My third child was born in our bedroom in late February. This wasn’t exactly the plan. Chantel and I had signed up with a midwife and arranged for a hospital birth at Mount Sinai. This was her first pregnancy, and the midwives we consulted thought that her labour would start a week after the actual due date of Feb. 28. We anticipated the baby would come on March 7.
So as February waned, we were blasé about anything birth-related. We even went to my brother’s cottage for a Muskoka weekend. And Chantel, who works as a beauty expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, booked a segment for the third Friday in February. That morning, sitting in the makeup chair, she felt something strange happening.
“Are you okay?” the makeup artist asked.
“Totally,” she said.
Except she wasn’t. She couldn’t be sure, but that strange feeling seemed suspiciously like a contraction. Marilyn Denis is live-to-air. Chantel had to go on. Luckily, the five-minute segment happened between contractions. When Chantel arrived home, she said, “I feel really weird.” So we started timing these feelings of weirdness, and they were coming three minutes apart. We paged the midwives: This is happening.
In contrast to those who bring grandparents and friends to the birth, Chantel and I envisioned something intimate, just the two of us at the hospital, which seemed the safest place. But labour is like that Mike Tyson line: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Things changed once the contractions got going. My sister, her husband, and their baby were in town and staying with us. Then my kids Myron and Penny returned home from school. Add in the two midwives and there were nine people in the house. Suddenly, though, it felt right to be surrounded by family during this crazy experience. They all leapt into action. My brother-in-law picked up sandwiches from Porchetta and Co., while the kids turned into amateur doulas, heading up and down the stairs with hot towels and glasses of ice.
Soon after sunset, somebody mentioned going to the hospital. “I don’t want to go to the hospital,” Chantel said, mid-contraction, while she clutched my wrist in a death grip. I didn’t want to leave, either. It was cold outside, and dark, and in contrast to the hospital’s bright lights and strangers’ stares, all the people around us created a familial bosom of support. The midwives looked at each other and shrugged when I told them Chantel intended to stay. Our place is only about six blocks from Mount Sinai, so if anything went wrong, we could always dash over there.
Staying home felt like the perfect decision. It had only been six months since we moved into our semi-detached brick Victorian. Previously, it belonged to the novelist David Gilmour, and for the first few months, friends in the publishing industry and our neighbours would regale us with stories of what had happened within these walls—dinner parties full of boozy arguments among CanLit superheroes. Perhaps it’s not good to learn too much about the previous occupants of a home. It seemed like our stuff just happened to occupy Gilmour’s house.
At 3:35 a.m., Chantel gave birth to our baby, Fitz—Fitzwilliam, actually. On our bed, exhausted, Chantel and I admired his miniature form while, around us, the midwives bustled, cleaning up and going over Fitz’s measurements. At some point, they went home and we fell asleep. The next morning, I took my son downstairs to meet his new family. The steps I descended, the living room I walked into—they all felt a bit different.
My first two kids had both been born in our last house in Trinity Bellwoods. Now Chantel had given birth to our son inside these walls—and, in so doing, had made these walls ours. Later that afternoon, I headed to the pharmacy, and as I passed the row houses of Kensington Market, I found myself wondering how many of them had hosted births. Who were the people born there? Where were they now? Amid so many questions, one thing was certain: Our new neighbourhood, and our new house, now felt inextricably like home. There are many ways to lay claim to a structure of brick, mortar, plaster, and wood. But I can’t think of a better one than giving birth to a child in the master bedroom.