There came a pounding at the door. “What is wrong?” cries Amélie, “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong,” I croon, wiping her forehead with a cool cloth. “I felt your baby moving only a moment ago and you are doing so well.” I turn and whisper, “Odette, see who it is at the door, s’il vous plaît.”
Amélie’s middle tightens again. “One more! Bear down, hard as you might Amélie, and your baby will be with you!” She pushes with a loud growl, and grinds her teeth. One tiny shoulder emerges, and as the other does I say loudly, “Arrêt! Do not push for a moment. In through the nose, out through the mouth Amélie, just like I showed you.”
I quickly guide the soft cord over the infant’s head to stop the strangling. I scarcely hear the door open and voices filling the next room. “Push now, Amélie, PUSH!” I command her. Out slips the infant, waxy, blue, and still. I hold the infant girl and rub her with vigor. Nothing.
“My baby is dead!” shrieks Amélie
The baby is too thickly plugged. I suck the blockage from her face and spit it aside. Then I cover her mouth and nose with mine and blow little breaths to start her. She soon turns her head away and wails loudly. Her skin pinks marvelously and a great sigh fills the room. I catch but a glimpse of a tall figure leaving the bedroom’s doorway. “Well done Amélie. Your first of many little loves, to be certain!” I say as I hand her the baby to suckle.
“Merci, Jennon, merci,” she weeps and laughs at once.
“Jennon,” whispers Odette, “Serge Legrand stands by the hearth in need of you. Go now, I will see to it that all settles here for Amélie.”
Serge Legrand is wet and shivering from the rain that falls heavily outside. He springs forth to me, then retracts when he eyes the birthing fluids upon my arms and hands. His revulsion at being so close to a birthing chamber is commonplace. Better they be kept out than in, I think to myself. Serge turns his gaze to the crackling fire and says, “Jennon Petit, Anne’s time has come and she fears for losing the baby. We have lost our only two babies already and cannot stand to lose another.” When he turned to face me, I saw fear and desperation in his eyes. “Anne has asked that I come for you.”
I did not attend Anne’s previous births. Her mother was alive then, and I was not summoned. Upon hearing news of the second baby’s failing health, I had suspected breastfeeding troubles. Unfortunately, Serge would have none of my presence. “Of course. I will wash and fetch my things. I will help all that I can,” I promise him.
“How long has she laboured?” I ask as I judge the house’s disarray
“Three days and four nights,” he answers.
“Jennon… Petit? Serge?” Anne’s weary voice calls out. She gasps and begins to moan.
“Jennon is here,” I say as I go to the bedroom. I take hold of the hands that reach out to me. Looking into her eyes, I say “Anne, we will do this together, oui? I am here to help and I will not leave until this little love is born and fed.” Anne’s head falls back onto her drenched sheets and her cracked lips smile. “Now let me look you over and see what I need to do.”
Anne needs food and drink desperately. I give her sips of broth and small bites of bread between her tightenings. Her skin soon cools and her lips moisten. I think cautiously for a moment. But I realize there is only one thing to do for Anne, so I lean to her ear and whisper, “Anne, your baby will not come out unless your body is given rest. I can give you a tea to take the pain away for a time, so you can sleep. When you wake, you will be able to bear down with all your strength. Can I do this for you?” Anne clutches my skirt and nods, “Oui Jennon, merci.”
I take a few things out of my bag and scurry to the hearth to prepare Anne’s tea. Serge, who must have been standing just outside the threshold, bursts in with wide and searching eyes. He looks at the herbs and bottles in front of me. “What are you doing?” he demands. I explain what needs to be done. He grabs my arm and shouts, “Non! A woman’s pains are the Lord’s punishment for Eve’s sin. Many Sundays Père LeBlanc has told us this, including you! I forbid you to do this!”
I take a slow, deep breath, and say evenly, “I will be harming none in this.
”“Non! I forbid it!”
“If I do nothing, they both will die! Is this your wish?” I challenge him. Serge does not speak. He looks at me with wild eyes, runs his hands through his thick black hair several times, then goes out the door. The most sense you’ve had in four days, I think. I sit, watching the shifting bulges of the rolling baby within Anne’s womb. She sleeps peacefully now. Serge’s boots thump on the threshold. He is talking. I go to quiet him so that Anne does not wake. Serge steps through the doorway, followed by two men. I recognize them immediately. Victor Moreau and Pierre Dubois.
“You bring a barber and a sow-gelder to this birth? It is not their business to attend a woman in labour!”
“You can take your pagan remedies with you as you leave,” says Victor with a wave of his hand.
“You are not needed,” I snap back. I face Serge and say, “Anne does beautifully now. Time is all she needs… Please Serge, do not do this!” Serge refuses to look at me. I eye the metal tools Victor and Pierre begin to drop clumsily on the table… Recently used blades, hooks, drills, and… Oh mon Dieu, les forceps! The sight of their straightness makes me wince. These men know nothing of the inner workings of a woman! My face burns. “Those hands of iron are made only to pull infants out of their mothers piece by piece – tearing and crushing her insides as they go!”
I plead with Serge once more. “Serge, if these instruments do not kill her, the filth upon them will! Have you forgotten the childbed fever that follows the services of these men?”
“You would be best to hold your tongue,” Pierre says under his breath.
“Jennon!” calls Anne. Serge wraps a firm hand over my mouth and I cannot answer. He pushes me out of the house. I can do no more. I walk away, sobbing, along the footpath that runs between the pines. Anne screams -but not from being in labour. She screams from being butchered.
Although I stand, I wish for death. All hair has been shaved from my body. Pins have pricked my skin, head to toe, attempting to find a senseless spot. None was found. Red-hot irons have seared the flesh from my breasts and arms. My severed right hand has just fallen with a splash into the pool of my own blood that surrounds me. And the final insult in this will be that my poor family will be forced to pay for the services of my Torturer and Executioner. I will end this now.
I shout this lie, for all to hear. “God forgive me! I did cause the death of Anne Huel, her unborn child, and thirty-two others. I practiced magic in the service of the Evil One, who had lustful intercourse with me, and to whom I have sold my soul. I killed all the babies I could. I killed them before they were baptized by wringing their necks, pressing on their brains, or sucking their blood. For some, I gave the expectant mother a tea that caused the infant to be stillborn. I dug up their cold bodies out of the ground and took them to the sabbat so that we could feast upon their flesh and He could turn their remains into powder. I used the powder to destroy as many cows in Raon as I could. Sometimes I used the infant’s little bones to make hail. When I do the Evil One’s bidding, he gives me pieces of money!”
Jennon Petit, Midwife
Found guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake
Raon, France 1609
Story written by Tori Jones
copywrite 2004 Tori Jones