The Baby in an Apple Crate
Some of our clients definitely question authority and don’t hold
anyone else’s ideology in greater esteem than their own. This is
certainly the case with Mary and her eccentric husband, Harold.
Harold has a long, scraggly, grayish-white beard that reaches
well below his nipples. He looks like Charleton Heston in the
role of Moses. Harold is quite notorious in the state. This couple
organizes the migrant apple-pickers in southern New Hampshire
and are serious eco-activists. Mary and Harold belong to the
Clamshell Alliance of New Hampshire, which is a controversial,
radical group committed to blocking the construction of the
Seabrook nuclear power plant on our coastline.
The summer that Mary is pregnant, the Clamshellers are
fervently doing demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience
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to prevent the Public Service Company from completing the
facility. Mary is protesting the impending threat of the plant
becoming operational. She is arrested and jailed for trespassing
on Public Service private property. The judge who hears her
case is not sympathetic in the least. He sentences Mary to a harsh
stint in the Rockingham County Jail. Her sentence incarcerates
her well past her due date.
Mary calls me and asks if I will do her prenatal visits in the
county jail and probably the birth as well, if permission is granted.
I agree to help her out. As I hang up the phone, I have a serious
bout of doubt about conducting my business in the clink, as I
am quasi-legal myself. But I pack my bags with the equipment I
need for a prenatal exam and head to the county jail.
The guards are expecting me. They seem to be amused and
curious about my job. I am trying to be as professional as possible,
but I realize I am allergic to the environment and want to flee.
Initially, I have to converse with Mary behind a glass partition.
It is extremely awkward asking her personal gynecological
questions, in order to chart her health history, with everyone
listening. The lack of privacy, harsh bright lights, and sterile,
institutional atmosphere start to remind me of a hospital.
Mary herself is a strapping, powerful woman who seems
capable of handling just about anything with unfaltering dignity.
She has dark flashing eyes and long, dark hair. She holds her
head high and is studiously composed. She is very gracious,
even in the slammer.
Mary is very outspoken in prison, demanding adequate
vegetarian nutrition and an improved jailhouse menu as
required by a pregnant woman. Our visits continue to be behind
the partition for most of her pregnancy. Toward the end of her
pregnancy, the time comes for me to examine her physically,
because she has refused to let the prison doctor touch her.
Mary finagles permission for me to check her in a private room.
We are in a small side room that has a cot. We are monitored
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by a female guard. The guard is large and intimidating and is
inordinately interested in what we are doing. It comes time for
me to don gloves to do an internal vaginal exam to assess Mary’s
cervix for “ripeness.” The guard, who has been standing off
to one side with her arms crossed, comes over and checks my
I say, “What? Do you think I’m going to slip a file into her
vagina so she can break out of here?”
I give her a lame smile, but it doesn’t work.
The guardette has absolutely no sense of boundaries. Her
presence is hard to ignore. I try to focus solely on Mary and her
baby and the information my hands are telling me. As I do the
pelvic exam to feel Mary’s cervix for softening and opening, the
guard’s head is blocking my field of vision. She is leaning against
me to observe more closely. I try to body-check her subtly by
turning my shoulder at an angle to edge her out of the way.
She is immovable. Perhaps this woman is a budding student of
midwifery, but I am getting claustrophobic.
I say, impatiently, “Say, ma’am, do you think you can back off
just a hair so I can have some elbow room to maneuver here?”
The guard shoots me a poisonous look, but she does back off.
She straightens and resumes her crossed-arm sentry position.
My examination tells me that Mary is getting very near to
delivery. She needs to make arrangements with the prison for her
impending birth. Ultimately, she petitions the governor of New
Hampshire about her plight. He pardons her so that her baby
will not be born behind bars. I am tremendously relieved. I was
not especially looking forward to catching a baby surrounded by
unsmiling, implacable matrons. Mary is released from jail and
goes into labor four days later.
Mary and Harold live in a dark-wood yurt they have built
themselves in a clearing in an apple orchard. They generate
their own electricity from a small stream nearby. The yurt’s
curved interior walls that spiral in on themselves remind me of
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a nautilus shell. The innermost room, the inner sanctum, has a
round skylight that filters in soft sunlight.
Silas is born in this womb-like room. The birth goes fine. I put
my hands on Harold’s hands and help guide him as he receives
his own son. It is very touching, except for some inexplicable
reason, Mary’s perineal tissue lacks flexibility, and she tears
through her anal sphincter muscle. I can clearly identify the
two round canisters of the severed sphincter. A third-degree
tear. The birth of Silas’s head had been nice and controlled.
The only explanation I can think of is that this is due to her
languishing inactive in prison for months, without much walking
I call Ken to ask if he will see us in his office to assist me with
the repair. He is surprised at my sudden conservatism and is
insistent that I can handle this repair at home. He asks me if I
can positively identify the two ends of the muscle, which I can.
He says to just put in a butterfly stitch through both sides and
pull it together in a figure eight, and then continue the repair
as usual. I say I’ll give it a shot.
When I go back and look at the tear again, however, it doesn’t
look as straightforward as Ken made it sound. Maybe it’s because
I’ve never done this repair before, but my confidence is waning.
Now I find that I am even having difficulty locating the apex of
the tear. It isn’t that it looks particularly nasty, but I have learned
long ago that if I have nagging doubts, I should listen to myself.
I apply a sterile gauze pack to her perineum, then call Ken and
say we are coming in. He laughs and calls me a weenie, but he
fits us in.
Harold and Mary line a wooden apple crate with a soft,
handmade baby quilt. They bring newborn Silas to Ken’s office
and are sitting in the waiting room, with Silas asleep peacefully
in his apple crate. The women in the office are astounded that
this baby is out and about at only two hours old. Mary is very
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proud of her son and enjoys showing him off to all the cooing
Ken takes a look at her perineum and shows me how clean
the tear really is. He coaches me easily through the repair. I think
he truly loves teaching obstetrics. He is a gentle and articulate
instructor. The repair is fun and educational. He shows me how
to do a new, continuous stitch and a swift and sturdy instrument
tie to lock it all together.
I love this man with all my being.
When we get back to the yurt, Mary says she wants to eat
her placenta, like animals do in the wild. Most folks who have
their babies at home are satisfied to bury the placenta on their
land and then plant a fruit tree or rose bush over it. This is a
nice symbolic act that nourishes the tree as it had the child. The
child knows this is his own personal tree as he grows up. But not
Mary, the quintessential Earth Mother. She wants to devour this
tough organ as a replacement for blood loss.
Studies show that the placenta is exceptionally high in iron
and protein. This helps to rapidly elevate a postpartum woman’s
red blood cell count. Mary states that she knows it will help her
recover faster. It’s fine with me; after all, it is her placenta—she
definitely grew it herself. Mary’s first thought is to blend it in a
Cuisinart with orange juice. I think this sounds like some kind of
gruesome cannibal cocktail. She resorts to drying the placenta
in a slow oven for a couple of days until it can be pulverized.
She mixes this dry powder by the tablespoon in tomato juice
like desiccated liver. Over the course of a month, she ingests the
entire thing. I tease her about drinking Bloody Marys.
~Carol Leonard, Copyright 2008, Bad Beaver Publishing