“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Three, Part One

        Throughout the weeks that Elizabeth spent as a wife of the colony, she quickly learned how self-sufficient the community actually was.  Besides having its own school, there was a large garden from which they grew their own organic vegetables, they had a doctor that was a member of the church, and there was a midwife to help the wives through their pregnancies and natural births.  It was truly its own little town and it would be easy enough for someone to live at the colony and never again see the outside world.  There were only a couple of pregnant women in the colony when Elizabeth moved there, so she got to experience her first birth only four days after her talk with Morgan and Jacqueline in the park.

            It had started at six in the morning, just as Elizabeth was waking up and beginning to prepare Benjamin’s breakfast.  A loud and fairly obnoxious knock sounded at the front door.  Elizabeth hurried to answer it as Benjamin yelled, “Answer the door, woman!”

            She opened the door to find Mary and Caroline standing on the stoop, looking more excited than most women looked in the colony.

            “What…?” Elizabeth asked, looking suspiciously between the two women.

            “Janice…you know Janice Wood, right?” Mary began.  When Elizabeth indicated that she did, in fact, know who they were talking about, Mary continued, “Well, Janice is having her baby!  She just went into labor, the midwife is with her right now, and she needs the other wives around her.  Are you coming?”

            Benjamin appeared behind Elizabeth and put his hand on her shoulder.  “What’s going on?”

            “Janice Wood is having her baby,” Elizabeth explained, still looking at the women before her.

            “You should go,” he said.  Elizabeth turned and looked at him in shock, but he wandered into the kitchen.

            “I’ll be back in a second,” Elizabeth told the women and followed her husband into the kitchen.  “You want me to go?” she whispered.

            “It’s tradition here that the other colony wives are with the new mother during birth.  It’s how it works around here.  The wives help with the births and birth their own babies and the colony goes forward.  You’ll go and you’ll come back as soon as it’s over.  Are we clear?”  Elizabeth nodded and started away, but Benjamin grabbed her elbow and leaned close to her ear as he whispered, “Maybe you’ll learn how to become pregnant while you’re there and we can finally start the family.”  He pushed her away from him.

            “Your breakfast is on the table.  I’ll be back after the birth.”

            She walked outside and met the two women.  The three of them hurried down the paths toward a cottage near the middle.  A group of men and a handful of young children sat outside making jokes and laughing amongst each other.  The three women walked past them and inside the cottage.  Mary guided Caroline and Elizabeth into the bedroom, where Janice lay on the bed, trying not to scream.  The midwife sat at her feet and the rest of the wives, as well as some of the school-aged girls, were crowded around the bed, holding hands, and praying.  The three of them joined the circle and the prayer.  The prayer ended as soon as Janice had another contraction and started screaming again.

            The group rotated between praying and comforting for the entire day.  Finally, in the early evening, after one more scream and one more push, the midwife pulled a new baby girl into the colony, who joined in on the screaming.  The school bell clanged five times in commemoration of the new life.  Mary ran out to tell Janice’s husband that he had a new daughter.  He came in by himself and the baby was placed in his arms before she was placed in her mother’s.  He put his hand on the baby’s forehead, whispered a blessing, and said, “God has deemed her to be named Ruth,” before handing her back to the midwife and retreating into the kitchen.

            There was no question.  The mother was given no opinion in the name of her daughter.  Elizabeth thought that it was possible the parents had talked about it before the birth, but she knew it likely wasn’t what had happened.

            “Ruth,” the women all cooed as the baby was handed to her mother.

            It was then that Elizabeth realized exactly how much power the colony wives had over any facet of their lives—absolutely none.  The husband decided when to try to get pregnant.  The husband decided upon the name for the baby.  The husband was the one who met with Pastor Simon to determine how many babies the woman would have, whether she liked it or not.  The husband decided where the wife could go and who she could speak to.  And yet it was the wife who had to raise the children and tend to the husband.  It was the wife who did all the work.  Elizabeth didn’t know much about being a wife in the outside world, but she knew that, at least where she was from, that was not the case.  In so many families, not all but many, the husband and wife had something that at least resembled an equal partnership.  In so many families, the wife didn’t have to have her husband’s permission to talk to her parents or her sister or her friends; she didn’t need his permission to go to the park.  As Elizabeth watched Janice holding Ruth and smiled as was expected, she realized that Aimee, Jacqueline, and Morgan had been right—there was something wrong with this place.  She realized that for the last several weeks—no, for the last several months—she had only done exactly what was expected of her and nothing more, never once questioning why.

            As expected, Elizabeth bowed her head, held hands, and prayed with the other wives over the newborn and her mother.  As expected, Elizabeth gave Janice a hug and Ruth a kiss.  As expected, Elizabeth followed Caroline and Mary and the other wives out of the cottage and gave hugs, congratulations, and blessings to the new father.  But throughout it all, she was not fully there.  She was thinking back to that conversation in the park and all the conversations that had come before—with Morgan and Jacqueline and all of her siblings.  She thought back to all the sarcastic comments that Evalynne had made that had angered her.  She thought back to the worried faces of her parents and the shocked looks her family had given her when they had come to the colony and seen her bruises.  She thought of when she had blown off her three oldest friends and all those times she had locked herself in her room and all the hours she had put in praying and reading the Rose Bible and attending seminars and taking notes.  For what?  To be embarrassed, tormented, forced into marriage, and abused on a daily basis.
            And then she thought of Sandra and Delia and all the rest of them.  She thought of the first time she visited the church, Christmas week, her baptism, her promotions.  She thought back to how proud and loved she had felt during those moments.  She thought of all the seminars and youth gatherings she had spent sitting awkwardly on the floor of a room, hearing all about the mass of rules the church had.  What kind of church had this many rules?  What kind of church demanded all of this from its members?  Aimee had been right.

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