She clasps my hand gently, at first, the way you'd take the hand of the person next to you while in a circle of prayer. "Squeeze harder, if you want," I tell her. She responds instantly, but I can tell she's only doing so for my benefit. She's only following my instructions. It's not long, though, before pain tosses her politeness aside and causes that slender hand to constrict mine.
Across the bed, her husband is my mirror image. He clutches her right hand and urges her to breath. Heidi tries. She finds a panting rhythm, loses it, catches it again, and then abandons the attempt when a new wave of pain hits her. "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts," she tells us. We're all too aware. And we'd take it from her, if we could.
The midwife, Charlotte, and her two assistants encourage Heidi from the end of the bed. "You're at three," Charlotte says. As if desperate to prove her wrong, Heidi begins labor in earnest. Her contractions come harder and faster; one follows another by mere seconds. My left hand is caught in a vise, but I lay my right hand on her arm and pray for mercy.
"I'm going to check again," Charlotte says. A minute later she says, "You're at four."
Corey pulls his eyes from Heidi to the midwife. "Last time, she went straight from four to end," he warns.
And with one more contraction, Heidi proves his words right. "I need to push!" she tells us.
Charlotte checks again. "You're there! Go ahead and push!"
Heidi changes before my eyes then. She pulls strength from a deep chamber and wraps herself in resolve. Every breath is calculated, every thrust efficient and purposeful. I'm awed by the change and I scan her face for signs of my Heidi--the girl who first came to our church as a teenager, the girl I watched walk down the aisle, the girl who has sat and weeded my herb garden with me, the girl who could almost be my daughter. But there's no girl there. The woman before me is doing something both our bodies were designed for, but which mine has never done. And there's nothing I can give her. She's playing a sacred role--and she's playing alone.
In just a few pushes, Heidi's third child enters the room. One moment, six of us filled this space; now there are seven. Seven happens to be the number of times I've witnessed this miracle of miracles, but I still cry. Just like every other time, I cry to see what God has done. Every part of little Paige Reanne Williams is a moving testimony to her Father--her reaching arms and flailing toes, her scrunched-up eyes and trembling chin. She's six pounds of wonder, and I'm blessed to run a finger along the curve of a brand new foot, blessed to feel the softeness of a brand new cheek.
She'll grow fast. She'll be in a hurry to catch her siblings, Corbin and Hannah. Not many months from now, this little one will take her first steps and say her first words. I'll have to share her after tonight. There's a whole church family waiting to surround this baby and love her on her journey. But tonight, I'm blessed to have her first.
Not forty-five minutes after Paige's birth, I am home and in my bed. "I'm proud of you," I told Heidi as I left. But it wasn't Heidi I thought of as I drove home. My thoughts were all of God, and how gracious He is to breathe life into a tiny form and call it "daughter."
Paige was born last night at 11:42. As soon as Corey sends me pictures, I'll post one here.