The numbers seemed to pulse on my pager, quickening along with my heartbeat. Abra only used the pager for emergencies, because sometimes I didn’t answer when she called my cell. I jammed my headset into my cell and dialed her number.
“Katima, thank God.” Her voice was soft but the words were quick, anxious. I rarely heard Abra sound anxious. “Where are you?”
“On my way to school,” I said. “Where are you?”
“I’m at Linda’s,” Abra said. “She’s in labor.”
“Is everything okay?” Linda was one of my favorites of Abra’s mothers. I had been working two afternoons a week at Abra’s Midwifery for over a year and had gotten to know a lot of the women. Linda and I had hit it off, sharing a love of rocky road ice cream and a hatred of reality TV. I had helped her plan her birth—the music, atmosphere, different birth options. I didn’t want her having complications.
“She’s doing beautifully,” Abra said. “But I’m not. Marion broke her foot, Sarah is at another birth, and Carmen isn’t picking up any of her phones or responding to my page.” Abra sucked in a breath. “I have no one to assist me.”
I eased down on the brakes of my Honda hybrid as I came to a stop sign. “Um, okay. But you’ve delivered lots of babies without an assistant.”
“I know. But Linda wants one so I need you to get to her house as fast as you can.”
“Say what?” I hit the gas too hard, jerking the car forward.
“I’ve excused you from school,” Abra said. “This is life experience, Katima. A transcendent experience. You won’t get that in any classroom.”
My hands shook on the steering wheel. I turned down a side street and pulled over, shutting off the ignition. I didn’t know if I was pissed at her for assuming I’d do it or excited that I might actually get to see a live birth.
But what did I know about assisting?
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Well, that’s highly possible,” Abra said, “seeing as how I’ve exhausted all of my usual assistants and I’m calling a sixteen-year-old high school student who’s worked at the Midwifery for a year.” She chuckled. “If I’m not out of my mind, I’m clearly a little desperate, Katima.”
Clearly. “Is it all right with Linda and Wayne?”
“Of course,” Abra said. “I would never do something like this without asking them.” There was a pause before she spoke again. “Actually, Linda is the one who suggested it.”
“She did?” A grin spread across my face. “Tell me how to get there.”
* * *
I pulled up at Linda’s house about thirty minutes later. It was in a new development—big gables and dormer windows, small trees, new sod. I was shaking with nervous excitement. I’d never seen a baby emerge like an oversized Otter Pop except in that movie we saw back in sixth grade. The idea thrilled and petrified me at the same time.
I glanced around the car. I had no idea what I might need, but I knew there would be times when we would just wait. Unzipping my backpack, I flipped through textbooks and notebooks, pulling out the Rocky Mountain Women’s Triathlon brochure I’d been reading. Then I grabbed my sketchbook and some pencils before heading into the house.
“Kat,” Linda said when I arrived. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She was wearing one of her husband Wayne’s oversized T-shirts, her nipples poking through the fabric. Her maternity underwear hugged her butt.
“You sure you want me here?”
She made an “are you kidding?” face. Then she quickly sucked in her breath.
“Another one?” Wayne asked, rubbing her back.
Linda nodded, letting out her breath slow and even. Abra once told me that for some women, labor pains are menstrual cramps times a few hundred—for some, times a thousand or so. Yikes. But Linda’s face wasn’t all pinched up in pain. It was calm; her eyes focused.
I turned and watched Abra as she moved between tasks, so fluidly she hardly seemed to be moving at all. I thought of that phrase “She was in her element.” But here in this room, with the shades drawn and a few candles flickering, Abra was more than that—she was the element. I’d seen her at the office, but never at a birth, never like this—a person who moved with grace and perfect timing, anticipating, checking, doing. Always doing the right thing.
“Slowly, Katima,” Abra said as I hurried over. “You want to create a calm environment.” She motioned me next to her. “Help me with this.” I stepped around the large layer of plastic spread out on the floor beside the bed. “Your job is P-I-E,” Abra whispered. “Physical, informational, and emotional support.”
“I’m not a doula, Abra,” I said. “I’m your receptionist and occasional office visit assistant.”
Abra smiled, but I knew what she was thinking: You don’t have to remind me that you are a lame excuse for a birth assistant.
“Just do what I tell you,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”
Like I would know how to do anything except what she told me. But at least she had some confidence that I could help out.
“Hold the sheets up,” she said. I did, and she put plastic beneath them. We smoothed the sheets back down and fluffed the pillows.
“All right,” Abra said, surveying the room. I could tell she was taking a mental inventory, making sure everything was in its place. She had a table with all of her supplies at the ready; the birthing ball and birthing stool were resting in a corner in case Linda wanted to use them.
I wasn’t sure what she needed me for. It looked like she had everything under control. I glanced at her as she stood out of the way, her eyes resting softly on Linda and Wayne.
Abra. The best home birth midwife in the Rocky Mountain region.
Abra. Practically perfect in every way.
Abra. My mother.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Fact of Life #31 by Denise Vega. Copyright © 2008 by Denise Vega. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.