I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or throw a hissy fit. I must have wasted a good five or ten minutes just standing there leaning on the mantel asking the Good Lord above what I could possibly have done to have such wretched luck in my life. Then I reversed course and realized that God had blessed the heck out of me and every once in a while you simply had to walk through the fire to get to the next blessing so you’d appreciate it as you should. Being alone when I went into labor wasn’t the end of the world I told myself, but it still smoked fresh cow patties.
I finally opened my eyes and told Lady, “Well, since it isn’t like I have much choice I might as well get to it.”
Where babies and having them are concerned there is just no getting around the gross factor. Both Miz Louise and Granny C had told me living in fantasy land was just plain foolish and solved nothing. There was going to be a mess of bodily fluids of one sort or another to take care of so it was necessary to be prepared for them. I already had a hearth rug to wash; minimizing the rest of the mess I knew was coming was my top priority. Last thing I wanted to have to do was have the baby and five minutes later have to do a load of wash just so I could rest comfortable.
Lucky for me the hearth rug had a thick backing that had kept the wooden floor beneath it from getting wet. I picked it up and took it to the hallway bathroom and hung it over the shower rod. It didn’t smell as bad as wet dog but it didn’t smell fresh as daisies either so I sprayed it with a little disinfectant to keep it from souring before I could get around to cleaning it properly. I changed into a short, loose, cotton gown as well as an old scraggy robe that I belted for a little modesty. I also grabbed the pads and other birthing supplies recommended by the older ladies from the closet where we had stored them and started setting up my old twin bed for the inevitable. Sure, it might have been more traditional to have the baby in the master bedroom but traditional isn’t always practical. If I ruined a mattress I figured it was better that it be a spare one. The twin also was easier to find extra sheets and padding for; and most importantly for me at that moment was that it was easier for me to get in and out of in my condition.
I started a fire in the Franklin stove and set a couple of pots of water to warm. I was fighting nausea worse than I had that morning so I added a bucket and lid and then sat in the rocking chair we had moved in there and which I had also covered with an old quilt and more padding.
I looked around at the room reasonably satisfied. All of the nursery stuff was fixed up thanks to Thor’s patience though we both nearly threw the crib out of the window before we found the old and faded direction for putting it together.
I remember Thor asking, “What in the world? This thing looks more like a cage than a crib.”
Looking at what had been my bed for the first two years of my life I explained, “A regular crib didn’t work with me. I was too big and too strong. I tore two regular cribs up before one of the doctors snuck a hospital crib to my parents.”
“You tore up two cribs?” Thor asked disbelievingly.
“Yep. I could kick the bars out with no problem before I took my first steps. According to Dad I did it because I didn’t like being left out of things and when I was awake I had to be kept an eye on or I got into all sorts of trouble.”
It took me a long time to learn to walk but once I did I drove my parents crazy. They took turns with Mom taking the brunt of it when Dad had to drive the tractor or other farm equipment that I was too little to hold onto while it moved. She kept me safe and always knew just what to say to distract me from the pain that was nearly my constant companion when I was little. A tear rolled down my face. Suddenly I wanted my mom so bad I couldn’t hold it in.
It was two labor pains before I could pull myself back together. There’s no use crying over what you can’t have but I swore I was going to give Thor a little what for if the baby came before he got home. I also decided there was absolutely no way I was going to sit around feeling scared and sorry for myself. Canning was out since I was too worried about lighting the oven up and having a batch going so instead I decided to prep some apples for the cider press.
The stairs were no fun but once I reached the kitchen I was happy to have the distraction after being swamped by another pain that felt like someone was trying to play my spine like an accordion. I attached the apple peeler to the table and grabbed two five-gallon buckets. The peel would fall into the first one. In the second bucket I made a wet solution to prevent the apples from browning from oxidation.
I actually made it through two bushels of apples before I admitted that I was slightly demented. It was no fun cleaning up the kitchen but it was a lot more fun than climbing the stairs while it felt like Junior was banging on the door to be let out with a war hammer. That thought gave me the giggles. I looked at Lady who was following me everywhere as usual and said, “Appropriate don’t ya think?” The dog in turn gave me a look that told me she thought her human was losing it. I pretty much agreed with her. I sat on the top stair and laughed, cried, and groaned all at the same time.
It went that way all night. I did try twice to call on the radio but being able to transmit is only good when someone is on the other end to receive. No one was monitoring at the Heflings or in town and I wasn’t just going to cry out for help to complete strangers.
The pain increased and then ebbed several times until about four in the morning when it was like it changed. Lord have mercy I thought my insides were going to change places with my outsides, but after that a true rhythm began to set in to my labor. I tried to keep hydrated but if I drank anything I wound up spewing it back up when I was in the middle of a bad contraction. Having a contraction and throwing up at the time was too much like torture so I tried a different strategy. I washed my face and slathered my lips with thinned down honey to keep them from splitting open from dryness. I had the shakes pretty bad and I cried a few times wanting Thor home immediately.
I was out of water and I knew that I needed more or I was going to get dehydrated. I crawled down the stairs; there was no way I was able to walk down them. I was in the floor in the kitchen trying to not scream when Lady howled. I knew that call and added my voice to hers. “Thor!!”
No longer was the person at the door quiet. The lock turned and then practically flew off its hinges as it slammed into the wall.
“Rochelle!!” He rushed over and knelt beside me, “What’s wrong?! The baby? Is it the baby?!!”
I turned to him and if looks had physical weight he would have been crushed. I grabbed him by the collar and jerked myself up into his face and growled, “You … are … so … lucky. Had you missed this you have no idea how … upset … I would have been.” My voice sounded like ground up broken glass and the look on Thor’s face would have been priceless had I been in the mood to appreciate it.
Then I heard another voice. “Lawson, Johnson run and get Miz Louise. Carry her if you have to but get her here now! Jimmy Ray can you do something with Lady? I don’t think Miz Louise is gonna appreciate a dog in the middle of the delivery. Thor … Yo, Thor!”
“Man,” Stro chuckled. “Seriously Dude, you need to get her up off the floor and take her upstairs. And don’t look at me for help. Janie sprained my shoulder when she was in labor, I don’t even want to know what Rocky can do.”
I looked at him and he actually ducked and jumped back out of the door. That made Thor laugh and come back to himself. “That’s my Ro-chelle.”
I looked at him and told him, “Seriously? Do you have a death wish? Now is not the time to irritate me.”
“Nope, no death wish. Ro …” He gasped and held me as another pain took me over. I was gasping and panting like I’d been on the bottom of a major dog pile with no pads or helmet and barely registered that he picked me up and rushed up the stairs with me but as soon as he tried to put me down in our bed I redirected him to my old bedroom.
“How long have you been in labor?” he asked as he grabbed a cloth and started wiping my face.
“Yesterday, after you left. It just sort of happened.”
From out in the hall Stro asked, “She OK? Need anything?”
Another pain started to roll over me and I snarked, “Oh no, everything is just hunky dory … you doofus! I hope Tina beats you regular. Now go away and leave me some dignity.”
“Thor?” Stro asked like he hadn’t heard me.
“Eh …” Then after looking around he got up and grabbed one of the empty pots. “Here, get some water from the barrel in the kitchen. It has already been boiled and treated.”
I heard them whispering in the hallway. “I’m not dying you dopes,” I called out. “I know what is gonna happen. I’ve delivered enough farm animals that I’m not surprised here but … oh, oh, oh, oh …” I had to stop and breathe through another pain. “Just go away Stro and keep the boys out. If I’m gonna to lose my religion I’d rather not have anyone else hear it and hold it over my head for the next couple of generations.”
“Sure thing Rocky. And we’ll get the chores done. You just focus on doing what you gotta do.”
Suddenly the quiet left when Stro went downstairs started to feel poisonous. “Distract me.”
“Huh?” Thor asked like he was still trying to figure out what was going on.
“Dee … stract … me.”
“Don’t you need to concentrate or something?”
I looked him dead in the eyes and asked, “If you were trying to pass a large kidney stone with no pain killers would you want to be distracted?”
“Oh. Gotcha. What do you want to talk about ‘cause you really don’t want me to try and dance or sing to you or anything like that.”
I snorted a tired laugh since I knew for a fact that his tunes and buckets never met. “How about what happened last night?”
Thor sighed, “Hon …”
“Not liking being told no right now,” I said in a dangerously sing song tone of voice.
Thor shook his head. “OK Pistol but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” So between pains Thor pieced his night together for me. He went back to where the men had ambushed Stro and his brother. “The trail was easy to find. They dragged their dead for almost a hundred yards before rolling them down a steep ledge. After that it was a little harder but not much. By the time it got dark and I was starting to lose the markers I saw several small fires in the distance. There’s a large camp … couple dozen of them. While I was looking them over that guy Cliff showed up. Confirmed his identity based on my memory and your description, that birthmark is hard to miss even with just firelight.”
He went on to tell me how that while the camp was well armed they didn’t have much training. “They’re just a bunch of hammers looking for nails … but no real brains as far as I could tell from my initial impression.”
“What are you not telling me? And how did you hook up with the boys?”
He snorted, “Those ‘boys’ were doing the same thing I was only from the other side. Strother and I spotted each other and then we hooked up. Sand went back to report and the rest of us came back this way.”
“You still aren’t telling me everything. How do pigs come into this?”
“Oh. You heard.” I heard the hesitation and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like the cause.
Another pain, this one worse than the previous ones interrupted his explanation but he finally said, “Well, your boys were according to Sand ‘het up’ and looking for some pay back. After the camp went to sleep they basically took anything that wasn’t nailed down that they could get away with. The last thing were the pigs they found penned up some yards distant from the camp and …”
“What on earth are you doing boy?!”
That voice caught Thor in mid story. Apparently Granny C had been visiting Miz Louise early in the day since they planned on gathering some herbs and they were both standing there with hands on their hips giving Thor a look that could have melted granite.
“She asked to be distracted!”
“Out. Now. And don’t come back until you are clean. You smell like you’ve been rolling around in a bear den … and look like it too. Is this the way you want to look when your child gets their first look at you? Sakes alive, a man your age ought to have more sense.” Granny C always did know how to manage the male of the species and put them in their place.
The long and the short of it is I labored for several more hours. I heard them murmur a few times but mostly all I could do was deal with the pain I was in. A few times I got up and walked around but my knees kept giving out. The only thing keeping me from kissing the floor was Thor’s own strength.
I must have been getting a little delirious towards the end. I remember hearing Thor ask the ladies if they thought the baby was too big but didn’t hear their response. It was about that time that it felt like I was being split in half. I don’t care how tough you think you are, trying to shoot the proverbial watermelon through a straw will make anybody scream.
I remember being told to push and push and then not push and to hold off and then to push again. There was a huge pressure in my pelvis and then … goosh. Don’t remember a whole lot for a little bit but I knew that something wasn’t quite as it should be. Thor was just holding me and saying something over and over. “It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok.” Finally after longer than it should have been I heard the baby give a weak cry and Granny C brought the baby over and laid her on my chest.
I must have been pretty loopy because I said, “Hey, look, a pink elephant.”
Thor kissed my forehead and said, “Don’t you call our daughter that.”
I complained, “You always get what you want. She’s …” I looked at Granny C and Miz Louise would was apparently stitching me up though I was too numb down there at the time to realize it. “Is … is … she like me? I mean …”
Granny C broke into a smile, “You have yourself a heifer dear but I think she’ll be fine, she’s just tuckered from trying to arrive in this world. Eleven pounds and some if I don’t miss my guess, one of the bigger babies that I’ve delivered but certainly not the biggest. I delivered that Hansel girl’s baby before you were born and it was certainly bigger than yours … but she had gestational diabetes. Let me measure my marks over here and … Lord have mercy, no wonder she looks like a string bean. Twenty-four inches, my lands. And those feet … I doubt those newborn socks are going to fit her at all.”
I croaked, “Poor thing, I think she takes after me.” I did feel sorry for the baby because I could imagine all of the difficulties in front of her.
Thor on the other hand had a completely different take on it as witnessed by his words, “Thank goodness. I’m not sure what I would do if we had one of those small, peanut sized ones. I’d be afraid of breaking it.”
His tone of voice was so serious and so relieved it stopped my tears in their tracks and I had to chuckle but that was about the last I had left in me. The baby girl I held in my arms picked that moment to really squall and I had to learn real fast about how to nurse her or she seemed like she was going to bring the house down. Thor was mesmerized by the whole process but boy howdy, every time the baby sucked there was a hard tug on my uterus ... my very, very sore uterus. If not for the endorphins that nursing leaks from the brain I would have been in some serious pain. Instead I had a hard time keeping my eyes open and doped up look off my face. Eventually the baby was satisfied enough to turn loose and I all but collapsed in exhaustion. I remember someone taking the baby and telling me to rest but for the life of me I can’t remember who.
I slept for a while but woke up when boots thundered up the stairs. “Thor! There’s more of them and I spotted Cliff too!”