“There’s a storm percolating, Sophie. Be careful you don’t go too far.”
I smile and wave at Mom as blonde dunes and sapphire seas embrace me. There’s a stain of grey on the horizon and a restless wind toys with my hair. It’s refreshing and for a moment I forget my discomfort; forget my stretched and swollen abdomen. I marked another cross off my calendar this morning. Twenty days to due date but it seems like twenty years.
I see birth everywhere. The beach is littered with black pods, their skins shredded, seeds spilling in drifts. Behind me, golden grasses sway on the dunes, heads full and ripe. Does it hurt, I wonder. Do plants feel pain when their pods explode? When they birth the next generation?
My belly tightens and I pause. A false contraction. I’ve been having them for weeks but this one feels slightly different; tinged with a rim of fire. It passes and I keep on walking. An egg shell lies in the shelter of some rocks and I stop to look at it. So weak, so fragile, yet it nurtured new life.
I think again of birth. Will my womb ever be the same - and what about my heart? I’m longing to have my body back to myself but I feel bereft at the thought. Everyone advised an abortion when they heard I was pregnant, but I couldn’t do it. The news came out shortly after my stepfather was arrested for rape.
I wade into the foaming water allowing the coolness to saturate my legs. Just then, another contraction tenses my body. The edge of pain is back and I feel rather than hear a soft pop. Liquid flows between my legs; warm streams that flood into the ocean, mixing with salty surf. I stand until it subsides, then turn towards home, heart racing.
I know God cares and He doesn’t want me to throw this baby away. She’s done nothing to deserve a death sentence. And yet the fears have overwhelmed me at times. What if she looks like him? What if I hate her? Will she be my step-sister as well as my daughter?
As I lean into the wind, I notice an abalone shell lying on the sand. Someone has stood on it and shattered its contours; the pearlescent ridges of silver, crimson and violet are crushed into small pieces. I pick it up and cradle it in my hands. Our family is fractured like this. Mom is divorced, my step-father is in jail and I’m seventeen and about to become a mother.
Mom takes one look at my face and knows. “Do you think we’ll make it back to the city? Should I see if there’s a doctor in the village?”
I don’t know. I’ve never had a baby.
She picks up the phone directory and flips through the emergency section.
The midwife arrives twenty minutes later. Her hands are cool on my abdomen as she feels the strength of the contractions. “I think it’s better you stay here. You don’t want to have your baby on the side of the road.”
She unfurls a plastic sheet and drapes the bed, lays out a bag of instruments. My muscles continue to contract and relax, each motion forcing the baby closer to birth. Outside, the storm intensifies and I hear waves thundering onto the beach. Their rhythm melds with the waves of agony that crash over me. “Work with your body, sweetness. Don’t fight the pain, let it work for you.”
After hours of torment, a final searing pain splits me in two, giving way to an incredible pressure within. “Push, Sophie, push! She’s almost here!” I bear down and suddenly the pressure’s gone. As a wail fills the air, I feel my belly; no longer a taut watermelon but a flaccid orange.
“She’s gorgeous, Sophie.” Mom kneels at my head and tucks my daughter into my arms. She feels like she belongs and as I examine her tiny features, the last traces of fear evaporate. “Thank you, Lord.” I whisper. “I believe she’s going to bring healing to our family.”
The midwife pauses on her way out. “I’ve a small gift for you,” she says, handing me a package. “I make them myself and give one to every new mom as a memento.”
I draw a beautiful necklace from the box and my heart constricts. The pendant is made from a shard of abalone shell, polished and perfect.
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