“Don’t leave me,” Claire pleaded. The fire reflected off her sweat drenched brow as she lay on a bed of blankets on the wood floor. Mary winced as Claire’s fingernails dug into her wrist. Claire’s labor pains were long and hard now, and the two young friends clung to each other in the otherwise empty cabin.
“Even if I wanted to, I can’t now,” said Mary, forcing herself to sound calm and unconcerned. She shuddered as the winter storm blew a draft under the door and across the floor. “The wind would push me right back through the door and back to you before the snow even had a chance to touch me.”
She wiped Claire’s brow with a damp rag and stared deeply into her frightened eyes. “Everything will be fine, Claire,” Mary asserted. “This pain is but a moment and shortly you will be holding your beautiful baby. You’ll be fine. Everything will be fine.” She repeated the words, hoping to convince herself.
Neither woman had expected Claire’s labor to start that day. They had planned on finishing the last baby quilt together, while their husbands worked on securing the barn at Mary’s cabin, just a mile away, before the first big storm of the winter arrived. The baby wasn’t expected for another couple of weeks, but the storm arrived early, before the men were able to make their way home.
When the pains of labor began, the friends stoked the fire and chattered in excitement and anticipation, contemplating the glory and wonder of new life. The labor grew more intense as the snow continued to whirl outside, blowing more and more fiercely as the contractions raced on. The earlier emotions gradually morphed from anticipation to anxiety as the women realized, they were on their own and neither the storm nor the baby were holding back.
When Claire closed her eyes for a small moment of respite between pains, Mary also closed her eyes. She had assisted other births with her mother, a gifted midwife. She knew to expect intermittent pain and relief. She knew how to tell when the baby was close and had witnessed her mother help many babies take their first breath before laying them in their mothers’ arms. Claire’s labor was different somehow. The pain seemed longer and deeper with hardly a chance to catch a breath. Mary whispered a prayer. Please dear Father in Heaven, make me equal to the task. Help me be what she needs.
Claire twisted and pulled at the blankets beneath her. She grasped Mary’s hand, this time with such force that Mary bit her tongue. “Robert. Where’s Robert?” Mary glanced at the window and the drifts of snow rushing like angry fists against the glass.
“He’s on his way, Claire,” Mary lied. “He’s coming.” She wiped Claire’s brow again and tried to loosen Claire’s grip on her hand.
“He said he’d give me a blessing. I need a priesthood blessing,” Claire pleaded. Her eyes shut fiercely as another pain ravaged her body. The pain was long and deep, low in her back. It felt as though the pain would rip her limbs from her body. She opened her eyes as the pain faintly diminished and stared up at the blank ceiling.
“I can’t do this,” she sobbed, in short, staggered breaths. “I don’t know how. Please God, please help…” With a guttural yell, she pulled her head toward her knees.
Mary knew this was a sign that birth was near. She wrenched her hand free of Claire’s grip. Claire rested her head back on her shoulders and cried, both hands now grasping the edge of the blankets at her side.
Mary knelt at her friend’s feet, ready for the next contraction. She could see no progress as Claire screamed and clenched her fists again. Claire trembled and frantically looked for Mary but couldn’t find her. Mary seemed so far away. Everything seemed far away and dim. Mary saw Claire’s glazed eyes and was frightened for her. Something wasn’t right, she could feel it. She could feel it deep in her heart, in a way that spoke truth. Something wasn’t right.
Mary wished her husband were here with her. She longed for his confidence and capabilities. She yearned for the priesthood authority he held and for the blessing he could offer poor Claire in her time of need. She covered her head with her hands and let out a helpless sob. What could she do, a young, inexperienced woman, alone in this solitary cabin, with the storm raging outside and her friend failing by her side?
In that instance, staring into the fading eyes of her friend, Mary rose onto her knees. She had to do something, she decided. She wasn’t about to sit by and wait for her friend to die. Mary knew God exercised His power on this earth and she knew He answered prayers. She had seen it before, when the priesthood was exercised on behalf of others who were ill. She didn’t hold the priesthood, but she believed in its power. She placed her hands on Mary’s fevered head. Her hands shook as she began a fervent and sacred prayer with all the power of her faith. She vocally and reverently began to plead for the life and safety of Claire and her, as of yet, unborn baby.
Mary wouldn’t allow room for doubt in her mind. She searched her heart for feelings of the spirit and the will of God. She moved her hands to cradle Mary’s face and continued to pray for guidance, for knowledge, for a miracle. Claire writhed and groaned as another contraction enveloped her mind and body in unending pain. “I don’t know what to do, Father,” Mary submitted. “Please guide my hands.”
Mary laid her hands on Claire’s stomach and paused. Claire’s breathing was irregular and shallow. Her stomach was tight, yet Mary could feel the slight contours of the baby in the womb. She continued her plea to heaven. She felt to bless Claire in her pleading, with strength and power and the will to live. Suddenly her hands felt warm and her sense of touch acutely perceptive. In her mind, she could see the form of the baby and knew it needed to be turned. Following the impressions she felt in her mind and her hands, she pressed firmly on the hidden limbs of the baby and gently nudged them to a new position. She cradled the form of the baby in her hands and prayed a blessing on her. Yes, somehow she knew this baby to be a girl.
Mary was suddenly aware of Claire shifting on the blankets. Feeling like she had woken from a dream or trance, Mary reached up and grabbed Claire’s outstretched hands and helped her brace herself with her knees. Mary lowered her hands again while Claire endured the final anguish and freeing emptiness of childbirth.
When Claire finally fell back in exhaustion, Mary held in her hands a baby girl and helped her take her first breath. Hardly moving, she reached for a clean cloth, tenderly wiped the residue of birth from the baby and wrapped her tightly in a soft blanket Claire had prepared just that morning. She shuffled, still on her knees, to Claire, who laid quiet yet still trembling from the effort of the birth. Claire tried to pull herself to a sitting position as Mary pulled a nearby chair behind Claire as a backrest.
“She’s beautiful,” Mary said, placing the baby in Claire’s arms, marveling at the miracle that had taken place. Claire cradled the baby close to her chest. The fire flickered and flamed brighter for an instant, casting warmth and light around the two women and the newborn. The muffled wind continued to blow around the cabin like a sentinel guarding a valued possession.
Claire’s eyes sparkled and shone in the firelight, filled with well-earned tears. She looked to Mary, whose tears matched her own. Mary wrapped her arms around Claire and her baby and held them both.
“I thought I wouldn’t make it,” Claire said quietly, almost to herself. She looked at Mary, then back at the baby and stroked her daughter’s cheek. “I didn’t think I would make it and now I’m holding this beautiful baby. My baby.” Words failed her and she laid her head on Mary’s shoulder.The reverence of the experience settled in the room and the spirit grew thick around them. “We are blessed,” Mary acknowledged. “So very blessed.