I read about a book published in the 1950s entitled “How to Give Birth in a Fallout Shelter.” How creepy, to plan for the age-old burden of pregnancy and delivery while a new, poison world unfolds above you.
From Chapter 3: “Though night and day do not exist in any traditional sense in your new underground home, remember to get plenty of rest. Spend at least forty-five minutes each 12-hour cycle with your feet raised on a crate, or perhaps on a couple of bags of rice stacked atop one another. Avoid canned meats, if other rations are readily available, as they are high in sodium and will contribute to edema.”
Have the Mister massage your feet and legs if he has time between surface expeditions, and if you have sufficient reason to believe he has not been exposed to undue radiation levels. He may wish to put his gloves on, to protect you and your unborn child. Ask him, when he returns to the shelter, if he saw anything strange. Ask him if he ran into any surfacers, which is what you call the people who went crazy after the bomb and refused to seek shelter. They live up there, taking in radiation freely, eating food from the contaminated soil and drinking the water that falls from the sky. They are dangerous. They might try to lure him away from you, tempting him with their perverted sense of normality, their beds with clean sheets and pot roasts and occasional electricity. You cannot let that happen. Without Mister, the rest of you (very old, very young, pregnant, sick) would die.
Being cooped up in a small, dark space with your husband and your sister’s family and the neighbors from across the street (back when streets existed) is stressful for all, and those with weaker constitutions will be prone to emotional problems. They may become jealous of your pregnancy, of the little life growing inside you — the only positive thing in a world that has become bleak and dead overnight. Keep an eye on them. Watch for moodiness, sullenness, unnatural withdraw. Know where the sharp objects and other potential weapons (can openers, ropes, poison substances) are in the shelter. You may wish to arm yourself with a knife or the sharp top of a can wrapped partially in rags; hide this in a secret place that’s easy to access, just in case.
When it is time for the birth, your sister and the neighbor wife should prepare a clean, safe space for you. They should boil a pot of water and gather all of the towels. In case the birth becomes difficult, sterilize a knife or other sharp object by holding it over an open flame. Remember, women did it this way for years and years, before hospitals and doctors. Now it is after hospitals and doctors, and you can do it, too. Your sister will hold your hand. The neighbor children will cry. Your husband may not have returned from his last expedition yet, but you have been preparing for this eventuality and will be strong. .
Yell as loudly as you need to; there is no one to hear.
You must be prepared for a stillbirth. You must be prepared to give birth to something that is not human. The truth is, the effects of extensive radiation on developing fetuses has not been fully explored. Think of yourself as a pioneer, birthing the first generation babies that are not-quite-human into a new world that is not-quite-home. You must love whatever you give birth to, and you must protect it above all else. You are a mother, and the bond is unbreakable.
When your husband returns, late, let him hold his baby and observe how he interacts with it. Watch for moodiness, sullenness, unnatural withdraw.
Ask him if he saw anything strange.