Hey everyone! I wanted to take a different direction this week and have a little fun and post a fictional story about hope. I am pleased to present “Two Blue Lines” written by: yours truly!
Two blue lines. Two. Blue. Lines. Mama. I couldn’t at that moment describe what I felt. It was something like elation mixed with extreme panic and a sense of awe. I learned that all moments are like that when the lines show up. We had been trying for three years. Three very long stressful years with three miscarriages and at least a dozen let downs. Mama. I smiled slightly and remembered. My own mother, Emily Wendell, had been in a constant vegetative state since my twelfth birthday. Now, barely fourteen years later, the sounds of that terrible night live in my memory like a fungus edging in from the darkness to gently cloud and take over my happiness as if it was something that could live. I had to tell Jonathon. Daddy. Two blue lines. I closed my eyes.
I would tell Jonathon over dinner that night. Nothing fancy. The first two times, I made a big deal about the news. The last, it was less pomp and more circumstance. This time, the news will go well with cold meatloaf sandwiches with a hefty side of pregnant. I guess the anxiety outweighed the happiness. I couldn’t bear to lose another child. Not again. My therapist, Dr. Conrad told me it was healing to have a memorial of sorts. So each baby had a rose bush outside our walk with a ring of forget-me-nots surrounding their brilliant blooms. I loved those bushes, cherished them, but now, I hated the thought of expanding my garden. Dr. Conrad had been my stable support when Jonathon grieved. He had kept me mostly level with more than a few times of anger and God knows he has seen me at my worst. The therapy bills were paid on time and I didn’t want to add any more excruciating work for myself. That man didn’t get paid enough.
The sudden and shrill ringing of the phone startled me and I dropped my stick. I grabbed and answered suddenly out of breath.
“Mrs. Nobel, Hi. It’s Amber. I wanted to update you on Emily. Basically, there is nothing new. She is comfortable. Although, I can’t explain it, about half an hour ago, she seemed to almost exude contentment. Strange. I can’t really explain it. There were no spikes in her activity, but just a feeling, you know? Anyway, I will see you tonight if you come in before seven.”
“Thanks, Amber. I wont be in before then, but I should tomorrow night.”
I hung up the phone and stared at it for several minutes. Contentment. What an odd thing to say. I wanted to end Mama’s suffering about a month after the car accident, but she didn’t want that. She was young then and afraid of death. She didn’t want to die, even though she was already dead. No quality of life could come from lying there day after day in diapers and drool completely unaware of anything happening in the room. At my angriest point, I referred to room 561 at Trinity Hospital as Mama’s mausoleum. Jonathon just held me that day and allowed me to grieve.
Jonathon and I met eight years ago at college recruitment fair in Adelaide. He was handsome with playful hair and a warming smile and I couldn’t help but fall in love. He was looking at brochures about study abroad programs with a pen hanging out of his mouth. Needing something to say, I asked to borrow it and wrote on my hand. What came from the pen said “phone number” and a smiley face. I tried to hand it back and when I did, it fell to the ground and we both bent to reclaim it. We bumped heads and after freshman orientation two months later, the rest became history. I love that man.
I spend my time doing math. I was a history major with the boring social life to match so for more excitement, I became an accountant. The pay is good and the clients are great. Mostly, we live quiet lives in our corner of the world and we don’t bother anyone. The Springs is a great place and our friends have been more than supportive although sometimes I worry they will become tired of my greif and stop humoring the tears.
I dialed Jonathon’s work number and heard his light-hearted voice on the other end and my heart danced for a brief moment. We have been married for six years and I prayed I would always have that dance.
“Hi beautiful! I was just thinking about you. Listen, Sam and Maggie want us over Saturday night for dinner and maybe some cards. I told them I had to talk to the warden and I would get back with them. So, warden, what do you say?”
“Maybe. I can go see Mama early and it should be ok. We can let them know tomorrow. I was hoping you didn’t have anything after work today and we can have a quiet night tonight, just us.” I prayed he didn’t hear the emotion in my voice since I didn’t want to let him in on the secret just yet.
“Sounds great. Soft music, soft kisses, soft touches. We can practice making memories.”
I could hear the childlike grin on his face and it made me smile. I giggled and replied, “Yes, maybe we can. I love you.”
“I love you back.”
I ended the call and dialed Dr. Morgan. Already, mentally, I begin to prepare myself for another painful experience during another prenatal exam. It will be excruciating until the distinctive beating is heard. Rapid and undeniable the heartbeat comes and only that sound will begin to ease my trepidation. Only that sound and the passage of week 12 will ease my fears. The second trimester is less risky for the baby and mother alike, and by twenty-four weeks, the baby is viable outside of the womb. My problem is getting to that point. My problem is sustaining life. I often wonder if God is so merciful, why does he take my children he gives me to begin with? How could he do that to Jonathon and me? God gives and he takes away. Where is the mercy in that? I get so angry. I make the appointment for next week and hang up.
The cuckoo tells me it’s four thirty. Jonathon will be home in half and hour and I need to clean myself up. My hair is messy and my face is puffy from falling tears I didn’t even know were there. I hate this part of my life. Since I lost the babies, I have been very anxious and living on a roller coaster of emotions. I am angry, and then hurt, and then hopeful, then it starts over with angry. Sometimes it happens in a matter of minutes.
I place the stick on the vanity and walk out of the bathroom still wiping my eyes. In the kitchen I find cold meatloaf, Swiss cheese, and mushrooms to sauté.
Absentmindedly, I dream of my baby. My baby I will lose. My baby God will take. Mercy is a lie. Of course, this time could be the one. Like last time was. I shake my head quickly and try to clear it. I splash cold water from the kitchen faucet on my face, but nothing works. I’m still in the fog of fear. Damn, those blue lines.
I hear the smoke detector simultaneously echoed by the garage door rumbling to life. I yell, “NO!” to an empty room and immediately feel ashamed for the outburst. The mushrooms are now crispy burnt and the smoke is suffocating. How did I not notice? Yeah, a great mother I will be! I can’t even sauté mushrooms without burning them.
“Whoa! Somebody call 911! Shawty fire burning on the dance floor!” Jonathon drops his coat, hugs me, and feigns coughing up a lung.
“I doubt Sean Kingston would appreciate you stealing his lyrics, and if he did, he may want royalties. Besides, I only burnt your half of dinner. I gently push him away and turn so he doesn’t see the unwept tears in my eyes. But he knows me too well. He knows without looking. He knows by feeling.
“What? What is it?” He pushes my body in front of him about half an arms length and the disquiet is blaring on his face. I bite my lip and try to hold back the tears of fear and I can feel the knot building in my stomach.
“Amy…” He frowns, “Is it your mother?”
“Oh no. No, It’s not Mama. She’s the same as ever, in fact, she’s, well, she’s going to be a grandmamma, again.” The tears fell. Again and again they fell. I felt his arms around my waist and shoulders as he just held me. He whispered in my ear it was going to be ok, and God had great plans for us. I wish I could share his surety, his faith, or his conviction. Maybe I can someday. It just wasn’t going to be today.
“Amy, I am happy, regardless, I am happy. I have you, and I have God. That’s all I need to fulfill me. God will provide and we will do this together, you, him, and me. I know we will be ok no matter what.”
“I know that deep down. You know, your daddy did well naming you sir. Jonathon Aaron Noble. Gift, Strength, Honor.” This is my Jonathon. Even through everything, and even when I don’t feel as such, I am so very blessed. He hugged me tighter. He kissed me gently on the corner of my mouth and I could feel those same simple stirrings deep in my belly. I hugged him closer. At that moment, he was my lifeline. If I had known then that everything would have turned out as it did, I may have thought about life a little differently, but in that moment, it was what I knew. How I knew life to be.
Later that evening as I read to mama the headlines in the newspapers and the highlights of the tabloids (I never understood why she loved those things) my mind drifted. I stopped mid sentence and set the paper in my lap and just looked at my mother. She was frail and comatose. I moved closer and picked up her brush and began stroking her long auburn locks as they framed her face. I talked about the day as if she could hear me and I told her about Jonathon’s reaction to the baby. I prayed for his faith daily. I prayed for his love daily. Her white nightgown made her look like an angel. I bought her new ones every few months or so and she look radiantly youthful. Peaceful. I talked to her about death sometimes and that it was okay for her to go. We would be fine. God would be there waiting for her and she would get to see her grandbabies gone before her and hold them before me. I wish I knew she could hear me. I brushed her long hair over her left shoulder and braided her auburn hair that had become dry and wiry over her bedridden years. I kissed her cheek. “Good night Mama. See you tomorrow.” I whispered into her ear and slipped silently out of the hospital room.
As I settled in to bed next to Jonathon that night, my mind drifted to the dark places where doubt loves to play. It gripped my heart and pulled at my mind like tendrils of an ancient beast threatening to overwhelm some fishing vessel sailing on some dark ocean. I cried quietly. I listened to my husband’s gentle breathing and felt his skin close to mine. The heat from his body warmed me and his breath felt hot on my neck. I patted my stomach and yearned for some knowledge that the baby was healthy and alive. That would have to come in time. Patience was never something I was good at. The waiting would be the next best thing to Hell and I couldn’t imagine anything worse at that moment.
It was a cool day. I wore a sweater with leggings. Boots and thick socks kept my feet warm. I put the car in park and took a deep breath to steady my nerves for the hundredth time that day. For the last week, I have been going out of my mind listening to an imagined heartbeat that may or may not be heard today. I patted my stomach and whispered low, “Baby, I love you, and I hope you know how much I am afraid to lose you even now. Please let me hear your heartbeat.” I dropped my keys in my purse and left the car. I pushed my way into Dr. Morgan’s office and signed in, took my seat, and pretended to read an outdated article about the dangers of hair dyes used on pregnant women. Mostly I just hid my face. The room held three other women at various stages of pregnancy and they needed to be spared my feelings of anxiety.
One by one, they vanished into the depths of the building until I heard, “Amy?” I looked up to see a young smiling nurse with the most amazingly plump dark skin I have ever seen staring at me. I laid the magazine down and fell into step behind her. She immediately made me feel calmer. She made me feel almost pacified by being in her presence. She said her name was Gabrielle and she motioned me to the scale at the end of a short hallway. Obediently, I stepped up. She jotted my weight, took my height, and offered me the restroom. Giving me specimen cup she gave me the go ahead to do what to be needed done and left me to follow through. I left the cup, and followed her to my exam room and waited for Dr. Morgan. Gabrielle smiled and said, “Just sit tight child, she will be here in a quick minute, you know she will take good care of you. Put on your gown there, you know the drill, and we will be back in just no time flat.” Without another word, the door was shut and I was left to stare at nothing. I put my gown on and climbed on the table with my silly feet dangling off the edge like a toddler sitting on a bed that is too large. I wished Jonathon was here, but he had a last minute meeting he couldn’t miss so here I am. Three sharp knocks on the door and then a crack in the seal. “Alright child, are you ready for us?”
“Yes, I am”
“Good.” The door pushed open and in stepped Gabrielle and Dr. Morgan close behind her. Dr. Morgan smiled and shook my hand as doctor’s do, short barely gripping, mostly just a finger touch really.
“So good to see you Amy. I was excited to get your call the other day. Pure dumb luck I answered the phone. How have you been feeling?”
“Really stressed honestly. After the three miscarriages, I am terrified of losing this one. I almost can’t stand the wait for the heartbeat.”
“Well, it is confirmed, you are indeed pregnant. Let’s get you a due date first, when was your last period?”
“Okay, just a minute here,” Dr. Morgan typed some numbers on her iPad and looked at me after a minute and said, “June 13th, is your due date as of now. Since we are already well into October, let’s see if we can get that heartbeat.”
I held my breath. I couldn’t help it. I pulled my gown up and Dr. Morgan covered my legs and hips with a sheet. Putting a generous squirt of goop on my belly and rubbing a Doppler device, I listened intently. I realized I held Gabrielle’s hand. As the device slid to the right side, I heard the distinctive sound of blood pumping rapidly through a tiny body as the breath I had been holding rushed out of my lungs in one giant gasp. I laughed and tears began to roll down my face. My baby’s heart was beating. I wiped my eyes, and felt a wave of relief. The first obstacle had been passed. I couldn’t wait to tell Jonathon.
We sat side by side in the hospital room with Mama as I combed her hair that night and talked of the day’s events. I told her I heard the heartbeat at a very healthy one hundred fifty two beats per minute as Jonathon rested his hand on my knee. He comes with me often and just sits with us. Sometimes, he talks of his work, the research he does for new medications, and sometimes he reads the headlines for me. He’s always the strong one and continues to hold my hand when I question why the hell we can’t just let her go.
Daddy succumbed to cancer two years ago. He had small cell lung cancer and was diagnosed and buried in a matter of six months. Daddy made me Mama’s power of attorney before his cancer took him so I make sure her bills are paid and she gets the care she needs. My older sister Lizbeth has eight years on me, and we never were very close. She resents that I want to end Mama’s life and fights it every time I bring it up. She moved away before the wreck and never did move back. She visits on Christmas and Easter. Sometimes we see her on Mama’s birthday, but that’s all her obligations make her responsible for. Lizbeth lives in her own world and just makes things miserable for me. This time I will wait to tell her about the baby. I don’t want to share it with her yet.
After the twelfth week, the chance for miscarriage decreases greatly. Of course this last baby, I lost at seventeen weeks. I found out at fifteen weeks she was my Hope through amniocentesis. My Hope, so small and tiny. Her roses are pink. She is the only baby we knew was a girl or boy. Hope Emily Noble.
I finished braiding Mama’s hair and sat back in the chair next to the bed and smiled slightly. For the first time in a week I felt almost relaxed. I held Jonathon’s hand and laid my head on his strong shoulder. He stroked my hair kissed my cheek.
Softly he said, “All this time together tonight and you have yet to tell me when we get to meet our baby. What did Doctor Morgan say?”
“Well, as I told Mama, the heartbeat was one fifty two and strong. I was so relieved to hear it, Jonathon. I held my breath so tight. I cried. I wish you could have been there. But next time, she wants to do an ultrasound, and she’s put me on high risk like last time. I am only allowed very limited activity. No lifting, stretching, bending, pulling, all that good stuff, again. We get to meet out baby, I pray, on June 13th, but that might change after the ultrasound in a couple of weeks. I don’t want to tell anyone about the baby just yet. I want to get past the first trimester just in case we lose this one too. I wish they could figure out why I have terrible time carrying babies to full term. I can’t take another loss.”
“Amy, we are not going to lose this baby, I can feel it. We are in this together and I love you more than life itself. Come June 13th, we are going to have a beautiful baby with your nose and my eyes, hopefully not Lizbeth’s attitude, and we are going to be the happiest couple in the world. We have each other, nothing else matters. The road has been so rough, but I feel it deep in my bones, we are not going to lose this one.”
“I pray you are right. I love you Jon.”
“I love you back.”
Later on in bed that night, I felt his peace and surety settle over me. I believed what he said was true and his conviction took over and I drifted into a deep and restful sleep. It was the last I would have for a long while.
“We have a strong heartbeat, it’s about one fifty four. You can see the liver, and the spine. Tiny arms and legs here and here.” Our eyes were glued to the monitor as our sonogram tech showed us our baby. Still a strong heartbeat, and seeing it pump the life force that kept our tiny one alive brought even greater reassurance to our weary minds. The last few weeks had been terribly worrisome. I had been experiencing sharp pain in my abdomen. No blood, but there was cramping. Dr. Morgan put me on bed rest immediately. She informed me it was probably stretching ligaments, however, until the ultrasound it was better to be safe than sorry. “Would you like to know the sex of your baby?”
It was a question Jonathon and I had talked about. We decided we didn’t want to know. We felt it was fate leading us now and wanted to keep it that way. We had so much uncertainty and we wanted to have control over this little bit of the pregnancy. Besides, we decided the surprise would be well worth the wait and I would be devastated to give the baby a name and then lose it.
“We would actually like to wait until the birth. I bet you don’t hear that one often.” Jonathon said as he squeezed my hand and smiled. He was mesmerized by the images on the screen. A tiny hand found its way to a tiny mouth and began sucking a tiny thumb.
“Actually more than you might think. Not all parents are control addicts.” She giggled. She talked softly about different developmental aspects of the baby, pointed out several interesting features, made measurements, took notes, and gave reassurances. As she was finishing up, the baby seemed to roll and look right at us as if he or she could actually see us. She took a picture of our baby’s face with its thumb still tucked away in their mouth like a little angel. It was a beautiful picture. We were lucky to get a three dimensional ultrasound so we could see very distinct features of our baby’s face. It was breathtaking.
I took that picture with me to Mama’s room that night and pinned it to her wall. I thought of her hanging in limbo somewhere and maybe she could see it. Maybe she was there with me today. Or maybe I am full of shit and deluding myself into thinking that she has any idea what has happened to her or around her since the accident. I was now at thirteen weeks. The first trimester was over. I would see Dr. Morgan in a week for my next appointment and possibly be taken off of bed rest. I get so bored and the worry is killing me.
Dr. Conrad has seen me once a week and even though he said I am doing well handling things, I feel like he’s humoring me. He’s a doctor. He’s supposed to say things to make me feel less crazy. He knows my fears of losing this baby. He knows the children I have lost. I feel like a coffin for the unborn, a sarcophagus for the innocent. He is good at his job and he has been very helpful in my grief but he does get paid to listen so it is difficult to tell where the job ends and the true caring begin.
I tell Mama these things. I wonder again if she hears me. I wonder if she feels her brush in her hair. Amber helps me change her nightgown and I have brought her new flowers for her room. Chrysanthemums. She loved them so much. The beautiful fall colors bring out the vibrancy of life she used to say. The Springs are cold tonight and snowfall is expected by the end of the week. The first snowfall of many this winter. The mountains rise in the distance like monolithic testimonials to their maker. I share with Amber about the baby. She gives her congratulations as we finish putting fresh socks on Mama’s cold feet. I thank her for her help and shut the door behind her. I lean close to my beautiful Mama. I tell her quietly, “It’s okay to go, Mama. I know you are tired. I know you need your peace too. Lizbeth will be fine as will Jonathon and I. Baby will be fine too. We will keep your memory alive so it’s okay for you to go. You should be at peace now. There is nothing here for you and there hasn’t been for so long. Go, go to Daddy. Go see my babies. Hold my Hope. I love you Mama.” I gently touch her hand cover her with her blanket and leave her to sleep. Sleep as she always does. The sleep of the dead. I hear the familiar sound of the respirator and the soft beeping of her heart monitor. They are all too familiar and she deserves her light at the end of the tunnel, her angel of death, her bright light or whatever the hell is waiting on the other side. I shut her door and went home for the night.
Blood! I was in the shower. I had been so tired lately and Jonathon was at work. He told me wait for him, but I only wanted a shower. There was enough of the spiteful red fluid to make me cringe and caught my breath. “No, no, no, no, no!” My belly had swollen and I was already in my third trimester. I was down to two months to go and I was terrified. I was gripped by painful spasms not unlike appendicitis, which I had experienced when I was nine. This was going to be the worst loss yet. The blood flowed down my leg and into the drain as if it could erase the fact it was ever even there. I bent over in pain and found myself curled in ball like the position my child was no doubt in as well. I screamed. I screamed again. The blood flowed.
Then, it was over. I sat upright in my bed and the clock on the night table glared in bright blue numbers three forty-six. I clutched the blankets and became vaguely aware of Jonathon talking to me soothingly, stroking my arm in affection and concern. I was coated in greasy sweat. My mouth was dry from gasping for air and trying to scream. A deep guttural moan escaped me and I cried. Jonathon pulled me closer and held me tighter. He whispered he loved me and everything was going to be okay. He patted my belly and as if in response to my nightmare, I felt the tiniest little flutter inside me. It was almost like a butterfly flying about from the inside. My baby had moved and I had felt it. For the first time I had felt it. I was in my fifth month. I was beginning to show a small round bump where my baby was growing and I had felt the life inside me. I cried harder. “Jon—Jon—Jonathon,” I managed to stammer as my breath came in short bursts, “the baby, it” another gasp from me, “he, uh, she, I felt it move.” I wiped the tears and the snot away from my face with the back of my hand and focused on breathing slowly and deliberately to regain control of myself. I am amazed how emotions can swing so swift and sudden. Crying in fear one moment and awestruck the next. It was transcendent. I regained my composure and concentrated on my belly. I had read it would be a while before I would feel it again. Gradually it would build until the baby would be active all the time. I looked up at my beautiful husband and grinned stupidly. In that moment despite the terrible fear I had felt only moments before, I was at peace. In that moment, the baby was healthy, I was healthy, and Jonathon was here with me. Valentine’s Day was two days ago and the snow on the ground was pure. All at that moment was as it should have been.
“Everything looks good,” Dr. Morgan was saying. “I want to start seeing you every two weeks beginning in two weeks. Since you are high risk and you are approaching your sixth month, I want to monitor you a little closer. You are gaining the right amount of weight, nothing too stressful, and are you staying off of your feet?”
“Yes, I make her and she hates it. She’s a very stubborn patient, but I can be more stubborn.” Jonathon squeezed my hand slightly.
“Hey now, let’s be fair. I have the luxury of a housekeeper once a week now until baby gets here because I have doctor’s orders that housework is bad for me right now. I am not complaining a whole lot. My clients have been put on hold for the time being, a colleague of mine has taken over my load so I am not even working at the moment.”
“That’s good. The more you can take it easy the better. We are getting very close to the third trimester and the longer we can keep baby in there, the better. I do want to schedule an amniocentesis to check for any abnormalities that wont be found in some of our routine blood work and the like. We can go over the details and get that set up.”
My heart leapt into my throat. “Dr. Morgan, the last one they did, I lost Hope. I can’t. I just can’t do that again. Is there something we can do besides that? That test increases the risk of miscarriage and I can’t plant another rosebush.” Dr. Morgan was aware of my garden and the last miscarriage was a good two weeks after the test was done. The likelihood that the miscarriage was caused by the test was slim. But the crippling fear was still there.
“The amniocentesis is the most accurate test we have and we can test for multiple things at once. It will save time in the long run and as your doctor, I feel the benefits outweigh the risks. However, your consent is obviously required so take some time to think about it and get back with me next appointment, okay?”
“Thank you, I will do that.” I held Jonathon’s hand as Gabrielle showed us out of the office and let go only long enough to fall into the car. He held the door for me and kissed my forehead. He brushed my hair from my eyes. I felt weak with angst. The needle used to draw the amniotic fluid was formidable enough and the risks were just as harsh. If I were to miscarry later because of this test, this baby’s death would be on my hands. I realized I was shaking. Jonathon slid into the seat next to me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me close. I wept quietly.
“Hey, hey. We are going to be okay. We’ve got this. I am here with you every step of the way and there is nothing that is going to interfere with that. You and this baby are getting the best care possible. I love you so much. We’ve got this one. I told you several months ago; I strongly believe this one is going to make it. I still feel that way. We are going to have a baby in a few months and bring our son or daughter home and begin a new chapter in our lives. You, me, and our baby. You are going to a great mother. Dry your beautiful eyes, Amy. It’s going to be okay.” He gently wiped the tears away and held me a moment longer and stroked my hair. Gingerly I pulled away and we headed for home.
“I’m terrified, Mama. If I let them do the test and something goes wrong, I could lose the baby and I don’t want to put this one at risk too. Losing Hope almost took everything. I am so afraid to go through that again. If I don’t let them do the test, I could be putting the baby at risk for any number of things that we could catch beforehand and be ready to treat or even possible treat in utero. I don’t know which choice to make here. I wish I knew you could hear me.”
I was almost boiling inside. My hands were clenching fistfuls of her thin cotton blanket and twisting them into unrecognizable mounds of material on her bed. I needed my Mama. She was dead. She had been brain dead since my twelfth birthday. Mama was far from perfect. Lizbeth did not want to see that. Mama felt the alcohol was contained and that she didn’t have a problem. She had naturally been drinking the day of the accident and she was feeling fuzzy. It was her word for buzzed. I had been late at a friend’s house and she had come to pick me up. Daddy usually did, but he was getting dinner on the table for me, and it was only a couple of miles. He always tried so hard to make things right. He was my light when things got so dark with Mama. The road was dark and the recent rain made had them slick. Mama swerved too far to the right and overcorrected. We began to slide and the car fishtailed eventually rolling and throwing Mama from the vehicle like she was a ragdoll into tree. I shiver. I can still hear the glass and metal bending and twisting like rubber. I looked at Mama. The scars had left her somewhat disfigured although she was still beautiful. Honestly, it was a miracle she was still breathing even with the help of machines. I was wearing my seatbelt and only suffered a broken arm and some minor cuts. The psychological damage, well, that still weighs on me sometimes. I need my mother. My baby needs a grandmother. I get angry with Mama because she did this to herself. She was never a violent drunk. Quite the opposite. She was a depressed drunk. She was always afraid we were going to leave her. She became an alcoholic after her mother died when I was seven. I understand the grief, but not her method of managing it.
I quickly brush Mama’s hair, no braids tonight, and pull her now wrinkled blanket up to her chin. I kiss her cheek and quickly leave her to her silent and isolated room.
“Jonathon! Here!” I grabbed his hand without warning and placed it on my growing belly just as our baby kicked. His eyes widened and the smile that began at the corners of his mouth quickly overtook his entire face until it had lit up the whole room. We were sitting on the couch watching a movie of which I had long forgotten the plot line. I get so tired in the evenings and I usually grab a nap in the afternoon.
“Oh my God! That’s my baby! That’s my baby!” He laughed. He put his head on my stomach while moving his hand around in circles. The baby followed the motion and kicked. I felt each strong burst, but Jonathon only felt one more.
It was like the baby and I shared something secret, something sacred. My child was communicating only with me. Those tiny private kicks were saying, “It’s okay Mama, I am getting stronger. I will see you soon.”
Jonathon sat up and still kept that silly grin on his face. I popped another piece of popcorn in my mouth. It was dark and the rain on the roof was mellow and melodic. I decided now was a good time to tell him my decision on the amniocentesis.
“Jonathon, baby, um, I have been thinking about what Dr. Morgan said about doing another amniocentesis. The truth is that I am terrified. Scared mindless really. We lost Hope after the last one. I know it was a month after and the two were probably not even related. But my mind goes back to “what if” there was something I could have done to keep our baby alive?”
Jonathon took my hand and said “Oh Amy, it wa…”
“Shh, as far as finding out about anything our baby may have, well, our baby would already have it. We wouldn’t be able to change that. But, if it is something we could treat before birth or if it is something we need to make special considerations for before birth, then we should know. We should know so that we can give our baby the best possible chance at survival. I will not however, under any circumstance do this before my six-month mark. I wont. The baby will have a much better chance at viability at six months and if something does go wrong, I want our baby to have a fighting chance.”
“On your terms, okay. I will be there every step. We will schedule with Dr. Morgan tomorrow when we go in for your appointment and we’ll get it set up.” He grinned. “Hey, you know what?”
“I felt our baby.”
That night after making love to him, I felt closer to him than I had ever felt as I fell asleep in his arms. I felt peaceful for the first time in four months. I was almost six months pregnant. Almost past the point of fear. Things could still go south real fast, but there is a substantial increase in survival rates. We were working steadily at getting the spare bedroom ready for the baby. We already had the crib and nursery furniture from several years ago when we started trying. It was a deep cherry wood with a contemporary sleigh bed style with matching changing table. It was beautiful. There was a matching rocker and the theme was Noah’s Ark. New boxes were being added slowly. Diapers made up one corner, non-specific gender items in another. Maggie was planning a baby shower in early May, but I was hesitant to get excited. I had never made it that far into any of my pregnancies. I sighed, pressed closer to Jonathon, and drifted into peaceful dreamless sleep.
I was lying on the table watching Dr. Morgan prepare the needle for the amniocentesis. I was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor and everything had the same familiar feel as it did with Hope. My Hope. I pushed her from my mind. I looked up at Jonathon who stood close to me and held my hand and stroked my arm for comfort. I was stronger with him here. I was always stronger with him.
“Alright Amy, let’s get started.” Gabrielle squirted the gel on my stomach and began sliding the Doppler device across my belly. It wasn’t long before the strong heartbeat of my baby was picked up and reverberated through the still air in the doctor’s exam room. The insertion point of the needle was numbed and I watched the needle slide into my skin. There was sudden cramping and a strong pinch. I gasped and held my breath.
“Relax baby. We’re good.” Jonathon whispered in my ear as he ran his fingers through my hair.
I gripped his arm and tried to focus on the monitor that showed our growing child. How strong the kicking had become in such a short time. I was truly blessed in that moment. I was anxious and blessed. After what seemed like an eternity, the needle slid silently from my stomach and stored the strong fluid that spoke of our baby’s wellbeing.
As Gabrielle wiped off the gel she explained the results would take about two to three weeks to come in and we would hear something then. Until then she cautioned, I was supposed to relax and enjoy being pregnant. She winked at me.
I was fine with that until later on that evening, everything changed. My whole world changed. The hopes I had built, the promises of new life, and the safety of my child were shattered in one small second.
Jonathon and I were sitting on the couch eating popcorn watching a documentary on the Tiananmen Square riot when I felt a sudden gush of fluid between my legs. It was like a water balloon had ruptured inside my stomach. Pop, and it was over. I was paralyzed with shock and disbelief. I grabbed Jonathon’s arm. He jerked his head toward me and the look on my face must have alarmed him because he dropped his drink and said “Amy, what’s wrong?”
“My water just broke. Jonathon, my water! I’m not ready yet, but it broke. I don’t know what to do.” Panic was overwhelming me. I felt like I was going to hyperventilate. Things were fuzzy and I was panicked.
“Amy, Amy, hang on. We’re going to get to the hospital and call Dr. Morgan and tell her we are having our baby tonight. Breathe with me, hang on.” He stood up spilling popcorn all over the floor and took my hands and pulled my to my feet.
The moment I stood up, the precious amniotic fluid flowed even steadier and the contractions gripped my abdomen. They were strong and vengeful. I walked hunched over toward the garage and fell into the car. Jonathon raced to the driver’s side and simultaneously hit the garage door opener and shut his door. The hospital was five minutes away, but it was the longest five minutes of my life.
As he drove he turned on the hazard lights and honked through the red lights. He never stopped but drove determined. He called the hospital on the way to make sure they were waiting for us. When we pulled up, Gabrielle was there with a wheelchair and it took me a moment to realize it was her. I couldn’t place why she would be at the hospital since she worked for Dr. Morgan. It is funny what we focus on in times of stress. The mundane seems to take the attention away from the chaos. I passed it off and gladly accepted the ride. Jonathon sped away to park the car and as he left I heard Gabrielle say, “It’s alright child. You’re going to be just fine. I’ve already called Dr. Morgan and she’s on her way.” There was a blur of people, lights, hallways and doctors. All I could think about was the baby inside of me. I begged to someone; no, to something; that it was okay. Pleading for the heartbeat to continue. My palms were sweaty and my body was on fire almost from the fear. Not realizing the ground we covered, I found myself staggering from the wheelchair to the bed in my delivery room. My contractions were about a minute and a half apart. In less than an hour I went from nothing to almost delivering. The urge to push was too great but I tried to fight it.
“Dr. Morgan just got here child, she’s coming now.” Gabrielle placed a large but gentle hand on my head just as Jonathon and Dr. Morgan burst through the door. Jonathon helped me change into my hospital gown and as soon as I tumbled into bed, I felt my baby crown. I gasped for breath. I was feeling a symphony of emotions that blended so well I couldn’t begin to pick out one emotion from the next. I pushed. Dr. Morgan caught. I held my breath.
Silence. Deafening silence. Then, the most miraculous sound my ears have ever registered. My baby cried.
“A boy, Amy, we have a son!” Jonathon squealed in fascination and euphoric delight. I was too scared to breathe. The only thing running through my head was the plethora of things that could be wrong or go wrong with our son.
“Baby Boy Noble weighs one pound twelve ounces, and he’s thirteen inches long. Amy would you like to hold him so Daddy can cut the cord? We need to get him into the neonatal care unit quickly since his lungs are underdeveloped so we can watch him and help him catch up where he needs to be before we can release him.”
A very tiny body was laid on my breast. His skin was so thin, translucent. He had thick body hair all over him. His lips were so tiny. His fingers wrapped themselves around my thumb and still had room left over. He looked normal and healthy. He was wrapped in your standard run of the mill receiving hospital blanket and Jonathon proudly leaned in and cut the cord. His life force was severed. He was no longer connected to me. It was his turn to see if his strength alone was enough. His tiny body was placed in a rolling incubator and my son was taken away to the neonatal unit to continue his growth for the next three months. I missed him terribly already.
“The Baby has developed Patent Ductus Arteriosis, or PDA. Basically, he has an opening between two major blood vessels leading from the heart. The problem usually corrects itself but we are keeping watch on it just the same. He is staying in the incubator much of the time since his body is using all of its energy to keep warm instead of to grow. When he is able to eat, breathe, and maintain a stable temperature, he will be discharged. We encourage breastfeeding, which I see here in his chart you are doing every few hours; that is the best thing for him. When he reaches about four pounds and hits these other milestones, we can see about sending him home.” Dr. Miller, our son’s pediatrician, shook hands and left the room. Our baby was born two days before, and I couldn’t leave him. I had been nursing him as best I could and Jonathon stayed with us each and every moment. I had walked up two floors to see Mama and to tell her about her grandson. Her condition was as hopeless as ever.
“Jonathon, I want to name him Aiden. It means little fire. I think it suits him.”
“I have been thinking about that too. I like it. I would like to name him after my father as well. Maybe Aiden Michael?”
“Beautiful.” I dozed off in his arms.
Aiden was growing stronger day by day and his heart condition did correct itself over time. He was strong and beautiful. No more rose bushes. He was definitely our miracle. He was discharged two months later weighing in at four pounds three ounces. We took him up to see Mama. When Aiden was merely inches away from Mama, her eyes fluttered and her she made gasping noises. It was as if she were choking. Jonathon pushed the nurses button and suddenly without warning, Mama pulled the breathing tube from her mouth! It was surreal. I felt I was walking in thick fog and nothing was connecting to my brain or made any sense. Doctors rushed in and nurses swarmed the bed. Our small group of three stepped back and let the team do their work. When the room was quiet again, we brought Aiden to Mama. She was mute. I don’t believe she understood all that had happened but I know she understood enough. She knew what she needed to. She took the tiny bundle and cradled him close. She smiled her beautiful smile and laid her head back on her pillow and closed her eyes. Jonathon took Aiden and I held Mama’s hand. I watched her breathe on her own and then she didn’t. The machine keeping her pulse showed two blue lines. Two. Blue. Lines. Mama. Then she was gone.
A year later, on a cold March morning, I was helping Aiden into his jacket to leave the house. We walked out the front door since Jonathon already had the car waiting on the street. We walked past four rose bushes. Two for babies I lost that I never met, one for Hope, and the last one for Mama. Aiden was growing stronger by the day and was certainly the joy in our lives. His auburn hair and blue eyes reminded me of Mama.
As we walked into Dr. Morgan’s office, I expected to see Gabrielle. She was always right up front at the window with her radiant smile and calming nature. She wasn’t. I asked the receptionist if Gabrielle was off for the day and she gave me the most bewildered look.
“Ma’am, we don’t have a Gabrielle that works here.”
“Yes, you do, she was my nurse while I was pregnant with my son, he’s over there.”
“No, I promise, we have never had a Gabrielle here. I’m sorry.”
I have often wondered whom Gabrielle really was and if I will ever see her again.