Birth in a Bus

I
got the call to meet one of my ladies at a hospital across town early one
morning. She had all the signs of early labor: sporadic contractions, light
spotting, she couldn’t sleep much the previous night, etc., etc. It was her
first so it could be the beginning of a long labor. Time would tell.

I
didn’t think this warranted calling a cab, there was time for the bus, the
difference being upwards of $20 for a cab ride or $1.75. Working for a
non-profit doula group forces one to take this into consideration, though I
wouldn’t have my for-profit birthing center job back for all the tea in China.
Yes, the all-yuppie clientele at that earlier job needed a caring staff just as
much at their births as the low-income-sometimes-even-homeless ladies I now
called clients, but I definitely wanted to stay put where I was.
So
I waited for my bus, just showered, wearing a clean outfit, my carpet bag of
tricks re-stocked and ready at my side. The adrenaline was building. Even after
over 30 years, I still get that tiny rush, I still feel humbled and honored to
be able to see a baby take his or her first breath and get to welcome this new little
person to our universe.
The
bus was later than usual, but I wasn’t anxious at all. I swiped my bus card and
walked to an empty seat halfway down the aisle and sat down. The bus lumbered
its way through neighborhood after neighborhood, stopping finally for a man in
a motor-powered wheelchair. The bus driver lowered the handicap ramp and slowly
the wheelchair started to ascend but then stopped. He backed up. He tried
again, though he was too far to the left this time. He put his chair in
reverse, rolled back down all the way to the sidewalk and shifted gears for
another try. He made it that time, finally, boarded the bus, and dug through his
pockets for what seemed like an eternity until he finally found his limited
mobility bus pass. That done he maneuvered his clunker toward the aisle. The
bus driver came down from his perch and secured the wheelchair with the four
belts used to bolt down wheelchairs.
We
were again on our way. Several stops later an elderly lady got on. She had all
the signs of belonging to the local homeless population: reeking of unwashed
clothing, shopping cart barely held together with twine and silver duct tape and filled with random
secondhand garbage bags, shuffling in with her lace-less sneakers. She dropped
a handful of coins into the meter. The driver announced that she still needed
to pay one dollar for the fare. He wasn’t going anywhere either until she did,
so we sat there as she rummaged first through one pocket, then her cracked
vinyl purse, and then through yet another pocket which only produced a couple
additional coins.
A
few people around me let out long sighs. We were getting equally impatient.
The woman in the seat next to me bent her head toward me and said, “I gotta get
to work! I can’t be late neither.”
I
agreed, “I’ve got a lady in labor, I can’t be all day….”
My
seat mate jumped at that at yelled for all to hear, “You got a baby waitin’?”
I
whispered back, “Yeah, I’m a doula and I don’t want to miss this birth.”
The
lady behind us shouted, “You a midwife?”
I
turned and answered, “Well, I was, but I am working as a doula now—”
The
lady next to her stood up and yelled at the driver, “Hey man, youz gotta git
movin’—this lady’s gotta git to the HOS-PIT-TAL!”
A
man across the aisle said loud enough for everyone to hear, “How close are the
contractions?”
while
another woman addressed me from two seats down, “How many centimeters is she?”
I
answered, “Well, I don’t know exactly…” as a whole volley of questions came
back at me.
“Is
it her first?”
“Does
she know if it’s a boy or a girl?”
I
finally got up and walked to the front of the bus, dropped in all the coins I
could find in my purse and sat back down. Without looking up, poor old lady
grabbed her shopping cart and wrestling it down the aisle found a seat and
commenced mumbling to no one in particular. The bus started up again as the
audience cheered.
At
long last we arrived at my stop in front of Hennepin County Medical Center. As I stood up a huge round of applause filled
the bus, along with a few whistles and ‘YOU
GO GIRLs
’.”
I
scrubbed at the first hand-washing station I got to in the hallway, and then
rubbed some antiseptic hand sanitizer on while I found Leah’s room. I arrived
just as things started revving up, which we call “active labor.” We had a
beautiful baby boy later that night. I am sure my fan club had been praying for
us the whole time.
  
“We have a secret in our culture, it’s not that birth is painful,
it’s that women are strong.”
 ~ Laura Stavoe Harm



Stay tuned for my next book in which this chapter will appear: PUSH! The Sequel: 37 More true midwife and doula stories

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