I change tactics. If I can only get her to come out, maybe I can help her. For all I know the infant’s head may be crowning and she’s sitting on it.

“Are you hungry, Peaches?”

“A little . . . when I’m not paining. Oh, no! Here comes another one. My back! My back! Eiiiiiiii!” Her howl this time is even louder than before. Then she sobs, a blubbering little kid, really.

Finally, she lets up. “What would you like to eat?” I continue. “A glass of milk? A sandwich?”

“Could I have cake?” Typical kid!

“I’ll see. You start unlocking yourself and I’ll be right back. You can call me Nurse Becky.”

When I open the door into the hall, I find Mrs. Wade, Mrs. Goody, and the Archer woman hovering there, wringing their hands.

“Can Peaches have something to eat? Cake? She’d like cake. You don’t have any cake around, do you, Mrs. Wade?”

“Yes, yes. I have a red velvet cake I made for Sunday supper. Can she eat in labor?”

“Well, Dr. Blum would say no. She may throw up later. But knowing Patience, the midwife, she’d probably say yes. I’m just trying to get Peaches to come out of the closet. She really doesn’t understand what’s going on. She thinks she’s going to die.”

Peaches’s mother starts to cry again and mumbles over and over, “My poor baby. My poor baby.”

“I’m going back. . . . Tap twice on the door when the cake is ready, but please don’t come in. I’ll tell you when it’s time.”

I enter as Peaches starts her howl again, only this time it’s not quite as frantic.

“Cake on the way,” I announce cheerfully. She cuts the cry short.

“What kind?”

“Red velvet chocolate cake, Mrs. Wade’s specialty. How are you coming with the lock?” I’m surprised when the door cracks open.

Just a Girl

“You really think I’m having a baby?”

“Well, yes. I think so. It does hurt some, especially when it’s your first one, but it doesn’t hurt so bad if you understand what’s happening.”

“But I’m just a sixth grader. How could a baby get in me? Can you make the pains stop?”

“Well, maybe . . . if I could examine you. I’ll see.”

I truly have no idea what I can offer in terms of pain relief. Luckily, just then there’s a tap at the door. “That’s the cake. There’s a towel on the bed. Sit on it and we can eat while we talk.” I’m surprised when, without any more coaxing, I see one pale freckled leg appear at the closet opening, then another.

Mrs. Wade opens the door and pushes in a fancy silver tray with the cake and two glasses of cold milk. She looks at me with big eyes, silently asking how things are going, but I say nothing and close the door again.

When I turn, a short, plump girl with large breasts, a body that looks sixteen, and a baby face is sitting on a green towel on the edge of the bed. She’s wearing her Sunday dress, a sailor-type middy with a long skirt, but the skirt is all rumpled, blood streaked, and wet. Poor kid, I think.

“Yummy!” she says, reaching out for her plate. I sit down next to her and pick up my glass of milk. There must be something I can do for her pain. Dr. Blum always gave the mothers morphine, but that’s not going to happen.

I again try to imagine what Patience would do, but realize I know little of her methods except the breathing when the head is crowning . . . and the use of oil.

“Oh, no! Here comes the pain again!” Peaches cries. “Are you sure I’m not going to die?” She begins to shake her hands in front of her as if they’ve both gone to sleep. “Oh. Oh. Oh. Eiiiii!” I reach over and touch her belly, which is round and hard under about two inches of fat.

“Peaches, feel your belly. See how hard it is? That’s your baby trying to come out.”

“Don’t say that, Nurse Becky! There can’t be a baby!”

Birds and the Bees

For the next ten minutes, interrupted by contractions, I try to explain the female reproductive system.

“But how did a baby get in there?” the girl asks. Good question.

“A man or an older boy has to get his penis inside or near a girl’s privates. Then he puts in some seeds and the baby grows.”

Peaches looks horrified. “It was only a dare. Don’t tell my mama!”

“Did you do that with a boy, honey? It’s okay. I won’t tell her if you don’t want me to.”

“One time last fall, a long time ago, we were playing hide-and-seek in the dark, and my friend Molly’s cousin from Beckley dared me to let his privates touch my privates. He didn’t put his snake inside, but he rubbed it on me and afterward I was wet. I hit him in the face because I thought he’d peed on me.” Now we are getting to the heart of it.

Another contraction but at least she’s not screaming.

“Mama will hate me. She will be so mad. There have been other girls in the church that had babies, but they were in high school. I’m just a kid. You think it was the boy and his seed? Not Jesus?”

“I think it was the boy, yes.”

“Miss Becky. I don’t feel so good. I’m going to puke.”

I grab a pillow to catch the vomit and protect the flowered carpet.

“Oh, no! Now I have to pooh!”

I go very still. We have nothing ready for the birth! And again I haven’t even listened to the fetal heartbeat.

“I’ll be right back, honey,” I say, hoping to sound calm. “I think your baby might come soon and I need to get some things ready for the birth.”

“Mrs. Wade! Mrs. Goody!” I call, running out in the hall. “Bring warm water. Bring clean linen and something to wrap the baby in!”

Behind me in the bedroom there’s a low groan.

When I step back in the room with my bag, Peaches is squatting over the potty. “Ughhhh!” she groans. No crying now. Just nature taking over.

July 27, 1934

6-pound, 9-ounce female infant born to Peaches Goody, the daughter of Reverend Goody and Mrs. Goody, after two hours of pushing. Patience wasn’t there, and I had to do the whole delivery by myself from start to finish. Present were Mrs. Goody, Mrs. Wade, and Mrs. Archer.

The hardest part was dealing with the patient, a 12-year-old child who didn’t know she was pregnant or even how she got pregnant. She screamed through the first half of labor, but was amazing once she began to push. Peaches had one small tear, which I repaired as best I could. Blood loss was minimal.


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