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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, September 24, 2012

Isn't She Lovely

MCG's sister today

         Mom was in the middle of the bed naked on her back. She was panting and shouting and shouting and panting. David was on one side of the bed, and my brother and I were on the other. We had been at the river under the Wards Ferry Bridge all that day, swimming and sunning on the hot granite rocks and now Mom was in labor. Someone had to speed off across town when we got home to fetch the midwife, Apple, who now stood at the foot of the bed coaching my mom through contractions
         It was July, the middle of summer, and we were all in the middle bedroom because it was the only room large enough to fit a bed and a crowd of people around it.
         “You’re doing great, Cheryl -- deep breaths,” she said, looking my mom straight in the eye and smiling, then getting up to wipe Mom’s forehead with a damp towel.
         I stood, wide-eyed, against the wall. Music from the radio in the front room floated in on sheets of hot air. I strained my ears to hear which song was playing -- sounded like “Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. There was no place to sit but the floor, but it was near impossible to see anything from down there. I had tried. Amonie brother stood next to me, his eyes heavy with sleep, but mom wanted us to be there -- wanted us to watch the baby be born.
         Apple turned and smiled at the two of us from time to time, her hand resting on my mom’s knee. She was mom’s age -- twenty-six, twenty-five, twenty-four. We had all come to know her very well in the months that she and mom had spent preparing for this day, buying extra sheets, new towels, Iodine, sterile gauze, a bulb syringe, and hospital scissors. Apple made mom read the book Spiritual Midwifery, and I listened to them discussing it one day in the living room. I picked it up as they spoke and looked at the pictures of women with long hair, straight teeth, and big bellies in flower print dresses laying on their backs in the arms of men with big beards and big smiles. I couldn’t imagine my mom smiling like that while in labor. She wasn’t that kind of hippie.
         I had listened while Mom and Apple talked about the baby being born into a peaceful environment and not traumatizing it with lights, machines, and a parade of doctors and nurses who would poke and prod and talk and talk, and spread all their hospital germs around our precious new life.
         I loved babies, so it all sounded good to me.
         As the sun settled behind the Sierra Mountains and the crickets began to sing, Mom’s panting, groaning, and shouting increased in frequency and volume. My brother continued dozing, his eyelids pulling open when mom’s groans turned to cursing and shouting.
         “David, get the fuck out of my face. Go breath somewhere else. It’s fucking hot in here. Where’s the ice. Quit panting on me,” Mom shouted in between a set of particularly intense contractions.
         David had been sitting behind her on the bed rubbing her back, something Apple thought might help with the back labor, but Mom had forced him off to the side where he attempted to help her with her Lamaze breathing.
         “Why don’t you go in the kitchen and chip up some more of that ice in the ice cube trays,” Apple suggested. “You’re doing great, David -- just great,” she nodded and smiled, her blonde hair shimmering under the single-bulb of light.
         I watched as Apple got up on the bed behind mom and pushed her forward with one hand and rubbed the small of her back with the other. Mom’s curly black hair was wet in the front around her face and at the nape of her neck. I heard the tap turn on and off and the crack of ice from the lever on the metal ice tray -- sounds from the kitchen. Mom groaned as Apple massaged at the pressure that had been building all afternoon.  When mom sat up sweat rolled between her breasts, which were swollen and dark. She had gained so much weight during the pregnancy that she could only wear a Hawaiian muumuu or nothing at all.
         In a lull between heavy panting, grunting, and occasional cussing, I could hear which songs were actually playing on the radio in the front room. I remember hearing “Hotel California,” and later just after birth a Stevie Wonder song.
         Around 10:00 that night, mom felt the urge to push. Still wide-eyed, I could not tear my gaze from my mom’s parted legs. Apple was applying hot compresses and massaging the perineum with mineral oil to avoid tearing. Mom was panting, cussing at David, and groaning with more ferocity than before. I knew the baby was coming. I had read the book too, only in the book the men and women kissed and hugged during the labor. My brother could barely keep his eyes open, so I kept nudging him without looking to make sure he was awake. I didn’t want to be there alone if something went wrong.
         “Okay, Cheryl, it’s about time to push. I know you’re ready, but try to push on my count. I can feel the baby’s head.”
         Mom was only groaning and panting now. Her eyes were closed in complete focus on the moment. David was standing at her side, holding her knee.
         “Push, Cheryl, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
         And then I saw it, the baby’s head, a head full of dark hair
         “You’re crowning, Cheryl. You’re baby is coming. Ready, Cheryl? Push, push, one, two, three, four, five …”
         Suddenly the head was out and fluids gushed from all around. I began nudging my brother to make sure he was seeing it too, and after a few more pushes the rest of her slipped out too.
         “It’s a girl,” Apple shouted, the first time she had raised her voice the whole day.
         “It’s a girl,” she said again, holding the baby girl up toward the naked single bulb of light.
         Stevie Wonder sang in the distance, “Isn’t she lovely?”
         And everyone seemed to reach for her all at the same time.


  1. I really enjoy your writing!Is this part of a group of pieces, a novel perhaps?

  2. Hi Rick, This book is a memoir about my experiences growing up in Tuolumne City. The whole book is completed, and I'm posting it one story/essay at a time on Mondays, so people can read it. Meanwhile, I'm in the process of looking for an an agent and publisher.

    I'm glad you're reading it and that you signed up to be follower!

  3. Michelle: I too am in the process of publishing a book. It's called "Songs From The Barrio: A coming of Age in Modesto, CA.! Some of the posts on my own blog are also included in my book. I'm in the final stages now and hoping it will be out some time in November.