A bead of perspiration runs down Persphone’s temple. Stray hairs have escaped her high pony tail and are stuck to her face. She is half sitting, half lying in the huge hospital birthing-bed, mauve hospital gown twisted around her body.
Fria the Birthnurse tuts and sighs. Every time this one writhes on the bed during a contraction she loses track of the fetal heart. Why she is being so stubborn is beyond her. These young women with their retro ideas about giving birth make her grit her teeth with frustration. Who knows what puts such silly, dangerous notions in their heads? Crossing over to the bed to adjust the monitors attached to Persephone’s belly, she lifts her gown and fiddles with the transducers, muttering to herself. Persephone tries to pull her gown back down to cover herself, but Fria smacks her on the back of the hand and says with a weary irritation in her voice, ‘No, don’t do that. I need to do this. Do you want something bad to happen to your baby?’
Walter stares at Fria, mouth wide open with horror, but the words he wants to say wither and die on his lips as he sees another contraction building inside his wife.
Something snaps inside Persephone. These contractions are now almost continuous; white heat burning away everything, apart from the clock on the wall, which seems to have doubled in size, filling her field of vision, each second that ticks by reminding her how long each conflagration engulfs her and how many hours she has been imprisoned in this room. The pain in her back and Fria’s slap is burning away uncertainty and doubt and revealing a kind of clarity and purpose. She knows what she needs now.
Gasping for breath as the fire inside dies down for a minute, she grabs Walter’s hand, who looks down at the small fingers inside his for all the world as though he’s never seen them before, or the woman they belong to.
‘I need my mother’, Persphone whispers. ‘Please switch on my implant. I need to hear her voice.’
Shaking himself out of his reverie, Walter reaches into the pocket of Perspehone’s overnight case and removes a small, pink remote control device, clicks a button and switches on Persephone’s phone implant.
‘Please Fria, would you be so kind as to fetch me some fresh melon? Persephone asks, attempting the tone she always takes when she wants to charm people.
‘I’m not supposed to leave you in established labour’ Fria responds.
‘Perhaps I’ll go and see if Dr Tabib is in his office’, Walter murmers, looking hard at Fria, who is under no illusions that he means he will make a complaint if she doesn’t go to get this silly princess her melon. Signing, she nods her head and leaves the room, door banging once again.
‘Call Mother’, Persephone says in a clear, determined voice, gesturing at Walter to give her the remote. Demeter answers almost immediately and Persphone clicks a button to put her mother’s voice on speaker so Walter can hear.
‘Mother, don’t speak, I don’t have much time. I need you here…WE need you here. This is not what I wanted. I think I see what you were trying to tell me. Please come, I can’t do this without you…contraction coming…speak to Walter…’
‘Is she OK? Demeter asks Walter. ‘Yes, but struggling and I don’t know how to help her’, Walter admits.
‘I’m on my way. Help her get off the bed, she will be much more comfortable. See you in 20 minutes’.
Walter didn’t need to say anything. Persephone was climbing off the bed the instant her mother suggested it. She leans against the edge of the enormous bed, feeling way more in control now her feet feel firmly rooted.
The corridor is completely empty as Demeter half walks, half runs towards her daughter, footsteps echoing on the marble. She’s never been inside this palace of pain before so she is on high alert in case she misses a sign and takes a wrong turning. In the Capitalist Class Structure this is her natural habitat, but she feels out of place and even slightly dowdy amidst the in-your-face luxury of the place, despite her beautiful, blue, designer jumpsuit.
She approaches the AI night receptionist and allows the cyber-girl to scan her iris. “Welcome Mrs Sotiras, do you have permission to visit?
Demeter reaches into her bag for her flexi-screen and shows the android the permission code Walter has sent her. After scanning the code, the doors slide open and the honeyed tones of the android direct her down the corridor to the third room on the left. Demeter stands in front of the door, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the moment. So close to her baby, yet fearful of stepping over the threshold. After all her determined efforts to tool herself up for this moment, Demeter all at once feels doubtful of her ability to help Persephone and fearful of what she may meet on the other side of this door.
Remembering what Derisa taught her about the breath, she takes a deep breath, lets her shoulders drop, arranges her face into a smile and knocks softly. Within a second the door is sliding open and a relieved-looking Walter greets her. This is a profound moment of connection for them both; this is the first time they have been firmly on the same team, united by their love of Persephone.
‘Sephy, my darling…’ Demeter squeezes Walter on the arm and is across the room in a heartbeat, gathering her daughter into her arms.
‘Mum, it’s so hard….and it’s so horrid here! I don’t know if I can do this!’ Persephone moans as another wave hits her, radiating out from the small of her back and enveloping her in its white hot tendrils. She bends forward, one arm supporting her body to lean over the bed, the other reaching behind her to rub her back. Demeter’s mother-instinct kicks in: her own womb twisting painfully seeing her daughter in agony, every cell in her body aches to take it away. She places her cool hands on Sephy’s sacrum and her daughter sighs in pleasure and whispers, ‘harder’.
So Demeter presses harder and Persephone sinks into the bed. A pained, strained, pinched noise escapes her lips and Demeter’s womb twists in sympathy. As she senses the contraction abating, the older woman runs her hands up her daughter’s spine and looks over her shoulder for Walter, who is still hovering by the door, looking uncomfortable. She gestures to him to come closer and he crosses the room in two large strides, shaking himself awake as he approaches. Demeter steps aside slightly and allows Walter to wrap his arms around her girl, who turns and buries her head in the crook of his neck. Demeter crosses to the other side of the bed and waits. The next contraction is coming. She motions to Walter to push on his wife’s back as Sephy disentangles herself from him and comes back to her pose leaning over the bed. Face to face with her mother now, Demeter looks her deep in the eye, says nothing, but begins breathing long and slow, in through her nose, out through her mouth, just as Derisa had taught her.
Sephy soon begins to mirror her mother and Demeter nods and smiles. With that she begins to sway, and sure enough, Sephy follows, her breath and the shifting of her weight from side to side perfectly in synch with her mother.As the contraction builds, Demeter sees the fear in her daughter’s eyes. She reaches out and places a hand on her shoulder, never breaking her gaze from Sephy’s face, breathing….breathing….long and slow….