Angel 91 (birth blues)
Pippa banged on the doors and shouted for the guards. Other prisoners joined in, pranging plastic mugs on windows, mucking about and glad to make a din. Angel sat on the bottom bunk, blood running down her leg, arms folded tight across her chest, panting, and rocking herself back and forth.
The prison staff took their time. Angel has too many dry runs, the consultant labelling her timewaster and hysterical because she felt something was wrong. Aches, pains and constant cramps didn’t count. They took their cue from his affable, upper-class vowels. Footsteps shuffled outside the doors coming in their direction. Then the staff were running, klaxons blared, trying to get nursing staff on the inside line and an ambulance to attend on the outside line.
The baby clung to Angel’s insides. The midwife with a corkscrew perm had a mannish face and was a veteran of such battles, ‘It’s head down, arse up, looking out at the world,’ she declared before making her move. From Angel’s position in the stirrups it seemed like the midwife’s chunky arms and elbows were up to her ribs, she’d jived her hips, big bum wobbling as she tried to turn and rip the baby like a cat from a chimneystack. When she stepped down her hands were hooked, greased with blood, and looked and smelled like she’d been drilling and hit oily mud. Angel wailed, because she knew she was dying as something inside her ripped.
Wheeled by porters, each side of the gurney, running to God knows where. The blood kept flowing and the baby stayed put. Shoved onto the operating table and splashed down like whitening on a ships deck. Sliced and diced. Head sagging and toes wriggling on the edge, she tried to cry out but lost her voice. It drifted upwards to the mask and furrowed brow of the surgeon as he gazed towards her face as if checking she was still there.
The baby— clusterfuck of magician’s tricks— appeared. His umbilical cord round his neck. He was tied to Angel, with a serious expression, distaste for the world in general, she recognised as her own.
Lifted and rolled onto a gurney after she was stitched and stapled. Her drip accompanied her along and around the corner. A holding space with screens, her body laid out like carrion for vultures.
A gaggle of nurses appeared and talked over her head and laughed among themselves as they swabbed her wounds and smeared from vagina to underneath her breasts with the infectious stink of surgical spirits that clung to their clean white uniforms. Angel couldn’t fathom the depth of her loneliness the need for someone to hold her hand and reassure her that she wasn’t a body without a baby.
Then a young nurse, walking hen-toed, brought her baby all cleaned up. Angel resurrected herself pushing through the attending nurses. She held him in her arms as the baby mewed and cried and she cried too.
‘I thought you’d be Lisa,’ Angel said, ‘but you’re a boy, a beautiful boy’.
Only later did she remember holding her hand over her baby’s to still them both for a while. She dozed off, thinking she could hear Lisa’s voice.
Church was perched on a chair reading her bible when Angel opened her eyes. A room with curtains and soft chairs. Her baby sleeping in a bassinet by the side of the bed.
‘You’ll be here a while,’ Church said. ‘After what you’ve been through.’
Angel smiled, it was the nearest to an official apology she could get and she was grateful that Church had wangled the shift so she could be with her.
But when she leaned over to lift her son she squealed. Her body felt as if it had been hit by a winged chariot and her mind took flight. She felt no great joy when she picked up her baby boy, rather the opposite, a sinking down into herself.
Angel’s small breasts had swelled like white dough. Church turned away when she uncovered them to feed her son. She held her son to her nipple, but he cried as his mouth seemed unable to work out what it should be doing. She used a finger under his chin, balanced his wobbly head. When he suckled it seemed all too much for him and his face aged to exhaustion and he let go of her nipple and his head bobbled.
‘What you going to call him?’ Church asked.
She kneaded her breasts and thick glob ran along his nose and mouth, drowning him. Angel covered a frown, a frightened hesitation she’d never know what to call him, with caring for her son.
Shivering, she cried, ‘Can you take him, please?’
Church walked around the bed, a puzzled expression, ‘Are you a bit tired?’ Her voice dropped lower. ‘You look knackered. Do I need to get someone?’
She took the baby into her arms, adjusting his garments, swaddling him tighter in blanket and sleepsuit. She made cooing noises into his face, her face lit up.
Angel’s felt her fingers tracing over the bump of her distended belly and the places were staples bloomed yellow and purple.
She tried to make herself smaller and slide down into the bed. She shut her eyes. Cooing noises were replaced by a slobbering sound as if the guard was eating the baby alive. When she gazed over Church was kissing and guzzling her son’s head with the loud smacks of her lips. A game she devised for torturing Angel.
‘I don’t know whit to dae?’ Angel said.
‘Um,’ Church said, holding him tighter.
‘They’ll take him away.’
‘Sssssssssh,’ Church whispered and Angel wasn’t sure if she was talking to the baby or to her. ‘Sleeeeep’.
From the next room the sound of billowing laughter seeps through the walls and the cheers of noisy neighbours.