11 months ago


Selected Writings & Artwork by Harriett Copeland Lillard

Rocks in my Laundry

Rocks in my Laundry Basket - Birthing the Babies Why are delivery rooms so cold? Why, when one is about to be subjected to the grossest indignities, can’t it be done in a warm room, painted some other color than “hospital green”? And those unyieldingly bright surgical lights, instead of producing warmth, look like the hard, cold eye of a giant Cyclops. All of those masks – why don’t they take them off? I know all of those people behind them; I see them every day in the grocery store, at the post office, but now I feel surrounded by a congregation of bank robbers. I feel myself shaking uncontrollably and can do nothing to stop it. Yes, I am afraid – desperately afraid, for millions of women have died in this same desperate agony. Afraid and cold. Afraid, too, for the unborn child – what if something should be wrong with it? Would I be strong enough to handle that? I’m afraid because I am alone with the pain – no one, no matter how loving, can cross that chasm of agony. I feel like a disembodied spirit, observing the scene, yet participating in it. My hands move vaguely over my chest until someone remembers to tell me to grab the handles. The table is hard and unyielding – no place of comfort, simply a business arrangement to make it easier for the doctor. My legs are grabbed unceremoniously and placed high up in the stirrups. I can’t suppress a giggle when I wonder if my feet are clean and my legs shaven. No matter, they are quickly covered by long green sleeves. My behind is pulled down to the very end of the table. I am wrapped, strapped, and trussed for the job – I feel like a turkey on a platter. Another giggle escapes. The thought occurs to me that my ancestors thousands of years ago squatted alone in the fields or in some miserable hut to give birth, and that I am but another link in that chain of maternal humanity which stretches back to the dawn of creation – mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s, and so on, backwards infinitely in time. Again I feel myself a part of the cosmic scheme of things, I am at the crux of life and death, close to both, suspended in time and space, caught by pain. I am cold, afraid and alone, trembling with an electrical apprehension. Why can’t I stop shaking? Why is it so damn cold in here? I hear myself say that, did I say that? Somebody chuckles and throws a flannel sheet over my body. I hear the doctor’s gloves snap as he pulls them on. Nurses fiddle with dials and valves somewhere around my head and the tank of gas rolls into my view. I hate the sight of that black mask and I swear to myself I’ll put it off as long as possible. All of this has happened within a period of about 2 minutes – from the time I was moved from the anteroom into the delivery room and transferred from the cart to the delivery table. Time is moving in slow motion – the second hand on the delivery room clock drags itself from one number to the next. Yet, I hear the urgency in the voices of those around me – things are beginning to move into the final stage. I sense a change in my body – it has become a thing apart from me, a machine of great power and strength, gathering itself into a hard tight fist of solid muscle. I know what is coming, and I wonder if I’ll be able to get through it with dignity. Dignity! What a ridiculous word under these circumstances! Thoughts from childhood lectures on being a lady pop up – “It’s not what you do, but how you do it that matters,” and “Always conduct yourself like a lady.” Another giggle! I hope Mother will be proud of me – I can scream like a lady! 53

Rocks in my Laundry Basket - Birthing the Babies It comes with a great rush of power and pain. That hard knot of muscle stretches out and down with unbelievable force. I can sense the baby’s frantic struggle to escape from me. Suddenly I feel a tremendous love and kinship for the life within me – we are a team; we will get through this and everything that’s to come in life together. The eternal bond is forged. My hands grasp the bars at my side; my legs and hips press down. My strength surprises me. At last mind and body, separated by the surrealism of preceding events, come together again. The feeling of being powerless to control my body gives way to the realization that this is a job which I must help my body to do by concentrating all my mental effort on one thing only. I am in control again. What a relief! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA The pain subsides temporarily, and I gasp for air. Air! How precious it is! Damn those cigarettes. I am ready now for the next onslaught. Fear has disappeared – this is a job to be done quickly and efficiently, an obstacle to overcome with strength and determination. I feel the uterus gathering strength again. I prepare myself. Dr. Conner’s voice gives explicit instructions. I am thankful for the hundreds of births he has attended for the life and death he has seen, for his jokes between pains, for his merry eyes behind the mask. As the baby makes another head-long rush towards light and air and the freedom of a perilous future, I surprise myself by saying, “Damn Adam and Eve!” I hear everyone laughing as the pain descends. Not cold now; nothing but hot sweat and work and pain. It surprises me that I haven’t burst out of all this rigging with my ferocious pushing and shoving. The uterus stops resting between pains and becomes one continuous contraction. I lose my concentration for a second when I wonder vaguely, “Where the hell is Paul? How could a cow with mastitis be more important than this?” I feel a small twinge of resentment towards both the cow and him. I am rewarded by Dr. Connor yelling, “Keep your butt down on the table!” One more desperate push – to show everyone I am tending to business – and I feel the head “pop” like a cork from my body, next the shoulders move through the canal easily, and then the rest of the body follows with a sudden, great rush of fluids, as if someone had up-ended a bucket of water. Excitement is palpable in the room. Someone shouts, “It’s a boy!” And then the breathless hush before the first cry. A large, cumulative sigh issues forth like a spring breeze from the witnesses of this miracle – new life protesting! My question – eternal, maternal first question, “Is everything all right?” – is answered with, “He seems to have all his equipment in the right place!” I was awash with relief, love, and delight. I had produced an heir, a prince, a new bearer of the family honor into future generations. In the terms of past generations, I had done my duty! … Early that same morning, Paul had gone to pull a calf – the month of May being calving season for all species, humans included. Sylvia, the woman who had helped us move two days before and was going to help out for a few days, arrived about 8:30. I arose with a strangely uneasy feeling. The 54