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caption: Baby Wallace is born.
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Baby Wallace is born.
Credit: Courtesy of Ward Serrill

A birth in the time of corona

With the backdrop of plague consciousness running to and fro, a blessed arrival. A baby was born in my house. While doors and windows elsewhere were shuttered by social distancing, a small cry arose, Wallace’s first song in the world.

That small cry connected all of us at the birth to each other and to the ever-present mystery of life.

My niece and her husband live in an RV, and we moved a former wine vat (used for stomping grapes) into my dining room as a birthing tank. With midwives present, all night we held vigil. I boiled water, grabbed towels and played a quiet set of birth songs behind a sheet hung for privacy. It was my favorite DJ job ever.

Earlier that night, I was awoken by what I imagine was an angel, to let me know they were on their way. I was so surprised by its presence at my bedside that I reached out and yelled in fear, not realizing the messenger had come to let me know that soon would be a knock on my door.

I have never been at a birth. I am unlikely to ever experience one of my own and here it was taking place in the room I normally write and eat meals in. All night long the vigil passed, my house transformed into a candle-lit manger, the hours felt like minutes. A new kind of writing was taking place, an original language known by mothers, through time.

I could talk about the tears I kept brushing back, or the primal moans of mother while father held her, or how Wallace, when the coast was clear at 7:42 a.m., flew with wings from his wine pool. But instead, I want to talk about his small fingers, grasping his dad’s.

While witnessing this divine play before me, I saw with utter profundity that which I was not able to receive when I came to this planet: Physical touch at birth. I saw the baby placed on the chest of the mother seconds after its arrival. And soon after, it was held by shirtless father as he bowed toward the son in his arms realizing for the first time, that he didn’t know he could love a being as much as that.

As I continued to photograph the astonishing play before me, I saw Wallace’s hand reach for his father’s. With eyes closed, an instinctive grasp of a hand to hold him from the whirling seas he had come. A curl of fingers grasping, saying to his father, “I am here now, with you.”

Since Wallace’s arrival in the world, for the past week I have continued to be riveted by the experience and the indelible images of those clasping fingers. They express a revolutionary message to me in this time of great collective fear.

In my house that dawn, a dispatch from the other world. Wallace come to tell us that what we need most right now, is to reach out and hold another’s hand.

Ward Serrill is a filmmaker and writer who lives in Port Townsend.