Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chapter 1 - A Boy for a Midwife!

March 1943

Shirley braced herself against the walls of the stall in the girl’s bathroom. She sucked in her breath between clinched teeth and held it. She let it out with staccato gusts of panting. Her face twisted. She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled her lips tight. Pain blasted her in waves. What did a twelve-year-old know about having babies?

In the sixth grade classroom a little blond whispered to her teacher, “Miz Hamilton, Shirley’s sick.”

Mrs. Hamilton looked around the room. “Where is she?” She hadn’t noticed that one of her thirty-seven students was missing.

“She’s in the bathroom.”

Frances, Shirley’s younger sister, stood outside the stall holding the door open.

“Shirley,” Mrs. Hamilton said, “what’s wrong?”

“My stomach hurts real bad, ma’am,” she said leaning her head over on the wall of the stall. Shirley had always been a big boned, chunky girl. She’d never had a period in her life, and of course she didn’t have a clue how it felt to be pregnant. When her baby moved, she thought it was gas. And when her labor started, she thought it was a stomachache.

Shirley played down at the stone mill on Bristle Creek everyday with fifteen-year-old Edgar Taylor. They’d walked home from school together since the first grade. She screwed up her face again as another pain crashed into her. Mrs. Hamilton touched Shirley’s belly. It was rock hard.

“Go get Solomon,” Mrs. Hamilton said, “and hurry!”

Through grunts and groans Shirley said, “No, please don’t!” She thought, I’ll die if he sees me on the pot like this. All the girls in the sixth grade had a crush on Solomon. Just seeing him in the hallway was cause for giggling outbursts. And if for some reason he spoke to them, they’d brag on it all day. His Greek-god look was the reason he’d been voted Most Handsome in the school and Prom King too. Dear God, don’t let him see me like this.

Frances burst into Mr. Allen’s room. Mr. Allen had grades nine, ten, and eleven. It was study break, and Solomon was kicked back in a chair by the windows reading his history book. His chair was balanced on two back legs as he tapped or pulled on the desk in front of him to keep a perfect balance. Frances gasped for breath, “Mr. Allen…we need Solomon…in the girl’s bathroom!” Her frantic eyes searched the room for him.

Solomon pulled his chair into an upright position and paused for a second. When he sensed panic in others, his mind kicked into calmness. He stood up and all six feet of his lanky frame moved towards the door. Frances took off running for the bathroom. Solomon trotted to keep up with her. Mr. Allen followed Solomon, and the rest of the class watched with heads peeking out the classroom door.

They snickered and speculated that some girl had probably fainted. They knew that Solomon helped his grandmother with her midwifery. A girl could ask him questions about female stuff, and she could tell him things like when she had cramps. He didn’t mind hearing that kind a stuff. He even looked like he cared.

Mrs. Hamilton grabbed Solomon’s arm. “I think Shirley’s in labor,” she whispered.

Solomon, in a manner of speaking, wore two hats. He was a sixteen-year-old boy, but right now he was a midwife. And there could be no doubt that he was in charge. He squatted down in front of Shirley and put his hands on her knees. “What’s going on, hon?” He ran his fingers through his hair to brush the curls off his forehead.

“I don’t know. I got a bad stomachache,” she answered. He was already pulling her panties off over her boots. They’d been down around her ankles.

Shirley’s face turned blood red as she put her hands on the walls of the stall pushing them away from her. They swayed outward. She was a strong girl. “Uurrgghh,” she strained.

Solomon felt of her belly. It was solid. Her abdominal muscles had clamped down on her in a cramp from hell. “Shirley, don’t push! Pant for me.” He pursed his lips and panted to show her what he wanted.

“I…can’t…help…it,” she grunted as she strained. She hurt too bad to pay attention to him. She pushed harder, “UURRGGHH!” Her grunts were punctuated at the end by a rush of air from her throat.

He waited for the pain to ease up, and then he said, “Shirley, walk with me to the cot.” The school kept a cot in the girl’s bathroom and first aid supplies in a cabinet.

“I can’t,” she whined.

“Yes, you can,” he told her. He put his arms around her and pulled her up to a standing position. I’d rather catch the baby on the way to the cot than fish it out of the toilet, he thought.

“Oh no, please no! I have to go to the bathroom!” She complained, but she cooperated. She dropped into a fetal position on the cot and buried her face in her hands.

Solomon knelt beside her and said, “Shirley, do you know what’s happening?”

She shook her head, no.

“You’re having a baby.” His eyes scanned her face as he moved the hair off her forehead with his fingertip.

She looked at him with wide unbelieving eyes. “No, please don’t say that!”

“You’re going be fine,” he said wiping her wet forehead. “Roll over for me, hon,” he said as he rolled her on her back so he could palpate her abdomen. He was feeling for the baby’s position.

“But I can’t be pregnant,” she said, “honest.”

Mr. Allen leaned over to Mrs. Hamilton and whispered, “Yeah, right.”

Solomon cut his eyes at his teachers and glared. “Mr. Allen,” he said, “go get Ma Patsy.”

“Okay,” he said hurriedly leaving the bathroom. He was ashamed of his comment.

Solomon touched Shirley’s knee. “Hon, I need to look,” he said.

“At what?” she asked. “Please don’t hurt me!”

Mrs. Hamilton said, “Just let Solomon look, Shirley.”

Solomon took off Shirley’s boots. He put the bottoms of her feet together, which spread her legs like a lab frog. The saggy cot swayed under her bottom so he picked up the leg closest to him and pushed her knee up towards her belly. A three-inch-wide circle of baby’s head glistened at the entrance to her vagina.

Solomon looked up at Mrs. Hamilton. “She’s crowning, and her water’s broken,” he said as he stood up and pulled the cot away from the wall. Urgency was in his voice and his movements.

“Raise your hips, Shirley, before you have another pain,” he said stuffing a pillow under her bottom. He grabbed an armful of towels and sheets out of the first aid cabinet and spread a sheet over her. He hurriedly washed his hands and wished for a pair of gloves. I’ll have to do this barehanded, he thought shaking his head.

Shirley began a high-pitched squeal building up to her next contraction. “Please help me!” she cried.

Solomon straddled the bottom of the cot and pushed the sheet out of his way. The pillow had raised Shirley’s hips up high enough that he could see now. “Put your hands behind your knees, Shirley,” he said, “and pull your legs up against your belly. I want you to push like you have to go poop.”

He barely had the words out of his mouth when she began pushing. Her bottom swelled out with the baby’s head. “You’re doing good, Shirley,” he said, “push and hold it while I count to ten.” There was less than thirty seconds between her pains now. “That’s right, push and one…two…three… keep pushing, four…five…six, quick breath and hold and push, seven…eight…nine… and ten.”

He put his palm against the baby’s head to control its movement. Then he inserted the tip of his index finger between the baby’s head and Shirley. He ran his fingertip round and round gently stretching the vaginal opening so it wouldn’t tear. He massaged her perineum which had blanched white from the pressure of the baby’s head. Her abdomen bowed up with another contraction. “Push, Shirley,” he said, “you’re almost there, hon. Push your little boy out.”

Mrs. Hamilton smiled. She’d never known Solomon’s predictions about a baby’s gender to be wrong.

Shirley curled over her abdomen and pushed with all her strength, “UUURRRGGGHHH!” A fat little head with curly dark hair popped out.

“Good job, Shirley. Stop pushing,” he said quickly.

Shirley relaxed back onto her pillow. Her little sister, Frances, squealed with delight. She’d never seen a baby being born.

Solomon held onto the baby’s head as it turned sideways. I wish I had a suction bulb, he thought. In one smooth motion, he swiped his index finger through the baby’s mouth. He slid two fingers under the cord and slipped it over the baby’s head. Then he carefully pushed the head downward. He stuck the same fingers inside Shirley feeling for the baby’s armpit. When he found it, he rotated it counterclockwise. A shoulder popped out, and immediately the rest of the baby spilled out.

“You did perfect, Shirley.” The infant lay on Solomon’s forearm while he wiped it briskly with a towel. It let out a healthy howl. “I’m proud of you,” he said placing the baby on her belly.

Mrs. Hamilton echoed, “Yes, you did great, Shirley! Solomon, you did great too!”

“Thanks,” he said with a little blush as he got up to wash his hands and forearms. The pulsating umbilical cord still hung out of Shirley. Drying his hands and arms, he eyed it and decided that it was long enough to let her nurse her baby. He knew that would help deliver the placenta.

The baby’s mouth made contact and closed around Shirley’s nipple. With the eagerness of a newborn, it buried its face in her breast. The audible swallows thrilled Shirley. She was the picture of maternal love.

There had been very little bleeding during Shirley’s delivery and within a few minutes, the cord had quit pulsating. Solomon looped a finger around it and gently pulled. It suddenly lengthened and a gush of blood flowed out as the placenta released from the uterine wall. He looked up at Shirley, “Give me one more push, hon.”

She pushed, and the placenta tumbled out of her. He caught it with towel.

Solomon bent over Shirley and the baby boy sleeping on her belly. His hair hung down in his face now. He blew a puff of air at the curl tickling his eyelashes. It fluttered up and fell down again. He pushed it back with the forearm of the hand that held the scissors.

Shirley gasped, “What you gonna do with those?”

“It won’t hurt,” he said turning the baby on its side. He tied off the umbilical cord a few inches from the baby with a strip of gauze, and then he tied a second one closer to the placenta. He cut between them and laid the placenta on a cafeteria tray. He spread it out to make sure it had come away intact.

Frances grimaced and said, “Yuck, don’t send that tray back to the kitchen.”

Mr. Allen stuck his head into the bathroom. “Ma Patsy said she could be here in an hour,” he said.

Solomon smiled and nodded.

Copyright © 2008 by Robbin Renee Bridges
Coping with Grief through Afterlife Communication

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