absorbed all my messages about having a birth philosophy, not a birth plan. To hope for as few interventions as possible, not to say that there would be no interventions. To know that saying she didn’t want medication was a hope that could be shifted if they were needed, to know that (at least here in Canada) home birth with a provider is the safest place for healthy low risk mums and babies to do this, but to understand that risk is an ever evolving thing. You can hope and prepare all you like, but birth is complicated. You have to be prepared to roll with it.
Meg was ready for that, but as things unfolded everything just kept going their way. From the way that labour began before the pandemic limited the number of people who could gather and I was able to attend her as we’d hoped, to the way that it started at night, and ended before morning, so that Elliot was asleep. The timing of my arrival and the midwives was perfect – and music Meg has loved since she was little played in the background while she was supported by candlelight and people who love her best. Alex was confident and comforting, present and grounded, and as Meg had hoped, the midwives played lifeguard – keeping to the background and letting the family do their thing except when they were needed – which wasn’t much. The labour didn’t take long at all, but never felt rushed or surprising for a minute. Sometimes when a labour is quick it’s a little like getting hit by a truck, but this one felt like it was perfectly timed. Not so fast that Meg couldn’t keep up with its rhythm, learning to cope as she went, and never so slowly that we wished it would be over. Every time I looked up, someone was smiling, and a lot of the time, that was Meg. It was difficult to be sure, I think that no matter how a baby comes no person has ever described whatever shape it takes as easy, but I could tell that not for a single moment did she feel fear that she wasn’t able to do it. Her confidence was inspiring.
Gently and joyfully, her daughter crept closer, moved by the miracle that was her mother, and as she came closer, Meg concentrated more fully, relaxed more intently, softening, opening and welcoming and slowly, slowly, Charlotte found her way to us, until at last she was lifted from the water by the hands of her own parents, and the room dissolved into the purest form of happiness. She took her first breaths in her mother’s arms, holding her father’s hand, listening to voices of welcome that she’d come to know as she grew. It could not, and I do not say this lightly… have been a more perfect birth.
Meg stepped strong and unhurt from the water with her babe in her arms, that wee mite so beautifully built and delivered that she was ready to nurse, ready to know all of us, ready for anything. Meg settled on the couch and got cozy, and we set about tidying up. As I passed one of the worlds most charming midwives something she wanted, we caught eyes for a moment, and I saw that she felt what I did. This – what had just happened, almost never, ever happens in a birth. “This is the nicest birth you’ll attend this year” I smiled. “Maybe ever” she grinned, and I could see that it had been magic for her too.
The sun began to peek up, the sky lighten just a tiny bit, and things continued to be… perfect. The babe nursed, Meg and Alex celebrated, the midwives wrote things in the chart like “beautiful water birth” and Charlotte continued to shine with radiant health. Alex weighed his own baby (7’14”!) Alex’s mother held her, and I did, and then we heard a little stirring in the other room as Elliot woke up. I crept into the room and darkness, and swept him into my arms. “Ellie” I whispered. “Guess what happened in the nighttime.”
I had worried that Megan’s son would be a replay of Meg herself, for when she met her little sister Sam the same way, at home in the living room… she took one look at the little interloper and the first words out of her mouth were “put her down and pick me up.” Not Elliot though, I shouldn’t ever have doubted our sweet guy. He was captivated. He smiled, and wanted her in his arms, and commented on all the right things. That she was tiny, that she was nice, that she was soft and beautiful. That she was his sister.
Meg got tucked up in bed and the grandfathers (anxiously parked in a car outside, waiting for the moment when they could meet their bairn) were finally welcomed by the grandmothers and trouped joyfully in, bearing food and pride and more happiness than that apartment could contain. “Is she okay?” Joe asked me, with Ken right behind him. I wasn’t sure if he meant Charlotte or Meg, but it didn’t matter. The answer was the same. “She’s perfect” I said.
Blog, I can’t tell you this enough. It was perfect. It kept being perfect. Charlotte was the picture of health, Alex was delighted and taking such good care of them all, and Ellie was adoring in a way that usually only appears in children’s books about being nice to the new baby in the family. He called her “my baby” and seemed to be charmed. All well, the midwives left for home, and Joe, Ken and I looked at our girl and her little family and baby in bed, had the presence of mind to take a perfect family photo, and then took our grandson home with us so that his Mum and Dad could get a little sleep. We even baked Charlotte a birthday cake to have with supper when we took him home.
I don’t know how many of you have been to a birth, be it your own or someone else’s, but I have been to lots and I find myself unable to describe the sacred rarity of what happened that night. It was not a good birth. It was not even a great birth. It was a perfect birth, and I’m not saying that because it was at home, or gentle or attended by midwives or any of that. Those things were what Meg and Alex wanted and values our family embraces but they’re not the point, we’re all going to have different ideas of what a perfect birth looks like. We’re all unique, shaped by our own experiences, beliefs, fears and choices. What makes something perfect for me isn’t at all what you may dream of, and what I’m trying to tell you is that what happened that night was perfect because it was such a good match for all Meg and Alex wanted, for the way Meg’s body worked, for how Charlotte arrived. It was a very special thing, and one that was amazing to witness, and amazing too in how long we were carried on that wave of perfection.
Charlotte glowed with perfect health, nursed perfectly, cried perfectly, was soothed perfectly, scored perfect on every test, was given an exam on the morning of her second day when the midwife smilingly pronounced her perfect, again. She seemed to enjoy her knitwear, and I tell you this, the smell of her head, the warm heaviness of her in my arms, the beauty of her in her parents arms… it was all so perfect. We kept saying it like we all couldn’t believe it. “She’s perfect, this is perfect.” She slept perfectly, and she woke up perfectly right as she should have until she was just forty-eight hours old and then….she didn’t.
This of course, is the part where this story becomes unbearably sad. I don’t want to speak to grief right now because I feel like it goes without saying that it hurts, so I’ll tell you in so many ways, we were lucky that even in this terrible moment… things were as perfect as possible. Despite their shock, Meg and Alex took instant action that was perfect. The response by emergency services was perfect. The responders that transported the whole little family to the hospital were perfect, that they live so close to the best Children’s Hospital in all of Canada was perfect, the screening agent who let Joe and I into the hospital so we could be with Meg despite Covid-19 was perfect, and perfect was what the doctor said Charlotte was, when she came to tell us that she had died. “I am so sorry” she said. “She was perfect.” We’ve learned since then that Charlotte was indeed perfect, and that she is dead for no reason except that sometimes little babies simply die, and there is nothing that anyone could have done to change it.
Nothing has been perfect since. This hard time has been compounded by the escalation in the pandemic response, and after spending a week together here to recover, Meg, Alex and Elliot are at home now, taking care of each other. A service for Charlotte will have to wait until this is all over, and we are able to make it as perfect as we can, since things are obviously pretty far from that now. It is a terrible time for our whole family to be parted from each other, but we are doing our best.
I can’t think of anything else to say about this. It is so far in so many ways from the hopes and dreams we all had, so I will just tell you what I think. I think that if a baby must die, and I freely admit that I cannot understand or condone any system where they must, let it be as this was. Having only known love, having never known hurt, sadness, pain or disappointment, a tiny little life of absolute happiness and amidst a family who could not have wished for any experience or any little person more perfect.
Thanks for stopping by sweet Charlotte. We miss you.