Staincliffe turns part Marge Piercy, part Rosamunde Pilcher a captivating story filled with tears, tragedy, humour, and happiness -- Booklist
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She felt like laughing at the reprimand. Dignity? How could this ever be dignified. Lying here with her legs apart and everything leaking and shed even dirtied the bed. She had been mortified, the smell alerting her to what shed done. She felt nothing beyond the fist of pain that kept squeezing at her, pulling at her insides, sticking its nails like knives into her spine and bruising her bowels. Making her scream to her God, to her mother. Why have you abandoned me?
The baby inched a little further down the birth canal with the next contraction. One fist was pressed between shoulder and ear, the other tucked under the chin. The ripples of muscle shifted the baby, twisting it a little, squeezing the head, which was cone-shaped from the pressure and from the last couple of weeks spent lodged tight in the cup of bones. As it moved forward the plates of the babys skull slid together, reducing the circumference. The baby could still hear the familiar drumbeat that had marked its time in the womb and feel the vibrations that rocked its world. Though the sloshing and roaring of the placenta was more distant now and there were new sounds, fast and high-pitched, that quickened the babys heartbeat.
Give a good push, the nurse said. Push from your bottom.
She didnt want to push. She wanted to die instead. To be anywhere or nowhere. Not to be here. If she pushed she would split wide open, bleed to death. Shed rather die before the push than after it. Spare herself more agony. The ring of pain sickened her and she tried to swallow.
No, she managed.
The nurse tutted at her loudly, cast a look of contempt.
It hurts, she whimpered. Wanting her mother, wanting a cuddle, someone to gather her close and make it all better.
You should have thought of that, shouldnt you? The nurse snapped. Ive other girls to see to. I cant spend all night with you. The baby wont be born by itself youll have to push.
She lay back as the contraction faded, weak, her limbs trembling, eyes closed.
Ill be back in a few minutes. Youre not the only one having a baby, you know. All that fuss.
She heard the door close. Gave in to sudden hot tears.
It came again, before she was ready faster, wilder. She made the noise in her throat, shifted her knees a little further apart, gripped the sheet and wound it tight in her hands. Stretching wider, feeling her mouth stretching too to let the howling out. Feeling the hard, round, solid lump forced through her vagina, gristle against gristle, bone on bone. A stabbing, stinging pain in the midst of it all.
As the babys head was born, the upper torso swiveled so that one shoulder presented itself for the next push.
She lowered her head to rest between her arms on the bed. She gazed back but could not see anything beyond the swell of her belly and behind that her knees. Summoning all her strength she pushed herself back up, kneeled higher, steadying herself with one arm she reached back between her legs with the other hand. She felt a thrill of shock as she felt the hot, slippery hair of the babys head, the scalp loose and wrinkled under her fingers.
Oh God, she gasped. Oh, God.
The next contraction rolled in. She shuffled forward before it built, and clutched at the metal bed frame for leverage. Pushing it to counteract the force. She felt the new friction of the mass forcing its way from her, stretching her body, bursting her open.
The roar she made grew louder and culminated in a gasp as the weight slithered from her with a sucking sound. She knelt, her muscles twitching with spasms, and looked beneath the bridge of her body to where the baby lay. A coil of life, shock of black hair, red skin streaked white, as though it had been dipped in dripping, eyes, nose, mouth. One fist tucked under an ear, as if it was considering something. The other fist moving, waving to and fro. Long, curving cord like something from the abattoir, snaking from its belly.
She looked at the baby.
The baby looked back.
The door swung open.
Lie down, barked the nurse, youll fall, you silly . . . She faltered as she neared the bed and saw the infant. You could have crushed it, she scolded. What on earth were you thinking of? Turn this way, carefully. She issued instructions until the woman was lying on her back again. She raised the baby and slapped it on the bottom. A thin wail cut the air. The woman wanted to cry too. The nurse proceeded to cut and clamp the umbilical cord, wipe the mucus from the babys face and wrap the baby in a cloth.
A second nurse came in. A younger one, who had been more sympathetic when she had been admitted. She looked at the baby. A girl, she observed. Bless her. Have you got a name?
Shes for adoption, the other interrupted.
Can I see her? the mother asked.
Youre not finished yet. Youve still to deliver the afterbirth. Then youll need examining and see if theres any stitches required. You probably tore yourself leaping around on the bed like that. Youll need cleaning up and Baby needs to be checked and weighed. Sister will take her to the nursery.
I have a shawl, she said, hating the tears in her voice.
Ill take it with her, shall I? The younger nurse offered. The simple kindness robbed her of speech. She nodded quickly.
A ring of grief swelling in her throat, choking her. Theresa, she thought, remembering the black pools of the babys eyes. Thats her name, Theresa . . .