When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Genna held the sleeping baby to her chest and pressed her eyes shut. She could love him as long as she didn't look at him. She could ignore the shocked faces of the horrified nurses. She could love him.
Holding him against her, she could almost believe that he looked like the other babies in the maternity ward. But then she would hear someone gasp, and the image would come tearing back into her mind. How could this happen to her?
Why, after three years of trying to conceive, had she been given a baby like this? She opened her eyes and peeked out at his misshapen features. Only his tiny face was visible, the rest of him swaddled in a pastel-blue receiving blanket. Her throat constricted as she looked at the angry red wounds where his eyes should have been. She repressed the urge to cry out when she saw, again, his tightly stretched lips.
There was a gentle knock on the door, and Genna looked up to see Doctor Livani, her obstetrician, whose face did not disguise her concern.
"How is he?" Dr. Livani asked.
"He's sleeping," Genna wanted to leave it at that, but opening her mouth had released the flood gates and a huge sob heaved in her chest. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "What am I going to do? Where is Tom?"
"We will have a specialist here in the morning," Dr. Livani said. "Someone who has experience with cases like this. He's already flying in from Johannesburg. Until he gets here, we will do our best to keep the baby comfortable."
"Thank you, doctor." Genna wiped the tears from her cheeks and tried to smile at the woman who had helped her give birth to this creature. "Should I nurse him?"
"Breast milk would be best for him, but I don't think he will be able to latch on. We will bring in a pump if you would like to express, or we could feed him formula."
The doctor examined Genna and left, promising to send a nurse with the pump. Genna put the baby in the bassinet next to her bed and watched his tiny chest rising and falling in the bundle of blankets.
She had dreamed about inspecting her baby's tiny body from the day she'd found out she was pregnant. She had longed to count his fingers and toes, to run her hands along his smooth skin and sing him lullabies while he nursed at her breast.
But that would never be.
His skin was hard, and instead of bending to his shape, it tore whenever he moved. Raw wounds marked his body in angry red lines like stripes on a tiger. The risk of him catching a deadly infection was so high that she could not run her fingers over her own child's body.
Where the hell was Tom?
He would know what to do -- or at least be able to console her while she looked down at their broken baby. What god would allow a child to be born like this? Genna shook her head to try and clear the anguish from her racing mind.
A nurse brushed the curtain aside and deposited a large box on the nightstand. It had wires and plastic tubes coming out of it and suggestive cups attached to it.
"The pump," the nurse said. She shot a terrified look at the sleeping infant, crossed herself, and fled the room.
Anger swelled in Genna's chest. What is wrong with people? He's only a baby. She threw her pillow across the room and it thumped against the wall outside.
A high-pitched wail tore through the room, and it took Genna a moment to realise that it was coming from the baby... her baby.
He sounds like he is in terrible pain, she thought to herself. Of course he was in pain. Every movement tore his skin open. She picked him up and held him to her again, gently rocking and singing to him. But he didn't calm down; his cries only became more frantic and insistent.
He's hungry, Genna thought. The pump lay on the table beside her bed, like something out of a dairy farm, and Genna decided then that she wouldn't be able to express. She stood, clutching the wailing infant to herself, battling to control the rebellion in her knees and fighting back the wave of nausea. She hobbled out into the corridor and down to the nurses' station.
The maternity ward was dark, most of the mothers and their new babies were sleeping soundly. Only Genna and her baby moved. She found a nurse at the duty station. The woman held a book of crossword puzzles in front of herself like a shield.
"Do you need something?"
"My baby is hungry, but I can't feed him. The doctor said you could give him formula through a tube?"
Panic flashed behind the woman's eyes and she stumbled away from the desk. "Yes, I will get someone to help you." She walked a little too quickly toward the kitchen.
If she had gone to a proper private hospital in the city they wouldn't have to deal with the superstitious country-nurses. They'd also have had a specialist see their baby immediately. Maybe Tom wouldn't have left. Where the fuck is Tom?
Genna screamed, a wordless wail that contrasted and amplified the baby's squalls. She noted with some satisfaction that other babies in the ward started an answering chorus. She waited in the hall, listening to the women calm their babies, for a long time. Nobody appeared with milk for her baby though.
She stalked to the kitchen and threw open the door. Inside she saw the three on-duty nurses, huddled together on the floor and praying in hushed voices.
Would people always react like this to her baby? Would they always fear him? He did look terrifying, Genna had to admit. But he was only a baby. These women, these nurses couldn't even bring themselves to feed him. Should I?
She wandered back to her room in a daze, the infant in her arms still mewling with hunger, but the strength was leaving his body now. How long would it take for the specialist to arrive? Would he know what to do?
She closed the door and sank, crying, into her bed. She pressed the tiny body to her chest and closed her eyes. She remembered the first time she'd felt him move within her. The jabs and pokes and rumbles as he turned and stretched in her womb. Had each of those movements hurt him? Torn at his skin?
She had felt such joy at the thought of bringing a baby into the world, but now that he was here she felt only pain. Her pain couldn't compare to his. She pressed his face into her chest and held it there until he stopped crying.
She placed his tiny body in the bassinet and watched him. His chest no longer rising and falling. His suffering was finally over.
She had loved him.