The highest degree of trust
Rianne invited me into a sacred ritual I never imagined having a part in
When Anne and I entered the room, we could see that Rianne, half-seated on a soft pillow chair, appeared to be resting. A diffused glow emanated from the light-filtering shade covering the window. There might have been soft music playing, but I could be imagining that.
“Looks like you got here in plenty of… Ow,” Rianne shrieked, a sound which only got louder and longer as we moved closer.
“What can we do?” Anne and I asked in unison—anxiety evident in both our voices.
A nurse in blue scrubs answered us. “Grab that towel, wet it in the sink over there, and hold it to her belly. That should cool her off a bit.”
Anne moved to do as she said. I stayed frozen in my place. This was the closest either of us had ever been to the birth experience and, although I can’t speak for Anne, it awed and terrified me.
Rianne had worked for me as a counselor in an outpatient substance abuse treatment agency I founded in the ultra-conservative town of Hillsdale, Michigan. Anne had moved with me from her beloved New England to Cement City, Michigan, an address so distasteful to her that we had to rent a P.O. box in Somerset Center so she could write her folks without their feeling like she had fallen off the face of the civilized planet. Rianne and her husband Andy became our salvation in this world of homophobic, right-wingers who thought liberals lived to desecrate everything they held dear. Rianne and Andy shared our politics, values, and a desperate need for open-minded friends.
When they had their first child, Seneca Jean Sojourn (a last name they bestowed on her so she could start her own maternal line), we became Seneca’s godmommies. When they invited us to be godmothers, images of my first godchild, Little Kimmy, flashed before my eyes. How could I love another little baby after what had happened to her? I didn’t know if I could trust myself to love a child again the way I loved Little Kimmy. In the end, I chose not to let her tragic loss stop me from loving another little baby girl. Watching Seneca grow up helped me heal in ways I didn’t even know had been broken.
By the time Rianne had her second child, she had remarried, and Andy was less a part of our lives. However, for this child, Rianne asked us to step up our game and be her support people at the birth. In the birthing room. While the baby was being born. Us. It was a bold ask of two lesbians, neither of whom were parents, but Rianne felt confident we could handle it.
When the moment came, I got over myself and stepped into the action. I held Rianne’s hand during contractions, cracked jokes, and reminisced about our time working together. “Do you remember the time Anne got a freshly fried batch of coon legs as payment for services? I asked.
“Yum,” Rianne licked her lips as she sucked in a breath. “I wish I had some of them right now!”
“Yep, those were the days, my friend, and, yeah, we thought they’d never end, but we’re all glad they did!” I replied.
Rianne indicated her agreement with the longest and loudest scream yet.
That was apparently the signal the nurses were waiting for, because only a moment later they moved Rianne to the bed and instructed Anne to get into position at the foot of the bed to receive the baby. I guess they figured she was the more reliable one of the two of us. I took my position beside the bed, gripping Rianne’s hand tightly as she pushed and watching as the infant landed softly in Anne’s capable hands.
Oh my god! The moment Anne held her up, the newborn scanned the room with her enormous dark eyes and an expression that exclaimed, “I’m so glad I’m here!” We all laughed with relief and astonishment.
Being there to greet Lyrica Anne Sojourn’s birth qualifies as one of the peak experiences in my life—one I never imagined I would witness. In the 1980s, most states didn’t allow lesbians access to artificial insemination, so without entertaining the idea of having sex with a man, giving birth to my own children, despite my desire to do so, was never a viable option. What an incredible gift it was that Rianne invited me to share in this profound experience.
I never felt more trusted than I did in that moment. Rianne extended to me the deepest feeling of acceptance I had ever known—that even this card-carrying lesbian had something to offer in this sacred ritual.
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