“You are ready to deliver any time now. I can try to break your water and see if we can progress things.” Matter-of-fact words resonate from a calm, seasoned Dr. Gordon. The mop of curls on the top of her head bounce as she straightens her bent neck; her eyes peer from beneath a rogue, twisted lock. Two hours since the amniotic sac made its initial descent, Dr. Gordon wins her altercation with the rubbery, stubborn balloon protecting Sophia. Fear repositions itself squarely on my chest, laboring my breath with each inhalation. The trembles in my thighs are ill-disguised under the tousled sheets. Despite tensing my twitching muscles in opposition, the uncontrollable movement revels in the fight. Insuppressible scenes from the last few arduous hours percolate, each terrifying moment bubbling to the top, claiming my attention.
Lying back in the hospital bed, I can’t see for what Dr. Gordon is reaching. Nurse Joleen’s eyes crease at each outer corner in confession of a nurturing smile behind her mask. Averting my eyes from nurse Joleen, my gaze wanders aimlessly, finally relenting to the inability to witness the flurry of actions around me. Sounds guide my mediocre attempts at piecing together what will ensue. Metal on metal echoes in the hallowed room, giving rise to maniacal notions of what Dr. Gordon will do. My view is obscured as her eyes have once again descended into the trenches. The forest of her curls shake with each push, prod, and poke. My head lies back on the unsteadily sliding pillow as Dr. Gordon depresses my body into the mattress. I allow the movement to take over, hoping the awkward burden on my body will end soon. As the minutes elapse, the silence in the room is cut only by the soft grunts Dr. Gordon utters as she diligently works. Abruptly, the pushing stops. The unforeseen snapping of her gloves is followed by a disturbingly heavy sigh. Her head shakes in slow, disappointed oscillations. I stiffen my lips tightly together, stifling the tears that threaten to reappear; the muscles in my cheeks burn within the taut grimace. As the amniotic sac remains dislocated and immoveable, my comfort has plummeted to uncharted depths. The sharp twinges persist across my lower back, issued from both from labor pains and from sheer immobility. Writhing around as much as I dare to, the persistent pain takes no notice of my modest attempt at abatement.
“Laura?” With a precipitous snap of my head, my recreated world fizzles while the current status of my existence begrudgingly materializes. Nurse Joleen steps through the throng of unrecognizable faces. Approaching my bedside, a worried look inscribes across the exposed top half of her face.
“Do you need anything for pain yet? We can give you something stronger through the IV.”
The tension spread across my forehead tightens its grip, claiming all attention away from the lower half of my body. “I’m okay. The headache is the worst pain I have, and it is too soon to take more Tylenol.”
“Let us know what your pain level is as we go.” Her hand lightly grazes my arm, deliberately avoiding the IV needle. The warmth of the her hand engulfed by the teal rubber glove robs me of the much needed comfort.
The nurses begin arriving in droves, flanking the bed, the machines, the tool-holding rolling carts. Jason stands his ground, claiming a small tile square on the floor next to me. He watches intently as each person takes her place in the seemingly turbulent mess. Glancing down to me, he takes hold of my right hand. While his eyes appear calm, a silent pleading demands to know how he can fix this. My worried eyes offer little consolation to his plight.
“I need the instrument cart over here!” calls Dr. Gordon.
“Get towels!” yells a nurse.
The chorus of snapping gloves momentarily filters through the excited chatter, the shouts thrown about the room, and the steady pulsing of Sophia’s heartbeat. Drowning within the chaotic cacophony I relax my eyelids, softly closing out the brouhaha. Voices fade from my awareness into a mesh of murmurs. My eyelids, like miniature movie screens, project a video loop, resuming the regurgitation of each moment leading up to the current pandemonium.
After failing to conquer the amniotic sac, followed by a brief, tiresome reprieve, we re-assemble. Sheets sag out of the way save for one strategically placed for what little privacy I am allowed–a privacy that mostly shields me from myself. Dr. Gordon resumes pushing through her rubbery attired hands. My cheeks redden both from fatigue and embarrassment. The effort of being the patient is exhausting; my helplessness brandished across the bed as I lie there, useless. At just the moment when my desire for her to give up outweighs my desire to progress this labor, a sinister “pop” explodes into the air; Dr. Gordon’s scrubs are wet. Gasping, my horrified eyes, gaping mouth, and flushed face expose the perfect combination of my humiliation and fear.
“This is Anne. She will be taking pictures of your baby if you would like. She does a phenomenal job. They will turn out wonderful.” Willing my eyelids to part, the film pauses. From within the nursing mob, a hand reaches out, resting on nurse Joleen’s shoulder. Looking behind her, she pulls another nurse to her side. With a wide grin, nurse Joleen’s proud demeanor indicates she has found our savior.
A glimmer of joy seeps from Jason’s eyes; he ponders eternally documenting our baby’s birth. Looking for my approval, my assenting nods oblige our inconceivable smiles. The normalcy of this photographic request coerces tears to saturate my eyes.
“We would like that very much,” Jason’s quiet response sends Anne off to get her camera. Turning excitedly on her tennis-shoe heel, she smiles as she weaves around the crowded room. Shocked by this inclusion into the photographable patients, my previous panic seems superfluous.
“I don’t think I can hold her once she’s born. I just don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to see her.”
“It’s okay, Babe. You don’t have to. No one will think less of you if you don’t. That’s your choice.”
“Jason, I was wrong before.” Leaning as far as I can to the right side of the bed, I whisper my revelation to him, too embarrassed to let others hear. In this moment, an unexpected serenity fills my heart. Sophia’s birth establishes our time as a family of three. She deserves all the love a mother and father can give–all the love we can give her. “I want to hold her. I have to hold her.”
A brief smile marks his relief as I finally found my way to join him in the end of this endeavor. “Okay, Babe. Whatever you think you want to do is fine.” With a small squeeze of my hand he leans closer adding, “You can change your mind at any point.”
His hand squishes under my firm clutch. “I’m sure about this. I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t hold her.”