Katie goes into labor. Katie asks Francie constantly for the time and says that, when Neeley arrives at 7:30 PM, he is to go over to Aunt Evy’s, because she lives closer than Aunt Sissy. Katie doesn’t think that men should be around during deliveries. Katie thinks of how some women, who wouldn’t let their men see them in curlers or without their curlers, force them to watch the babies arrive. She thinks that, when men see the agony that is produced out of their being together, it compels them to cheat. The prospect of lovemaking with their wives is less appealing.
Katie doesn’t want Neeley to be traumatized by the sounds and possible sight of her birth. She thinks, like many women of the time, that some things ought to be kept a mystery from men. If they knew about the agony women experienced as a result of sex, and the way in which their vaginas expand during childbirth, they would find the prospect of being with the same woman less appealing.
Katie instructs Francie to wrap up Neeley’s things, which he will need overnight. She then asks Francie to wring cold water out of a cloth for wiping her face. To take her mind off of the pain, Katie asks Francie to read her one of her “A” compositions. Francie says that she burned them all and insists that they weren’t particularly good. Katie feels guilty about never making more time for Francie. She then asks Francie to read something from Shakespeare.
Katie feels guilt about not paying more attention to Francie, especially since she’s depending so much on her daughter’s support now. She asks Francie to read her Shakespeare to distract her from her labor pains. In this brief instance, their roles reverse—Francie is the nurturer, using what Katie has taught her to look after her during her labor.
Evy arrives at 8:30 PM and says that Sissy will be along in half an hour. Evy asks Francie if Katie has prepared baby clothes. When Francie shows them to her, Evy realizes that Katie is expecting a boy because the clothes are blue. Sissy arrives and announces that it’s time to get a midwife. When Katie says there’s no money for one, Sissy insists that they can deliver the baby themselves. They shut the bedroom door. Francie waits outside and starts falling asleep. Aunt Evy comes out, gives her fifty cents, and orders her to buy sweet butter, soda crackers, and navel oranges.
The women demonstrate their ability to depend on and support one another during Katie’s childbirth. In regard to baby colors, blue did not come to be associated more with boys until around the beginning of the First World War, which is when the novel is set. Previously, blue was a color associated with girls, due to the perception that it was a daintier color.
The neighbors listen to Katie’s cries of pain. The “apelike teamster” complains and says that he hopes Katie’s cries won’t keep him awake. His young bride typically weeps and unbuttons her dress. Flossie Gaddis wonders aloud to her mother about men having all the fun and women all the pain. Mrs. Gaddis thinks of her dead son and looks at her daughter’s withered arm. The Tymore sisters lie in their “virginal bed” and hold hands while listening. Lizzie wonders if it is better to suffer such moments of unhappiness. Katie, it seems, knows that she is living. When Francie gets back, she finds out that Katie has delivered the baby. She realizes that Aunt Evy sent her out because she did not want Francie to witness it. Katie delivers a girl who will have “curling black hair” and whom they name Annie Laurie, though they will call her Laurie.
Everyone in the tenement has separate reactions to Katie’s primordial screams of pain. The young bride who is forced to sleep with a husband she doesn’t want, cries because she imagines that she, too, will soon experience such pain. Mrs. Gaddis wonders if women really do suffer more and thinks of how the children she has born have also suffered. The Tynmore sisters have never had sex and their most intimate bond is the one that they have with each other. Their poverty forces them to share a bed. They listen to Katie and wonder if they have missed out on some essential experience.