Chapter Fifty-Eight – The Curse of Eve
John Thornton had weathered many bad spells in his life. Some of them – like when Marlborough Mills went bankrupt – could even be called horrible. On the whole his life had never been easy and he was fairly sure he could bear far more than any other man. Yet, what he was forced to undergo in the days that followed Margaret’s first pains of childbirth, nearly did him in.
How he ever survived those hellish days, he never knew.
During that first night, Margaret felt only four painful spasms. Although she managed – with John’s help – to breathe in the required way, her anxiety prevented her from sleeping between spells.
This was the time, her time. It was all or nothing. No matter what would happen in the next hours, or days, she would be in the centre of it. She stood on the verge of fighting the most important battle of her life and she was terrified!
Margaret wasn’t really asleep, she was just dozing off into a state of numbness. John, perched on the edge of a chair next to their bed, was watching her with growing anxiety. Lord! How long was this going to take?
The night had drifted into dawn and Nurse Goodyear had just examined Margaret’s progress. The cervix had barely dilated from the three inches it had the last time she checked. There was no progress! Even though the contractions – John had to force himself to call them so – followed each other a bit more frequently, the cervix did not open further.
Where was that damned fellow Chelmsford? Why wasn’t he here yet?
He looked up to find his mother beside him. She blanched and he did not understand why but his brain was too befuddled to make an effort.
“John, go and lie down. You cannot help her and she needs to regain her strength before the next contraction starts. I will stay here, go!”
Margaret moaned as the pain rushed through her, fiercer now and much longer. She clasped the hands that were holding her, tears running down her cheeks. Her body ached all over and rivers of sweat trickled over her breasts and thighs.
“Margaret, breathe! Now, Margaret! Small puffs, quick and shallow, come on, do it, Margaret!”
When she opened her eyes to the forceful voice of Hannah, barking out the words, Margaret felt immensely relieved to have her near.
“Oh, Mother! I am so glad you are here!” Pain cut her off and she puffed, just like Hannah told her to. It helped … a bit.
“Very good, Mrs Thornton!”That was Eliza’s voice. Now Margaret was no longer so scared. She had two very competent women to help her.
Of course John could not sleep. He was lying on the couch in the parlour, ears pricked to the sounds coming from the bedroom, heart pounding with fear for what might be going on there. Suddenly he sat up and covered his face. It was no use, he was eaten up by sheer fear! It gnawed at him like a wild animal. It tore him apart and ripped the flesh from his very soul!
A cry from Margaret had him on his feet and into the bedroom. His wife was half sitting, half lying against the stack of pillows in their bed. The covers were thrown back, revealing her spread legs and raised knees. On both sides of her, his mother and the nurse were supporting her through yet another attack of pain as she arched away from the mattress. Then Nurse Goodyear took sight of him.
“Mr Thornton, will you please leave the room immediately? This is not your place!”
“Curse it! I will not go! I cannot leave her alone now! Tell me what to do, for God’s sake, woman!”
A deep voice from the doorway cut through his speech.
“You can climb into that bed behind her and support her with your body, mister! And for the rest, you can just shut up or I will remove you from the room myself!”
Dr Mortimer Chelmsford had finally arrived.
She was now one large mass of fierce, hot pain, eating at her, tearing her apart, killing her slowly but unstoppably. She had lost all control. There was nothing she could do except to undergo it, to let it engulf her and to try to survive. A lot of voices were humming around her but she could not make out what they were saying any longer. However, there was one familiar voice that managed to penetrate the haze of red hot pain. It came from somewhere behind her where a warm, hard presence was holding her, supporting her, carrying her through the fiery waves. She clung to that voice with every fibre of her weakening body.
“Very good, my darling, my sweet, brave love, very good. Breathe, my love, breathe, in and out, slowly, deeply, in and out. I am here, my darling, do not be afraid, I am here, with you.”
John! It was John! Oh, sweet Mother of God, thank you!
Five people were stubbornly and tirelessly working together to help Margaret Hale Thornton giving birth to her babies.
There was Dixon, sponging her sweat-streaked face. There was Hannah, offering her hand and arm so that Margaret might cling to them when a contraction set in. There was Eliza, watching the doctor’s every move and word, so that she might do what he asked for. There was Mortimer Chelmsford at the foot of the bed, checking Margaret’s progress after each pain wave and listening to her heartbeat and that of the babies.
Finally, there was her husband John, sitting behind his wife, legs spread to steady himself and hands firmly on her lower back to give her his extra strength when the pain hit her. Indefatigably, he talked to her, encouraging her with his steadying voice. As far as he was concerned, John was taking no risks at all to let anything go wrong in this!