Birth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 27, 2018

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Submitted: February 27, 2018

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Birth

 

 

It’s Wednesday and I’ve got the boys with me. Their father has been here for five days and they’ve spent every night except for last night with him. I’ve missed them enormously, as I always do, even though I’ve had this extra time —much appreciated— to get ready for your arrival. Four days without them, in which I finally packed a bag for the hospital, cleaned your car seat one more time and installed it in the car, bought a changing mat, towels and wipes, and even organised a romantic dinner with your father one night before your due date. I cooked that one and the next day we went out for yet another last romantic dinner before your impending birth.

Last night the boys and I slept together in the queen size bed in the room that we refer to as Alex’s room, although it’s where we all have always slept. I woke up several times with acute pain which I recognised as the pain caused by contractions. At around three I was wide awake and got up and moved to the brand new sofa-bed in Dave’s room, to read without disturbing the boys’ sleep. I felt the pain throughout the night, but in the morning it was gone.

I feed the boys and take them to their first day of drama this term. I talk with my friends —mothers of the other children who are also friends of the boys’— about the state of my pregnancy. One is surprised when I tell her I’m two days overdue. ‘I thought you still had a month to go,’ she says. Another one confirms that my contractions last night were Braxton-Hicks, which she had for weeks before she gave birth. I never had them, not during my previous pregnancies and not with this one. All I know is that this is exactly what I had with Alex for two nights and then I went into labour. Another friend says, ‘There’s no way this baby will be born today. It looks too high up and small.’

I run some errands after that, walking a little and driving. I have one hour to spare so I go to the library and read. Sitting down in a comfortable armchair I feel another contraction and it’s quite strong. I’ve had about four or five of these throughout the day but this is the strongest yet.

We get home after four and soon I must start thinking about what I’m going to give the boys for dinner. I also have an article to submit to the literary magazine I work for. I have the feeling that I should not let another day pass without sending it. It’s been ready for two days but I keep reading it and changing little things. I do this every month and yet, when it gets published I still find some fault in it.

I’m in the kitchen for at least an hour, preparing three different meals: pumpkin, carrot and sweet potato soup with Yallingup bread for Dave, homemade chips and fish for Alex, and fried potatoes with eggs for me, a last indulgence since I’ve already put on so much weight.

I don’t mind preparing different meals, something I don’t seem to have in common with anyone else; everything gets eaten in the end, if not tonight, tomorrow or the next day. But tonight, as it turns out, I never get to cook my own dinner and decide that I’m not that hungry anyway.

Dave has already finished his soup and I’ve just put a tray of chips in the oven for Alex when I feel a gush of water coming out of my vagina and instantly soaking my knickers and going through my pants. I’ve had the water-breaking experience only once before, with my first pregnancy. It was at the hospital, hours after I had been induced, and it was not just water: it was an ocean. With my second pregnancy, I went into labour naturally and my water never broke, or I don’t remember, until the baby was born. So this is my third time and it’s again a different situation.

I immediately go to the toilet to check what has happened. There is a bit of blood; ‘spotting’ I call it later when telling a midwife over the phone.

I go back to the kitchen and have a look at Alex’s chips. I just put them in, so it’ll take at least half an hour before they’re ready. I put the two potatoes I’ve already peeled for my dinner in a container with water and in the fridge. This is the moment when I realise that I’m not hungry after all. Besides, if I’m going to give birth soon, I don’t want to have a full stomach; the fuller I am the more chances I have of pooping when trying to push you out.

I have to make a few phone calls, one to the hospital, another one to your father, and a third to Dave and Alex’s father. First, I must read my article one more time and submit it once and for all. While I do this, I decide I should tell the boys before I tell anyone else.

Niños, I don’t want to alarm you, but I might have to go to the hospital tonight. In that case, I’ll call Daddy and ask him to pick you up after dinner.’ I speak so casually that they don’t even lift their heads from their tablets.

‘What do you have to go to the hospital for?’ asks Dave.

‘Because Sofia might be born tonight or tomorrow. I’ve felt the pain that I felt before Alex came, and that’s a sign that she’ll be born soon.’

‘Okay.’ He sounds excited. ‘I hope she’s born tonight.’

‘She might not. It might be a false alarm. I’ll call the hospital first and depending on what they say, I’ll ask Daddy to come get you or not.’

That is the plan: call the hospital, their dad, and your dad. But then a sudden thought pops up into my mind and I quickly text your father: Are you drinking wine?

No, he types back, and within the same minute: Why?

Because I think we might have to go to the hospital tonight.

I’m coming over, he writes.

I’m in the bathroom flossing calmly, about to brush my teeth, when he arrives. I can see he’s flustered, his eyes wide open, although he’s trying to hide his urgency. I tell him what has happened. He asks if I’ve called the boys’ father.

‘I haven’t called anyone yet. I’ll call the hospital first, but I still have some things to do… We’ll take my hospital bag just in case, although they might send us back home.’

He looks at me as if I’m out of my mind for not rushing out the door. Later he confirms this. His mother has just told him the story of how he was born: she was having contractions and went to see her doctor; he said they were nothing, so she went shopping and the contractions continued at the shopping mall, then she rushed to the hospital and two hours later your father was born.

I laugh; that’s not the way my children choose to come to the world: my labours are long.

Alex’s chips are ready now, so I take them out of the oven, put them on a plate and give them to him. Dave is having a watermelon and raspberry (no sugar) icy pole; homemade, of course. I sit down at the table and call the hospital.

Your father keeps looking at me in disbelief.

I’m in turn surprised at how calm the midwife on the other side of the line asks all the questions she must ask. She’s really taking her time. After fifteen or twenty minutes of interrogation she gives her verdict: ‘I think you should come for us to assess you, but no rush.’

‘Okay. So, in about an hour?’ I say. It’s seven thirty now.

‘Yes, that’s fine.’

I call the boys’ father. He’s at our door ten minutes later, in his robe. I hug the boys and tell them I might be home again later tonight, in which case I’ll see them tomorrow.

Your father is also at the door, ready to go. We don’t waste any more time, although it seems unlikely to me that anything will happen. So I say there is no need to go in my car, where your capsule is already installed. We go in his, still with no baby car seat. Even if I don’t have to go back home, your father will probably come back and can then swap cars. When I tell him this he gives me a puzzled look.

As it all turns out, he’ll stay with me through the entire process, never leaving my side. It was not like this with my first two, but then again, it was a different father.

I tell him how different this is from the time I went to hospital to give birth to Alex, having contractions every four minutes, in so much pain that when I got there the first thing I did was ask for drugs even though I had written in my birth plan that I wanted a drug-free natural birth. This time there is no pain and it feels unreal.

It’s dark outside. We go through the main door, up the stairs and left towards the maternity ward, and do not cross paths with anyone. They’re waiting for me there, two midwives at the reception. The one who spoke to me on the phone earlier is holding my file and invites me to follow her to one of the birthing rooms. Your father and I notice immediately that it doesn’t have a birthing pool. I wrote in my birth plan that we would like you to be born in the birthing pool, but I say nothing at this point; I feel so far away from giving birth yet that I’m sure I’ll have time to ask to be moved.

The midwife takes my blood pressure and sticks a thermometer under my tongue, a ritual that will be repeated many times over the next few days. She also puts a belt around my belly to monitor your heart rate, which is stable at an average of 135 beats. Then she says she’ll do a test to check if my membranes have really ruptured. She asks me to lie down on the birthing bed. The test consists of inserting a swab in my vagina and waiting for a second line to appear, like in a home pregnancy test. She does this and then disappears for what feels a long time.

Your father keeps peeking at the strip. ‘It’s negative,’ he says.

‘What was that water then?’ I say. ‘I’m sure I didn’t pee myself.’

When the midwife comes back she confirms that the test is negative, so my waters haven’t broken. I ask if I’ll be sent back home then. She’s not sure. The mild contractions I’ve been having throughout the day keep coming, and she gives me a hand-held thing attached to the monitor with a button I should press every time I feel one coming. They’re reflected on the fetal monitor strip. She looks at the graph and frowns. There are ups and downs. She goes again for a long time.

We’ve been in this room for at least one hour, maybe more. It’s close to midnight when the midwife comes back with Peter, my doctor. It feels strange to see him here and at this hour. He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I notice because your father mentions how times have changed: doctors wearing robes is a thing of the past unless they’re in the operation room.

Peter says the midwife was a bit concerned about your heartbeat, but it has stabilised again. Then he asks me to tell him the story of what happened today and I do, again: ‘It was about seven. I was in the kitchen and had been standing up for at least an hour, preparing dinner, when I felt a gush of water…’

He says the test has come out negative, but he’ll examine me to check the state of my cervix.

I thought I would get away without any examinations, but ha! it turns out this is only the beginning.

He puts a glove on and inserts his fingers in my vagina. And he does look up as a writer looking for inspiration! Just like Tegan Bennett Daylight said in her essay Vagina, which I read only a couple of weeks ago. ‘It’s soft but still closed,’ he declares.

He does the test with the swab one more time and again it comes out negative. Then he informs us that he’s going to do a scan. He’s being extra cautious, like he has been all throughout my pregnancy, due to my age. He wants to make sure there is still amniotic fluid around you, and there is. Nevertheless, he decides I should spend the night at the hospital. ‘I won’t be here tomorrow, but Ray will take care of you,’ he says as way of good night.

We’re taken to one of the single rooms. It’s late and we’re exhausted. Someone gives us sandwiches. We eat them and then sleep, I in the bed and your father on a chair next to me.

 

***

 

I wake up in the morning to the sound of someone chanting good morning and bringing me breakfast. It’s not great but the fact that someone else made it for me and brought it to my bed makes it delicious.

Your father goes to get us coffee from the cafeteria downstairs, but I find the one at the hospital tastier.

‘But it’s instant coffee,’ he says with an incredulous look.

I still like it. That’s one of the differences between us: he likes strong coffee and I like it weak, even though I’m European and he’s American. He remembers an anecdote of our early days of dating when he offered me a coffee and I asked whether he had made it strong or good, and he responded he had made it strong and good.

A new midwife comes in, takes my blood pressure and temperature and sets up the fetal monitor. I tell her that the pad I put on last night before going to bed was completely soaked when I went to the toilet just now and had to replace it. Again, I’m sure I haven’t peed myself.

Your heartbeat is good, stable, no more ups and downs. The contractions continued through the night, some stronger than others but still highly irregular. I’m not even in the first stage of labour.

Midwives and nurses come in and out of the room. They all introduce themselves. I try to remember their names but in the course of the following days there will be new ones, just for one day or one night and then we won’t see them again. I’m reminded of my first experience at the hospital when I had Dave. I was there also for twenty-four hours before he was finally born. I don’t know why I had assumed that in a small country hospital like this there would be less staff and shifts.

One of them says I’ll probably be sent home today and Ray will come to see me shortly.

With this, your father is ready to go. He gets up and announces he’s going to take our bags to the car.

‘Don’t do anything just yet,’ I say. ‘Let’s wait for Ray.’

Ray comes in and, like seeing Peter last night, it feels strange to see him here, although I’ve only met him once before in his office at the medical centre, when Peter was away on holidays. He tells me about the scan Peter did last night. They’re concerned that my waters might have broken even though the two tests last night came out negative. So he wants to have a look at my vagina to check it the water pools and also do the test again, especially after I tell him I’ve been losing more water overnight and the spotting has also continued.

Of course I say that’s fine, but I’m suddenly aware that not only one doctor has inserted his fingers in my vagina and had a look but two of them. So much for not wanting any medical intervention ‘unless strictly necessary’, as I stated in my birth plan. But I like Ray. He’s so young and open. During my only visit with him at the medical centre he told me about his travels in Spain, surfing, and he even spoke a bit of Spanish to me and the boys.

The test is negative again.

‘What is all this water then?’ I ask, but nobody has an answer.

‘We’re sending you home, but Peter wants you to have another ultrasound downstairs,’ Ray says.

Another one? It will be my fourth full-on scan, when normally expectant mothers have only one, at twenty weeks.

‘Then you can go home,’ he says again. ‘If there’s anything unusual, we’ll ask you to come back, though. And no matter what, I’d like you back here tomorrow around seven thirty.’

At reception, they make an appointment for me at ten fifteen and tell me to drink a lot of water since a full bladder is needed for the scan.

I ask one of the midwives how long it will take for them to have the results and she says a couple of hours.

‘We’ll stay then,’ I tell your father and later I marvel at my intuition. ‘I don’t want to go home and then get a call telling us we have to come back.’ If Peter is concerned enough to have asked for another scan, I’m not leaving the hospital. Besides, I’m still wearing a pad, which is getting wet and stained. It’s obvious to me that something is going on.

So we leave all our stuff in the room and go down to the cafeteria to kill some time before the appointed hour. I read my book and your father takes a photo of me from a distance, while ordering his strong coffee. It’s the first photograph of several, in which I’m smiling, wearing an orange t-shirt over my protruding belly, black sweat pants and sneakers, my hair long and still loose. It strikes me again how strange it is to be here without the pain.

A short and stout man named Joe is doing the scan. It’s the third time we’ve seen him but I’m not sure if he knows this or remembers us. Like on the two previous occasions, he doesn’t waste his words, says very little. He measures and points at your organs in his usual monotonous voice. Then he observes, ‘There’s very little amniotic fluid around the baby.’ His words bear no alarm; he’s just stating a fact.

‘Is that bad?’ I ask. ‘Does it mean that’s what I’ve been losing?’

‘That’s not for me to say,’ he replies.

We go back up to the room and wait. Lunch is brought in and I share it with your father.

More than two hours have passed when we’re told that I have to stay and Ray will come to talk to me again soon. When he does, it’s to give me a shock. ‘You have nearly no water left, meaning you’ve lost a lot overnight and you’ve been losing it for at least twenty-four hours. This baby has to be born today.’

I wonder how if I’m not even in labour. And then I hear that nasty, scary word again, the one I’ve been saying no to: induced. He wants to induce me.

I’m stunned, and then terrified. I can’t believe this is happening.

Ray tells me I’ll be put on a drip with oxytocin. Okay, at least it’s not the gel they used with my first one. Instead, this is what they did routinely in the old days, at least they did it to my mother every time.

I’m scared, I fear the pain. But then I say, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ I’ll do anything for you, my baby. Your safety comes first.

While we wait, your father takes photos. I’m still smiling, my hair is loose, my bump looks kind of small.

***

 

It’s around two o’clock when we go into the birthing room. It’s the one with the pool, but when your father asks if I can go in it we get a ‘No, dear, not possible when you’re being induced.’ Yet another thing that I wanted and I’m denied. And so it begins. We’re introduced to two new midwives, one of them is still a student, about to graduate, but she will be my main coach; the other one is just here to supervise. The student’s name is Rachel; she’s in her early twenties, blue-eyed and blond. She’s so cheerful and confident that I can’t believe she hasn’t been doing this for at least twenty years. I know I’ll never forget her.

The drip works straight away: I start having regular contractions every three minutes. To begin with, the dose is small; yet, it needs to be reduced. I breathe in and out with every contraction and find them tolerable. The resolution I made months ago is working: there is no pain, I feel no pain. So all I do is breathe and then relax for a few minutes, no need to scream or complain at all. Rachel tells me that I’m like a yoga professional.

Meanwhile, more water is coming out. I go to the toilet, show one of the midwives. There’s a bit of blood, but all is good.

Soon I don’t need the drip anymore: I’m now in labour, I’m doing it all by myself.

After a couple of hours I get examined. It’s all going well, I’m four centimetres dilated. For the next two hours I sit on the fitting ball, on the bed on all fours, or stand up.

Ray comes in and asks if he can examine me. I wonder if I can say no, but in fact I want him to. He tells me I’m about nine centimetres dilated and doing great. I feel great, and I’m so proud of myself! I think: Another hour or two and we’ll be done. And so easily too! I could do this again.

At first I’m fully dressed, but when I start sweating I take my pants and knickers off. By the time I’m fully dilated I’m also totally naked. I notice the amount of people in the room: at least the two midwives, Ray and the medical student I met during our last visit to the hospital for a CTG. I don’t mind her being here because I like her; she smiles in such an empathetic way, that it is hard to think of her as a soon-to-be doctor and not a nurse. Nevertheless, I wonder —for the first time but not the last— if anybody has had a look at the birth plan I handed in. I wrote that I didn’t want anybody here except for the two midwives and your father. But now, strangely, I don’t mind; I don’t care that all these people are seeing me naked.

Ray comes and goes and I ask Rachel if I can be examined again. I long for him to tell me that I’m fully dilated and that you’re ready to come out. I recently read that all this pushing business is a myth and there shouldn’t be a need for it if it all flows naturally.

Rachel whispers words of encouragement in my ear; among other things she says that I’m amazing.

I laugh to myself and think of saying, I bet that’s what you say to them all. But even in this state, I’m too polite to be rude. Besides, her words work like magic: they make me feel great and I’m encouraged to keep going. So I say, ‘Your words really help me.’

‘I’m so glad to hear that,’ she replies. ‘When I have my own children, I want to be like you.’

Now I do laugh. But I still love her.

Ray comes back and inserts his fingers in my vagina one more time. He confirms that we’re ready to go.

I keep going to the toilet and changing positions. Your father has been massaging my lower back for hours. The midwives tell me that I can start pushing when I feel the urge.

I do not feel the urge. What I feel is the contractions getting stronger. I ask for the gas. No need to be heroic when I now feel the fear of the pain.

They give me the gas immediately and with the first inhalation I get giddy and happy. From now on I breathe in the mask with every contraction.

I hear your father ask if the gas takes away the pain. They tell him it doesn’t really, but it takes the edge off it. That’s exactly how I would have put it if I had had the strength to answer the question myself; the gas is just a distraction, but it does help.

After an hour of this, though, my mouth gets dry. I drink a lot and go to the toilet a lot. Still no urge to push.

I tell them that my body is not telling me to push and, ‘What shall I do?’

They’ve been so patient; I feel like I’m wasting their time by not getting you out. Ray and the student-doctor have been talking quietly so as not to disturb me. I suddenly notice it’s dark in the room. Has somebody dimmed the lights or were they never on?

I don’t know what time it is; maybe nine or ten. A while ago we were asked if we wanted something to eat. I don’t know what your father said. I said no, so I don’t know what it is that I throw up. I’m glad I feel it coming and have time to warn them. One of them promptly gives a bag to your father and he holds open it for me.

‘Do you feel like going for a poo? That’s how you know she’s coming,’ Rachel says.

I know the feeling. I’ve felt it before. Twice. I’m not feeling it now. ‘Should I try to push even if I don’t feel the urge?’ I ask.

‘That’s a good idea,’ someone says.

So I do that. I stop inhaling the gas, although I need it more now that the pain is getting more intense. I stand up leaning against your father, who is sitting on the bed. I think it would be nice to give birth like this. Even though the pain is now quite unbearable, your heart rate has remained stable. It’s reassuring to know that at least one of us is not distressed at all.

I don’t think my pushing is doing anything, but Rachel assures me that it is. She says something along the lines of taking two steps forward and one step back. I heard it all before, during Alex’s birth, but that time it was true.

For a moment I wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong until one of them watches and confirms that she can’t see your head or anything.

I go to the toilet one more time and your father comes with me.

I break down tearlessly, too dehydrated for that. ‘None of my labours have been easy,’ I whisper to him after a wee. ‘No matter what they say, I know nothing is happening. I just know it. She’s not coming out.’

He doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing.

I am so discouraged. I can’t believe I have done this before. It just seems incredible, utterly unbelievable. I begin to doubt that I did really give birth to my sons, because I simply don’t know how to do it again.

Back in the birthing room, Ray asks —ever so politely— if he can have a look when the next contraction comes and I push.

I lie down on the bed, and as I push I see all of them observing my opening with a scientific air.

Ray looks worried. Someone asks him if there is any progress. He shakes his head, tells me that he’s going to use the ultrasound machine to check your position.

‘She’s posterior,’ he says, ‘with her back to your back.’ And then, ‘I’m happy to wait for another couple of hours, but I honestly think it’s unlikely that she’ll turn after everything you’ve tried already.’

I suspect what he’s going to say next and I’m tempted to ask if he can take you out with forceps, ventose or better yet by inserting his hand in the birth canal. But then I remember how painful the ventose was when I gave birth to Dave, and I do not want that sort of invasion in my body anyway. Later I learn that your father does ask Ray if he can turn you around by inserting his hand and holding your head. Ray replies that you’re too high up for that.

‘So… what’s the next step?’ I ask tentatively.

‘I’m afraid that we’ll have to do a cesarean.’ He actually looks afraid when he says this. I can tell he hates to tell me.

And even though I knew he was going to say that, when I hear the words I can’t believe them. I cry, for the first time loudly and unashamed. So much for the perfect birth. I was doing so well, I was so proud of myself!

Ray clenches his teeth while I have my little meltdown.

My practical self comes back in a few seconds, though, above all because I can’t stand the pain by now. I feel it against my rectum. ‘Okay, let’s do it,’ I say. Intuitively I know that is the best decision. ‘How long is it going to be?’ I want this ordeal to end as soon as possible.

‘About forty-five minutes,’ he says.

‘Ow! That’s too long!’ I don’t think I can endure the pain any longer. ‘And then will the pain stop?’

‘Yep. As soon as you get the anaesthetic, the pain will be completely gone. But we need to get the anaesthetist and another doctor here.’

‘So you’re not going to do it?’ I panic. I want him, I don’t want any more doctors.

He reassures me that it will be him, but another doctor is needed for the surgery.

And so, everyone starts getting ready.

I still can’t believe you are really going to be born by caesarean and wonder if you will suddenly turn and crown and I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, she’s coming, I can do this!’

But I don’t push anymore. In fact, with every contraction I now agonise and hold my legs together with my hands on my bum trying to hold you in. I don’t know what the pain on my rectum is, but it gets so bad that I start thinking I’m going to die.

The wait is never-ending. I have the feeling that I howl with every contraction, but your father later tells me that I’m quiet and I never yell, only whisper. I ask how much longer I must wait. I beg them to stop the pain and whimper that I can’t take it any longer. Someone tells me that they can’t give me any pain killers because they would not be good for you. Of course I know this and I don’t want anything. I just want them to hurry up.

‘I feel like I’ve failed,’ I say sincerely. I’m still hoping that something will happen and you will suddenly be born vaginally.

‘You tried everything, and with no drugs,’ Rachel says. ‘That is so amazing. Everyone is talking about how amazing you are.’

‘This is for the best,’ says the other midwife, and I know she’s right.

As I’m wheeled out of the birthing room and taken to theatre, I keep thinking that I could die. It does feel like I’m going to die: I’m the one on the stretcher, in agony, under bright lights, with strange faces looking down at me and urgently asking questions.

They want to know if I’m allergic to anything, if I’m wearing any jewellery or have any tattoos, if I’m taking any medication, if my other births had complications. Except for the small dolphin on my left hip, the answer to everything is no. Yet, I’m asked all this several times by different people, while I’m still dying with pain.

Your father snaps at a woman who has just introduced herself as a paediatrician. ‘No, no, and no. That’s the answer!’ he says.

I’m also shaking violently and my teeth are chattering; I try to stop them but I can’t. Someone asks me if I’m cold. I’m not; whatever this is, it’s not from being cold. They say it’s anxiety, or shock; I can’t remember which.

I could die, I keep thinking. This could be the end of me.

I suppose there is nothing in my condition to suggest that my life is in any danger of approaching its end, but that doesn’t stop me from having these thoughts. It is of course the pain that prompts my catastrophic thinking. I think about my mother and her own unbearable pain and her wish to end it all by death. I don’t want to die but if this is the way it has to be there is nothing I can do now.

I should have thought about the consequences before I agreed to have sex with your father.

I feel sad for Dave and Alex, and for you, of course. We all could have had a great life but now the three of you will be orphans, motherless. And so this is life: we are born, we grow, we have children, we die. Even if I don’t die today, there will be an end some day, and I’ll be forgotten. I sigh.

And then I’m in agony again and the repetitive questions don’t cease.

At last in theatre, things seem to speed up.

The new doctor has a South African accent. He introduces himself but is quick to get to the point. He wants me to understand that I’m about to undergo major surgery and there are risks.

So I might not make it, I think again, but say nothing.

The anaesthetist is from Dunsborough. Later we ask his name so we can say hello in case we bump into him at the supermarket. It’s Stan. He’s very chatty and full of smiles; when it’s all over he says he hopes that the next time we see each other is socially.

Stan also talks about risks. Infection, bleeding, headaches, spinal nerve injury…

I really don’t need to hear all this, but it’s their job to tell me, and I’m asked to sign a consent form.

Everyone around me is wearing a mask, even your father. Later I learn that he has had to take his own clothes off and wear a hospital shirt and pants. They’re all dressed like this now and there are a lot of them.

I’m still agonising but try to stifle my cries since being vocal hasn’t seemed to accelerate the process. Besides, I can finally see the end of the tunnel of my pain. And I still can’t believe this is really happening.

Someone asks compassionately whether I’m having another contraction; she must have seen it on my face. I grumble a yes.

Stan asks me to sit up; he has the needle ready.

I do so with great difficulty, still squeezing my legs together and with what feels like a rock pressing against my rectum.

‘Let me know if you have another contraction, because I’ll have to stop,’ he warns me.

I’m terrified at the prospect of having a contraction while he’s about to stick in the needle: I might not be able to take the pain in this position and the needle might end up in the wrong place.

I panic when I feel the next contraction coming and almost yell, ‘Contraction, now!’

‘And we’re done!’ he exclaims triumphantly.

Sure enough, the pain ends suddenly and I’m invaded by a sense of bliss, at long last!

I smile as I’m helped back on the stretcher. I can’t feel my legs or anything from my waist down.

From this moment on everything happens quickly. It feels as if up until now they were cruising along, downplaying my suffering, but the moment all my torment is gone, they seem to shift into fifth gear.

‘Let’s get this baby out before midnight,’ somebody says, ‘or it’ll be born on Friday the 13th!’

‘She,’ I say feebly, but I don’t think anybody hears me.

‘That would be terrible,’ someone else chimes in. ‘Let’s get to work then.’

As they do this sort of good-natured talk, with laughter, a contraption with a curtain is set up above me to obstruct my view of what they are about to do.

‘You won’t feel any pain, but you will feel some pulling and tugging, as if we were rummaging inside you.’

Ew, I think, but I prepare myself for it, and when I do experience the sensation, it is not that bad.

I look up to the ceiling. There is a light and reflected on it I can see what they’re doing. It’s almost as clear as a mirror. I wonder if they know.

I feel a mixture of thrill and trepidation when I realise I’m going to see everything. But then I decide not to look, because I might not be able to take it. I look at your father instead. He’s sitting on a stool by my side, looking back at me. Not at you. Or at what comes before you. He’s going to miss your birth!

I suppose he doesn’t want to look while they’re performing the incision, but when they’re done and you’re about to come out, I hear someone ask him if he wants to see you.

I see him nod and stand up. A second later his eyes widen. If I had to give awe a face, it would be your father’s face the moment he sees your head pop out of my cut.

Later I ask him if he saw everything.

He says yes.

‘Yes as in you saw inside me?’

He says yes again.

I imagine being opened as if they were doing open heart surgery on me. I know it’s stupid but that’s what I think. It’s like when my sister was run over by a car and my aunt told me she had broken her leg and had been taken to hospital, and I asked where the leg was. I was nine and when my aunt laughed, I said that of course I knew the leg was still attached to my sister, but still I imagined that it wasn’t and so I wanted to know where they had put it.

Suddenly you’re up in the air.

Later I also ask your father what happens after your head is out. Do they pull it out?

No, one of the doctors puts his hand inside and places it on your back to take you out.

‘Look at your beautiful baby!’ somebody exclaims. ‘And it’s crying!’

She, she, she, I think. She’s a she! Why do they keep calling you ‘it’? And of course you’re crying! How would they feel if they were in the cosiest place in the world and suddenly someone pulled them up in the air?

‘Born at eleven fifty-two,’ one of the nurses says.

‘Yay, we made it before midnight!’ the South African doctor says.

‘Can I have her? Please can I have her?’ I plead, but again nobody seems to hear me. I tug at your father’s arm. ‘Is she still a girl? Please tell them to give her to me!’

They’ve already taken you, away from me. I turn my head and I can see at least three people fussing over you. I look at the clock up on the wall. Eight minutes until midnight. I will keep looking at it until the new day, anxiously waiting for you to be in my arms. I suffer immensely during each one of those minutes.

Your father leaves my side briefly, to pass on my request. They ask him if he wants to cut the cord; he does. Then he comes back with the negative he’s been given: ‘They have to clean her, make sure she’s all right…’

‘They can do that later,’ I protest, but to no avail.

I cry. Inwardly, for tears don’t come to my eyes. I know that this time is crucial. You should be on my chest, latching on my breast, like your brothers did only a few seconds after being born.

I look at the clock again and finally the eight longest minutes of my life are over. Your father hands over to me the bundle of joy that you are.

Yes, you’re a bundle. Not naked anymore. They have swaddled you. You’re asleep, not crying anymore. I look at you in amazement. You are perfect.

‘She’s so beautiful,’ they all say, and it’s true: you are one of the most beautiful babies anybody has ever seen.

Your father cries. At first quietly, then torrentially. I see him but I can’t take my eyes off you. I’m happy but I can’t cry. I wonder if the drugs are impairing my ecstasy.

‘Are you all right?’ I ask him. They are tears of joy, or maybe they aren’t. ‘Is there something wrong with Sofia?’

Sofia, Sofia, Sofia. That’s your name.

‘No. I’m crying because I’m happy.’

In the meantime, they’re still working on me, of course: they have to patch me up.

‘What do you want to do with the placenta?’ a nurse asks.

I want to push it out with my next contraction, I think, like I did with the other two. Will it ever hit home that this is not the perfect birth I wanted? Will I get over it? They’ll keep telling me that it was for the best, that you’re safe and healthy and that’s what matters. But there will be a price to pay, I know. To begin with, you’re asleep, not sucking my nipple. But you’re so incredibly beautiful! And I love you so much. I love you already. Yes, you’re my precious baby.

‘I’m not going to eat it,’ I say.

‘Good choice!’ says the doctor.

‘Unless you want me to make you a placenta curry,’ I say to your father.

We laugh. He cries some more and then laughs.

It’s all good, and I didn’t die after all.


© Copyright 2018 Sofaledav. All rights reserved.

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