Opinions on my birth scene(19 Posts)
This takes place in 1943 Slovakia, the character is only sixteen , her husband was killed th week before this scene. Unfortunately her baby is stillborn but I will cover that part after I have reviewed this scene. I'm looking for any suggestions on how this feels to people who have actually given birth, or those who have knowledge of a young teenager and the fear around her situation. Thanks
The fire roared in the hearth, flames leaping and licking at the stone leading up to the chimney. Natasha groaned, a deep guttural groan, pushing her feet into the mattress she lay on. Her heels sunk in, pushing away the feelings. She was hot, too hot, even though it was around 30 degrees outside and so cold the windows and doors had stuck inside their frames. Her skin had droplets racing over its surface. She rubbed her forehead, her hand coming away wet.
Then it started again. Her stomach was squeezing, squeezing so hard against her will, the pain was beyond every understanding she had of pain. It was pure agony. She prayed it would stop, prayed that something would happen to prevent this pain.
She tried to grip the sheet under her but her damp, clammy hands slipped and slid on the soft fabric. She roared out in pain, her head flopping back and tossing around like a rag doll or a marionette on a string. Her heels dug in further, she could feel her body straining. She was too young, she wasn't ready. But she had caught first time, Nikolai had been so happy, thrilled.
The lump formed in her throat; Nikolai.
He was gone, gone a martyr of the war, a Martyr for Russia. Mother Russia had decided he was to fight, he was to die. But he had not been theirs to take. Niko was hers. He would never know what was coming.
Natasha's body seemed to arch against her will, pushing her chest up into the air, the laces on the front of the white nightdress she wore coming undone.
"Oh Natalia," the woman called, coming to Natasha's side. She stroked Natasha's hand,patting her like a pet. She felt like an animal, a sow or ewe, so full, so heavy; but her time had finally come.
She hadn't felt this with Nikolai, she had never been scared- even going so far as to say she had felt invincible with him. She remembered the twinges, the worry on Nikolai's face when she had felt the little pains. She had known it was going to be ok.
But he was dead.
The old woman, with wrinkles crumpling up her face like a piece of waste paper, left Natasha's side and she grabbed after her. All sense of comfort was gone, she didn't even know this woman, the woman had been a friend of Nikolai's- he had always planned for her to come here when her time came. They had planned Nikolai to be in the next room; waiting. Waiting to hear the cries of his first born, to hear the words 'you have a son,' or, 'you have a daughter.'
The old woman rushed round to the end of the little bed, pulling up the sheet that covered Natasha's legs. She peaked under, prodding a little, before reappearing,
"Well done Natalia, you are almost there, almost, now I need you to concentrate on me,"
Natasha listened to the words but her mind was elsewhere.
Nikolai had walked in one morning while she was dressing. He had seen her belly, it wasn't that big but it was neat, rounded and her navel stuck out. His eyes had widened, he had been stone faced and then, a grin broke out on his face.
"Natalia, we're going to have a baby."
She gritted her teeth, her whole body screaming. A grunting screaming noise escaped between her teeth. She pushed herself up on her arms which shook violently under her weight, under the pressure under the raw emotion. She felt the fire between her legs, the burn as the shoulders inched forward. She squeezed her stomach, the ab muscles she had gained over her years of training were rippling. She could do this, she would do it, for Nikolai.
She would give him the baby, the baby he had implanted in her belly. The seed that had gone inside her at the right time. It had happened once, on one opportune moment. They had made a baby. And she was going to have his baby, give birth to the perfect thing that Nikolai had left for her.
"Nnnyaaaaahh!" She screamed, and then with a whoosh, a splash of fluid she felt the pain release and the child slip from her body.
The term 'ab muscles' seems out of place, too modern?
I would check on the most likely birth position for that time and place. While on your back in bed is common in the 20th and 21st century West, upright and squatting might have been more normal for your character. Especially if she's giving birth without a doctor present.
My own memory of giving birth is that I had literally no headspace for anything except the process of giving birth. No inner monologue or memories or worries about anything other than "get the baby out". That may just be me though!
(Also, is she called Natasha or Natalia? You use both names.)
Agree with Outrageous that during giving birth I had no thought in my head other than to get the baby out. I couldn't have told you my own name, let alone reflected on memories or anything at all other than just wanting it to be over.
Agree with the posters above. When giving birth, you could have told me I'd won the lottery/ WW3 had broken out/ aliens had invaded and I literally wouldn't have cared. I was so focused on getting my baby out that there was no room in my head for any other thought whatsoever. So I think your scene's pretty unrealistic in that respect (sorry).
I agree with previous posters about the intense focus on what was happening to my body. I don't think this is the place in the text for inner monologue/backstory - you might get away with an occasional flash of thought/memory, but nothing more than that.
It would also be worth having a look at how close you are in the character's head throughout this passage. There are times when the focus seems to zoom out so that you're almost looking at the character from the outside, e.g. in the part where she roars in pain and her body flops around. This is probably a passage where you want to be as tightly in the character's head as you can - so not including anything that wouldn't be apparent to her. She'd probably be more aware of the pain that triggered the roar, rather than the roar, and aware of moving her body to try and relieve that pain, rather than the way it looked when flopping about. Google 'psychic distance' if it's not something you've come across- it's a bit of a game changer!
Do you mean -30 outside? That bit doesn't make sense temperature wise.
I agree with the others that when I was in labour/ giving birth I couldn't think of anything else. I nearly murdered DH for whittering on in the car about the roadworks! I was like shut the fuck up!
Agree with the others- giving birth, there wasn't much thought going into anything, but I don't kind that in the narrative.
Most distracted by the girls name keeping changing - in one name a nickname for the other.
And are you aiming for UK or US audiences?? 30C is roasting. 30F is cold. I read that and thought hot.
Slovakia per se didn't exist in 1943, it was part of Czechoslovakia. It was occupied during the war. Is Nikolai Russian? It's not Czech or Slovak name. In any case there weren't many Russians living in Czechoslovakia during that period and the country only became part of the Soviet bloc in 1948.
Rippling ab muscles are not part of the birth process! "Squezing the ab muscles" sounds totally wrong.
In fact in many women the abdominal muscles actually separate during pregnancy - link
Yy about Slovakia, and what kungfu said about needing to decide how much psychic distance you want between the narrative and your character - you seem to be zooming in and out of her head a lot, and some of the description is very external, like the droplets on her skin and looking like a marionette or a rag doll. Someone in active labour isn't going to be musing about the temperature outside (whether that's minus or plus 30!) or having complex thoughts about the past. As others have said, you are ferociously in the moment.
Agree about birth position being unlikely to involve lying in bed under a sheet, and the woman who is with your character sounds a bit too like a One Born Every Minute Midwife, with the 'well done'/'I need you to concentrate on me' stuff. Definitely no rippling abs!
Where is this bit in your novel/story? Is it at the beginning? If not, I'd probably expect to know more about her attitude to 'Mother Russia' etc. Also, if your character is old enough to be married, would she, or her society, be thinking she's 'too young' to have a child? Our conception of the 'teenager' is pretty modern and society-specific.
I agree also all that reflection during labour sounds like it's obviously written by someone who's not had birth!
If you want get an inkling of what is appropriate, how about you get - say a hammer, and bash your thumb repeatedly, and see how reflective you feel while you are in pain! Then imagine you times that by 100 and make it go on all day. Would you be reflecting or simply in the moment, dealing with the pain?
I would say she would notice the absence of her partner in a very simple thought, perhaps an intense yearning to be held, but knowing he wasn't there.
Perhaps she might focus on Nikolai to help with the pain. When I was in labour. I focused on an orange button on the wall every time a contraction hit. My brain had to hold on to something to try to keep sane during the pain, and it was simply what I could see in front of me, I literally thought to myself "orange button, orange button" as the waves of pain hit. (That was in the less painful labour. In my first, induced labour with no painkillers, even thinking "orange button" would have been beyond me. I was simply screaming with the pain.)
Perhaps she could simply try to hold on to the thought of her husband in contractions to help against the all-consuming pain? She could feel the thought of him melt away as the pain of each contraction took hold perhaps, then try to hold onto him again as the next one hit. But no complicated thoughts - no complete sentences in her head! Again, bash your thumb with that hammer repeatedly and see how complex - or not - your thoughts are!
Also, you don't squeeze with your stomach to get the baby out. It feels much more like having a poo. Seriously. But probably don't include that! Just cut the talk of squeezing out with your stomach muscles.
Very unlikely that a first baby of a young healthy woman would 'slip from her body ' in one movement. The head would be born first - the burning sensation caused by the stretch to the perineum - followed by the shoulders/ body on the next contraction.
And as pp have said, no muscle rippling.
Not bad considering you haven't given birth!
(1) I dont think she'd be thinking about Nikolai much and certainly not in a reminiscing/nostalgic way. She would probably be thinking "you bloody bastard, leaving me to do this on my own!"
(2) The "pushing" - you've made her too active. She doesn't squeeze her tummy, it kind of happens like throwing up (involuntary, convulsive). Well it did for me anyway. The "urge" to push - bit like when you have a big poo that is well on the way and you can't stop it (sorry, tmi at this time in the morning!). So, a bit like throwing up, or doing a poo, but magnified by about 100.
Babies can shoot out. I was on a birthing stool with my second and he zoomed out in one go
causing a third degree tear. The student midwife was fumbling to get her latex gloves on to catch him, the experienced midwife screamed "leave the gloves, leave the bloody gloves!!", I was shouting "AARRRGHH" and out he shot, she just got her hands there in time to catch him.
Gravity helps a lot!
Crucially, you don't birth a baby all in one go. I had a precipitate (ie super fast) delivery and it was still two big pushes for the head and a separate big push for the body.
Imagine putting a bunch of carrots in a bag of water. then emptying it out. That's kind of what it feels like to birth the body - completely different from birthing the head, which is like shitting a watermelon.
And yy that she wouldn't be on her back. That's a modern and very western innovation that wouldn't have been common in communist Eastern European states, particularly in a non-medical setting.
An all-fours birth fits far better with your farm animal analogies, because it definitely feels like it.
And yes it's far too intellectual. Farm animals are not intellectual.
I am a horrible pedant so I am going to mention something about punctuation even though that's not what you're after!
When a character says 'Push Natalia!' you need a comma: 'Push, Natalia!'
Otherwise you are telling them to push Natalia.
"Well done Natalia, you are almost there, almost, now I need you to concentrate on me," needs to be "Well done, Natalia. You are almost there, almost. Now I need you to concentrate on me,"
I agree that the things which didn't ring true for me were first - any mention of stomach or abs - the pain for me was low and inside - more like an upwards stab than a cramp.
The second is the position - nothing on earth could have kept me on my back when I was having contractions - all I wanted to be was squatting, leant over forward.
I would describe the pain as more like low abdominal cramps that spread upwards and outwards whilst increasing in severity. As other PPs have said, you have no consciousness about anything other than the pain and the task in hand. Just before you are ready to deliver the baby crowns. For many women this is the most painful part of all. I felt like I was being ripped in half, the baby's head was pressing on my nerves, causing shooting pains down the outside of my legs.
The urge to push is overwhelming. I agree it is somewhat like doing a giant poo, but you have no control over the sensation. Imagine when you are at the point of vomiting; you can't stop, your body heaves and spasms and you force the vomit up from your stomach. The need to push in labour is a similar unstoppable force. Added to that you are in agony and yet you know that the only way the pain is going to stop, is for you to push the baby out.
You push like you have never put as much effort into anything in your life. your protagonist sounds like she is physically strong. I'm sure she would give it lots of welly.
If you wanted to intersperse the back story with the father could she have a disturbed nights sleep with braxton hicks, and then wake up with her waters broken..?... it's a bit hackneyed, but you could weave the story in as she prepares for birth.
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