Aug 16

The Center

In active labor, Vida must travel to The Center. She is treated with advanced technology, age-old practices, and human connection for the ultimate healthcare experience.

By Georgeann Sack. As published in P.S. I Love You.

By ollo

Vida extended a shaking arm to stabilize herself. The breath she had been holding escaped in one long exhale and her body crumpled against the wall. Enough of this, it was time to go.

“Maverick, get the car ready.”

She pushed herself to standing and Holden helped her to the garage.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Holden asked. “Just to keep you company on the drive?”

“No, thank you.” Vida kissed him softly on the cheek. “I would like to go alone.”

“Ok,” he said, helping her into the open car. “I will see you both soon.”

After a final embrace Vida reclined. “Maverick, take me to The Center.”

The door closed and the car backed out of the garage, then picked up speed. The world dimmed. Pain is a strange operator. Vida had never felt so aware of her body, its boundaries and its limits.

Vida was moving backwards now, but it made no difference to her. She closed her eyes. Lying flat with arms at her sides, she felt like she was in a sensory deprivation tank. The electric engine and magnetic levitation transported her without turbulence. Her peace was disrupted by a fresh wave of pain.

Before she knew it, her chair glided into an upright position and the ambient luminosity increased as the car came to a stop. The door opened next to a conveyor.

“Maverick, help me get out.”

The chair rotated ninety degrees and extended out of the car. With some effort Vida stood up and stepped onto the conveyor.

“Maverick, park in lot C.”

The car sealed itself back up like one of those spinning toys once you stop pushing with your thumb. The parts folded into their natural resting position. Then it left.

Vida held tightly onto the rail and the conveyor started moving. She looked toward The Center. It was an enormous circular building with no windows, ringed with blue-green light that flickered in soothing abstract patterns. The pain came again and she could only think of her own frail form. Her mouth clenched shut, closing her insides off until biological need forced her to expel wasted air and inhale a fresh serving.

The conveyor stopped. Vida saw that the circle of light was reflecting off of water. A moat surrounded the building. After a brief full body scan, a drawbridge lowered. The conveyor transported her across the moat and into the building. The drawbridge closed behind her, briefly encasing her in dark silence before a second set of doors opened to let her into the interior.

Vida noticed the sound first. Low, guttural vocalizations — an incantation in a language Vida doesn’t remember learning. There were many rooms.

The conveyor took her past several open doors and entered a small chamber. The voices had an intimate intensity on the inside, with visceral effects. Vida could feel their vibration through the air, like static electricity raising hair from her skin. She gripped the rail harder as pain passed through her, releasing her own soft, extended “aaaaaahhh,” in the middle range.

She was startled by the sound of her voice, then realized it was both her and more than her. Her voice was being amplified by the walls and the addition of more voices releasing their pain. The discordant, animal wailing transitioned from noise toward harmonics, as the voices creating low and mid tones found each other. Some staccato yelps accentuated the upper range.

Vida’s knuckles turned white as she released a louder “aaaaaahhh,” then it was over. Muffled groans and deep breaths were the only sounds as the collective pain subsided.

Vida took in the scene. The chamber was a circular, open space. Around the perimeter were women, perhaps a dozen of them. They were in various states of undress, all in active labor. There were no other people present.

At the center was a fire, providing the only source of light. Or at least it looked like flames and sparks leaping up from logs. She could hear the wood crackling, and smell the familiar aroma of burning wood, and feel the directional warmth, but there was no smoke in the air.

Vida hadn’t realized it, but her conveyor had stopped moving. It started again, traveling slowly clockwise.

The first woman Vida passed was petite, enormous belly aside. She was perhaps 5’2″ with straight black hair. A purple sports bra covered her small breasts, but she was otherwise naked. Her hands were resting on top of her belly and she was swaying softly, feet hip width apart. Her dark eyes met Vida’s in confidence.

The next was in a deep squat. Her muscular legs were rotated out, suspending her like a frog about to leap. At their junction, her bare vulva opened wide, straining under the pressure of a descending head. Matted, dark hair was just visible at the center. She met Vida’s gaze with no trace of modesty and inclined her head slightly in welcome.

The next was on hands and knees, head down. Her blonde, wavy hair flowed to the floor, acting as a privacy screen. She was slowly rotating her hips between tucked to extended, then side to side. She flipped her hair back, looked up at Vida and released a low, hollow sounding “ooooohh.”

The pain hit Vida like a shockwave and she couldn’t help but to release her own wail. She held the rail with both hands, standing a bit more than hip width apart and rocking from side to side. As the crescendo of voices reached their climax, Vida’s water broke. The dam of the amniotic sack ruptured, releasing a torrent of fluid.

Vida passed seven more women who each welcomed her in their way, then was deposited at the first vacancy. Vida stepped off and surveyed her space. There was no furniture, just pillows and blankets. There were no medical devices in sight. No barriers delineated her space. She noticed that she had almost gone full circle. Only one more empty space remained between her and the petite woman.

Her neighbor was walking slowly, circling around her pile of pillows and rubbing her belly. She was the biggest of the women, perhaps six feet tall and two hundred pounds, and wearing a short emerald shift dress. Her hair was done up into a perfect bun. She was smiling and appeared to be mumbling to herself, but then Vida heard her say “Don’t worry, little one, this will be over soon and you will be in my arms.”

Vida felt her pregnant uterus stiffen with another contraction. She gasped and got down on her knees. Her neighbor knelt next to her, extending a hand, and Vida took it gratefully. Hand in hand, they released a low howl that moved like a wave through the women. Vida went into a semiconscious state as her cervix ratcheted open another inch.

As the tension in her belly slowly released Vida found herself quietly weeping. Her hand hurt from gripping her neighbor’s hand so tightly. Her neighbor. Her nameless sister. Her sister leaned closer, resting her head on Vida’s, and slowly rubbing her back. “You are stronger than you know,” she whispered. “You were born to do this.” Vida shook her head in acceptance, and her sister moved back into her own space.

During her next several contractions Vida experimented with different positions to see what felt best. She decided on kneeling. Back straight, hands on hips or gripping pillows. Between contractions she arranged her pillows so that she could rest comfortably and stare at the fire. She removed her night shirt and underwear, which were filthy with various bodily fluids.

A new sister arrived and the chamber door closed. The room was full. After making the rounds, the sister took the empty spot next to Vida. She was wide eyed and shaking, hesitant to walk into her space. A small stream of dark fluid was running down the inside of her leg. Vida went to her and wrapped her in a blanket.

“No,” she said. “This isn’t happening. Not like this. It’s too soon.”

Vida walked with her, and said, “It’s going to be ok. We’ve got this.” They sat together, Vida’s arm around her sister, and slowly rocked back and forth until the contraction hit. Then they were lost, each in their own world of bodily sensation as they joined in the communal howl.

The room was silent again, except for the panicked breathing of Vida’s sister. “Oh my god,” she repeated again and again. Between her legs was a large puddle of dark fluid. There, glistening in the dim light, Vida saw the movement of a small leg. It was a footling breech.

“It’s ok,” Vida said. She held her sister’s hand and looked her in the eye. “Remember where we are, and think about how you are going to meet your baby soon.”

Her sister managed to shake her head yes through her hyperventilation and tears.

“Maverick, we need help with a footling breech,” Vida said.

A different kind of conveyor arrived. It looked a bit like the old style of coffins Vida had seen pictures of, except that the lid was transparent, and open. Vida helped her sister get in and lie down. “I’ll see you on the other side,” Vida said.

“Thank you,” her sister replied.

The lid closed and the conveyor took her away. The chamber door opened and then closed again. I guess this was it then. As she started the slow walk back to her space Vida heard the cries of a baby. One of her sisters had given birth. Looking toward the sound to confirm, she saw it was the muscular one.

A strange new sensation made Vida pause. Her baby had dropped down, and the pressure on her pelvis was oppressive. She waddled on. By the time she got to her pillows, she felt an urgent need to squat.

Before Vida could think too much about it, another contraction hit. “This is it, ladies,” another of her sisters yelled. The pain radiated outward from her core until she could feel her eyeballs tingling. She dropped onto the pillows, unable get into a squat, and clenched her teeth until it passed.

When the next contraction came she was in position. She let out a long low bellow and used the pressure from her descending diaphram to bear down. The feeling was similar to that of trying to pass a large, hard stool. You know, if that stool had compacted inside of you until it weighed over seven pounds. She had been warned not to force it. Instead she should breathe deeply and try to relax. She should try to expand her pelvic floor rather than squeezing it tightly.

Only when the contraction ended did she feel the burning. She reached between her legs and felt her vulva bulging and pulled taught. Her vaginal opening was stretched wide, but not wide enough to pass the head. The ring of fire. Her nerves were screaming out that this was too much.

She had barely calmed her breathing when her uterus stiffened again. “Here we go, here we go, here we go,” she said. She let out several short, high pitched yells then one long note with vibrato. Her eyes closed. She could feel her baby moving down, almost too slowly to be detected. All that advice was useless. She had no control over her breathing or her muscles or any of it.

Her contraction ended and her baby’s head receded back inside. She heard more babies crying and the joyful exclamations of new mothers. Vida was angry now, adrenaline overriding her pain. When the next contraction came she yelled “Get out!” and gave a long silent push. She could feel her baby moving down again, but when she paused to breathe it moved back up.

No. She inhaled deeply and did another long push. Slowly, slowly, the baby moved down. Vida needed to breathe but she refused to stop. After a rapid inhale she bore down with all her strength. Slowly, slowly, the head passed through and then, in a matter of seconds, the rest of the body followed.

Vida gasped for air and started weeping with joy and exhaustion. She had done it. She looked at her baby, who had fallen onto the pillows. She dried her eyes and picked it up. Him up. It was a boy. He looked as though he was trying to wipe his eyes but his clumsy movements were unsuccessful. He hit himself in the face and started to cry, a catlike, soft whine for help and affection. “It’s ok sweetie, you will learn.”

Vida wiped his face off with a blanket and settled in next to him. She pulled the blanket up over their heads so they were in their own private space and looked down at him with a big smile. “Hi baby boy, I am your mama,” she said. She traced his features with her finger. She couldn’t quite believe that this perfect little person had grown inside of her and then her body had opened up wide enough to let him out. He grabbed her finger.

“Would you like something to eat?” Vida pulled him close to her breast. He took her nipple into his mouth and after a few failed attempts to make a seal he pinched down hard with his gums and sucked deeply to draw forth his first meal. “Ouch,” she said, her uterus contracting again. Warm fluid gushed out from between her legs. The placenta followed.

Within an hour, all eleven women in the room had given birth. A doctor did a brief exam on each mother and child. Vida had extensive vaginal tearing and had damaged the connective tissue of her pelvic floor, so the doctor placed a vaginal patch inside of her. The patch had the consistency of memory foam but was made of a biocompatible gel stocked with medicines. Her boy was in good health.

They were conveyed to a recovery room, where they would remain for the next four weeks. There were beds, showers, and a kitchen filled with nutritious ready-to-eat foods. Each bed had a computer for entertainment and communication with loved ones. Beds were equipped with an optional enclosure to insulate sleeping mothers and babies from sound and light.

Sister number 12 was there. Vida went to her and gave her a big hug. “I am so happy to see you doing well.”

“Thank you,” she said. “You were right. The only thing that matters is her.”

“She is beautiful,” Vida said.

For four weeks, the women got to know each other. They listened. They cared for one another. They gifted each other opportunities to enjoy a long shower or a solo walk through the central 10 acre open air garden. They shared the profound experience of learning about a wholly different type of love — that of a mother for her child — together. Their partners came to visit, most every day, but by far the strongest source of support during this time was the nexus of mothers.

When it was time to say goodbye, Vida hugged each of her sisters for a long time, sealing in the memory of all that was shared. Closure. She knew she would never see these women again. Like summer camps of her youth, everyone might promise to write and visit, but nobody ever does. We may not realize we are doing it, but we are protecting our memory of the experience.

We are stronger than we know, and wiser too.