Seventeen years ago, my husband and I walked into a stranger’s home. Upon entering, we were escorted to the basement and into a room where several other couples sat, in the same predicament as us. I was eight months pregnant with our first child.
Welcome to Lamaze class.
The instructor and homeowner was Celeste, a labor and delivery nurse at our local hospital who, in the evenings, kindly and calmly explained to pregnant couples what awaited us. Over the course of three weeks, we learned to breathe through pain, learned the procedures of the hospital, saw some disturbing films and when our classes were over, bid goodbye to lovely Celeste.
Labor is hard. It hurts like hell. I felt my first pangs of discomfort at one o’clock in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. I was in the hospital begging for an epidural by three. To our surprise and pleasure, Celeste was on her shift when Steve and I were admitted. It was Celeste who held my hands, stared into my eyes and guided me through the painful epidural, Celeste who stopped into my room intermittently while we waited, with her calm demeanor, her supportive words and encouraging smiles.
Our baby arrived at eight o’clock in the morning. As all nine pounds- thirteen ounces of him were cleaned and weighed, Celeste came into the delivery room to see us and to meet our son before she went home.
Every mother has a labor story. The testimony of giving birth is proof of our initiation into motherhood, the hazing that we survived in order to be part of life’s most coveted sorority. My labor story always includes Celeste: how she was there for me when I needed her, how she stayed at work well after her shift was over to meet our son. She played an important role in the most significant event of our lives. I hardly remember another single soul from that night. I have been talking about her since November, 1998. I hadn’t seen her since then.
Last night I was invited to be a guest at a book club that was discussing Both Sides of Love. At Celeste’s house. To say I was looking forward to this night is an understatement. True to form, she greeted me with a wide smile and encompassing embrace. Seventeen years melted away in that moment and she held me like an old friend.
Celeste belongs to a book club that is comprised of labor and delivery nurses from her hospital: a loud, entertaining group of woman who made careers of bringing lives into the world. Stories? They had plenty. They didn’t talk about their work, mind you – they had enough to share on their own. I blushed and laughed all night as I sat among them, feeling welcome.
As they discussed Beth and Daniel’s story, and shared stories of their own that moved me, I took in every friendly, open face around the room and thought of all of the lucky pregnant women who would soon meet them. When I said goodbye to each one at the end of the night, I accepted their well-wishes with gratitude.
Celeste and I had a few minutes alone. A lot of years have passed since we’ve met. A lot has happened. Speaking with her felt like something I’d been doing for a long time.
Seventeen years ago I walked into a stranger’s home. Last night I drove away from a friend and someone who will always hold a place in my heart.