Birth of a Nation
Rhea sweats, lost in the heat of her labor,
while two men battle over her contractions.
The static waves of the monitor cradle her cries
in a rhythmic circle-beat of straining hearts.
She moans in constricting pain and feral hunger.
Her husband says that she has had enough;
they decide that she cannot labor on in her state.
Against her wishes she hears the doctor offer
an intervention to preempt the pain.
Rhea says no I can through her dry lips
in vain. They do not hear her tired voice.
The epidural spreads narcotic knives,
severing womb and strength from Rhea's mind
as amniotic fluid drains past her legs
no longer cushioning the fontanel.
Pitocin forces contractions into her sinews
while a wire is screwed into her baby's head
to watch the decels build with every spasm.
The doctor reads the charts with a legal eye
and calls to ready the O.R. for a section.
The baby's head recedes. She cannot push
and so the doctor spreads her perineum
and kisses it with his knife. She cannot push
and so the vacuum cap is stuck in place
five hundred millimeters tight. He pulls
the child and Rhea tears from stem to stern.
Her child, born by extraction, is torn away
with blood and water at his mother's feet.
Everyone crowds the foot of Rhea's bed;
will they not let her see her firstborn child?
Weak, Rhea struggles up to see the child,
stillborn beneath the vernix and lanugo.