Seventeen. When my parents were alive it seemed so far off, like it was never going to get here. Then after they died it was no longer important; acknowledging the passage of time only seemed to mean that I was further and further away from them, from the good things my life had been and no closer to the end of the suffering I felt. Time certainly wasn't important to Daniel and that seemed the best way for me to handle it as well.
Then Abel came into our lives and our friendship turned into something so much more. I started to measure time again. When was the last time I had seen him. When would I see him again? How much time did we spend together? Then the winter illnesses that brought back all of the horrible memories of my parents' deaths, of being alone. My fear of being pregnant battled with my fear of spending all my time alone.
Finally they get well then I get “sick” and then well and while I’m still confused and trying to figure out where everything is going my conscious mind finally acknowledges I might be pregnant. I accept the reality of being pregnant and then Abel going off brings back memories of Jeff disappearing from our lives. I was scared that I was going to be left alone to take care of Daniel and even more scared that Daniel might be left alone to take care of my baby and what a disaster that would have been.
Death from disease, starvation, and violence surrounds us on all sides. We may be insulated from it but that doesn't mean it isn't there. It doesn't mean that it might not strike any one of us at any time.
Thankfully Abel returned to me … to us. Thankfully I didn’t have to face it all the time and responsibilities in front of me alone. But as the days passed the shoe was suddenly on the other foot. Now I worried about leaving Abel alone; leaving him alone to take care of Daniel, of the baby and everything else. I saw the fear lurking in his eyes as well. I even saw a certain confusion and fear begin to lurk in Daniel's eyes. And I could do nothing to allay their fears no even my own.
I ate the best I could; both Abel and Daniel saw to that. But it seemed like my body, once so easy to care for, doing anything and everything I asked of it, had suddenly developed a mind of its own. Sometimes what I ate would stay down, sometimes it would not. Sometimes I felt good after I ate sometimes I felt worse. I craved sleep yet when I did it only seemed to make me crave more. No matter how I tried to hide it by the end of July there was no denying my condition was getting worse.
I had to get up in the middle of the night and wound up spending more time in the bathroom than I had meant to. When I came out I was shaking. I found Abel standing there like the wrath of God.
"I am going for Josef before first light. He will come."
Shaking my head I told him, "Um, it's too late for that."
"No. Do not say that," he demanded as he helped me back to bed. "It cannot be too late. I won't hear it."
I sighed. "I need you here."
Frustrated he said, "And you need a medico. None of my aunts and cousins were like this. Something is not right."
"Abel listen to me. None of that matters right now. I need you here because the baby is coming."
"Si soon. That is ... why ...". He trailed off suddenly understanding what I had been saying. "The ... the bebe ... comes ... now?"
"Well, maybe not right this second but certainly it seems to mean to be born today."
I didn't even try and translate the slew of Spanish that fell out of his mouth at that point. I don't think I could have anyway. It was just one long string of syllables full of guttural sounds with the occasional squeak thrown in for good measure.
We had prepared for this. Abel knew about animals being born as I did, we'd both been raised on working farms. Human babies were different but not that much. It was what came after that was different. I wouldn't be licking my baby clean. Nature would only go so far to help. We'd have to cut the umbilical cord ourselves. We would need to make sure the baby could take its first breath. The baby would need diapering and swaddling. It was going to be completely helpless. And by the time the noon meal came and went, that is exactly how I felt as well.
I once heard a lady at church tell Mom that having a baby was like trying to push a watermelon through a drinking straw. Another lady said it was worse than trying to pass a kidney stone. Another lady said it was like the old joke of trying to take your bottom lip and pull it up over the top of your head. Personally I'm not sure it is the pain so much as it is you have no control over what is happening. There is no time out when a baby decides to be born. There's no stopping to catch your breath or taking a moment to think. And eventually you don't want anything other than for it to hurry up and be over with.
I gave up being in the bed; all it did was make me miserable and uncomfortable. For a while I sat in a rocking chair and basically just zoned out. For a while I even thought I had the labor thing down but all of a sudden – zap! – things started changing.
The books call it a transitional period. Yeah right. More like a period of going crazy trying to figure out just how uncomfortable things can get. I walked, I bent over, I kneeled, I tried lying on my side, I tried getting on all fours … I felt like a pretzel that was trying to escape being twisted. I felt pain in places I wouldn’t even talk to Abel about. Eventually it settled into waves and I just survived from the peak of one until the peak of the next. Then the valleys disappeared and I was riding a wave of pain that didn’t seem to want to end.
Trying to remember the tail end of it all makes my head hurt. Things got fuzzy and the lights started going in and out. Eventually I felt this big … well, kind of goosh and then it was like this slithery … ok, I give up. There isn’t really any way to describe it if you’ve never done it. Basically the baby came out.
That’s when things got scary. It didn’t cry. I remember Abel praying and Daniel crying and it seemed like a long, long time and then there was this strange squeaking noise. The sound made me happy but in a far away dreamy sort of way. I was floating away … just drifting … and not much seemed to matter.
I vaguely recall my chest getting pounded on and then something being forced into my mouth. I wasn’t all there anymore but a part of me knew what was going on, I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew I needed to help but I seemed to have forgotten how. Then it was like a big electric shock and everything went black.
I can’t tell you how much later it was but there was this squeaking and I knew, absolutely knew, that it was for me and me alone. And something told me I had a choice. I could listen to the squeaking, do something about the insistent tugging, or I could go back to sleep and never wake up.
The temptation to go back to sleep was pretty big. I was tired, not just from the baby but it seemed like from a bunch of stuff that I hadn’t realized was weighing me down. I was ready to just let go then behind the squeaking and the tugging I heard a voice … deep, gravelly, so full of sorrow that it was almost too much to bear. I knew I knew that voice and then I remembered and it became much easier to tell the temptation to take a hike.
I couldn’t open my eyes, they seemed glued shut but I could sigh. It seemed important that I let him know I was there. I must have done it a couple of more times, trying to form the letter A but barely making a difference.
“Querida?” The incredulous tone of voice told me he still wasn’t sure he was hearing what thought he heard. I tried a few more times but I was so tired I wasn’t sure if he understood before the darkness claimed me again.
I woke up again to tugging and a deep cramp. I must have moaned loud enough that Abel heard me and finally believed me. The tugging continued with Abel’s gentle assistance and then I heard him directing someone to do something and there was a sudden burst of taste on my tongue as a very strong broth was spooned into my mouth.
“Easy Daniel, remember she may not be able to swallow.”
His reply made it sound like he was concentrating every cell of his body on the task before him. “She’s swallowing it Abel! She’s really swallowing … it isn’t just dripping down her throat this time.”
“Good … good …”
“God did do it didn’t He Abel! You said He would and He did!”
“Si Daniel, but quietly now. The baby must concentrate so that she can drink.”
“When’s she gonna grow? She’s still puny. If she’s eating shouldn’t she be growing?”
Normally such a question would have made Abel laugh, smile at least, but instead I heard nothing but extreme control. “It will take time, that is all they need. Time and for us to take care of them.”
Time seemed to pass but I can’t tell you how much. I do know that when I finally opened my eyes it was to find the room quiet except for Abel taking care of things for me that had me so upset that my chest hurt.
“No,” I moaned in a nearly silent whisper.
What little sound I made startled Abel and his eyes flew to my face and he saw that my eyes were open. He was so shocked that he didn’t understand I was just about dying of embarrassment right there
He leaned down, trying to hear me. “Are you in pain? Tell me Querida. Can you tell me?”
I could barely form the words and struggling to make him understand was draining me but he finally got the idea. Rather than embarrassment though he gave me a gruff answer I hadn’t been expecting. “I will do what needs doing. I am your husband and it is my right to do these things for you. When you are well you can do them but for now …” Then I heard him sigh and he was less gruff. “Dacey, you took care of me when I was ill and I … I understand what it must cause you to feel. To feel like you are made helpless and a child. But just as you did for me, I do these things for love. Si? Comprende Querida?”
I didn’t but the idea behind it seemed to ease what I was feeling somewhat. The next thing was … “Baabeeeee.”
I could see he still looked very serious as he finished what he was doing and drew the covers over me. “She sleeps.”
That could mean a couple of different things, some of which were too hard for me to bear. “Slllee ..?”
“Easy Querida. She is in a little drawer right here. She is too small for the bed we made. Daniel and I must be careful, she is nearly lost in the drawer.”
“Small? Too small?”
He licked his lips and brushed the hair out of my eyes and I saw he hadn’t shaved in a while but it was hard to tell how long because his beard always grew so fast. Finally he shrugged. “She is small. Very small. I … I do not know if she is too small.” Then he leaned over and picked up a bundle that looked about the size of my mother’s best dress up purse; big enough to hold but not big enough to put much in.
I was absolutely scared to death. I’d had dolls bigger than the tiny thing he placed in my arms. Then it started making noise and I realized what the squeaking had been. Next I realized what the tugging had been as Abel unbuttoned my night gown.
“Easy Querida.” He gently moved me onto my side and then fixed it so that the squeaking stopped and the tugging started.
I didn’t have a clue what to do but apparently my body did and what I couldn’t figure out, Abel helped me with. It didn’t take long before the baby went to sleep. He gently nudged her and she woke up again and started feeding some more. Eventually though she just wouldn’t wake up to eat and he picked her up and patted her a little until she made this strange little bubble sound and then he changed her and laid her back in the drawer. All during this time all I could do was watch and it made a very deep and horrible ache in my chest. I remember crying but I don’t remember going back to sleep but I must have.
My days flew by like that but eventually I was awake most of the time and the bleeding had stopped. I was very weak but I wasn’t in danger of dying. From that point I improved every day until finally I was able to get up and get around. Abel and Daniel didn’t stand constant guard over me as they had and I was able to take care of Leena myself … as in Catalina after his grandmother. Victoria was her middle name … Daniel named her after our mother. Catalina Victoria Montoya but the name was way too big for her so we all called her “Leena” for short.
July became August and August became early September and we should have been preparing for winter … and Abel and Daniel were. But underneath it all we held our breaths. Leena stayed small. She squeaked, she didn’t really cry though I thought lately she had seemed stronger and louder. She filled up her handkerchief sized diapers as often as I remember Daniel doing and her poo stunk which meant that what was going in was definitely coming out all right.
The first time she smiled I nearly screamed and went running to Abel so fast he thought something was terribly, horribly wrong. When I explained and Leena did it again we all started prancing around the cave like a parade of crazies; me with Leena, Abel, Daniel, and even Dog joining in.
My energy came back but not the way it should have. I knew it. Abel knew it too. I rarely left the cave except on the warmest part of the day and only in the best weather. Still I managed to get a cough that took a while to kick. Then the first cool breeze blew and I worried that we hadn’t done enough. That winter was coming and it just wouldn’t be enough.