There was a chicken in the house when my wife went into labor.
** These are missives from my past. Many of these posts were written about 2 years ago, when the realities and circumstances of my life were quite different. I am now a single parent to a toddler. The past is an uncomfortable and rich terrain. By occasionally delving in, without lingering too long, the past provides the needed perspective to step rightly into the future. **
There was a chicken in the house when my wife went into labor. An Araucana to be precise. We keep a wee flock of 6 chickens in our yard (less when there’s a hungry gray fox about). She had somehow cut the spot right above her beak and was bleeding profusely. I had brought her into the house to clean the wound when I heard it. It was the undeniable sound of someone experiencing holy-shit-it’s-time-to-go-to-the-hospital-contractions. I ran the chicken back outside, plopped the bleeding chicken into the coop and whispered “Good luck. I hope you survive” and ran back to the house. Off we raced to the hospital.
The chicken’s name is Truvy. We named each of our 6 chickens (Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, Rhoda Morgenstern, Dorothy Zbornak, and Judy Garland). She was named after Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias. We’ve had our chickens since they were 1 day old. Of the flock, she was the most standoffish. When they were little and still living in a crate in our house, we’d take them on short outings in the yard. Truvy was always the one I had to chase around the yard to get back in her crate. She was a bit of a loner in the flock. All the other chickens would be roosting on a board and she’d be off on her own somewhere else. All the other chickens liked being close to me when I was around, but not Truvy.
My wife had a complicated pregnancy. Twice I thought for sure we’d lose the baby. At 14 weeks she had abdominal surgery. The surgery was on the right side of her abdomen. I remember being so deeply grateful seeing her baby bump that had moved over to the left, out of harm’s way. Then again at 25 weeks we had another scare and thought she might need surgery again. Thankfully she made it through without needing surgery. When the contractions started, I was excited to meet our baby but also fearful of what could go wrong. This had been such a hard and harrowing pregnancy and it wasn’t over.
When we arrived at the hospital I texted my friends who would be chicken sitting to let them know about Truvy. I apologized for leaving them with a wounded chicken. I told them if she died, it was ok. I thought about what to tell them to do with the body if she did die. Bury it? Put it in the freezer? Put it in the woods near our house for a fox to find?
I keep not mentioning what it’s like to see someone in labor. That’s because I kept trying to not think about it while my wife was in labor. I watched my wife while she was in the most pain I had ever seen any human experience. Watching the person you love be in so much pain and not be able to do anything to stop it is hard. I was scared.
So, I thought about Truvy. I let her take up my brain space. I wondered what happened to cause the wound. I wondered if it would get infected. I wondered if the other chickens would gang up on her while she was injured. I wondered if she’d live. I wondered all of this so I wouldn’t have to wonder about how my wife was. So I wouldn’t have to wonder if this amount of body writhing pain was normal. So I wouldn’t have to wonder if the complications she experienced throughout pregnancy would continue during delivery. So I wouldn’t have to wonder if she and the baby would get through this ok. I thought about Truvy while I held my wife’s hand, while my knees gave out underneath me when she got the epidural, while I kept an eye on our doula and delivery nurse to see if there were any signs of things going awry.
When Truvy started laying eggs, something changed in her. She softened up. Maybe she got maternal even though she was laying unfertilized eggs. When I’d appear in the yard, she’d be one the the first to come running to me. She hung around close to me when I worked in the garden. She turned out to be an asshole with a heart of gold, my favorite kind of person. Or chicken.
After clamping her hands to the bed rails during back labor, powerful contractions heaving through her body, and a very quick period of pushing (maybe 13 minutes was too quick?) my wife gave birth. Our daughter was perfect; born healthy, beautiful, and chock full of spirit. My wife sustained injuries from the birth. She experienced tearing and a hematoma, had a straight catheter for about a week, and her tailbone was broken. Two years later she’s still seeing a chiropractor for the tailbone injury.
Shortly after my daughter was born, I received a text from my friend that Truvy was fine. There was a little blood in the coop, some dried blood around her beak, but other than that she was no worse for wear. I could breathe a little deeper. A few members of my clan had been wounded, but they were on their way to healing.
The fear of loss had been so close as the gift of life was imminent. Truvy’s wound gave me a way to channel my fear of harm or death. Those dark thoughts had buzzed in the background throughout my wife’s complicated pregnancy and only sharpened as the birth approached. That dark fear felt much more manageable when it involved the life of a chicken, dear though she be, and not the life and wellness of my wife and newborn daughter.
After blood, pain, and the prayers of someone who doesn’t pray the family had grown. The fear, joy, relief, new love, old love, and intensity of the the whole experience felt much bigger than all the physical universe could contain. And yet, the universe somehow contained us all.