Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
2016 by Tin House, 165 pages
(I purchased this title earlier this year)
I've sat in the waiting room during the C-Section of my oldest, and then was near enough to catch my 2nd and 3rd children as they were born but would never be bold enough to say that I had a clue of what was going on in a woman's head during labor--until maybe now where I think I at least have a clue thanks to Pamela Erens third novel, Eleven Hours.
Lore, a young woman getting to the hospital maybe just a bit early, alone with her own book of how things will go in she wants to be as natural an experience as possible, is paired with a nurse, Frankline, who brings many unique aspects to her experience for the labor that follows. Frankline was born in Haiti where as a young girl she began to involve herself in the various births happening in her area up until she took on the role of midwife. She also happens to be pregnant herself, early enough to not have told anyone, including her husband, just yet, as she's afraid of what could still happen.
Erens explores the minds of both of these quiet women--giving the reader an inside peek into what each is thinking and at what stages of Lore's labor. As the contractions get stronger, last longer, causing more pain, Erens' writing gets a bit darker, a bit grittier. She's able to express the pain as it spreads through Lore's body from the middle of her back to her pelvis and ribs and returning to the muscles in lower back again. Beyond her description of this pain is the emotional beating that both Lore, and Frankline, as she worries about Lore being alone while also being concerned about the child inside her, go through both during the contraction and the lulls between.
Erens uses these lulls well as each time there's an type of break in the more action-filled portions of labor, Lore's thoughts go to the relationships of her past, specifically those with her former fiance, Asa, the father, and their mutual best friend, Julia. The relationships and interactions from the past are slowly foisted onto the reader through the labor--really expertly done, giving one just as much information as is needed throughout. Erens has us fully understanding where Lore's mind is at and why by the time things are really moving forward with the labor.
The inclusion of Frankline and her pregnancy, as well as getting into Lore's head between contractions, has Erens showing the weight that being pregnant carries--the lack of any time that its not front and center, even when it might not appear to be via outward appearances. It's a short novel, and a fast read, though it should be enjoyed as slowly as possible to really get the feelings, the pains, the emotions running through these two women. It's a really great read.