Porcelain (Part 8)

The remaining days of her pregnancy passed for Olivia in what she would later recall as a dream-state, a seemingly endless series of similar days, marked by her mother’s repeated insistence that she remain in bed as much as possible.  Dr. Martin was not mentioned by name, however Olivia suspected that some of the advice her mother was giving her had come through him.  Although she rarely went outside during those days, she did still wait on the porch every day for Stan Waterman to hand her the daily mail, and she had seen several letters addressed to her mother in Dr. Martin’s heavy block printing.   She of course did not know their content, and her mother did still seek personal medical advice from the man, however her belief was that he was prescribing her advice from afar.   For that reason Olivia resisted much of what her mother advocated as the best course for her as she came to term, including her insistence that no doctor needed to be present at the delivery.  They spoke about it for the last time just four days before Olivia gave birth.  Her mother had begun by asking Olivia if she knew Mary Coswell, a midwife in the Hiawatha area who had a solid reputation both for delivering babies that lived and for taking good care of their mothers.

“Let’s not argue about this please.  I know you believe that somehow you, me and a midwife, Mary if you will, are going to deliver this child ourselves, however I prefer to have this baby the modern way.”

“Yes I know Olivia, and I don’t want to argue either, it’s just that so many babies have been born the old way, the usual way you know, without any doctors or drugs, and I worry that all of this new medicine is going to cause you harm.”

“I’ve read about it and asked questions, be sure of that.  They say that now you can deliver a child with almost no pain at all.  Well, at least none that you feel or remember.  It’s the chloroform that does it.”

Her mother groaned slightly and briefly covered her eyes with one pale hand.  “That word makes me feel sick Olivia, it doesn’t even sound like a good thing.  It’s scary.”

“But it works.  They have been using it for some time now and it’s safe.”

“You know, missing all that pain might, well some might say that it takes away from the experience, takes away some of your true motherhood.”

“Really mother?  I thought we decided not to argue.  Calling me somehow less of a mother because I plan to skip all of the pain of childbirth is going to get us into an argument for sure.”

“Well I wasn’t saying that exactly.  There is the other consideration you know.”

At this Olivia glanced over and realized that her mother had, at some point in the conversation, picked up her Bible which she now had resting on her knees, one finger tapping the cover.  Olivia looked away.

“Not that.  I will not talk about how much pain we are all supposed to bear because of Eve’s sin.  The doctor is coming mother and I will have the chloroform.”

The tapping on the Bible continued for ten more minutes, after which her mother rose and went into her bedroom, skipping their usual cup of tea before bed.  Olivia smiled slightly to herself before rising to go to her own bedroom.

It was the early morning four days after that conversation when she awoke, knowing that the time had arrived for her child to be born.  She managed to get to the sideboard in the kitchen before the pain of a contraction caused her to yelp and lower herself to her knees.  Several minutes later her mother had managed to pull her up and get her back into bed, after which she went to the neighbors house and asked Fran Dover to send her husband for the doctor.  Olivia heard the whole conversation though the bedroom window, which faced the Dover’s kitchen,  and gave her mother credit for honoring her wishes.

chloroform gas device courtesy loyno.edu

chloroform gas device courtesy loyno.edu

All went well and normally with the delivery, and while the administration of chloroform gas to her daughter via a strange looking medical device made Olivia’s mother very nervous, it did seem to take away most of her daughter’s pain.  It also meant that she was not alert when the baby finally did arrive, which was a blessing as far as her mother was concerned.  It took most of the energy she had to not break down into tears herself, and there was no doubt that Olivia would have been far worse.

The baby was carefully cleaned and checked, then wrapped in a soft blanket and handed to Olivia’s mother, who rose quickly and carried the young girl out of the room.  Placing it down onto her own bed she had the doctor assist her in moving the cradle Olivia had purchased, and once it was in her room she moved the baby to it and then softly sat down in a chair next to the cradle.  She rested one hand on the edge and hummed under her breath, her eyes slowly filling with tears now that she was alone.  She heard the doctor clattering around, picking up his things and speaking aloud to a still unconscious Olivia, giving medical guidance for her recovery.  He had wanted to share it all with Olivia’s mother, however she had brushed him off after he assisted with the cradle, and now he apparently was at least not going to leave any of it unsaid.  After finishing, he stopped again to ask Olivia’s mother is she had any questions, however she quietly replied that she knew how to take care of a woman after she gave birth.  The doctor motioned toward the child however that was retuned only with a cold stare from the old woman so he left, banging the door too loudly on the way out.

The night came and Olivia’s mother remained in the chair, silently crying.

…to be continued

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