Love Comes Softly: The Missing Placenta and the Love Talk

Love Comes Softly: The Missing Placenta and the Love Talk May 24, 2019

Love Comes Softly, chapters 21 and 22

So, that whole doctor thing? Last week Ma Graham spilled the beans about Clark’s secret. The reason Clark has been making all these trips to town, Ma explained, was because he’s trying to get a doctor to come to town before Marty has her baby. Marty got warm fuzzy feelings from that revelation. But … that’s it. Oke opens the next chapter like this:

Clark’s shoulders drooped, and Marty knew he was probably feeling discouraged over the outcome of all his efforts. A doctor indeed had been secured for the town and surrounding community, but he wouldn’t be arriving until sometime in April.

Which, of course, is too late. But what I want to know is, did Clark tell Marty that he was trying to get a doctor in town? Or did Marty tell Clark that she’d found out accidentally? Ma Graham asked her not to. I just feel like we missed a step here, because suddenly Clark knows there isn’t going to be a doctor in time, and Marty knows too, so clearly they must have talked … sometime. Off screen. I guess? It just feels anticlimactic.

Marty’s time is getting close, so Clark suggests that Ma Graham move in with them for a few days. “Sally Anne an’ Laura be right able to care fer the rest,” he says. “Good practice fer Sally Anne. Hear she be needin’ to know all that afore long.” Really? Seriously? Sally Anne isn’t about to jump into having a dozen children. You have no idea how many things I had to unlearn when moving from caring for (and cooking for) a dozen younger siblings to managing my own household … of two. I’m pretty sure Sally Anne’s already got this.

But I mean—there’s a way to make asking another family for a favor seem like you’re doing a favor for them. Real smooth there.

Ma Graham being Ma Graham, she moves in, bringing a heavy feather tick and some quilts with her, so’s she can sleep on the sitting room floor, see.

Marty didn’t keep her waiting long. Two mornings after, on February sixteenth, she awoke from a restless sleep sometime between three and four o’clock. She tossed and turned, not able to find a comfortable position, feeling generally uneasy.

What was uneasiness gradually changed to contractions—not too close and not too hard, but she recognized them for what they were.

Bullshit. She did not.

For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been pregnant before, Braxton Hicks contractions occur off and on for several weeks before a woman’s due date. These are “practice” contractions, but they can be damn hard to tell from the real thing—especially for a woman going through labor for the first time. I spent weeks counting minutes, with my first, to see whether these were close enough together to be concerned about. I couldn’t tell them from regular contractions because I had never had regular contractions. 

Even with my second, I still had trouble telling whether my contractions were regular contractions or just Braxton Hicks. I damn near went to the hospital the day before my son was born, because I was so sure it was the real thing. By the day he was born, I was so gun shy I waited way too long to go—because I wanted to be completely sure this was the real thing—and let me just say that that was a bad move.

So actually, Marty would’ve already thought she was going into labor half a dozen times. She might even have woken Ma Graham in the night already, for a false alarm. I am highly skeptical that she would have instantly recognized these for what they were.

Regardless, Marty is in labor. “I jest feel right miser’ble,” she tells Ma Graham. Ma posts water on to boil. “No harm in plenty of hot water,” she says. Clark comes in, and he’s already pale. Ma says not to worry, she just checked and the baby already dropped down “real good” and seems to be turned right.

What follows is actually a fairly good description, I thought, of the pain fo being in labor. Marty groans, Ma posts a cool cloth on her forehead, and Clark takes Missie out to the barn to work on some harnesses, so she won’t hear Marty’s screams. Time passes. Things go on like this all day, until late afternoon.

I’m not super familiar with the history of midwifery. Marty gives birth laying in her bed. Indeed, she spent her entire labor period laying on her back in her bed. There was no one assisting but Ma, and there’s no description of getting Marty into a good position to push.

And then there’s the missing placenta.

…at quarter to four, Marty gave a sharp cry that ended as a baby boy made his appearance into the world.

With a sob Marty lay back in the bed exhausted, so thankful that her work was done and that Ma’s capable hands were there to do what was necessary for the new baby. A tired but joyful smile couldn’t help but appear on Marty’s face as she heard her son cry.

“He’s jest fine,” Ma said. “A fine, big boy.”

In short order she had both baby and mother presentable and, placing the wee bundle on Marty’s arm, went to bring the good news to Clark.

“He’s here,” Marty heard her call out the door, “an’ he’s a dandy.”

So Clark comes in, bringing Missie. He immediately asks if Marty’s okay; Ma says she is. She leads Clark and Missie into the bedroom, where Marty was laying, “tired” and not looking “her best after this long, difficult day,” but smiling “gallantly” nonetheless.

Clark asks what she’s going to call the baby.

“He be Claridge Luke,” Marty answered.

“Thet’s a fine name. What the Luke be for?”

“My pa.”

“He’d be right proud could he see ‘im. His pa’d be right proud, too, to have sech a fine son.”

Marty nodded, a lump hurting her throat at the though.

For all their talking off screen earlier, they’re certainly not talking about all that much off screen. You’d think this would have come up earlier.

Anyway, Missie stares at the bundle with huge eyes and asks whether that is the “Ba-by.” Clark tells her it’s “the baby thet yer mama done got ya.” Missie asks to rock him, which Clark thinks is hilarious—Missie is clearly charmed by the rocking chair.

“First the baby an’ yer mama have to have a nice long rest. We’d best be goin’ now an’ let them be.”

Marty responded only with a slight smile. She was a strange mixture of delirious happiness intermingled with sadness and was oh, so very tired.

I do declare, she thought as the two left the room. I think thet be the hardest work I ever did in my whole lifetime, and after slowly sipping some of Ma’s special tea, she drifted off to sleep.

So, here’s my question. When did the placenta come out? I realize this may sound like I’m being pedantic, and maybe I am. And yet. As soon as the baby comes out, Ma’s focus shifts to making Marty and the baby presentable, so she can bring Clark in. The placenta can take half an hour to emerge, but the text doesn’t suggest a pause.

And then, after Clark and Missie leave the room, Marty immediately goes to sleep. I assume Ma wasn’t delivering the placenta while Marty sleeps. So, where was the placenta? I realize, again, that I may be being picky here, but books being accurate in descriptions of things like childbirth is one of my pet peeves. And wouldn’t Ma be worried about infection, too? Just in general, this feels way too sanitary.

That’s where the chapter ends. Let’s go on, shall we?

Ma decides to stay a few days.

“I wanna see ya back on yer feet like afore I leave ya be,” Ma declared. “‘Sides, there be nothin’ pressin’ at home jest now.”

I’ll let that one go.

So anyway, eventually Ma decides Marty’s up and getting around enough that she can fare on her own. The baby is doing well; Ma claims he has gained two pounds in a week, which seems very unlikely, given that new babies generally loose wait before then regaining it. Before Ma leaves, she and Marty have a sit-down where they have a conversation.

You know the title of this book? “Love Comes Softly?” Well, this chapter is the explanation. Ma is musing on how sad she is to lose Sally Anne, and we get this:

“She seems so young yet,” Ma said. “But ya know ya can’t say no once a young’un has the notion.”

“But she’s not jest bein’ a strong-willed girl,” Marty countered. “She jest be in love. Don’cha remember, Ma, what it was like to be so young an’ so in love thet yer heart missed beatin’ at the sight o’ him an’ yer face flushed when ya wasn’t wantin’ it to? ‘Member that wild feelin’ thet love has?”

Sometimes I have to remind myself that Marty is only 19. She has a very specific concept of love, and she articulates it here—love is a beating heart and a flushed face. Love is, in a nutshell, infatuation. This is puppy love, it’s the feeling you get when you have a crush.

“Yeah, I reckon,” Ma responded slowly. “though ’twas so long ago. I do remember, though, when I met Thornton, guess I didn’t behave myself much better than Sally Anne.” Ma gave a short chuckle but quickly looked serious again.

Marty asks Ma what it was like to lose Thornton. She’s clearly looking for something, anything, to guide her as she continues to work through her grief over Clem. After some discussion of her grief—she kept going because she had three children, Ma says, but she felt numb, or like she was only part there—Marty turns the subject to Ben.

“Then ya met Ben.”

“Yeah, then I met Ben. I could see he be a good man an’ one ya could count on.”

“An’ ya fell in love with ‘im.”

Ma passed, then shook her head. “No, Marty, there was no face flushin’ an’ fast heart skippin’.”

Marty stared.

“No, it be different with Ben. I needed ‘im, an’ he needed me. I married ‘im not fer love, Marty, but fer my young’uns—an’ fer his.”

Marty is shocked. Gobsmacked. Completely taken aback. We’ll get to why in a second, but first, let’s dwell on this for a moment:

“Fact be, at first I felt—well, guilty like. I felt like I be a … a loose woman, sleepin’ with a man I didn’t feel love fer.”

This leaves me with questions. You know what, I’m going to choose to assume that Ma wanted the sex, she was totally into it, and that this is part of why she felt like a loose woman—because the alternative is that she was coerced into sex she didn’t want, and wasn’t ready for, and I don’t like that alternative (even though that has often been women’s reality in the past, and still is today in some cases—too many cases).

Here’s the reason Marty is shocked:

“I never knowed,” Marty finally whispered. “I never woulda guessed thet ya didn’t love Ben.”

That is her conclusion.

Ma’s head came up in an instant, her eyes wide.

“Lan’ sake, girl!” she exclaimed. “Thet were then. Why, I love my Ben now, ya can jest bet I do. Fact is, he’s been a right good man to me, an’ I ‘spect I love ‘im more’n I love myself.”

“When—when did it happen?” Marty asked, both fascinated and a little frightened by what she might hear. “The head spinnin’ an’ the heart flutterin’ an’ all?”

Marty equates love with involuntary blushing and heart skipping at the sight of someone. She’s so young, I keep reminding myself. Still, I’d like to think my sister who is the same age Marty is supposed to be—nineteen—has more sense than this.

Ma smiled. “No, there’s never been thet. See … I learnt me a lesson. THere’s more than one way thet love comes. Oh, sure, sometimes it comes wild like, making’ creatures into wal’lerin’ simpletons. I’ve seed ’em, I’ve been there myself; but it doesn’t have to be thet way, an’ it’s no less real an’ meanin’ful iffy it comes another way. Ya see, Marty, sometimes love comes sorta stealing’ up on ya gradual like, not shouting’ bold words or waving’ bright flags. Ya ain’t even aware it’s a growin’ an’ growin’ an’ gettin stronger until—I don’t know. All the sudden it takes ya by surprise like, an’ ya think, ‘How long I been a feelin’ like this an’ why didn’t I notice it afore?”

It feels like this is actually the core message of this book, which is curious. Most of the Christian fiction we’ve reviewed has been more recent Christian fiction, and the point of it has been to evangelize—to hit people over the head with the gospel message. Ma ought to have been giving Marty a whole story about how she needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus, asking her about her prayer life and her priorities—but she’s not.

Has Christian fiction really changed that much, since the 1970s, when Oke’s book was published? Maybe it has, I’m not sure. This certainly makes me curious. This would make a fascinating dissertation topic, for someone studying literature and religious studies.

Marty has learned something, here. She has learned that her ideas about love were limited. And it seems like that sort of scares her. In the very next section, we get this:

Clark was working doubly hard on the log cutting. He had told Marty that their cabin was too small, and come spring, he planned to tear off the lean-to and add a couple of bedrooms.

Side note: I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the next step is building a wood frame house, not adding rooms to the initial log cabin.

Marty wondered if he had forgotten his promise of fare for her trip back home. Well, there was plenty of time to remind him of that. It was only the first of March.

Ah. And there’s that. Ma Graham’s whole spiel about love coming softly and sneaking up on you unawares may have unsettled her, but she’s still planning to leave.

And—again with the lack of communication. Cool. If Clark is about to become a single man with no children, it might be a good idea to let him know that before he puts all this time into building a ridiculously large house for a single man with no children. But maybe that’s just me.

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