Stories That Shape Us – What Came Before

All children love stories. Particularly those stories about mother getting into trouble, or father forgetting about his math homework, or, best of all, how mother and father met. These stories shape and define our understanding of our family, of our culture, of how we fit into this bright, cold world we are all born into. With or without realizing it, we are all telling or receiving stories. And these stories shape our awareness of “me”, of being, of what it means to be alive.

My grandmother would often tell me the story of how she was born, mostly because I asked her repeatedly. Reflecting on my childhood fascination with this story, I realize that it has overtures of sovereignty and time loops, and I see that it filled me with a deep sense of meaning – of what came before.

Note: This version needs my grandmother’s check for accuracy. It is fictionalized.

The summer heat lay on the open fields in rippling waves that day in June. The thought of anything at all happening, much less something important, on such an oppressive day was incomprehensible. It was far too hot for important events. Evening brought a welcome reprieve, as a dusty breeze lifted the dingy curtains in the kitchen. The farmhouse consisted of three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living area – one bedroom for the parents, one bedroom for the boys, one bedroom for the girls, no bathroom.

Sheer exhaustion from a day in the fields or housework guaranteed that all the children were asleep, even as their faces glistened with sweat from sleeping piled in a single bed in each room. However, in the parents’ room, the adults were awake, struggling with exhaustion, grappling with fear. A woman lay moaning on the bed, in labor with her eighth child, while the midwife kept an experienced eye on her progress. Having labored seven times previously, the baby was delivered relatively quickly; the midwife deftly unwrapping the umbilical cord from around the little girl’s neck.

“It’s a girl,” she announced, while busily cutting the cord, wrapping the baby.

“Why is she not crying?” asked the exhausted mother, “All my others cried.”

“I’m afraid she’s not going to make it, dear,” the midwife’s tone was hushed, gentle, “The cord was wrapped around her neck. She couldn’t breathe for too long. She’s grey and not breathing now. It’s a good thing you have so many others.”

The woman was too grieved, too exhausted, too heartbroken to argue. And deep within, she felt guilt and shame that she was not more grief-stricken. Shamed that she was almost relieved that their already stretched-thin meals would not be thinner.

“But I just wonder…” the midwife continued. Suddenly, she began to rub the baby girl all over with round strokes, punctuated by an occasional firm pat on the back. Time passed. The mother had drifted into near-unconsciousness, convinced that she had done all that was possible for her to do in the unbearable heat. Her ears registered the rhythmic rubbing, the firm slaps, but her mind could not comprehend. And then – a baby wailed.

“What was that?” the mother sat up in the bed. The baby continued to cry, as if to make certain that everyone present knew she was around

“Why, it’s your little girl,” replied the midwife, “I couldn’t give up on the little one; not without trying something first.”

“Thank you,” replied the mother, “More than you will ever know – thank you. We’re going to call her Virginia A.”

“What’s the ‘A’ for?”

“Not any particular name, but one day, she may realize that the word ‘amazing’ begins with an ‘a’.”

I loved pondering the idea that without the tenacity of that one midwife, my grandmother would have surely died. With her, would have died my grandfather’s wife, my father’s mother, my father, my mother’s husband, and, finally, me. The very possibility that she would be sitting on the porch of her home with me in her lap would have been impossible if not for the intervention of another person. And I would snuggle into her arms, thinking, “I’m so glad that midwife never gave up. I’m so glad she didn’t give up.”

Copyright © 2019 by H.C. Morris

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