Christmas Eve was coming and a white blanket covered the darkness of Granja, of the land and its dwellers. The table was laid for the Christmas supper and someone was hammering on the door in desperation:
“Ma Grabulha! Ma Grabulha!!
“Come in, whoever you are. The door’s on the latch.”
The child was born without any mishap. Many more than thirty years before she had brought his father into the world, but what was she to do now when the fine linen swaddling clothes had been replaced by disposable nappies and simple little dresses by fiddly, complicated garments?
She attended the birth throughout the night. Now came the most difficult part: washing and dressing the child. At seventy and more, she was no longer fit for adventures like this. Next morning, seeing her come home tired, forehead wrinkled and her expression woeful and pensive at the same time, her granddaughter asked:
“What’s the matter, grandma?”
“Nothing, child. We have another boy child here in Granja. But I still haven’t dealt with him properly. I left him wrapped up beside his mother and came back home. I have to go back in a while, but I don’t know whether I dare try to get him ready.”
She didn’t want to admit defeat, but this time she sensed she was in a quandary. All the marriageable lads and lasses had passed through her hands and, even the heads of the local families. So she had to keep up her reputation for carrying out the task that had been entrusted to her for generations. She couldn’t give way now, just because these were modern times and lots of people were going to the hospital in the town to give birth, or because practically no births were being registered in this village. The truth is, those women who might be her birthing mothers were in Brazil, Africa, France, Germany or even in the Capital, where there were huge maternity hospitals, doctors and specialist nurses.
Seeing how upset she was, her granddaughter wouldn’t let her be.
“I’ll go with you, I’ll get the baby ready.”
“Yes, I’ve changed my cousins’ nappies plenty of times and I’ve helped take care of them. There won’t be any problem.”
Although she was apprehensive, the grandmother felt reassured in her granddaughter’s company. When they went in, mother and son were almost asleep.
Nevertheless, it was time to get the child to rights.
The little nine-year-old girl washed the pink flushed body of the newly born infant, still smelling of the birth, in a white enamel basin. Straight away, with easy confidence, she dried him, dressed him and there he was, all ready for life.
“No trouble at all!” she exclaimed, overjoyed.
Her grandmother looked on in amazement. She had given birth six times. She only called from the bed to her mother and mother-in-law, chatting beside the hearth, after her son or daughter had emerged from her belly. She would shout:
“It’s done, you can come over now.”
Wasn’t she the one who said she found it harder to drink a glass of water than give birth to a child? Didn’t she also attend all the female livestock? Didn’t she even carry out little operations, if an animal was born with a defect or contracted some illness? That’s why they called her the veterinarian. Of course, her hands did shake a little now, but for the little girl to have got her out of such a pickle, well that was really saying something.
Well, now that that problem was solved, it just remained to place the child at his mother’s breast. That’s how they did it in her day. But even in this matter, things were no longer what they were. Either the mother didn’t feel strong enough, or the child was not interested in suckling, or because it was the age of the feeding bottle – the baby was bottle fed.
In the meantime, they had to respond to his hungry cries, which were becoming more and more intense.
“Is there a dummy?” the little girl turned to the mother.
“Yes, it’s in the little basket on top of the chest of drawers along with the rest of the baby’s accessories.”
While her granddaughter was heating the water for the powdered milk to be given to the child, the rubber dummy solved the problem and the grandmother could again breathe a sigh of relief. In the days that followed, she could only say:
“If it wasn’t for my granddaughter, I wouldn’t have been up to the job.”
She was, but times had changed. She had done the difficult part of the business, after all. The truth is, from then on, she will no longer have to worry, because her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, relatives and neighbours who are born afterwards, and those who continue to be born, fewer than before, certainly, come into the world in the maternity wards of distant hospitals.
It was with sadness and nostalgia that just a short time ago her granddaughter gave birth to her own daughter in a foreign land, in a strange and somehow hostile atmosphere, without the familiarity of a warm, tender, loving voice. Perhaps if we could carry on being born in the same places as our ancestors, helped by grandmother-midwives, then post partum depression and all the other afflictions caused by loneliness and isolation would cease to exist, or at least be reduced to bearable levels.
Still, I am certain of the happiness and the gains that would result from each generation being able to see their successors exploding into life at the exact time, at the very moment of their birth.
On that Christmas, however, Jesus didn’t just revisit the earth: another Boy Child was reborn in Granja, attended by an old midwife and veterinarian, and warmed by the breath of the whole community.
Translated by Dr. Patricia Odber de Baubeta from Outros Contos da Montanha, Isabel Mateus.