A Cedar Cove Christmas
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Halfway through, she started to pant. And then felt the instinctive urge to bear down. Arching her back, Mary Jo pushed with every ounce of her strength.
When the pain passed, she was too exhausted to speak.
Mack wiped her forehead again and brushed the damp hair from her face.
“Water,” she mumbled.
“Got it!” Brandon Hutton tore out of the room, like a man on a quest.
Recovering from the pain, she breathed deeply, her chest heaving. She opened her eyes and looked up at Mack. His gaze was tender.
“How much longer?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“I can’t stand much more of this…I just can’t.” Tears welled in her eyes and rolled down the sides of her face.
Mack dabbed at her cheeks. As their eyes met, he gave her an encouraging smile. “You can do it,” he said. “You’re almost there.”
“I’m glad you’re with me.”
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he told her. They continued to hold hands.
Brandon came back with the water. “Here,” he said.
Mack took the glass and held it for Mary Jo, supporting her head. “Just a sip or two,” he cautioned.
She nodded and savored each tiny sip.
The sound of a car door slamming echoed in the distance.
“Grace,” Mary Jo said, grateful the other woman had finally arrived.
“I’ll bring her up.” Brandon quickly disappeared from the room.
Another pain approached. “No…no…” she whimpered, gathering her resolve to get through this next contraction. She closed her eyes and clung to Mack, thanking God once more that she wasn’t alone. That Mack was with her…
Mack automatically began to count. Again she felt the urge to push. Gritting her teeth, she bore down, grunting loudly for the first time, straining her entire body.
“Mary Jo.” Grace’s serene voice broke through the haze of pain. “I came as soon as I heard.”
The contraction eased and Mary Jo collapsed onto the mattress, sweat blinding her eyes.
“The baby’s in the birth canal,” Mack told her friend.
“What would you like me to do?” Grace asked.
“Hold on to her hand and count off the seconds when the contractions come.”
“No…don’t leave me.” Mary Jo couldn’t do this without Mack at her side.
“I need to deliver the baby,” he explained, his words so gentle they felt like a warm caress. “Grace will help you.”
“I’m here,” Grace said.
“Okay.” Reluctantly Mary Jo freed Mack’s hand.
Grace slipped into his spot. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Mary Jo said.
“How would you do that?” Grace asked, clasping her hand.
Somehow she found the strength to smile. “I squeeze hard.”
“You aren’t going to hurt me,” Grace said reassuringly. “You squeeze as hard as you need to and don’t worry about me.” She reached for the damp cloth and wiped Mary Jo’s flushed and heated face.
“I…don’t have anything for the baby,” she whispered. That thought suddenly struck Mary Jo and nearly devastated her. Her baby wasn’t even born yet, and already she was a terrible mother. Already she’d failed her child.
“That’s all been taken care of.”
“But…I don’t even have a blanket.”
“Maryellen and Jon are stopping at their house for diapers and baby blankets and clothes for a newborn.”
“Maryellen still has all of Drake’s clothes, so that should be the least of your worries, okay?”
“Okay.” A weight lifted from her heart.
Another pain approached. Mary Jo could feel herself pushing the infant from the womb. She gritted her teeth, bearing down with all her strength.
Grace, her voice strong and confident, counted off the seconds. Again, when the pain was over, Mary Jo collapsed on the bed.
In the silence that followed, Mary Jo could hear the sound of her own harsh breathing. Then in the distance she heard the laughter of children.
“The grandchildren are outside with Cliff,” Grace said.
“Do you want me to tell Cliff to keep them quiet?”
“No…no. It’s…joyful.” This was the way it should be on Christmas Eve. Hearing their happiness gave her hope. Her baby, no matter what the future held, would be born surrounded by people who were kind and encouraging.
Giving birth in a barn, the stalls below filled with beasts, children running and laughing outside, celebrating the season, hadn’t been part of Mary Jo’s plan. And yet—it was perfect.
This was a thousand times better than being alone with strangers in a hospital. None of her brothers would’ve been comfortable staying with her through labor. Maybe Ned, but even her youngest brother, as much as he loved her, wouldn’t have done well seeing her in all this pain.
Mack had been with her from the first, and now Grace.
“Thank you,” she whispered to them both.
“No, Mary Jo, thank you,” Grace whispered back.
“We’re so honored to be helping you.”
“I’m glad you’re with me.” She smiled tremulously at Grace, then Mack. How she wished she’d fallen in love with him instead of David. Mack was everything a man should be….
Another pain came, and she locked her eyes with his for as long as she could until the contraction became too strong. She surrendered to it, whimpering softly.
“The head’s almost there,” Mack said when the pain finally released her. “Your baby has lots of brown hair.”
“Another pain or two and this will be over,” Grace promised.
“Thank God, thank God,” Mary Jo said fervently.
“You’re going to be a good mother,” Grace told her.
Mary Jo wanted to believe that. Needed to believe it. All night, she’d been tortured with doubts and, worse, with guilt about arriving at this moment totally unprepared.
“I want to be a good mother.”
“You already are,” Mack said.
“I love my baby.”
“I know.” Grace whisked the damp hair from her brow.
Mary Jo was drenched in sweat, her face streaked with tears. “I’m never going through this again,” she gasped, looking at Grace. “I can’t believe my mother gave birth four times.”
“All women think that,” Grace said. “I know I did. While I was in labor with Maryellen, I told Dan that if this baby wasn’t the son he wanted, he was out of luck because I wasn’t having another one.”
“You did, though.”
“As soon as you hold your baby in your arms, nothing else matters. You forget the pain.”
Footsteps clattered up the stairs. “Mom?”
It was Maryellen, Grace’s daughter.
“In here,” Grace called out.
Maryellen hurried into the room, then paused when she saw Mary Jo and smiled tearfully. Her arms were filled with baby clothes.
A pain overtook Mary Jo. Again it was Mack she looked to, Mack who held her gaze, lending her his strength.
She was grateful that Grace was at her side, but most of the time it had been Mack who’d guided and encouraged her. He had a way of comforting her that no one else seemed to have, not even Grace.
“You’re doing so well,” Mack told her. “We have a shoulder….”
Mary Jo sobbed quietly. It was almost over. The baby was leaving her body. She could feel it now, feel the child slipping free and then the loud, fierce cry that resounded in the room.
Her relief was instantaneous.
She’d done it! Despite everything, she’d done it.
With her last reserve of strength, Mary Jo rose up on one elbow.
Mack held the child in his arms and Brandon had a towel ready. Mack turned to her and she saw, to her astonishment, that there were tears in his eyes.
“You have a daughter, Mary Jo.”
“A daughter,” she whispered.
“A beautiful baby girl.”
Her own tears came then, streaming from her eyes with an intensity of emotion that surprised her. She hadn’t given much thought to the sex of this child, hadn’t really cared. Her brothers were the ones who’d insisted she’d have a son.
They’d been wrong.
“A daughter,” she whispered. “I have a daughter.”
“The natives are getting restless,” Jon Bowman reported to Grace when she camed own from the apartment. After watching the birth of Mary Jo’s baby, Grace felt ecstatic. She couldn’t describe all the emotions tumbling through her. Joy. Excitement. Awe. Each one held fast to her heart.
Katie, April and Tyler raced around the yard, screaming at the top of their lungs, chasing one another, gleeful and happy. Jon went to quiet them, but Grace stopped him.
“Let them play,” she told her son-in-law. “They aren’t hurting anything out here.”
“Kelly and Lisa are inside making hot cocoa,” Cliff said, joining Grace. “And Paul’s looking after Emma.” He slid his arm around her waist. “Everything all right up there?” He nodded toward the barn.
“Everything’s wonderful. Mary Jo had a baby girl.”
“That’s marvelous!” Cliff kissed her cheek. “I bet you never guessed you’d be delivering a baby on Christmas Eve.”
Grace had to agree; it was the last thing she’d expected. She was thankful Mary Jo hadn’t been stuck in some hotel room alone. These might not have been the best of circumstances, but she’d ended up with people who genuinely cared for her and her baby.
Grace didn’t know Roy and Corrie McAfee’s son well, but Mack had proved himself ten times over. He was a capable, compassionate young man, and he’d been an immeasurable help to Mary Jo. In fact, Grace doubted anyone could have done more.
After he’d delivered that baby girl, Mack had cradled the infant in his arms and gazed down on her with tears shining in his eyes. An onlooker might have thought he was the child’s father.
The other EMT actually had to ask him to let go of the baby so he could wash her. After that, Grace had wrapped the crying baby in a swaddling blanket and handed her to Mary Jo.
The two EMTs were finishing up with Mary Jo and would be transporting her and the baby to the closest birthing center. Maryellen had stayed to discuss breastfeeding and to encourage and, if need be, assist the new mother.
Grace had felt it was time to check on the rest of her family.
“It’s certainly been a full and busy night,” Cliff said.
“Fuller than either of us could’ve imagined,” Grace murmured.
A car pulled into the yard. “Isn’t that Jack’s?” Cliff asked, squinting into the lights.
“Yes—it’s Olivia and Jack.” Grace should’ve known Olivia wouldn’t just go home after Christmas Eve services. She’d briefly told Olivia what was happening before she’d hurried out of the church, fearing she’d caused enough of a distraction as it was.