Friday, October 10, 2008

Chapter 20 - Why They Call It Labor

September 17, 1948

Monday morning at eight-fifty, Becky pulled her convertible up in the yard and parked it behind Solomon’s truck. He walked out on the front porch. “Morning,” he said smiling.

“Good morning, Solomon,” she responded soberly. In contrast to her distraught behavior on the mountain two days ago, Becky’s manner communicated aloofness and self-restraint. Her formal attire attested to her reserve. She wore a prim, navy blue suit over a lacy white blouse. Nylons with navy pumps, a matching handbag, and navy leather gloves completed her ensemble. Becky had studied the subtle nuances that clothing revealed about a woman, and her planning was meticulous.

Solomon held open the front door, “Come on in,” he said cheerfully.

"Thank you,” Becky said as she strolled into the living room looking around. It was a warm and comfortable room. The furniture was overstuffed with crocheted antimacassars draped over the backs. Victorian tables with ornate lamps, doilies, and doodads separated the chairs. A large fern commanded one whole corner of the room. Lacy curtains covered the windows leaving delicate patterns of light around the room. An oriental carpet covered most of the hardwood floors. A Bible and various magazines lay on a coffee table. The living room was the waiting room.

A very pregnant woman was sitting in a straight-backed chair. Ma Patsy had placed several of those around the room. The overstuffed ones were difficult for a pregnant woman to get out of.

Solomon said, “Hi Nellie, I didn’t know you’d come in already.”

The woman ignored his greeting as she awkwardly stood up and moved across the room. She had one hand on the small of her back with an elbow jutting out to the side. “Hope ye don’t have any plans fer tonight, Solomon. I don’t figer this baby’s gonna make it another day.”

Solomon chuckled, “You think?”

Nellie shuffled over to the examination room. She had on bedroom slippers because her feet were too swollen for her shoes. She opened the door and waddled inside.

Solomon watched her, “Where ya going, Nellie?”

“I got to pee,” she said.

“Wait a minute,” he said as he followed her into the examining room. “Let me give you a cup for a specimen.”

Becky’s face showed an artificial half-smile about the exchange she’d just witnessed.

Solomon grinned awkwardly and motioned Becky to a chair. “Sorry about that,” he said, “you may as well have a seat; I think Nellie beat you to Ma.”

“That’s fine,” Becky said.

Solomon handed her a clipboard. Blue yarn secured a pencil to it. “Ma will want you to fill out this medical history,” he said. He left the room while she filled out the form. He figured she wouldn’t want him hanging over her shoulder for all the personal questions.

She crossed her ankles, which was the proper way for a refined lady to sit. She squirmed uncomfortably as she filled in the blanks and checked boxes where applicable. The fact that the handsome young man would have access to her personal information was particularly worrisome to her. The date of her last menstrual period was something she didn’t even discuss with her mother.

When she finished, Solomon went into the waiting room to sit with her. “I’m sorry about the confusion this morning,” he said. “Ma will have Nellie settled in a few minutes.”

“I understand,” she said as she nervously twisted her leather gloves.

Ma came into the waiting room. “Solomon, would ye go examine Nellie? She says she’s gonna deliver tonight. See what ye think.”

Becky’s mouth hung half open. Nellie and Ma’s casual acceptance of Solomon in this setting confirmed his comfort and experience in obstetrical and gynecological situations. I feel trapped, she thought.

Solomon jumped up, “Ma, I want you the meet Becky Banks. She’s Jerry Banks niece.”

Ma put out her hand to Becky and said, “Land a mercy, ye are a pretty little thing.”

Becky blushed and said, “Thank you.”

Ma’s cherubic face and sparkling blue eyes immediately put her patients at ease. Ringlets of curly salt and pepper hair framed her forehead and her rosy cheeks. She wore a simple calico dress that fell in an A-line over her hips. She was a petite woman. She weighed a smidgen over a hundred pounds. It was impossible to be in her presence and not smile. Now Becky understood why Solomon was so kind. He was raised with kindness.

Ma sat down beside Becky and scanned the questionnaire. Becky wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about her family’s medical history. Ma knew that usually meant they were pretty healthy. Sickly families knew about disease and medical tests.

Ma stood up and said, “Come on in here with me, hon.” She opened the door to the examining room to find Nellie lying on the exam table with her feet in stirrups. Solomon looked up from his position on the stool between Nellie’s legs. Oh no, Ma, don’t bring Becky in here right now, he thought. He looked frustrated as he worked to clean up a mess. “Nellie’s water broke as soon as she got on the table. It’s all over me.” His medium blue shirt had dark blue wet splotches down the front.

Becky was shocked beyond words. She’d never seen anything like this. She couldn’t have been more embarrassed if she’d interrupted a man in bed with a woman.

Nellie twisted her head around to see Ma Patsy. With a snaggle-toothed smile, she laughed and snorted, “Ma Patsy, my water’s broke.”

Nellie was mentally impaired, but not so much that she wasn’t able to function as a wife and mother. She had three kids already, and she was only nineteen years old. She’d lost her front teeth in a motorcycle accident. She could best be described as jovial. Solomon remembered what Sarah had said about the purity of the souls of people with mental impairment. He knew that this relatively hard to control, extremely excitable woman had a highly developed soul that was already functioning in the afterlife.

Solomon pushed a towel over the floor with his foot to wipe up the puddle of amniotic fluid. He could see Becky’s distress, but he couldn’t do anything about it right now. He stood up between Nellie’s legs and did a bimanual exam. “She’s completely effaced,” he said to Ma, “and she’s dilated six centimeters.”

Becky was flabbergasted by the sight of Solomon’s fingers buried inside the woman. She couldn’t fathom that this cute twenty-one year old guy she’d climbed the mountain with…well, she just couldn’t believe what he was doing. Feelings of respect for his knowledge and discomfort in her prudish modesty created a paradoxical predicament for her.

Ma Patsy said, “Land a mercy, Nellie. Ye’re gonna have this baby before suppertime.”

Nellie laughed like a banshee. She kicked one leg up slinging her bedroom slipper. Solomon dodged it as it flew past his head. “Nellie, please calm down,” he said putting her foot back into the stirrup of Ma’s new exam table. After Dr. Wall died, Solomon had moved this exam table into Ma’s office. It was a spare just sitting in the storage room at the clinic, and it was much more serviceable than the one that Pa Shiver had made for Ma.

Becky stood beside Ma’s desk with her hands on her chest. She had a look of horrified fascination. Ma was at the sink behind her desk preparing a warm water and soapsuds enema for Nellie. Becky watched her but didn’t have a clue what was happening. Ma turned and said, “Solomon, it’s ready.”

Oh God, I need to get Becky out of here, he thought. But it was too late. Ma was already positioned over Nellie waiting on him to help.

“Okay, Nellie, turn over for me,” Ma said.

Nellie started to climb off the table. “No, no, not that way Nellie,” Solomon said stopping her, “just roll over on your side,” he said. He loosely held her top knee up to her chest. He wasn’t restraining her, just encouraging her to maintain the position. He spoke softly to her, “Calm down, Nellie. Just relax, Nellie. You’re okay, Nellie.”

Ma Patsy inserted the nozzle into Nellie. She bucked slightly, but then she relaxed with Solomon’s coaching. “I got to do number two,” Nellie said.

“It’s almost over, Nellie,” Solomon said as he eyed the bag.

When Ma finished, Solomon turned Nellie loose. She used him as leverage to get herself off the table. She padded over to the bathroom in one slipper.

Solomon looked sheepishly at Becky as he pulled his shirt away from his chest with two fingers. He said, “I need to clean up. I’ll be right back.” Looking back at her, he added, “I’ll hurry.” He was back downstairs in two minutes wearing a white surgical smock. It wrapped in the back and tied in the front. He cringed as he overheard Ma encouraging Becky to stay for Nellie’s delivery.

“Have ye ever seen a baby being born?” Ma asked her.

She quickly shook her head, no.

“Ye can watch if you want,” Ma said pulling supplies out of a cabinet. “Nellie won’t care.”

Becky had a bewildered look on her face. Her mouth was slightly open and pouty. “I...I might watch,” she said hesitantly as her eyes darted around the room.

Solomon said to Becky, “This might not be anything you want to watch. Nellie’s delivery won’t be typical at all.” He tried to discourage her from staying. “Nellie prefers to deliver in the knee-chest position. Ma and I try to accommodate a mother’s preference. The lithotomy position with feet in stirrups is popular in the hospitals because it’s the most convenient position for the doctor, but it doesn’t really facilitate labor and delivery. Actually, the best position is a squatting position.” Solomon stopped talking when he realized that his anxiety was showing in his wordiness.

Becky nodded politely. That is really more than I care to know, she thought. She still had her handbag over her arm and her gloves in one hand.

My son’s gone ga-ga over this pretty gal, Ma thought. “Becky, ye can put yer handbag and gloves over on my desk if ye want to stay,” she said.

“Uh, I’ll just hold on to them. I’m not sure I should stay. Even the smell in here makes me feel queasy.”

Solomon looked up from the instrument tray he was organizing at the foot of the cot. “Yeah, this probably isn’t a good idea for today,” he said.

Land a mercy, son, git a grip, Ma thought as she got two hospital gowns out of a cabinet and knocked on the bathroom door. “Nellie, it’s Ma Patsy.” She opened the door and closed it behind her. She shouted through the door, “Solomon, Nellie’s in labor.”

“Okay,” he answered. Becky had taken a seat in the patient’s chair at Ma’s desk. Solomon looked concerned as he asked her, “Are you sure about this?

“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Did you deliver Nellie’s other babies?”

“I delivered the last two,” he said. “Nellie’s hard for Ma to handle. She weighs a hundred pounds more than Ma does, and she has her own special way of birthing her babies.

Nellie came out of the bathroom with the two hospital gowns on. One opened in the back, and the other opened in the front. She walked for a few minutes, and then she squatted down and bounced for a few seconds. Solomon said, “Nellie knows the drill.” He turned to Becky and explained, “She’s helping her baby move down into the birth canal.”

Every few minutes Nellie would stop walking and pant holding the underside of her distended belly. Between contractions Solomon occasionally put his hand in the small of Nellie’s back as he palpated her abdomen with his other hand. Sometimes he’d put his stethoscope to her abdomen to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. “You’re doing great, Nellie.” During one stop, Solomon motioned to Becky. “Come feel this,” he said.

She looked like she was afraid to touch Nellie so Solomon covered her hand with his. Becky’s mouth dropped open. “Good heavens! It’s so hard,” she said.

Eventually, Solomon said to Nellie, “Come over to your cot so I can examine you, hon.”

She waddled over to the cot and climbed on it on her hands and knees. Solomon pulled on a rubber glove as Nellie rocked back and forth. “Wait a minute, Nellie,” he said pushing her gown up over her buttocks. Putting one hand on the small of her back, he inserted two fingers into her vagina. He closed his eyes to concentrate on what he was feeling. “You’re ready to start pushing, Nellie.”

“I know, she said.

“It’s time for you to get out of these gowns,” he said helping her stand up on her knees. “They’d just be in the way now.” He untied the bow at the back of her neck, and Ma got the one in the front. Nellie dropped her arms and the gowns fell off. Ma scooped them up. Nellie didn’t know the meaning of modesty. Everything Nellie had was out there in plain sight. Nobody cared but Becky, who turned her head, but not quickly enough to miss the sight.

Nellie dropped back to her hands and knees and began rocking. “You can push, hon,” Solomon reminded her.

“I know,” she said.

During contractions, Nellie stayed on her hands and knees and rocked and pushed. Between them she’d drop her hips down and sink back on her heels. That’s when Solomon massaged the muscles across the small of her back and around the sides of her hips. “You’re doing so good, Nellie,” he encouraged. “You’re almost there.”

Becky watched in amazement.

Solomon said to Becky, “Now you see why they call it labor.”

Becky took a deep breath and nodded.

After a while, Ma Patsy motioned for Becky to come and stand beside her. Solomon was too busy to notice. Nellie was in hard labor now. The only sounds she made were guttural groans and grunts.

Nellie’s perineum bulged with a little bald-headed baby. Her rectum looked like it was turning inside out. Solomon kept a hand over the baby’s head to control its exit. With a fingertip he circled the vaginal entrance helping it to stretch over the baby’s head.

Ma whispered to Becky, “He’s doing that so she doesn’t tear. If the skin gits stretched too tight, he’ll cut it. It’s called an episiotomy. A cut with stitches is better than a ragged tear.”

Becky had seen all she could bear. A wave of nausea rose up in her throat, and she began to salivate. She ran for the bathroom.

Over Nellie’s groans, Solomon could hear Becky retching and gagging. When she came out of the bathroom, she walked straight for the front porch without looking up. She breathed a sigh of relief when she got outside. The smells and sounds of labor and delivery were overwhelmingly offensive to her. And God forbid that she should ever again have to see anything like her last sight of Nellie’s behind! It was unspeakable!

After delivering a healthy baby girl, Solomon was in a bind for time. It was way past one o’clock…about two hours past it. He could imagine a waiting room full of patients at the clinic. He said to Ma, “I’ve got to get a bath. I’m sticky with amniotic fluid.” He left the room and immediately came back. “I feel terrible about upsetting Becky.”

Ma said, “Ye had to focus on Nellie and her baby. Don’t expect so much out of yerself.”

“I know, but she’s a sensitive girl.”

“Yes,” Ma said, “she’s a sensitive girl, and she’s had a rude awakening about what’s in store for her.”

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

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