Ashleigh Frayne is a medical student in the Class of 2018 at the University of Calgary
My neck aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My mind, as though clouded by sleeplessness,
Or cushioned by some dull opiate.
One hour past, and the labour ward darkens:
The softly buzzing lights overhead pulse
And seem to warn of Queen Mab:
Midwife to thoughts unbidden,
Or is it Flibbertigibbet? That foul fiend
Who crafts cleft lip, club foot, palsy,
And greets the nightmares we work tirelessly against.
Outside the concrete walls I think I hear
A darkling call, soft names in wistful rhyme.
Fitting for a place poised between easeful death,
And the twilight struggle for new life
That is born amidst the murmurous night wards.
To arms outstretched, a soft midnight kingdom
Waiting to welcome new life unformed.
Full of promise and roads less travelled,
A sigh of relief as this moment blends to the next
And all is safe and certain — if only for a while.
Mothers in the olden days didn’t think themselves living
In an age of medical calamity, suffering
Grief infused with pang, void, dark, and drear,
Listening to the unfamiliar jangle of
The Chamberlen family’s furtive forceps
Snatched from the mouth of death
Gifted a wonderful yet impossible future, like Sarah,
Who laughed that she was too old to bear.
Nor did they see themselves as figures
Poised at the final act of a Shakespearean tragedy.
If we look back to women birthed before science,
We might feel humbled by so many lives lost.
On a long night shift, filled with tears of happiness
And praise for the miracle of modern medicine,
I like to imagine living in another age:
Perhaps sixteenth-century Switzerland,
Where Jacob Nufer, the pig gelder, performed a caesarean
On his pregnant wife, to cheat fate,
As we so often aim to do in modern times.
This reminds me to be grateful.
Nostalgia: the very word is like a spell,
Disguising the hours when we trembled with fear,
When we could not dupe fancy so well
And prayers became broken stones.
When misfortunes were merely the stuff
Of ordinary life, and surgeons were but barbers
And women weavers who crocheted
Poor infants from their mothers’ wombs.
Now, medicine alters the hand nature plays at birth
Until we cannot remember what it would be without.