I have seven children: 7. They are mine. Or rather, they are my progeny. I do not possess them or control them, and would not if I could. I have 7 children, and they have me, for better or for worse, for they cannot ever claim another father or even another dad. I am what they got and what they get. And mostly they are okay with that. My 7 children each possess a great soul. They care about this world and its life and beauty and stories and its living creatures all. They care about the human family and its poverty and illiteracy and violence and illness and squalor. They study hard and they work hard. They are kind and generous and patient, and long-suffering. They are fun and funny and adventurous and smart. They call me Pops and Papa and Pappy and Dadda and sometimes even Father.
I made the mistake of telling their mother once that their births were the most stressful and frightening days of my life, which she took to mean their births were awful experiences, which made her sad and piqued. While her body squeezed and pulsed to give them birth, I gripped and squeezed her quivering hands and pushed my haggard stare into her eyes and whispered hopeful encouragements, breathing slow, controlled, exaggerated regular breaths—I wondered, each time, Is this going to work? Each time. And each time it worked, somehow. Still, I take her point, and took care never to express that stressful frightening sentiment to her again, or to my then-young-and-impressionable daughters, then or ever.
Then that moron of a man Torgersen who called himself “Doctor” came to our house and pushed and pulled and cajoled and whispered and pleaded at the round protuberance of her belly, but that baby refused to turn—she’s just not wanting to come into this cruel world yet—and the hospital refused to deliver a double footling breach. So the woman who eschewed and scoffed at pain medication during labor and birth watched herself submitting, revolting and afraid, to the scalpel. I stood by her, holding her hand, and watching over the curtain as the surgeon cut and sliced and the blood spilt and absorbed into the bed sheets. That surgeon reached in and pulled out a purple splotchy silent round-headed baby girl and handed her off to the nurse who rubbed and cleaned her with a towel and made her gleam and cry. And the surgeon reached in again and pulled out the placenta and reached in again and pulled the wounded womb out of my wife’s body and laid in on her now-soft belly and begin to sew it up with a black sickle-needle and long thread. No one had prepared me for anything remotely like this, and I felt sick and horrified, which is beyond stressed and frightened, which is why, finally, with the out-of-body stitching commenced, I pulled my stare away from the carnage to avoid becoming our family’s second medical emergency of the day. I do not know how I endured that scene so long. And what were they thinking? instructing me to stand there where I saw it and heard it and smelled it all and could have reached over to shadow the surgeon’s slicing sewing hand.
We did not set out to have 7 children. We did not look into each other’s eyes with blissful naiveté and shout forth “Seven!!!!!!!” People have said to me many times, Whoa, that’s a lot of kids! (Doesn’t your TV work? [stupid laughter]) Did you actually plan to have 7 kids!? And I reply with a polite fixed none-of-your-goddam-business smile and said gently, No, we decided to have our children one at a time. She always knew there was one more, and one more, and one more, and who the hell am I to tell this woman she cannot have any more children when she wants them and will care for them fiercely and loves them fiercely and considers it her life’s purpose and work and glory to be a mother to these children? If I get that far, there are no follow-up questions, which is how I prefer things.
There was the birth of boy number two, who was born at my home, on my bed, with the help of a smart strong stubborn duma who knew exactly what to do, and when, to get that baby out and keep him alive when the chord had strangled him and now he guides 20-foot rafts through killer rapids and 5.12c multi-pitches and has three yellow stripes on his black belt and laughs through his beard and smolders his eyes playfully and adores his new wife. You can be sure I never slept the same in that bed in that room in that house thereafter.
The birth of the last one—a joy, a jewel—was the most frightening of all, as I stood holding the new tiny baby girl and watching a red rivulet race from her mother who I knew was bleeding to death even as the midwife kneaded her belly viciously and injected this and that and the flow finally stopped and I thought maybe there is a chance she will live to raise this child. And mother knew this 7th child was the last.
Occasionally a person will sneer “seven?!” and tell me we are ruining the planet from over-population—and maybe we are, but no more than she with her sneer. I gear up to blurt These kids care about their planet and about each other and have a smaller carbon footprint than you thank you very much and they work harder to serve and bless and help the world’s people than you with your stupid sneer, and the world would be so much better off with seven times seventy of my kids which I only think steamily but know to be true: for they are 7 great souls, and this magnificent powerful humble living breathing mourning planet of ours can always accommodate one more or a billion more great souls who apply their minds to solving impossible problems and their hearts to easing suffering and lifting up edifying building building building the human spirit.
7. They are all good souls, souls striving to climb the long mountain of life, skinning their knees and rolling their ankles and sweating and huffing and pushing always for the summit, the summit, the goal is the summit, and the goal is the wild beauty of the trail. Sure they tire and lash out and accuse and rail and spew and weep and wonder and it is all part of what a good soul goes through and needs to go through to learn to leave all that behind with each incremental line-upon-line upward step:
Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season compiles Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.