Scenes From the Life and Death of Jackson Overland Frost
Part 1: The Midwife
by K. Stonham
first released December 5th, 2012
The child is born on an icy November night. The winds howl loud outside the house on the edge of the forest, driving snow and sleet in their wake. The motherland never had such bad winters, the midwife thinks, conveniently forgetting that England had its own problems, ones that she had embraced the chance to leave behind.
The mother-to-be is only eighteen, and has no mother, no sisters to do this for her. Like the rest of them, she left her family behind to come to this godforsaken territory, in the hope of a better life.
The midwife thinks that was a lie, and worries that the young woman will die. Whatever she can do to tip the scales, she will, but it is ultimately in God's hands.
She tries to soothe the agony of birth, singing quiet old songs, wiping the sweat from the woman's brow, timing her contractions. She wishes her own daughter did not have to witness this violent, bloody thing, but it is part of a woman's life, and hopefully someday the village will need more than one midwife.
There is a thick leather strap in the mother-to-be's mouth, that she bites on when the pain is too bad to bear. It keeps her screams to agonized wails that match the wind's. It also keeps her from biting her tongue or damaging her teeth. They have the blacksmith, but he is no doctor, and all he can do is pull a rotted tooth. Teeth are important.
The father is not in the small building. Though the midwife does not doubt he adores his young wife, men have no place in the birthing room. Her own husband had taken Thomas back to their cabin. If she suspects he is plying Frost with the devil's brew... well, they may all wish for some before the night is done.
The fire is built high; thank God the village's store of wood is ample, this year. But the room feels cold, like ice. If she were a more superstitious woman, she would think it was death's fingers coming to claim one life, possibly two. But she is not, and it is almost time.
"That's good, Anne," she says, nodding at her daughter to change places with her, to let Anne crush her hand instead in a painful grasp. "You're almost there." Anne pants harshly. "Give her a sip of water," the midwife instructs, and her daughter hurries to do so, taking the leather bit out, tilting the tin cup against Anne's mouth. The laboring woman gulps the water thirstily, as well she might. This night, her body is doing the work of a man's.
All too soon, the pain begins again. The midwife positions herself between Anne's legs, one hand on her straining belly. "Push," she instructs. Luckily, the child is in the right position; she can see the crown of its head.
Anne cries against the strap.
"Push," the midwife says again, her other hand now on the child's head. "PUSH!"
With one last heave from his mother's body, the child comes into the world, slippery and red in the firelight. It is a long moment of silence, then he wrinkles up his mouth and cries.
The storm, the midwife thinks. The storm has stopped.
Anne has fallen back on her bed, panting, crying. As well she might; she has done a magnificent thing this night, bringing life into the world. The midwife keeps an eye on Anne, and on how well her daughter takes care of the woman, while she tends to the newborn. Her daughter does a good job, and by the time she has the child cleaned up, Anne is ready to hold him. She is exhausted, sweaty, but radiant. Now they merely need watch her for milk-fever. God willing, all will be well.
"Fetch Master Frost," the midwife instructs her daughter, and the teenager obeys, taking her bonnet and cloak from the peg by the door before vanishing outside, into the night.
"He's beautiful," Anne whispers, touching her son with wondering fingers.
"Aye," the midwife agrees, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You did well." She doubts there will be another child soon, possibly ever. The work of birth is hard, and some women are slow to recover from it. She has seen many, and feels in her bones that Anne is such a one. But this child is strong.
The door bangs open, revealing a moonlit winter night outside. Thomas Frost's form fills the door for an instant before he moves to his wife's side, not even removing his cloak or cap in his haste. "Oh, Annie." There is no trace of liquor on his voice or breath, and the midwife is glad that her husband restrained himself. Or that Frost was wise enough to stay sober. His brown eyes glance up at her.
"All is well," the midwife reassures him.
He smiles up at her, and it must have been that very smile that captured his wife's heart. She can't help smiling back. "Keep her warm, and quiet," she instructs. "Come fetch me immediately if she begins a fever or a chill." With a nod at new mother and new father, she goes to the door, where her daughter waits, collects her own coat and bonnet, and leaves. In the cold winter moonlight, she sends a brief prayer of thankfulness to God, that this night there was no tragedy.
Behind her, in the small cabin, Thomas Frost runs wondering fingers over his son, marveling at the tiny fingers, the delicate nose, the unhappy, frustrated expression of an infant thrust into a world it does not understand. "He's perfect," he murmurs, reverent, as deeply thankful as he was on the day the priest joined him to his wife in marriage.
"What shall we name him?" Anne murmurs. Her voice is rough, and though he knows little of women's things, Thomas knows this night has been hard on her. Harder, perhaps, than leaving her family behind had been, and she had soaked his shirt after the ship's last sight of England.
Perhaps he can give her a little of that back. "Jackson?" he suggests quietly.
Her dark eyes look up at him, surprised that he would suggest her family name. "Overland," she suggests for a second name. The name of his older brother, who had drowned when Thomas was just a child.
He nods, and can't help smiling. "Jackson Overland Frost," he tries the name out. It sounds well. So it shall be.
Shining bright through one of the two small windows, paned with expensive glass, the moon welcomes the child.
Author's Note: Thus, Jack is born in winter the first time around too. With the Man in the Moon watching him already.