I settled into the routine pretty quickly, and I soon began to learn names and recognize face. I learned the varying types of work, but excelled at little.
They have several different types of chores- cleaning the abbey, cooking the meals, working in the gardens and fields the abbey controlled, preparing the abbey for the winter, caring for the ill that are brought to the abbey, gathering herbs and wood, and so on. Although I was decent at cleaning and working in the gardens, I wasn’t skilled enough to cook, work in the fields, or make winter preparations for the coming bitterly cold winter.
In fact, the only thing I was good at was tending for the ill. Six months passed and shortly after Christmas, but before Lent, I was accepted as a full fledged sister.
The Abbess assigned me to the infirmary, for which I was grateful. I thanked her profusely, but she waved me away.
“You have an aptitude for the art of healing those pour souls the Lord has sent us,” she said serenely. “The Lord has blessed you with that skill, so I have merely placed you where you would be the most effective.”
I slowly grew to love my job, and over the course of the next two years I learned everything that the sister who oversaw the infirmary had to teach me. Every form of medicinal poultice, rub or tea that I mixed became my declaration of care for the world.
Babies were born and people died, the cycle of life passed on before me, and I helped with it. During my fourth year as a nun the Abbess created a place for orphaned babies, or the castoffs of those who couldn’t care for their child, within the abbey’s walls.
The infirmary workers were commanded to care for the babies, and we did, but there were soon too many to care for deeply. Wet nurses were brought in to nurse some of them- those women that had lost their babes in childbirth or had had their children die in accidents.
The babes that were not nursed by the wet nurses were fed by a bottle, and that became the highlight of my day. Most of the sisters only fed the babies, but didn’t hold them close or treat them with love, while I took the time to care for each child I fed, talking to them and holding them close.
My supervisor, an elderly sister named Agatha, noticed and told the Abbess what I was doing. I was summoned to the Abbess’s office one afternoon, while I was cleaning the floors of the infirmary.
“The Reverend Mother wishes to see you, Sister Morgan,” Sister Agatha said, offering me a hand up. She was getting a bit stiff in the joints, and could no longer scrub the floors herself, but she was still a strong woman.
“Whatever for?” I asked, worried. “Have I done something wrong?”
“I’m sure you’re not in trouble,” she said, taking the rag that I had been using. “Get along, now. It won’t do to keep her waiting on you.”
“Of course not, Sister Agatha,” I said, tilting my head in her direction as I made my way out of the infirmary, pausing only to pour a cup of water for one of our patients, a man who had been chased out of his village for having a painful skin disease.
The Abbess was waiting for me outside of the office. She had been conversing with one of the other sisters, but as I approached she fell silent.
“Oh, good,” she said. “Sister Morgan, would you please step inside the office?” That was a peculiar thing about the Abbess. Although she was the only one to use the office, she never referred to it as her office. It was always “the office” to her, and whenever she heard anyone refer to it as her office she would correct them.
“What’s this business about my having an office?” she’d ask. “I own no office. If you’re referring to the abbey’s office, well, obviously that’s part of the abbey. I do not own the abbey, therefore it is not my office. It is all the Lord’s blessings on this fellowship, and the very idea that any one of us could own it is preposterous.” That always ended any discussion about “her” office.
I carefully stepped into the office, feeling extremely nervous. She followed me in, and closed the door with a sharp “click”.
“Now, Sister Morgan,” she said, her tone very business like. “Sister Agatha has made several comments in her reports to me that you have grown fond of caring for the babes we take in. Is this true?”
“Yes, Mother,” I said, bowing my head, uncertain as to where this was going.
“I am curious to know why you care so much for them, of all the people who come to us for help,” she said carefully.
“I suppose it’s because they remind me of my little cousins,” I said after a moment of thought. “But it’s also because they’re so helpless. They need me, or someone else, to care for them.”
“So you do not wish to leave our holy order?” the Abbess probed, concern showing.
“Why ever would I want to leave?” I asked, flabbergasted. The idea was so ludicrous to me, so foreign, that I could barely wrap my mind around it.
“It has happened before,” the Abbess said heavily. “When a younger, prettier nun feels the longings for a husband and children, she will sometimes choose to leave the order.”
“I don’t want to leave,” I said earnestly. “I don’t wish for a husband, and I want no children of my own. I am happy here.”
“That is always a good thing to hear,” the Abbess said. “You are dismissed.” I nodded and quickly left the office, eager to return to my work so that Sister Agatha didn’t have to do it.
The abbey had become my home, and its inhabitants were my family. Marriage and childbirth didn’t loom menacingly in my future, and I could easily picture myself growing old in the peace of the abbey walls.
Seven more years passed like that for me, but everything changed on the eve of my twenty-fifth birthday. It was raining hard that night, and a shout suddenly arose from the front gate.
A woman had collapsed there, and she seemed to have gone into labor. I had been working in the infirmary when they brought her in, and I grimaced at the bloody mess that was coming from her.
She was pale and coated in a fine sheen of sweat. Upon examination, it turned out that she was barely conscious, and she had an extremely high fever.
“Leah, fetch Sister Agatha,” I said to the novice who was on duty with me that evening. Leah, who had been standing stock still, transfixed with horror at the sight of the poor woman, took off running.
I quickly poured a basin of water and moved to beside the woman’s bed, grateful that each night table held fresh towels. I dampened one and placed it on her forehead, and then took several more to clean the mess between her legs.
The baby’s head was already out, but the child looked just as unhealthy as it’s mother. Carefully, I slid my hand underneath the child, and tried to ease him out cautiously.
He came out slowly, and his mother moaned as she drifted into consciousness. I saw some of the woman’s muscles tense as she pushed, forcing the baby out several more inches.
I grimaced as I saw that the cord that attached the babe to his mother had been wrapped around his neck. Just then, Sister Agatha and Leah arrived, and I moved over a little so that Agatha could see.
“Good Lord have mercy on us,” she muttered when she saw the cord. “Leah, hand me the knife.”
“Yes, Sister,” Leah whimpered, looking sickened as she did as she was told. I glanced up at her, mildly frustrated that she was merely hovering.
“Keep her conscious,” I ordered. “She has to be able to push the baby out.”
“Yes, Sister,” Leah whispered meekly, taking a place at the woman’s bedside.
“Morgan, hold the child still,” Agatha murmured at my elbow. “I need to cut this cord off, and I don’t want to hurt the poor thing.” I did as she asked, and she carefully sliced through the cord in two places, once on each side of where it had knotted around the neck.
The woman groaned slightly, and clutched at Leah’s hand with inhuman strength as she pushed again. The baby was out to his hips, and I carefully pulled him out the rest of the way.
“It’s a boy,” I told Agatha as I carried the still form to the small work table we used.
“Get the cord off of his neck quickly,” Agatha instructed me. “Leah, hand me the needle and thread.” I did as she said, and then began to dry him off.
The baby began to cry, and I sighed in relief as I wrapped him in a towel, seeing some color enter his skin. I heard Agatha murmuring a prayer, and then I heard Leah gasp.
I turned to see Agatha finishing with her surgery, a concerned look on her face, and an extremely sickened look on Leah’s face. The woman was covered in her own blood and sweat, and suddenly she began to tremble violently.
“The fever has a hold of her,” Agatha said. “We’ll be lucky if she lasts through the night. Is the child-?”
“He’s alive,” I said, offering her my little bundle. She looked at him approvingly, and then carried him over to the work table.
“Let’s remove his foreskin now,” she said. Lean blushed slightly, and I quickly located a clean knife. “Clean up his mother. I want someone to stay with her through the night.”
“Yes, Sister,” Lean murmured. I quickly gathered the last of the clean towels, and dampened half of them.
“Come along, Leah,” I said. “It’s time to clean up.”
** Author’s Note; I have never given birth. I have never witnessed someone giving birth. I admit that this is most likely NOT how it is when someone gives birth. However, I felt that I could not skip this scene. Please be forgiving of my ignorance. **