A year ago today my short story Ecstatic Birth was published in audio by The NoSleep Podcast. The cast did an incredible job, with Jessica McEvoy giving a truly sinister performance in the lead role as Mandy.
Now, for the first time, I’m publishing this story in text format here on my blog, so you can read at your leisure. If you would like to listen along to the audio while you read, you’ll find Ecstatic Birth at around 00:19:55 in Episode 18, Season 17 of the NoSleep Podcast.
Content warnings: foul language, disturbing imagery, traumatic birth
There is a cold drip in my spine. I turn to you and smile the lopsided smirk of a stroke victim; my lazy muscles grant you just half the effort you are so adamant you deserve, despite having put so little effort into this endeavour yourself.
“D’you think it’s a boy?” I slur. The beeping heart monitor makes patterns in the air alongside my voice.
“Shut up,” you tell me.
I start to giggle. Can’t help it. Don’t want to help it.
“Mandy, seriously. Shut the fuck up.”
The midwife gives you a sharp look. Even funnier. She counts down to a contraction and I burst into hysterics.
I see your teeth grinding. “Can we make her stop laughing?”
“No. It’s a common side-effect. Survival reflex, we think.”
They both hold me down as my body nearly shakes itself off the bed in a fit of humour.
“Did you know,” I gasp, “that some women– some women!– say that giving birth is like– is like– having an orgasm!”
It’s too hilarious. I sink deep into the pleasure of its absurdity. Ecstatic birth, they call it. The bliss of expelling a whole lifeform from your core. It must be the body’s joyous reaction – a celebration – to finally be relieved of the parasite sucking on its juices.
My body is preparing for this celebration. My nerve endings are tingling. You look at me with disgust as I start to writhe, as moans escape my throat and mingle with the other sounds dancing about the ceiling lights.
“We need to get it the fuck out of her.”
“The doctor is on her way.”
“We need more than a fucking doctor.”
There is panic in your voice and it is delicious. It lends a mottled hue to the other colours in the air. The monitor blinks in and out with a prickly pink noise. My pleasure-sounds are the rich undercurrent, and we are all swimming in its waters.
The midwife is arguing with you, she is fed up with your language. You are fed up with the entire awful situation. Fever dances in you. You’re so close to the edge. We’re both so close to the edge.
“I just want my wife back!” you scream in a white-hot jet of pain.
That does it. The midwife hisses under her breath, a silky dissonance. “This is it.”
Shivers of ecstasy run through me with every contraction. I feel that my scream is red and bloody, and though my mind says bliss my body says agony.
I’m still laughing, wheezing, straining, as my flesh tears and I am split open in a throbbing symphony of joy and terror, and my swollen uterus finally ejects its horrid passenger.
Behind thick walls of glass, a crowd of figures in white coats bend their heads and scribble on clipboards. I see the quiet sound of their pens scritching; it claws at the glass like a nervous animal.
You have backed into a corner, face too pale, staring in stiff dread at the thing the midwife is wrapping in fabric.
“I don’t want to see it!” I shout, except my voice has ground down to a hoarse, pebbly whisper. It falls from my mouth like little stones. “Take it away. Take it away.”
“Is it over?” you say. You know it isn’t.
The midwife is expressing some information to the bodies in white coats. Her words patter in matter-of-fact data droplets onto the glass. She turns to you, still holding the parcel of infant lifeform. “We’ll need to run more tests.”
“You said we just had to get through this,” you say faintly. “We just had to get it out of her.”
Other bodies are spilling into the room. They have noticed me, that I am still spilling, too. I thought the flow of red might have been the sound of my own breathing, but it appears to be tangible to them and they begin mopping, and prying, and stitching. Someone presses the button on my drip and coldness floods into my back. “Is it a boy?” I ask, and fade from consciousness.
* * *
There is a whole ward dedicated to us. Practically the entire hospital. Only three women currently in its care.
You have been staring at me for a long time. Your voice is so hollow. It has the same weight as an echo as it bounces in and out of the empty beds.
“You won’t give it up, then?” you ask again. You have been asking for days.
A nurse hovers on the edge of the ward. Military personnel swap shifts on the doors.
“We’re just fine,” I murmur, and I blow the sound towards my daughter like a kiss.
“Mandy, it’s not real. You understood what it was, before. Before it was– here.” You touch my arm. The sensation is flimsy, insubstantial. “Please tell me you understand. This is not your baby.”
“I gave birth, didn’t I?” I break from my humming to answer you. I am always humming now. It keeps her warm and calm. She loves the feel of my voice.
You, on the other hand, are a black hole for my sounds. They distort and twist as they near your event horizon, then briefly flare before being sucked irretrievably into your silence. I give them freely, as gifts. I don’t mind that you waste them, these miracles. You’ll have miracles of your own, soon.
Eventually, you speak. Little flashes of energy on the frayed edges of your tired soul. “Do you even remember how it arrived?”
“We were walking in the woods,” I trill.
“There was music.” The memory may be vague, but the warm flush of anguish is unquestionable. It tinges my cheeks with longing. “It was beautiful.”
You bury your head in your hands. “This is a nightmare.”
“Isn’t it funny,” I say.
I hum a laugh, tickled by the old thought that has suddenly resurfaced. “Isn’t it funny,” I say again, “that pain is so necessary?”
The look you give me, it tips me fully into giggles, so I cannot finish the thought to completion. But you would know it, if only you could pause to taste the words. We’ve had the conversation before. Giving birth is the one acceptable trauma, we agreed. Necessary trauma: for the propagation of species; for the flighty thing we call family.
No matter how many chemicals we siphon into our bodies, we can’t escape the aftermath, the broken flesh. And perhaps worse, the result of our efforts remains to cling to us in its fragile newborn skin; a whole lifetime cradled in our palms, unaware of the horrors we shall have brought upon it purely by being in the world.
My daughter pleases me beyond all comprehension. They say you forget the pain, and it shall all be worth it in the end.
You pull me from reverie. “Mandy, look at yourself,” you say softly.
Your hand trembles as you touch my stomach. I know you are afraid to lift the dressings, to see how much of me is really left. The bandage sinks a little, falling into a deep depression under your fingers.
You jerk away, choking back a cry. The noise attracts the nurse, who arrives swiftly at your shoulder, indicates visiting time is drawing to an end. You become ghosts on the edge of my vision.
“Is she going to live?”
“We’re doing everything we can. I promise she’s comfortable. But she won’t be going home.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“She’ll be looked after. Studied, but well looked after.”
“And the… thing?”
She glances nervously at the guards on the door. “I wouldn’t know about that.”
She escorts you into the corridor. You hold a near inaudible conversation, which gently floats back to me over the rest of the day.
“I thought you could help her. They said it was just an infection!”
“It’s not. Listen. You need to let her go. They’ll stop allowing you in here soon.”
“They can’t. She’s my wife.”
“What’s that supposed to–”
“You’ll disappear, do you understand? If you don’t let this go. She’ll be safe. They just want to study her. And keep other people… safe.”
“I can’t leave her like this.”
I pluck the speckled sound of your fear out of the air and plait it into my daughter’s pretty gurgling. It weaves into a dappled blanket that curls across the room and drapes around the heads of the soldiers. I send it to keep them warm.
Soon they are muttering. Their skin itches. A heavy base note thuds along their arteries. There is emptiness in them, a hollow well of silence aching to be filled. I send them gifts all throughout the night, until they can feel it dancing inside their swollen stomachs. They drop their weapons and clutch at their bodies, contorting, crying.
What miracles they are blessed with. All life is a miracle: as improbable as pleasure and the forming of stars; as implausible as music born from errant sounds. We shall all be miracle-bearers.
I continue to hum with my daughter, while their screams blend into our beautiful, blissful melody.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story please consider supporting me for the cost of a coffee or recommending my work to a friend! 😊
For more sinister, supernatural stories themed around motherhood, check out my Dark Folklore series of books.