Village Birth

I

When Yiorgos was born he had already been staring at death for weeks. During Sofia’s final hard contractions a pink hand appeared and then withdrew, making way for a tiny skull and, to the horror of the women in the room, a shriveled blue face. A face that Yiorgos had explored during the final days inside the womb of his mother. And against this body that his arm and legs first tested themselves in the waters of his mother’s womb. Here that his identical twin brother took leave of this world and hung suspended there opposite Yiorgos like a bizarre talisman.

II

The first cry could be heard even while the infant’s spindly legs lingered behind in the birth canal. Its delicate head, covered with a fine curly down and still affixed with the fluids of its mother’s body, tilted backward, the startled cry breaking across the barrier of air, surprising even to the infant’s own ears. For it is what Yiorgos remembered years later, the sound of his own first cry on this earth as it went out from his newly expanded lungs and mouth into the air of that room, as if sent to him from another world

III

While Sofia waited to hear that cry, little did she or any of those in the room imagine what needed to take place first. How the blood vessels of the placenta must contract. The fetal lungs, essentially collapsed, must suddenly expand with enormous force and welcome air. The upper chambers of the heart, previously open to each other through a passageway, must lose their entryway to one another. The blood vessels of the umbilical cord now rendered obsolete. In that singular cry a vast metamorphosis was taking place permitting the symbiosis that had nourished and sustained the infant to end.

Myra Sklarew is former president of Yaddo Artists Community and professor emerita at American University. She is the author of Harmless (poetry, 2010), editor of The Journey of Child Development, and co-editor of the forthcoming Holocaust and the Construction of Memory.

Photo credit: Claudia Currie-Gleason

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