Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Time to be Born...

"To every thing turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven..." ~from the Book of Ecclesiastes; song by Pete Seeger.
Michael, Jesse, Ben and Matthew
       In the deepest dark of winter 2010 my favorite oldest daughter was large with her third child and nearing her time. Jesse and her husband Ben have two wonderful sons, Michael Tyrone, and Matthew Boyd, ages eleven and six. The boys are extremely smart, creative, engaging, funny, kind hearted children, and they awaited the arrival of their newest sibling with excitement.
We all have our genotype and our phenotype. Genotype is the word for all those genes we inherit from our parents, their parents, etc. Our phenotype refers to the genes which are expressed physically in each of us. Children are a curious and wonderful mixture of genes--some expressed, and some not--of all who have come before on both sides of the family tree. The limitless mixture of inherited traits resulting in our children is a genetic crap shoot. I always tell people that I do not engage in games of chance and gambling--I've had two children and that is gamble enough for me.
Jesse's root Beer eyes
     To look at my favorite oldest and favorite youngest daughters standing side by side, one would really never conclude they are sisters. Jesse is the spitting physical image of her father--huge, dark eyes with long lashes, dark auburn hair, with a light golden brown undertone to her skin. He is part American Indian--Apache and Cherokee.
      Shiery is a throw back to an earlier set of family genes belonging to her great grandparents on my side.
Jesse and Shiery's father
      Black Norwegian, my paternal grandfather was a handsome man with black hair and piercing blue eyes. He stood six foot two and had fair skin. Sparky resembles her great grandfather in her phenotype: she is five feet ten inches tall (very tall by the standards expressed in my family), and very fair skinned. She has her Welsh maternal great grandmother's chocolate chip brown, close-set, piercing eyes.
     Jesse does not resemble me much at all other than in height. There is no doubt who Spark's mother is--we not only look alike we sound alike and are often mistaken for one another on the phone.
      Ben's family is German; Michael and Matthew express their German genes with their blonde hair, lovely blue eyes, and extremely pale, fair skin. They look like their daddy. Jesse's phenotype expresses a mixture of delicious dark genes inherited from both of her parents.

Shiery (Sparky)
       I am one fourth Puerto Rican on my maternal grandfather's side. He was mestizo--part European and part American Indian. In Louis Fay Echeveria's blood line is the very story of the America's: Spanish explorer meets Taino Indian and subdues the tribes until they no longer exist as a separate cultural entity--except in our genes.     
     The enforced importation of African slaves to the Caribbean is also there in my genotype, enriching my family in unknown ways--for sadly we have no means of ascertaining where in Africa--or from what tribes--they came. I know only that the blood of survivors flows in my veins and expresses tell tale clues in my phenotype. 
     Pictures tell me that my mother inherited her father Louis' nose--distinctive in its shape. Our nose is short, triangular, with wide nostrils. I have my mother's nose; Jesse has my nose. Where did our nose come from?
Green eyes & a hidden
Puerto Rican Heritage
Pictures of Taino Indians living today in Puerto Rico tell the tale for they--and we--have the same nose profile. Who will Jesse's third child resemble? What distinct characteristics will express themselves in my soon to arrive grandson? What history will present itself to the world as told in the bloodlines of this child?
     Michael and Matthew resemble Ben. Jesse wishes for one child that looks like her--dark eyed, dark haired, golden skinned. 
     Winter Solstice comes and goes; Christmas passes and still no baby. Huge drifts of snow block highway 27 out of Fairfield, Washington. Jesse is huge, ungainly--and sick and tired of being pregnant. If the baby arrives before midnight December 31st, Jesse and Ben can claim it on this year's tax return and receive a bonus amount back from the government.
     The Cailleach comes now--the Winter Hag--sweeping down from Canada and in from the Pacific ocean, bringing numbing cold temperatures and unusual amounts of snow in huge, violent storms. Her winter rags touch the earth and human activity slows to a trickle in the bone piercing cold.
     On Wednesday, December 29th 2010 a gigantic arctic front sweeps down from the North moving swiftly, colliding with a warm, moisture laden air mass streaming up from  the coast of California; the Cailleach is riding the jet stream now, bearing down on Washington State. 
     Twenty four inches of snow pour out of the sky accompanied by roaring winds of fifty miles an hour as She keens and howls on her ride Eastward bringing death and destruction in Her wake. Portland, Oregon is at a total standstill; Seattle streets are empty of traffic after a previous evening of bumper cars totalling one another.
Pullman Albion Rd. courtesy L. Biggs
     In Pullman, we are dismissed from work by one o'clock in the afternoon by order of the University President.
     A white-out has obscured the world. Slowly we make our way home.
     The Palouse hills are covered in summer with pasturage. In winter, with nothing to stop the relentless winds, snow drifts in dangerous piles across roads, yards, and buildings. In a strong storm a road can become un-passable in minutes.
     Having made it home I do what I always do in such weather: fill things with water in case the electricity goes out, light the pellet stove, start a pot of rich, brothy soup, shovel the front porch, back deck, and paths around the yard. I log in to work using my remote desktop and complete my day's business when the phone rings at ten till five in the evening.
     Ben's quiet voice tells me, "Jesse went into labor an hour ago. We got a break in the weather just in time for the county snow plow to make a pass through Fairfield and open the road. We're at Deaconess Medical Center."
     "I'm on my way!" Hanging up, I move immediately into crisis mode due to the weather. What Ben doesn't know is that this white-out storm, having passed through Pullman, is now headed north towards Fairfield and Spokane. I  will be driving into the very teeth of it in the dark, in order to reach Spokane and my daughter in time to witness this birth.
     My children were delivered by Cesarean section--Jesse by an emergency surgery after twenty hours of labor and Shiery by a planned C-section. I have never seen a child born and I refuse to let the Winter Hag stop me from participating in my grandson's arrival.
     With emergency supplies in the trunk of my car, I head out for Spokane--a woman on a mission who will not be deterred by snow drifted roads, cars in the ditch, or emergency vehicles flashing their strobe lights in the woolly darkness.
Night time blizzard on
 the Palouse; L. Biggs
     Passing semi trucks crawling along the highway at twenty miles an hour, I am thankful I was raised--and taught to drive--in Alaskan winters. My hands are steady on the wheel as I lean forward, peering out the windshield, overtaking the storm.
     The Cailleach and I are traveling north together now. Stopping several times I use a hand full of snow to wipe away the wet, heavy flakes bogging down my wipers, sticking to my car windows.
      Crossing into Spokane County I catch up to an enormous yellow snow plow and follow it the rest of the way into town. Spokane is besieged by the storm--the third to dump snow on the city in ten days. Snow plows cannot keep up with it and giant berms of snow four feet high are piled into the middle lanes of downtown streets. Finding a parking place opposite the hospital entry I arrive cold, wet, and exhilarated, wearing a powder coat of snow.
     In Jesse's room all is quiet and muffled from the chaos of the weather. The roads from Fairfield are snowed shut again. This means that the 200 people in a town of 400 who are related to Ben will not make their usual appearance at the hospital to watch the birth.
     They have all seen babies born including my grandson Michael; I have not and this is my daughter. I want to share the experience with Jesse and Ben alone. The Cailleach grants me my wish.
     Jesse was given an epidural. It is seven pm and we settle in for the wait.
     She chose to be attended by a midwife, who comes to check on her progress at intervals, while a nurse comes in and out, preparing the baby's staging area. I watch with awe as a machine records Jesse's contractions, remembering my own birth pains thirty years ago which brought her into the world.
     After a long night of hard work, finally it is time.
     Ben braces Jesse's left foot and leg, and I take her right one. We work together, the five of us; Ben and I push towards her, Jesse bears down. The nurse supports Jesse from behind, the midwife eases my grandson's passage with warmed olive oil.
     After three serious contractions his head crowns, the midwife counts down, the next contraction hits and she grasps his head and pulls him loose from his mother. Out slips my grandson into the world and the waiting arms of the midwife. Connor Earl Kiddoo, eight pounds, thirteen ounces and twenty two and a half inches long has arrived!
     He is bright eyed and alert. He does not cry but breathes deeply and stares at us intently. Connor's birth was unlike anything I expected. It was quiet and calm, measured, and well paced.
     It is the celebration of an unbroken line of women in my blood, in my daughter's genes, who gave birth to each succeeding generation, from the time millions of years ago when our first human ancestors labored to bring forth the next generation through the eons to the present moment. Those women all sing in my blood--my bones; the genes of the men they mated with provide the bass line and that rhythm beats in my chest and Jesse's; it is Connor's soul song filling the room and our hearts... 
      Ben cut the umbilical cord of his new son, and the nurse wrapped Connor in a blanket and handed him to his dad. Affection poured across the face of my son-in-law and tears formed in the corners of his eyes. The nurse took Ben's arm directing him toward the staging area where Connor was weighed, measured, and bathed.
     I stayed with Jesse while she continued to labor and deliver the placenta. I was in awe of my favorite oldest daughter. She has done this three times with total concentration and unwavering determination. She and Ben make the most beautiful babies!
     While Jesse got cleaned up, Ben handed Connor over to me and we stared into each other's eyes for the first time. They say newborns cannot smile but he did--Connor smiled at me! I searched his features for the signs of the ancestors--who's chin, who's eyes, who's fingers and toes?
     After Jesse and Connor settled in to their hospital room, I drove to the Rocket Bakery on First Avenue to pick up some breakfast. In the 5 am velvet dark, my footsteps crunched on the night's snow fall as I inhaled crisp, clean, snow scented air. The bakery was softly lit and quiet, a few intrepid regulars seated at tables with their lattes, pastries, and morning papers.
Mim, Connor, and Jesse minutes after his birth
     Returning to the hospital, Jesse, Ben and I ate together in amiable quiet. None of us had slept and we were filled with a good tiredness. Connor watched us in turn, his curious gaze melting our hearts.
     Kissing my family, I headed out again into the winter dark morning for the long drive back home and another day at work.
     Toiling through the night, snow plows managed to clear 2694 miles of roads in Spokane County and 1900 miles of roads in Whitman County.
     The Cailleach had moved on. Across the West and the Midwest the storm raged onward. Twenty five foot waves poured over the retaining walls of Lake Michigan, and 700 motorists in Chicago, Illinois abandoned their vehicles on three lanes of the Interstate, snow covering them over.
     I drove eighty six miles in time to shower, dress quickly, and make it to work by 8 am, filled with amazement, gratitude, and joy.
           Connor, age three months
 And who does Connor resemble? He has my eyebrows and my eyes, but they are his mother's dark brown color!! Connor's expressions are his dad's; he shares Ben's cheeks and chin and my smile...and his mother's dark hair and golden skin. I have finally witnessed a child being born, and participated in the miracle of birth. I can cross another item off my bucket list.
Jesseca, age 9 months


  1. Oh Jaq,

    I am so taken with your descriptions of your familial genotype and phenotype. What a noble, strong heritage you have descended from. Of course it's no surprise as it is said that the "apple doesn't fall far from the tree." I feel blessed to know you and your delightful daughters. Congratulations on the birth of your third grandson. And I'm so happy for you that you rode on the energy of the Cailleach and arrived in Spokane despite the challenge. Reading about your witnessing Connor's birth sends shimmers of goose bumps through my being. Oh what bliss and that little 8 lb. 13 oz. bundle of joy is cute as can be; like his gregarious, gracious maternal grandma.

    Many Blessings to You and Yours,

  2. A smashing blog and so nice for you to be able to take part in Connor`s entrance to the world.
    Now Ms Almdale it has come to the notice of myself as to the use of copyright materials, ie photographs. As a result of my attorney not being in reciept of a signed contract between ourselves i must hereby insist you cease infringing my publishing rights of these photos.
    Of course seeing as i love you so much i deem us to be a partnership and therefore what`s mine is also yours so i will not be pursuing the matter any further.XXXXX

  3. ....where's the next installment??? You two have a fight? Did you just pick up and fly over there?!

    You can't just leave us all here.....unless, it's summer rerun time??! : )