And then after what feels like an eternity, the little girl fills her lungs and lets out a squeaky wail of a cry. I see a short arm pull free of the towel and clutch at the air, little fingers finding the material of Lisa's clothes. Something seems to unclench inside me, and I breathe again, relief crashing over me like a wave.
Lisa gives a little laugh, and in that quiet sound there's more exhaustion than I thought possible. She cradles the baby against her breast, shushing it as it wails. So much noise from something so new, so young. I don't know what to do, and so I just kneel there on the floor, a slow, warm, soft feeling spreading through my body.
Lisa glances up and sees me hovering there, at a loss. She smiles, her face still covered by a sheen of sweat. In the pale green light she almost seems to glow. Her mouth moves.
"What?" I say.
"We need to cut the cord."
"Oh. Of course." I find string and scissors. This at least I know how to do. Gently and firmly I tie off the cord, trying not to look at the slimy mass of the afterbirth as I do so. Then I fetch the scissors. Lisa holds the little girl still and I grip the cord, place the blades against it. Somehow it is both flimsy and thicker than I thought it would be. It is slippery, hard to find purchase. Part of me really doesn't want to cut. I'm worried, terribly worried that it might somehow hurt the baby.
"Go on," says Lisa gently, seeming to understand my reluctance. "It's okay. It's got to be done."
I cut. There is a moment of resistance, and then the blades of the scissors bite through the cord, and it's done. I wrap the afterbirth in a spare towel, and step out onto the deck to throw it overboard. I pause there a moment, in the wan green light, feeling the salt spray fleck against my face and body, smelling the wide open water of the sea.
It's happened. The baby's here, alive, well. And yet there's still work to be done...still a few more steps before the journey is complete.
But I allow myself a moment there in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean. I shut my eyes and breathe out. And I let myself believe that the past--all the darkness and the fear and loneliness and the loss--I let myself believe that is behind us now, and that ahead the future is warm and good and safe for me and Lisa and the baby girl whose newborn wails are the sweetest sound I've ever heard.
I duck back into the little cabin and settle myself next to Lisa, pull her tired body against mine. She rests her head on my shoulder, and her breath becomes steady, the baby's cries calming to quiet gurgles.
Everything that matters to me in the world, just then, is in that cabin with me. I look down at the little girl's face, just visible among the blankets.
"Hello," I say. And just like that, we're asleep, all three.