Today is my youngest child’s 30th birthday. In our family, we have a birthday tradition of telling a story about the person, a warm or fun memory. I’m going to tell the longish tale of Raleigh’s birth. Each birth story is special in its own way and Raleigh’s is particularly fun because it connects in pertuity with another family event—the wedding of my brother Andy to Connie.
My due date was October 16 which happened to be when Raymond would be finishing his season on the carnival circuit in Raleigh, North Carolina, which the was biggest and most lucrative show of the year. That meant he would not likely be present for the birth which meant that I needed to find someone who could serve as my birth coach. Since Connie was a living in the Twain Harte house at the time, she was the logical choice, and she warmly accepted my request to serve.
In September, we went to Lamaze classes and every evening practiced relaxation and breathing exercises in preparation for the birth which would take place in my doctor’s office. I wanted a home birth, but at the time there were no local midwives and the next best thing was this doctor who had built a birth chair in his office and was delivering babies there.
Earlier in the summer when Connie and Andy began planning their wedding, they asked if I thought the baby would be here by October 29. “Absolutely,” I said. “There’s no doubt.” But I was wrong. Though I started having consistent but irregular contractions on the due date, the baby was still not here by October 28. Raymond, however, was home by then, having arrived on the 27th. A lot other people were filling the house as well, guests who were coming for the wedding.
I was big and uncomfortable. The baby was pinching a nerve that rendered my left leg numb and was also causing numbness in three fingers of my left hand. I could not make it down the long hall from the front to the back of the house without help, and I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes. I was also sad because I didn’t see how I could make it to the wedding which was to take place in a meadow in Bear Valley, nor would Connie be there to help me. Raymond, of course, was experienced and had excelled at helping me with the early stages of labor for our first two children, but he had never been present for a delivery. Connie and I had practiced techniques for transition and delivery and I couldn’t wrap my mind around her not being with me.
About 11pm on the 28th, I was fairly certain I was in early labor. The house was a hive of activity with extra people and wedding preparations. By 1pm, it seemed like everyone had gone to sleep except me and Raymond. He was staying up with me to see if the labor was going anywhere. While he worked on a shelf over a little desk in the dining room, I watched TV. At about 2am, I took a shower, thinking it might relax me so I could sleep. It was not a successful endeavor because I couldn’t stand up very well. By 3am the contractions had picked up and I’d lost my mucous plug. We called the doctor who told us to come in. Now the question was should we wake Connie? We decided, YES! We should give her the option. She didn’t hesitate. She was dressed in a flash, and so was Andy who came along to take pictures.
I remember driving down the Twain Harte grade on that clear, beautiful night and seeing the lights of Modesto and Stockton. We arrived at the doctor’s office about 4:30am and he said with a teasing chuckling that we needed to have this baby by 6:30am because he had a date to go rock climbing with friends in Yosemite and had to leave about that time.
Raleigh Drew Harrelson complied by being born at 6:25am on October 29, 1977. He was welcomed by his dad, his uncle, and his soon-to-be-aunt. The pictures Andy took tell how awed we each were by his arrival, forever captured in our expressions--a mix of joy and astonishment. He was a big boy, 9 pounds 3 ounces, and cried for the first half hour he was in the world. He’s been big and loquacious ever since.
Six hours later, Connie and Andy were getting married in a meadow, the doctor was climbing in Yosemite, and I was lying on our king-sized bed, nursing my newborn and crying because he was so gorgeous and I was missing the wedding.
Happy Birthday Ra.
Happy Anniversary Connie & Andy.