Blair Donohue

This is how you come into the world: It is September and I am newly a midwife and you are newly born. You slip into my hands as still and silent as a deer and your mother asks me if you are alright.
I don’t know what to tell her.
You’re not moving. You’re not breathing. At three-heartbeats old, you are many universes away from “alright.”
I cut your umbilical cord as the birth team begins neonatal resuscitation. Someone in the delivery room yells, “APGAR” and I examine you for color (blue), tone (floppy), and respirations (none).

“Two out of ten,” I say and you are carried, wet and unaware, to the emergency cart for positive pressure ventilation. When you still haven’t cried by the time I slide the oxygen mask over your face, I begin to worry. 

“Breathe, two, three. Breathe, two, three. Breathe, two, three.” We count along with each compression of the bag. One beat to inflate, two beats to release.


You gasp but you do not cry. You seem unsure of what to do with your butterfly-wing lungs in this city called El Paso. When I listen to your chest, your heart tells me not yet, not yet, not yet and I understand the hesitation you are feeling.  

After all, this city called El Paso is not built for new life. This city is in a desert. It is a desert. You were born into a water-starved land of coyote bones and battered cacti and that is not an easy place in which to learn how to breathe. 

Breathe anyway. 


The pulse oximeter blinks red; you are half-starved for air. You look frightened. I am frightened for you.  


In the clinic, a mere five minutes away from the Mexico border and ten from the ICE processing center, we have a policy: When taking a client’s vitals, check blood pressure and pulse last. The heart of a mother who has just crossed the border, presented her visa to a customs official, and been reminded that her welcome is only valid for the next 72 hours, is a very unsettled heart indeed. 

Once, in the early morning, your mother arrived for a prenatal appointment, heart crazed and pounding. A patrolman had stopped her at the crossing checkpoint. He had ripped apart her medical consult. I saw then how bone-tiring the struggle to live here can be.   

Struggle anyway.  


The pulse oximeter turns yellow. You are climbing out of the dark but still, you refuse to breathe. Perhaps you feel the heaviness of this city. 


El Paso sits a river’s breadth away from Ciudad Juarez, the “female murder capital of the world.” So many women have been killed in Juarez that the locals have a name for the victims: “Las Desaparecidas,” the lost ones.

In the clinic, we document additional information on each client in a section of their medical charts called “Notes on Client.” I once wrote in Notes that a client’s niece had been murdered in her bedroom in Juarez two days prior. On the border, life is not a guarantee. 

Live anyway.


The pulse oximeter turns green. At three minutes and thirty-eight seconds old, you let out your first throaty cry in this city called El Paso. At five-minutes, your second APGAR is a resounding ten out of ten. 


As a midwife, I love your kind of story the most. Despite the odds, despite the desert, despite the patrol dogs, despite the funeral processions, despite the hundreds of ways this city has tried to thwart you, you were born. You are here. You have given me hope and in a world slouching ever-closer towards death, there is no greater gift. 


I imagine that the stars and the Gods are surprised that you have made it this far. Let them be. Continue to surprise them every day, every minute, with every shaky, stubborn breath you take.  

Blair Donohue is a second-year anthropology major and a licensed midwife. She has delivered over 200 newborns.