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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.
Joy, poems by story by Lauren Roche.
They give her a room down the end, around the corner, away from the noise.
They cover the machines, let her two pre-schoolers play near the foot of the bed, one scribbling with thick, broken crayons.
‘Why do I have to? What’s the bloody point?’
Her husband holds her hand.
He looks across at their kids, making sure they have no direct view of what she’d laughingly called ‘the pointy end’ just two days ago.
‘Keep them up by my face or occupied with something. Seeing the pointy end might scar them for life.’
He’d stroked her breast, her enormous belly. Felt the life tremble within.
Both her sons were quieter in the last couple of days before they were born; heads down, ready to launch, no room for acrobatics.
The midwife stoops low, her eyes fixed on the mother’s.
‘You’ve got to push now. Be brave, it will soon be over.’
‘I don’t want it to be over.’
‘Do you want gas?’
‘No. I want a baby.’
‘Let’s support your feet, give you something to push against.’
The midwife and husband each support a thigh, rest her feet against their shoulders, opening the pelvic outlet and giving her leverage.
She’d had the usual scans, counted baby’s fingers and toes and the four pumping chambers of her heart, and the length and integrity of her spine, and thickness of her neck. They’d seen her perfect little face, printed off the photo the hospital gave them, used it as a screen saver. So precious, two boys and now this little petal, a gift from heaven, this completeness of a child.
Completeness, complete mess.
How the stroke of a key makes a difference.
With a roar she pushes, then another; a roar with guts and heart and fury and pain and grief entwined. The guttural sound that women only make when producing children and burying them.
A roar from her lungs and throat and the soles of her feet.
‘Good job,’ says the midwife, ‘relax until the next one.’
‘Oooh naughty mummy do poos in the bed.’
The two-year-old has wandered away from his toy, is sucking his thumb, staring at her battleground, her splayed legs, the pointy end.
uff, puff, pant.
The burning stinging stretch.
They lower her legs; the midwife places a clean towel ready for the crowning head.
‘Oh, she’s got hair, lots of dark hair, like her Dad.’
The head is delivered, both children now, watching, open eyed, the youngest begins to blub.
‘Mummy hurt, mummy hurt.’
‘Why the fuck did we bring them?’
The husband kisses her face, tastes the tears.
‘Ssh, Lib, it’s not their fault.’
The midwife slips her gloved finger around the baby’s neck. It’s an habitual action, make sure the cord is not tight, not cutting off breath.
With a final swoosh the baby slips like a selkie from the watery womb into the world.
The father had planned to cut the cord.
The midwife clamps it, offers the scissors.
He shakes his head.
She lifts the newborn; perfect, still, bloodless as a statue, onto a soft white towel. Uses a moist flannel to dab vernix from her face and head–the skin so delicate, it sloughs.
There is a blister on the babe’s bottom lip, and mild webbing of her fingers–too slight to have shown on the scans.
Syndactyly. It’s a family trait, shared with one brother.
The baby is laid upon her mother’s swollen, useless breasts.
The children cuddle near; the older one wonders aloud whether they can still play with their sister as promised. His wee brother talks about buying batteries to make the baby move.
The parents rest their exhausted heads together as the midwife delivers the placenta. There are seven little tears in her skin, but they need no stitches. She places a thick pad between the mother’s legs.
‘I am so sorry this happened to you,’ she says. ‘There was nothing, nothing that could have predicted it. You did nothing wrong.’
They take turns holding her, perfect, cooling. The boys get a cuddle too, the flash on the phone dazzling on her waxen skin.
Baby’s hand and foot prints are taken, pressed onto a card for them to take home. Placental blood is drawn into a large syringe to check for causes, but the midwife has seen the culprit, a large clot between the uterine wall and placenta.
An abruption, interrupting the blood supply between mother and babe.
One of those tragic things that happen sometimes.
The boys, bored, have gone back to their colouring book and toy truck.
‘Mummy sad,’ says the little one.
‘I hope we still get a Happy Meal on the way home,’ says the bigger one.
‘I’ll try my mother, again,’ the husband says suddenly. ‘We don’t need them all turning up. I’ll call her. She might take the boys home, settle them, tidy up a bit.’
How Life and Death mock our ideas. The mother should pass before the daughter, the father before the son. This was meant to be their room of rejoicing, but this morning, when she arrived with pains, the trace was flat.
There was no sign of life, not a flicker, not the tiniest bit.
It feels like that is how their lives will forever be.
Fetal, fatal, womb, tomb.
Completeness, complete mess.
They’d called her Joy.
© Lauren Roche
I am 61, and the author of Bent Not Broken, Life on the Line, and Mila and the Bone Man. In 2019, following a debilitating spinal cord injury, I retired as a medical doctor. I am a graduate of AUT’s Masters of Creative Writing program.