Echoes (12 page)

And much to her own surprise, in the last days of March, Beata found she had renewed energy. She even went to milk the cows one day, and when he found out that night, Antoine scolded her soundly.

“How can you be so foolish? What if one of them kicked you, and hurt the baby? I want you to stay home every day, and take it easy.” It worried him considerably that he could provide no comforts or safe facility for her. He could do nothing to make this easier for her, and even though she was always a good sport about it, Beata was no farm girl. She had been brought up in the lap of luxury and was a delicate city girl. From what he could gather, she had never caught a cold without seeing a doctor. And now he was expecting her to deliver a baby in a cottage in the Alps, without even the help of a nurse or a doctor.

He wrote to a friend in Geneva and asked him to send him a book on midwifery. He read it at night surreptitiously after Beata went to sleep, hoping that he could learn something that would help her. And as the final days of her pregnancy went by, he grew increasingly nervous. If nothing else, her tiny frame panicked him. What if the baby was too big to be born? There was a chapter in the book about cesarean sections, which could only be performed by a doctor. And even then both mother and infant's lives were in jeopardy, and the book admitted that often births of that nature ended in disaster. Antoine couldn't imagine anything more terrifying than losing Beata. And he didn't want to lose their baby either. It was impossible to believe that a baby of the size she was carrying could emerge successfully from such a tiny mother. Beata seemed to be growing smaller and the baby bigger by the hour.

He was sleeping fitfully the night of March 31, when he heard Beata get up and go to the bathroom.

She had grown so huge that she was wearing Maria's enormous nightgowns, which were big enough to accommodate her and the baby. She came back to bed with a yawn after a few minutes.

“Are you all right?” he whispered, looking worried. He didn't want to wake the Zubers.

“I'm fine.” She smiled sleepily at him, and settled back in bed on her side, with her back to him. She couldn't lie on her back anymore. The baby was so heavy that it made her feel as though she were suffocating. He put his arms around her, with a hand resting gently on her enormous belly and, as always, felt the baby kick him.

Antoine couldn't go back to sleep again, and this time Beata couldn't either. She turned awkwardly from one side to the other, and finally lay facing him, and he kissed her.

“I love you,” he whispered again.

“I love you, too,” she said happily, looking beautiful and contented, as her long dark hair lay spread out on her pillow. She turned her back to him then, confessed that it ached, and asked him to rub it, which he was happy to do for her, and as always he marveled at her tiny body. The only part of her that was huge was her distended belly. And as he rubbed her back, he heard her groan, which was unlike her.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked softly.

“No… I'm fine… it's nothing.” She didn't want to tell him she had been having pains since the night before. They seemed like nothing to her, and she thought it was indigestion, and now her back hurt. She was drifting back to sleep again, when he got up before dawn an hour later. He and Walther had a lot of work to do that day, and they had planned to get an early start. Beata was still dozing when he left the house with Walther, as Maria moved quietly around the kitchen.

Beata didn't emerge from their bedroom until two hours later, and when she did, she looked frightened, and came to find Maria in the kitchen. “I think some-thing's happening,” she whispered.

Maria smiled at her with a look of pleasure. “You're right on time. It's your nine-month anniversary today. Looks like we're going to have a baby.”

“I feel awful,” Beata confessed. Her back was killing her, and she felt violently nauseous, and she had a tremendous sense of downward pressure in her belly. She had the same nagging pains in her back and lower belly she'd had the night before, and it no longer felt like indigestion. “What's going to happen?” Beata looked panicked and like a child herself, as the older woman put a gentle arm around her and led her back to her bedroom.

“You're going to have a beautiful baby, Beata. That's all that will happen. I want you to lie down, and think about that. I'll be back in a minute.” She had put towels and old sheets aside for the delivery, and several tubs and washbasins, and she went to fetch them once she settled Beata back in her bed, looking anxious and wild-eyed.

“Don't leave me.”

“I'm just going out to the pantry. I'll be back in a minute.”

“Where's Antoine?” Beata was starting to panic as the first serious pain ripped through her. It caught her entirely by surprise—no one had ever told her it would be like that. It was like a butcher knife reaching up from her groin right through her belly. Her stomach felt hard as rock, and she couldn't catch her breath, as Maria held her.

“That's fine, that's fine. I'll be back in one second.” Maria ran to the kitchen, grabbed one of the tubs and began heating water, and with that she grabbed the towels and sheets she'd set aside and ran back to Beata. She was lying on her bed, looking dazed. The second pain hit her just as Maria came through the doorway, and this time Beata screamed in terror and reached out to the older woman. Maria gripped her hands, and told her not to push too soon. They had a long way to go before the baby was ready. If she pushed too early, she would exhaust herself too quickly. Beata allowed Maria to look then, but she could not see the baby. The pains she had had the night before had started things along, but the real work still lay ahead. Maria guessed that it would be many hours before Beata held her baby. She just hoped it would be easy for her. Sometimes when it was fast, it was worse, but then at least it was over. But as this was her first one, and the baby was large, Maria suspected it would be slow.

With the next pain, Beata's water broke, and flooded the towels Maria had put under her and around her. She carried them out to the kitchen and put more towels under her. But as Maria knew would happen, once her water had broken, the pains began with a vengeance. Within an hour, Beata was in agony as the pains rolled over her in waves, giving her only seconds to catch her breath between them. And when Antoine came in for lunch, before he even opened the door to the house, he heard her screaming, and came running.

“Is she all right?” he asked Maria with a look of terror.

“She's fine,” Maria said quietly. She didn't think he should be in the room, but he had walked right in, and instantly put a gentle arm around Beata.

“My poor baby… what can I do to help you?” At the sight of him, she began crying. She was terrified, but Maria staunchly refused to appear worried. The one thing she did know was that it was a big baby, but the force of the pains she was experiencing would help them. She was already in as much pain as most women when they were about to deliver, and each time Maria looked, there was no sign of the baby.

“Antoine…I can't…I can't…oh God… it's so awful …” She was gasping for air between pains, and Antoine was beside himself as he watched her.

“Go and have some lunch with Walther,” Maria said calmly, but Antoine wasn't moving.

“I'm not leaving,” he said firmly. He had done this to her, as far as he was concerned, and he was not going to leave her to face it without him, which seemed like an unusual approach to Maria. But it seemed to calm Beata a little to have him near her. She made every effort not to scream when the next pains came, and he watched her belly tighten. It was as hard as a rock when he felt it. Maria left them for a moment then, to see to Walther in the kitchen, and Antoine asked her to tell him he was going to stay with Beata until they had the baby safely delivered. She came back with a cool cloth, but it did nothing to help, as the pains continued to rip through her.

It went on that way for hours as Beata screamed endlessly. It was nearly sundown when Maria gave a victorious cry. She had finally seen the baby's head. She saw it now each time a pain came, and the patch of scalp and hair grew with each contraction. Maria and Antoine both encouraged her, but Beata no longer cared. She felt as though she was dying. She just continued to scream, barely pausing for breath. There was no relief now, as Maria told her to push as hard as she could. Beata's face contorted and turned purple as she pushed and nothing happened. Antoine couldn't believe what he was seeing, it was beyond awful, and he swore to himself and silently to her that they would never have another baby. He would never have put her through this if he had known what it would be like for her. She had been in labor all day and into the evening. And by seven o'clock, Antoine was desperate. Beata refused to push anymore, she just lay there and cried and said she couldn't.

“You have to,” the usually mild-mannered Maria shouted at her. She was watching the head come and go with each contraction, and she knew that if it took too long now, they would lose the baby. “Push!” she shouted so firmly that Beata obeyed her. “That's it! Push! Again!” She told Antoine to hold up her shoulders, and told Beata to brace her feet against the footboard. The sounds in the room were horrifying as Beata sounded as though she was being murdered. But as Antoine held her, the baby's head finally came halfway through, as Maria shouted at her to push again, and when she did this time, they heard a wail in the room that stunned them all. Beata was still screaming, but she looked at Antoine in amazement as she heard their baby. Maria told her to push again, and this time the shoulders were free, and with two more pushes, the baby lay on the bed, covered in blood, and wailing loudly. It was a girl.

The sheets around Beata were drenched with blood, and Maria saw she had lost a lot of it, but not so much that she was panicked. The baby was as enormous as they had suspected. And as Antoine and Beata watched, Maria expertly tied the cord in two places and cut it. She cleaned the baby quickly, wrapped her in a sheet, and handed her to her mother, as Antoine hovered over them, with tears pouring down his cheeks. He had never seen anything more beautiful than his wife at that moment and their baby daughter.

“I'm so sorry,” he said to her, sounding grief-stricken. “I'm so sorry it was so awful,” he said, as she put the baby to her breast and smiled up at her husband.

“It was worth it,” she said, smiling up at him, still looking exhausted and ravaged, but blissful. It was hard to believe that this was the same woman who had been screaming and in agony since early that morning. Beata looked worn out, but happy and peaceful. “She's so beautiful.”

“So are you,” he said as he touched her cheek ever so gently, and then touched the baby's. She was looking at both of them, and seemed interested to meet them. Beata kept her at her breast, and lay back against the pillows exhausted. No one had ever told her what to expect. She had been in no way prepared for the rigors of childbirth. She couldn't imagine why no one had ever told her. Women always seemed to speak of these things in hushed whispers, and now she knew why. Perhaps if the women had been honest with her, she wouldn't have had the courage to do it. Antoine still looked shaken.

They lay side by side in the bed, cooing and talking to their baby, and then Maria asked Antoine to leave the room and go and have some dinner and a brandy. He looked as though he could use it. It was after nine o'clock by then, and she wanted to clean up Beata, the baby, the bed, and the room. She invited him back an hour later, and he had never seen anything so peaceful. Beata was lying on clean sheets with combed hair, a clean face, and the baby sleeping in her arms. The scene of carnage and terror he'd witnessed all afternoon and evening had entirely vanished. And he smiled gratefully at Maria.

“You're amazing,” he said as he hugged her.

“No, you were. Both of you. I'm very proud of you. Your daughter weighs almost five kilos,” Maria said proudly, as though she had given birth to her herself, which she was relieved she hadn't. She had never seen anyone deliver such a big baby. And given Beata's size, it was even more impressive. There had been one or two frightening moments when she had been afraid she would lose them, but she had never let on to either of them that she was beginning to panic. Nearly five kilos was ten pounds. Even lying in her mother's arms she looked bigger than a newborn, and Maria had never seen prouder parents. “What are you going to call her?” she asked, as Walther peeked in from the doorway, and smiled at the handsome couple holding their new baby.

Beata and Antoine looked at each other. They had talked about names for months, and they had consistently been undecided about a girl's name. But as Beata saw her, she knew they had found the right one among their earliest suggestions.

“What do you think of Amadea?” she asked Antoine, and he considered it for a moment. He had originally thought of naming a girl Françoise after his own mother, but after how hateful she had been about his marrying Beata, he no longer felt right about using her name. They both knew Amadea meant “loved of God,” and she certainly was, as well as loved by both her parents.

“I like it. It suits her. She's such a big beautiful baby girl, she should have a special name. Amadea de Vallerand,” he said, trying it out, as Beata smiled. The baby stirred then and let out a small sound, halfway between a sigh and a gurgle, and all her admirers laughed. “She likes it, too.”

“That's it then,” Beata concluded. She looked like herself again, in such a short time after the birth. She looked as though she could have gotten up and waltzed around the room, although Antoine was grateful that she didn't. “Amadea,” she said, as she beamed at her firstborn daughter, and looked ecstatically at her husband. They looked like proud parents. And as Antoine held Beata close to him that night, he thought about all they'd been through that day, in utter amazement. And as Beata drifted off to sleep with the baby in a basket beside her, Antoine whispered a silent prayer of thanks for the miracle they had shared. Amadea. She was loved of God indeed and he prayed she always would be.

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