"You'll be fine," I said, squeezing her shoulders. I also added a silent prayer that I spoke the truth. "Your travail is going well, and the baby's head is at the neck of your matrix. Who knows? It may not even hurt." At this, even though fear and exhaustion threatened to overtake her, she smiled a little. "It will probably hurt," I conceded, and we continued to walk.
As the height of Mercy's labor approached, I called to Sairy. "You'll have to support her while I deliver the child. Sit on the edge of the bed and put your arms under hers, holding her up." I renewed my questioning.
"Mercy, tell the truth, who is the father of your child?"
"He is Peter Clark."
"If the father is any man other than Peter Clark, may this child and I never part!"
But a short time later they did part, and by the grace of God I ushered a lusty baby girl into the world. If healthy lungs guaranteed a long life, this child would outlive her own grandchildren. I cut and bound the navel string.
"Bring the water and a clean cloth," I told Sairy. She went to the kitchen and returned with a pot, which she set on the table. With no great optimism she began to root in the chest for a cloth. "Never mind," I said. I unclipped my collar and tested the water's temperature. Miraculously, it was just right. I dipped my collar-turned-washcloth into the water and began to clean the squalling infant. Once that task was accomplished, I took the linen bands from the package Mercy had bought and swaddled the girl. Mercy now sat on one of the stools, leaning against the bed, looking dazed. I placed the infant in her arms and held my lantern so mother and child could gaze upon each other.
"If the afterbirth does not come on its own, in a moment I'll have to fetch it out myself," I told her. She nodded. But luck was on her side, and a few minutes later the afterbirth was delivered of its own accord. After dressing Mercy's privities, I helped her into bed. Exhausted, she lay back and closed her eyes.
"No sleep yet," I told her. "You should nurse the child and then you can both sleep." Her nipples were well suited for nursing, and the child sucked greedily. I turned to Sairy and saw that she had dozed off in the corner. Only the Lord knew how long she had been awake. I glanced at the window and noticed that morning had come. I heard the Minster bell toll oncehalf-five, I guessed. I went into the kitchen to see what food they had but found only a stale bread crust and pot of weak ale. I returned to the parlor and saw that all three of the house's inhabitants slept. I shook Sairy awake. She looked up at me, still half-asleep.
"Do you and Mercy have any money?" I asked.
A look of horror spread across her face. "We can't we don't the Overseer of the Poor said ," she stammered.
"Not for me, Sairy, for food. Your sister will awake with the appetite of two men."
"We have nothing at all. She spent the last of our money on the linen for the baby."
I fetched some more coins from my valise. "Here. If you find meat you can afford, boil it rather than roast it. She should also have broth and eggs, but no mutton. It will give her a fever. I imagine Peter Clark can get you some beef or a chicken. It would be the least he could do." White wine would have helped her regain her strength, but it was clearly more than they could afford, so I suggested barley water. "And almond milk if you can find it." She thanked me profusely, helped me gather my belongings, and accompanied me to St. Andrewgate.
"Everything should be fine for now," I said. "The nearest midwife is Elizabeth Halliday, over in St. Cuthbert's parish, around the corner from the church." Sairy nodded. "She is a good midwife and nurse, and can help. Tell her I sent you, and that I will repay the courtesy. If you need me, go to St. Helen Stonegate. Ask any of the shopkeepers there, and they will tell you where I live. I am Lady Bridget Hodgson."
Excerpted from The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas. Copyright © 2013 by Sam Thomas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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