Johnny's eyes petitioned the eyes of the midwife, who sat erect, tense, on a chair pulled up to within arm's reach of the birthing woman's pelvis. He saw the fear in her eyes, the puzzlement echoing the bewildered slope of her shoulders, the grief-set slant of her mouth. It had been hours, too many hours and still the child would not come. Reba's pelvis would not open, the bones so large and thick and inflexible that the midwife could not separate them with her own hands. Even her cache of instruments had proven useless in the process. The child's head was lodged, locked within the unforgiving vice of the birth canal, its crown visible to her eyes-she could touch it, as she now did-rubbing the top of its head soothingly-humming to it, a reassuring lullaby. She gently rocked to the melody of her own voice.
Johnny could see what the midwife was considering-he understood completely-he accepted whatever outcome had to be. He watched her as she rose from her chair, her hands reaching to massage her own aching back as she walked to the side table where she had spread out her tools. Reba's old sister, Romi was there, assisting. At the instrument table, Romi stood beside the midwife, and Romi held within a clean white towel the scalpel and other cutting utensils to be used to open the mother's abdomen. The midwife hoped it wasn't too late to deliver the child by Caesarian Section-hoped she could back the infant out of the birth canal enough to free it from it prison. If not, she would have to abort it, collapse its soft little head bones in order to lift it free. It was the only way to save the mother's life, to protect the mother's body from any further devastation of a kind that would ruin her chances of ever delivering another baby.
As the midwife approached the bed in readiness for surgery, Reba rushed back to consciousness, rising quickly up through a dark narrow shaft, her awareness bursting into the light-filled heat-filled odor-filled room-the awakening driven by, prodded by, herded by, great convulsing neauseating tearing cracking breaking pain, pain hoisting her to her feet, and she crouched into a squatting position on top of the bed. The laboring woman yelled, "Johnny, in front uh me-hole on ta me." He jumped in front of her, and facing her, he also squatted on top of the bed. Placing his hands on top of her shoulders, her hands gripping his upper arms, their arms locked together into interlacing cross beams, allowing her the support she needed, his massive strength translating itself to her body, their coupled strength giving her the thrust she needed to bear down one last time. She would hatch this baby-some primal instinct ordered itself into this black woman's memory, informing her to squat-squat the way her ancestral grandmothers and mothers and sisters had done for centuries, giving birth in barren deserts, and in the bush, and in mud and straw huts in Africa; squat in order to tilt the pelvis forward, to place the large gluteus muscles in an upright rather than a supine position so they would haul the pelvic carriage open. Squat-she knew it was the only way. She would not lose this baby. She had known since the moment of its conception that this child had to live. This child had to live. This child had to live...