Excerpt of The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
(Page 7 of 10)
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"Yes," he said, "ten centimeters."
"Phoebe," his wife said. He could not see her face, but her
was clear. They had been discussing names for months and had
reached no decisions. "For a girl, Phoebe. And for a boy, Paul,
my great-uncle. Did I tell you this?" she asked. "I meant to
"Those are good names," the nurse said, soothing.
"Phoebe and Paul," the doctor repeated, but he was concentrating
on the contraction now rising in his wife's flesh. He gestured
the nurse, who readied the gas. During his residency years, the
practice had been to put the woman in labor out completely until
the birth was over, but times had changedit was
Bentley, he knew, used gas more selectively. Better that she
be awake to push; he would put her out for the worst of the
for the crowning and the birth. His wife tensed and cried out,
and the baby moved in the birth canal, bursting the amniotic
"Now," the doctor said, and the nurse put the mask in place. His
wife's hands relaxed, her fists unclenching as the gas took
and she lay still, tranquil and unknowing, as another
and another moved through her.
"It's coming fast for a first baby," the nurse observed.
"Yes," the doctor said. "So far so good."
Half an hour passed in this way. His wife roused and moaned
and pushed, and when he felt she had had enoughor when she
cried out that the pain was overwhelminghe nodded to the
nurse, who gave her the gas. Except for the quiet exchange of
they did not speak. Outside the snow kept falling, drifting
along the sides of houses, filling the roads. The doctor sat on
stainless steel chair, narrowing his concentration to the
facts. He had delivered five babies during medical school, all
births and all successful, and he focused now on those, seeking
his memory the details of care. As he did so, his wife, lying
feet in the stirrups and her belly rising so high that he could
her face, slowly became one with those other women. Her round
knees, her smooth narrow calves, her ankles, all these were
him, familiar and beloved. Yet he did not think to stroke her
put a reassuring hand on her knee. It was the nurse who held her
hand while she pushed. To the doctor, focused on what was
before him, she became not just herself but more than herself;
a body like other bodies, a patient whose needs he must meet
with every technical skill he had. It was necessary, more
than usual, to keep his emotions in check. As time passed, the
strange moment he had experienced in their bedroom came to him
again. He began to feel as if he were somehow removed from the
scene of this birth, both there and also floating elsewhere,
from some safe distance. He watched himself make the careful,
precise incision for the episiotomy. A good one, he thought, as
blood welled in a clean line, not letting himself remember the
he'd touched that same flesh in passion.
The head crowned. In three more pushes it emerged, and then
the body slid into his waiting hands and the baby cried out, its
skin pinking up.
It was a boy, red-faced and dark-haired, his eyes alert,
of the lights and the cold bright slap of air. The doctor tied
cord and cut it. My son,
he allowed himself to think.
"He's beautiful," the nurse said. She waited while he examined
the child, noting his steady heart, rapid and sure, the
hands and shock of dark hair. Then she took the infant to the
room to bathe him and to drop the silver nitrate into his eyes.
small cries drifted back to them, and his wife stirred. The
stayed where he was with his hand on her knee, taking several
breaths, awaiting the afterbirth.
My son, he
(c) 2005, Kim Edwards. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Penguin Group.