LSQ: A major theme that runs through your story is “the narrow thread between birth and death”. What made you focus on the connection between the two? How powerful is the space between?
Carol: My first child and I both had a difficult time with the birth process, though thankfully we bounced back. Afterward, I rocked my child and thought, “If we’d lived just a century ago, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have made it.” History is full of women dying due to childbirth complications, and another heartbreaking fact is that even today, childbirth can be a risky act for a woman. Yet despite the pain and risks, birth is also the act of bringing new life into the world.
I’ve thought a lot about women of the past who watched their peers die in childbirth, yet they were also expected to bear children as their primary role and full well knew the dangers involved with childbirth. History is full of tales of wars and politics, but to me, the courage of those women is profound as they balanced the risk of death with the hope of life.
LSQ: Hannah makes mention about how important her anger is for the task ahead. Why this particular emotion? How does the anger keep her focused?
Carol: When channeled properly, anger at a particular situation or injustice can be followed by a desire to change things for the better. Hannah draws upon her anger to remind herself to not become complacent, even if childbirth deaths are rather the norm for this setting. Anger is a
wonderful emotion for change, and in Hannah’s case, she uses it to push herself harder to prevent the loss of life.
LSQ: Hannah also said that “Guilt was a power of its own”. Jobelle is a beautiful manifestation of this, though she no longer wants to be. Could you explain their relationship and the complex nature of the guilt that ties them?
Carol: The character of Jobelle came to life when I wondered, “What if your one failure followed you the rest of your life?” For a midwife, a failure means death. Hannah feels, like I do, that even one loss of life is one too many, yet under Hannah’s watch, Jobelle and her child died.
The relationship between Hannah and Jobelle is complicated, as Hannah sees her failure every day in the spirit of Jobelle and the child, and the guilt pounds away at her. It pushes Hannah to strive harder and test boundaries to keep her charges safe.
When Jobelle whispers in Hannah’s ear to come back, that’s a reminder that Hannah cannot accept death or retirement, for there is always a need to atone. There will always be more women needing help. Guilt eats away at Hannah, yet it also keeps her from giving up or allowing
herself to die. Guilt is a complicated thing, indeed.
LSQ: What emotions of your own did you experience while writing this? Was there a part that was more difficult? Or fulfilling?
Carol: I wanted to emphasize the tension and uncertainty of childbirth, and I drew from personal experiences and stories I’d heard from other women. Some of my own dark places went into this story, with remembering my own miscarriages prior to finally having a successful birth.
The most fulfilling part of the tale, for me, was the moment when the baby cries, for despite all the chaos and uncertainty, a new child is born and cries out for the first time. In spite of Hannah’s pain and Jobelle’s inability to rest in peace, new life arrives and a mother can hold her child for the first time. I can instantly go back in time to that moment when I first got to hold my child for the first time.