This story is by Ray Kelly and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They don’t tell you the hard things.
She’s late. And the doctor confirms. Pregnant. What could be better?
You get plenty of talking at you about what it will be like and how your life’s going to change.
Next you’re painting rooms and buying furniture. Tiny little beds with curtains and carousel toys that tinkle tunes once you wind them.
You get given clothes so small it is hard to imagine a baby fitting into them. Even then you’re careful not to buy any until they have looked inside with the ultrasound gun and tell you what it will be. Then it was pinks and yellows and lots of rabbits and deer on everything.
Then our baby died.
So you do it all again.
Today they’re inducing my girlfriend, Megan, and the living room is a mess because it’s been hard to keep up with stuff with Megan weighed-down so much. Truth be told, she has never looked better and I can’t keep my hands off her – given the chance.
We’re more careful now. Just in case.
There’re baby clothes sprinkled about the furniture like it snowed cotton wear. I grabbed and folded what Megan pointed out and placed it into the ‘Peppa Pig’ holdall Megan’s sister gifted us.
I hated the dump we had moved into as much as Megan but it was all we could afford and no way would Megan stay where we had set up for baby last time. I mentioned about the cost of moving, but Megan shouted at me like I was the dumbest shit imaginable.
Did we have everything? I patted my pockets. One, two, three, keys, phone, wallet and then checked that our old blue suitcase stood where I’d left it. Right there by the door and packed for a long stay because we had learned how to be prepared now. Megan’s purse leaned into it and I felt her come up behind me and slip her hands up my chest and lean into me too.
I turned and kissed her, enjoying her peppermint breath, wrapping my arms around her shoulders. She loved the power of my arms and chest, and I tasted my own breath wash back up to me as I exhaled into her hair – nothing like peppermint.
It was cold but she wasn’t trembling because of the crap insulation and stupid tiny little heater. I knew she was scared it might all happen again.
Baby Reine’s photo sat on the mantle over the space where a fireplace would still be useful if it had not been bricked in. She seemed lost in her dreams, I always thought.
Megan didn’t risk looking at her as we left.
I couldn’t help myself.
Megan had got paler and paler as we neared the hospital and I kept looking over at her and asking “You good?” I knew she wasn’t but had no freakin’ idea what sort of words you say to make your girl believe it really will be fine this time.
“Lightning never strikes twice in the same place,” her mother told us.
And her four marriages kind of prove you have to move around a bit to get zapped, I guess.
We got out and I said should I get you a wheelchair? And she said f-off – but laughed.
Stopping beneath the entrance sign, I hugged her in and kissed her, dropping our bags where we stood. I whispered, you’re awesome.
We had a steady flow of visitors stepping around us, giving dirty looks, but not saying anything. No one ever pointed out when they considered I was not behaving as they wanted – not after they got close enough to be standing near me.
We held each other for a long time and I watched the wind blowing under Megan’s coat, causing it to mushroom around her knees. Her hair tangled in my beard so I pushed my face into the chocolate skin of her neck, feeling the warm dampness of her terror cooling there.
“I’m scared, Baby.” She whispered with the breeze.
I told her that she was the bravest person I knew.
She said “Shut up.”
If the delivery room reminded me of anything, it was a toothache. Because that’s the kind of pain you forget about until it is back again – and here we were.
Megan dragged her hands across her face like she did when tired or stressed and I hardly heard a word the doctor or our midwife said as I took her coat, thinking of our last time there.
I remembered the photographer’s name had been Emily. One of those hard things they don’t tell you is that if your baby is brain dead because something went wrong and she gets no oxygen for so long there’s no going back… they put her in an incubator for six days with cables and machines the only thing keeping her breathing. Just before they disconnect your little girl – they send you a photographer to take some snaps because they know that’s going to be all you get.
Baby photos but no Reine.
Megan started to cry and I squeezed her hand while the doctor did what he did down there to make sure our baby was coming no matter what.
Everyone was being careful. Us too. Together we had been to nearly every appointment and when I couldn’t get off work I paid for Megan’s mum or sister to take an Uber and be with her.
We took the classes – Megan listened attentively to every word while I looked at the other couples and wondered if they knew about death like we did. I hoped they never found out.
They don’t tell you the hard things. They don’t tell you that an induction can take hours and hours. Slow torture. Megan’s contractions were way apart for a long, long time so we had plenty of opportunity to worry.
Then the doctor pissed off somewhere while our midwife carried on like everything was fine.
“I’m really scared, Eric.” Megan surprised me, I had nodded off a little and banged my skull against the railing that ringed the bed as I jumped up.
I saw the midwife genuinely surprised that anyone could even reach the height of that railing with their head. I bent down and promised Megan it was going to be fine and then remembered I had done the same thing last time with Reine and my eyes widened because I was sorry I was so stupid, but she didn’t seem to mind and gripped my hand tightly as she smiled at me.
Our midwife came and checked Megan’s pulse and said, “no complications.”
I nodded at Megan with a confidence I bluffed, hating that ‘no complications’ BS because there were never any complications until there was a shit storm of them.
Time screwed with us until the suspense grew too much. Contractions ramped up like they might have been on starter’s orders somewhere down there.
I dabbed at Megan’s brow with a damp cloth and held her hand and whispered I loved her, and she looked at me like I’d never said it before. I repeated it again, louder so she could be sure.
The doctor came back and he had another man with him, older, and looking like he was the white guy in charge.
He said his name but I didn’t catch it because Megan became frantic.
“Who the hell is this? What’s wrong? Why is he here?” She shouted but none of them paid much attention, crowding at my girl’s feet looking up at her exposed parts.
What’s going on? I growled at them, and when I got mad people always looked up.
“Mr Carruthers is a top consultant, Eric. He was here today and I asked him to come in.”
They don’t tell you things because maybe we are not important enough to tell.
Megan was screaming and I realised there were calls about dilation and push now, breathe, push now, breathe, push, push…
Megan’s eyes cut red with pain, but still met my need to see her see me.
My muscles twisted and ached with her hurting so much. I closed my eyes to get somewhere dark and safe…
Then I heard our daughter cry, pulled my eyes open and looked away from Megan and saw our baby, held up by the ankles like a trophy.
The midwife placed our baby on Megan’s chest and Megan sighed into the damp tuft of dark hair sticking up on her tiny, perfect head, then looked up at me with her – ‘is it going to be alright?’ – eyes.
Looking all around the room to make sure that there was no photographer present, I nodded to her.
It was going to be alright – I promised myself.
That day, I took the photograph of our baby.