Silent strength


When the contractions start and the baby is finally on its way after nine long months, Mulan is calm. After facing down the Huns, nearly going off a cliff in an avalanche, and getting cut by a huge sword, there isn’t really much that fazes her.  She knows her own body, knows to relax and simply let things happen – this is a perfectly natural thing, after all.

It is, however, hard to be calm and serene when one’s husband is running around like a chicken without its head.

“Are you okay? Do you need anything? Why isn’t the midwife here yet? She should be here!” he rambles, walking back and forth. “Maybe I should go outside? What if she’s lost?”

It apparently doesn’t matter that midwife Wong has visited them in their home every two weeks in the last few months.

Mulan’s grandmother sits by her side. She makes a tutting noise at Shang and mutters, “Men.”

Mulan snorts but then another contraction grabs her and she concentrates on her breathing – in out in out. She wishes Shang could be calm enough to be the one to hold her hand and comfort her. She’s the one in labor – surely she’s not the one who’s supposed to comfort him?

The contraction passes but she knows the next one isn’t far off. They’re coming closer together now, the baby pressing down, wanting out.

Mulan’s mother comes into the room carrying towels and water. She hands one to Grandmother who puts it on Mulan’s forehead. It feels nice and cool in the summer heat.

Shang doesn’t stop babbling and Mulan wonders silently if her own father was the same way when Mulan was born. She can’t see him acting this way – like he’s taken one too many hits to the head – but then, she’s never seen Shang act this way either.

“Shang, dear,” Mulan’s mother says, in the business-like voice she rarely uses. “Either calm down or leave. You’re of no help.”

“But the midwife isn’t here!” Shang sounds as though the world is ending.

“She will be. And if she isn’t, then we’ll handle it.” She gives him a stern look. “Now, what will it be?”

He stops, silent for the first time in what feels like hours. He looks at Mulan and she realizes suddenly that it’s not just him being stupid – it’s him being scared. She sees fear in his eyes – fear for her, fear for the baby. He just wants to keep them safe and right now, he can’t do anything to protect them. There is no war to fight, no bad guy to kill – only nature and forces far beyond his abilities.

She sighs softly, a smile on her lips, and holds out her hand.

His eyes light up with love and he comes to kneel beside her. “You think I’m a stupid man, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she says, still smiling. She knows he can see what she doesn’t say out loud – but I still love you – in her eyes.

Then there’s another contraction. This time, he’s there, holding her hand. His fingers are warm as they wrap themselves around hers and with the other hand he pushes a strand of hair away from her sweaty brow. This is the man she loves, the one with the silent strength and endless courage. And even if he doesn’t know it, he does keep her safe – simply by being there.

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