This story is by Teresa Edmond-Sargeant and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I stroked my swollen belly and felt a thump against my hand. Such a gentle thump, but done with such great force that my hand rose up on my stomach.
This is my first child. After nine months of carrying her in my womb, I now get what many women rave about when they select little booties in department stores, throw baby showers and fret and fuss over whether their baby might come out with an illness.
To some extent, guilt had ebbed and flowed within me ever since I learned at the end of my third trimester I was with child. At that time, I learned why some women would rather not say anything about being pregnant until after the first three months passed. Losing a child must be hard, and that is my fault. Before carrying my own child to term, I didn’t think twice about how the end of a life would affect me personally. Wherever I’m told to go, I go: car accidents, wars, hospitals. That was my job. That was my life.
When your job is snatching away humans’ last breath, their last heartbeat, their last conscious dignity, terminating the living is all you are consumed with.
I jutted my hip upward and against the swollen belly I see before me as I pushed myself out of the rocking chair in my daughter’s nursery – yes, it’s a girl; her name will be Zoe.
I noticed the crib to my left and imagined Zoe to be placed there. The crib is next to the window, across the way from the nursery door. As nighttime spread across the window glass, I pondered what my child will encounter out there. As a young one, naiveté and pride will convince her she is invincible and immortal. Then, she will be naïve to the world, thinking she is invincible, can’t get old, can’t get sick, would not think about leaving this earth if she never experiences anything related to it. She blossoms into a young woman, with the world at her command.
Do I dare tell her what I do for a living, to the living? When should I tell her? How will she understand? I will witness her grow up and grow old, but I won’t age. How will she handle that? How will I handle that?
I spun the mobile suspended over the crib. The alternating images of stars, hearts and clouds rotated, and I fantasized her pretty face and smiling gums as she watched. I turned to my right, at the nightstand where a lamp stood. Underneath the lampshade was a baby monitor, so I could communicate with her.
It was a miracle in itself how I was able to conceive a child when I myself, upon touching anything, flowers wither, the skin on people’s hands shrivel, and grief strike in the hearts of men and women who must witness the cruelty I bring to them. I am the one who brings mankind nightmares. I am the one responsible for countless psychological traumas. It was a miracle that my daughter was able to grow to full term, but how will I cradle her in my arms?
Any minute now, I will be due, and then I will meet Zoe.
Something inside me broke, and in an instant, I found my bottom side and my legs soaked.
I clutched my belly. “Colette!” I shouted.
After half a minute, I heard feet thumping upward on the stairs.
“Dolores?” Colette walked passed the doorway.
“I’m in here,” I called out.
Colette appeared at the doorway, panic on her face.
“Dolores? Are you having contractions?”
Her eyes trailed from my face downward, and noticed the puddle underneath me.
“I’ll call the doctor,” she said.
Colette is like me: she, too, has had her good share of determining the end of people. However, for years now – I think at least a century – she retired from that field of profession to work for me, keeping my house and taking care of me while I worked long hours.
I crawled to the bathroom, groaning and heaving along the way. I can’t go to the hospital to give birth; temptation might ensnare me to do my job there. So Colette and I decided I should do a water birth in my bathroom tub.
Doing what I can to fight through the contractions, my mind forced my right leg to move. I pushed my upper body upward, then my left leg up. Using the crib for support, I stood up.
I turned to Colette, through the struggle of my contractions. Taking my hand, she escorted me out of the nursery through the hallway and into the bathroom.
Stacks of clean towels were near the bathtub filled with water. I stripped my clothes off save for my bra and held onto Colette as I get into the tub and immersed myself into the warm water. As soon as I did, my body jerked forward, signaling me to push. Colette held my hand, and I squeezed it as I began to push. While I did so, the concern of whether I’m able to reconcile my career with having a living, breathing child subsided. Colette collected from the water and wrapped her in a towel. Red water surrounded me in the tub. Colette handled a pair of scissors, and with one snip, the baby was free of me. An entity separate from me.
As much as I was impatient of this day, I also dreaded it. What if my child stops breathing once she’s in my arms, considering who her father is? That was the main reason I decided on a water birth; water is the source of life, and my powers are negated whenever I’m in it. The loss of life at sea, from shipwrecks and such? I touch the victims on the dock or on land before they embark on the waters. Colette handed the baby to me, this shivering, tiny bundle of light and life within my arms.
I see my baby’s face now. The matted hair that resulted from the placenta mess she was wrapped up in while she was inside me. Zoe opened her mouth and a cry burst forth. This was not a cry of pain, but a cry of hunger, or tiredness or confusion. But this cry of cognitive innocence is a refreshing turnaround from the cries I witness of soldiers as they cradle their dying comrades on the battlefield or the adult children weeping at the bedside of their elderly parent as she laid dying in a nursing home bed. When Zoe cries, it’s because she will rely on me to meet her needs, not because she’s cursing me in anger or trembling with fear because I’m taking something away.
Tears rolled down my face. I turned to Colette. “Take the baby. I have to dry off and clean up.”
Colette put the towels down and took the baby.
“If my baby is going to meet her end though, then at least have the proper conditions ready,” I said. “I have to be out of the water, and not wet.”
An hour passed by and while I cleaned up and suffered from my aching underside, Colette clothed the baby and checked her vitals. I mumbled prayers that the baby will survive my touch. I prayed I would survive the heartache, the tears and despair if she, well, if she …
Odd that, considering what I do, I can’t say the one word I was created to do and to represent.
I hobbled into the nursery in my bathrobe, enduring the difficult walk. Colette placed the baby in the crib which by this time, she had cleaned up the area of the water. I hobbled past Colette to the crib, reached into it and scooped her up. Plump, rosy cheeks. The gentleness that settle upon her eyes as she cooed.
“Please leave us,” I said to Colette, and she did so. I lowered myself into the rocking chair, where Colette placed a soft cushion there because the soreness I have now, I would need the comfort.
Fifteen minutes passed by, then 30, then 45, then an hour, then two, then three hours. I breast fed her, burped her, watched her fall asleep, watched her wake up, all the while never getting up from the chair.
Zoe continued to breathe, listening to the oxygen go through her nose, her chest rise and fall. As a matter of fact, she seemed more alive now than when she first came out of me.