Sabrina Malach is a lifelong environmental advocate working in urban agriculture and pollinator conservation. She is a beekeeper and an urban farmer and her sweetest harvest is the birth of her beautiful daughter, Mira Orli. Sabrina lives in Toronto.
On Thursday, May 21, 2020, there was a spectacular sunrise over Toronto’s skyline. I briefly witnessed it from the backseat of the car as we zoomed along Highway 401. I squatted on all fours trying my best not to birth our child in the back seat of the car. It was 5:45 a.m. and I had spent the last five and half hours labouring at home.
My precipitous labour was unusually quick for a first pregnancy. As we were in the midst of COVID-19, our midwife wasn’t able to come into our house, so we weren’t clear on how fast things were progressing. When my contractions came on hard and fast, all the plans I made for a long, candlelit, meditative birth with back rubs while sipping bone broth were thrown out the window.
There is a Yiddish proverb that we know very well: Der mentsh trakht un got lakht (“man plans, and God laughs”). I’ve come to understand the importance of flexibility and change, and to be adaptable in times of crisis. From the beginning, the pandemic demanded that we alter our plans, including going to medical visits without the father, walking into buildings full of masked folks, and not being able to have the midwife in our home during labour and after the birth. All of that was very unsettling. Bringing a new life into the world during this pandemic was complicated. I kept thinking to myself, What kind of future are we walking into? Is it fair to create life on a planet full of viruses, climate catastrophes, corruption, greed, and racism? The coronavirus seemed to add yet another layer to the laundry list of hardships this and future generations will have to bear.
Just before midnight, I began to feel cramping and I knew that the journey into early labour had begun. As this was my first pregnancy, we anticipated a long labour, which is the norm for most first-time births. Never one to follow convention, when I felt the overwhelming urge to push only a few hours later, we understood that we were in a unique and urgent situation. By 5:50 a.m., there was no doubt the baby was on her way.
The father and his nineteen-year-old daughter helped me on what seemed like a marathon trek, as I attempted to walk to the car with what felt like a softball coming out of my vagina. I thought I might be crowning, but hoped I was wrong. I crawled into the back of the car and got on all fours while the daughter’s father rubbed my back. Amidst my moans and groans, I screamed, “I’m crowning!” I looked up, noticing the spectacular rays of an early May morning, and I could tell we were moving eastbound. He quickly responded, “hold on, honey, we are almost there,” while hoping that I was misusing the term “crowning” and that our baby wasn’t that close to joining us. I didn’t think I could hold her in any longer, let alone long enough to arrive at the hospital. When I found the strength to peer up yet again and saw the brilliant sun, I became exceedingly aware of my power and the beauty of life. That awareness calmed me enough to keep the baby inside for a few more minutes.
When we finally arrived at the hospital, the father bolted from the car and scrambled to find the entrance amid the maze of locked doors due to COVID-19. He was screaming, “Help us, we’re having a baby!” His daughter helped me crawl out of the car. In a stroke of profound instinct, where all logic, self-consciousness, and insecurity disappeared, I exited the car, stripped off all my clothes, spread my legs, and demanded, “Get behind me and catch the baby.” With one swift and powerful push, our beautiful baby girl was born and caught by her older sister in the parking lot of North York General Hospital as the sun rose to welcome her to earth.
Acting without any prior knowledge, the baby catcher feared that her seconds-old, cone-head, purple, quiet sister was not okay. When the baby finally cried, she instinctively passed her blood-and-poop-covered sibling who was still attached to the umbilical cord through my legs, and I blissfully held her on my naked body.
The father, who had left two girls in the car only moments before, returned and saw to his wonder, the new mom, standing broadly in the open air, naked and full of blood, holding their new baby girl in her arms. The sun’s rays shone upon them all.
Only moments later, our calls for help were finally answered. Sixty medical staff flooded to the scene. It was a “Code Pink” with all hands on deck. As they lay me down in my oxytocin-blissed-out-joy, I looked up at all the masked faces and saw the kindness in all of their eyes. I felt safe, supported, and cared for as our baby girl lay on my chest, both of us covered in diverse bodily fluids and membranes, surrounded by a team of loving healthcare workers.
My midwife pushed her way through the masked crowd and I was surprised I could recognize her behind her mask and scrubs. “Is that you?” I asked. I cried, reassured that she was there, as she cut the cord that had bound me to my girl for the previous nine months. The midwife and the father took my daughter inside to warm her up while I remained on the concrete to ensure I didn’t hemorrhage. A few minutes later, we were reunited inside the hospital. New rules had it that daddy was only allowed to stay with us for three hours, after which he had to leave.
Soon after, I had to take a COVID-19 swab. This experience was almost as painful as the labour itself, it seemed torturous to me, after having such an epic labour, to have a swab stuck so far up my nose it hit my forehead. Throughout my 24 hours at the hospital, I experienced how the pandemic was impacting the birthing wards. Nurses would check in on us behind Plexiglas shields, and mothers had to spend the first 24 hours alone with their babies without the support or visits of family members. Despite these protocols, the moments were still so precious. Over those 24 hours, I got to intimately bond with my daughter and I felt deeply cared for by the nurses, even though I couldn’t even see their faces.
Despite having a baby in the parking lot in the midst of a pandemic, I will never forget the kindness of the hospital staff, my raw and ancient instinct, and the power and beauty of the sunrise on that unforgettable morning.
This morning, I watched the sunrise over Lake Simcoe with our five-week-old daughter. As our eyes locked, I reminded her that her name, Mira Orli, was inspired in part by that radiant sun. In Hebrew, Mira means “the one who shines,” and Orli means “my light,” a living reminder of the beautiful star that gives us all life. It was that light that distracted me long enough so that she would be born under the sunshine in the parking lot of North York General Hospital, and gave birth to a whole new meaning to “curbside delivery.”
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