World of Radiation

How many is Too many?

The woman’s screams pierce the early morning air. Sweat clings to her brow. Her face contorts in pain as the contractions intensify signaling the arrival of her first-born child. Squeezing her hand is her husband. His face scrunches in concentration as he watches the midwife from where he stands by his wife.

The midwife knows something’s wrong. The labor shouldn’t have taken this long, shouldn’t have been this difficult. She does her best to hide her concern as she glances at the to-be-mother. “That’s right. You got this,” she urges encouragingly. A smile’s too much for her at this point and it won’t do either woman any good. “Alright, just one more push.”

The pregnant woman shakes her head, her sweat-soaked hair flicking across her cheek as she does so. Her husband wipes it away. “I can’t do it,” she complains. The pain and exhaustion are palpable in her voice as she sounds close to tears.

“You have to,” the midwife returns, trying to remain polite. “I’ve done this many times before, hun. You have to push just once more.”

With a squeeze of her husband’s hand the woman does just that, trying her hardest to bring the unborn baby into the world. Teeth clenched, she groans. The groan strengthens until it’s a full-blown scream. Suddenly, the pain subsides. The woman falls back against the pillows, unable to even keep her head up after the numerous hours of labor.

Unfortunately, the baby doesn’t cry. It doesn’t make a sound as the midwife walks over to a table covered in blankets, away from the prying-eyes of the weakened-mother.

“What is it?” The father asks, his voice full of excitement.

The midwife doesn’t answer as she tries everything she knows to get the baby to cry, to make a noise, to do anything, even breathe.

Anxiety claws at the father as his smile drops, watching the back of the midwife. “Tell me!” He demands, his voice almost a shout. Suddenly very quiet he adds, “what is it?”

Wrapping the newborn in a blanket the midwife turns slowly to the would-be-parents with a somber expression. “It was a girl,” she whispers.

“Was?” The father repeats, choking on the word as tears sting his eyes, his hand still holding that of his wife’s.

Only a tiny nod is the midwife’s response as she steps closer to the parents, their stillborn baby girl in her arms. “Do you want to see her?”

The father’s lip trembles as he tries to hold himself together. The tears blur his vision. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to see the baby they lost, the sadness more than he can bear, but he sniffs. “Dear?” He whispers, his voice cracking. “Do you… want to see her?” He continues to stare at the midwife as he asks, wishing that there were something he could do, anything to bring back the baby girl who was supposed to be theirs.

Only when the mother doesn’t answer does the father glance at his wife. More pale than he’s ever seen her, fear washes over him. “Anna!” He cries, realizing that her hand’s gone limp in his. “Anna!” He shrieks, climbing onto the bed next to her, grabbing his wife by the shoulders.

Her eyes are closed. Her breathing quick and shallow. Her face paler than the moon.

The midwife quickly sets the dead baby on the table before rushing back to the mother’s side. “No,” she breathes, feeling the woman’s rapid pulse. “Not again.”

“What’s wrong!” The husband snaps, his panic escalating.

“She’s still bleeding,” the midwife returns, her tone level as she notices the pool of blood around the woman’s waist, soaking into the sheets.

Stumbling for words, the man snaps, “well! Stop it!”

“I can’t,” the midwife answers sternly. “Maybe before the war they had the ability to stop post-labor bleeding, but we don’t have any of the medical equipment necessary for that anymore. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for her.” She steps away from the bed as the man leans over his dying wife, his tears dripping onto her face.

“I don’t care about the baby,” he whispers. “I just want you back. Come back to me, please,” he pleads, holding his wife’s hand as if his life depends on it. “Please, don’t leave me.” A sob racks through his body.

No longer having a place in the room, the midwife steps outside where a man in a pristine suit stands anxiously waiting. He rounds on her. “What’s going on?” He demands urgently, his eyes wide.

Meeting his gaze she answers, “you know what’s going on.”

His expression cracks as the reality crashes into him, causing him to step backwards into a table. “No,” he breathes, glancing at the floor as if it held an answer on how to fix the problem.

“I told you this would happen,” the midwife continues. “I have seen it again and again.” Her voice fills with exhaustion.

Looking back up at the midwife, the man answers, “but it doesn’t happen to all of them.”

Every child born of the coupling between an air adaptation and an earth adaptation has resulted in a stillbirth and many times the death of the mother. You know the statistics as well as I do.” Her brows furrow as she looks at him. When he doesn’t respond she adds quietly, “why would you allow this knowing the risks?”

The man gapes at her, fumbling to find words. “I- I didn’t think-”

She shakes her head at him. “You’re right. You didn’t think. Now, you know what needs to be done, Captain. No more crossings of the adaptations can be allowed. No more stillbirths. No more dead women. No more brokenhearted men. It’s best for everyone.”

Lifting himself back to his feet from where he leaned on the table he closes his mouth. It settles into a hard line. He nods. “Very well, I’ll… talk to the council tomorrow. It’ll be done.” Without so much as a glance at the midwife he walks past her into the bedroom where his daughter lays dying.

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