“Livia, I want you to stop pushing for a few minutes.” I turn toward the others. “A phone? Is there a telephone?”
“The closest one is at the Reverend’s house. Reverend Miller,” offers the gray-haired lady, her eyes big and round.
Damn! (A silent curse.)
“Okay, then, I need someone to run to the Millers’ home and call Patience Hester, the midwife. Who can that be? Who will go?” The young woman in yellow raises her hand.
“Okay, what’s your name?”
“So, Daisy, here’s what I want you to say. . . .”
She bundles up and takes off, a deer chased by a pack of hounds, slipping and sliding in the gray slush. Once she falls, but she looks back, grins, and keeps going. “Tell the Reverend a few prayers couldn’t hurt,” I call after her, but I don’t think she hears.
It’s only then that I notice the weather, low clouds boiling over the mountains and into the valley. Daisy runs into the wind.
The Midwife’s Advice
Patience told me when you don’t know what to do, wipe the mother’s face, so I return to the bedside with a cup of sweet, hot tea, reach for a cool rag, and follow my friend’s advice. Livia’s eyes flutter open and with my little finger I moisten her chapped lips.
“How much longer, midwife?” she asks me. (Midwife! I feel like an imposter.)
“I want you to rest another twenty minutes, then we’ll start pushing again.”
“Is my baby too big?”
I lean across the bed to palpate the uterus. “I don’t think so. About six pounds.”
“My other one was seven.” We look at each other.
Only a few weeks ago, Patience talked to me about obstructed labor. “While you sit on your hands,” she advised, “try to think what could be wrong. Are the contractions too weak? Then strengthen them. Is the mother too tired? Try to get her to rest. Is the baby in a bad position? Correct it.”
I run over these options while I check the fetal heart rate, then look at my watch again. Where is Daisy? I hope she understands the importance of bringing the midwife’s message back as fast as she can.
To fill the time, I do something I’ve never done before. I brush Livia’s dark hair between contractions. She lets out her breath and sinks back on the pillows.
“Thank you, Miss Becky. Why is it you have to go through labor to be treated like a queen?”
“You are a queen. I’ve never met a woman who was so brave.”
“I’m scared. All I can do is pray. My body is one solid prayer for my baby.” She starts to contract again just as a horse with two riders gallops up to the house.
“Did you get her on the phone?” I meet Daisy on the porch, impatient to hear.
“I talked to the vet, who ran upstairs and talked to his wife, then came back with her message. The midwife says, ‘If you can’t shift the baby, shift the woman.’ ”
“If you can’t shift the baby, shift the woman.” The girl takes a few more deep breaths and looks right at me. “That’s what her husband reported. He said those are her exact words, ‘If you can’t shift the baby, shift the woman.’ ”
“That’s all? That’s all she said?” I reenter the house, shaking my head. Outside the window, a few snowflakes drift down.
“Shift the woman!” Grandma repeats with a toothy grin. “You know. Shake her up. Get her moving.”
The Power of Snowflakes
I decide to trust Patience.
“Livia.” I kneel down by the bed. “How are you holding up?”
“I can’t do this much longer.”
“Well, you aren’t going to have to. The midwife sent word that we must get you moving. We’ll try different positions, and if that doesn’t bring the baby, we’ll head to the hospital in Torrington.” There’s a hush in the room.
“Oh, no! We can’t go there.” Livia begins to cry. “You don’t know what it’s like. The colored hospital is down in the basement. Old people go there to die, but only if they have no kin. I can’t go there! I won’t. I’d rather die here, where people care about me.”
I am struck dumb by Livia’s words. No one is going to die! Not if I have anything to say about it.
The first thing we try is walking. I thought this might be too uncomfortable, with the top of the baby’s head sticking out, but strangely it’s not. When Livia gets up, she actually feels better and she tells us her back pain is gone. I have her push standing, with my hands positioned under the baby’s head. We try squatting. We try hands and knees. Still no change.
Outside it’s getting dark and has begun to snow hard, big wet flakes that slash against the house and cover the west side of the trees. From far away there’s the sound of a vehicle gunning through the thick white.
Daisy lights a kerosene lantern, sticks her head out the bedroom door, and says something to the people who’ve just arrived, but I pick up only a few sentences. “She wants to take her to the colored ward in Torrington. You have to make her understand, that just isn’t going to happen.”
I shake my head, let out a long sigh, and keep going. A few minutes later the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer come through the wall. (I’d told Daisy to tell the preacher that a few prayers couldn’t hurt. They must have formed a vigil.) Then both male and female voices break out with, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” a strange choice I think to serenade a woman in labor, but it actually gives us strength.
“Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus, going on before.”
Livia’s face and whole beautiful brown pregnant body are now slick with sweat as she pushes and pushes with no results. The rest of the women are working hard too, so I open the bedroom window a few inches to cool us.
“Oh, can you smell it? Can you smell the snow?” Livia exclaims turning her head toward the fresh air. “I want to go outside!” She looks around for her slippers and Daisy finds them for her as if this was the most natural thing in the world, but I’m horrified.
“Oh, I don’t think so! The snow is really coming down.”
“I know. That’s why I want to go out there. I need to feel it on my skin, on my arms and face. I need to feel something different than the pain between my legs.”
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