This story is by Jasmine LaMothe and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Olivia had been through a lot in her thirty-two years of life and each time she persevered because she told herself “if this is the worst thing that could happen to me, then I’ll be okay.”
She recognized that it was a bit of a convoluted notion, almost inviting trauma into her life in a way; like daring the universe to try you. Except, this is what genuinely worked for her. When her childhood cat died, when her mom was diagnosed with stage 3 osteosarcoma and only had a few more months with them; when her dad got so depressed that he couldn’t work anymore and the bank foreclosed on her childhood home, when her dad died eight months before her wedding and she was left with no one to walk her down the aisle; she told this to herself.
That last time she looked herself in the mirror and repeated this mantra was exactly three weeks to the day —after she packed her things and left her cheating husband behind— when the doctor called telling her that she didn’t have the stomach flu but that she was pregnant.
Olivia never wanted kids. She didn’t want the responsibility, hell she could barely take care of herself. Her diet consisted of Chinese takeout and bottles of wine, and yet when she met with her doctor to discuss her options the words came out before she even had a chance to think them through.
“I want to keep it.”
She didn’t know why she said it, wasn’t even sure what kind of mom she would be, but she figured she could try. She figured that if this was the worst thing that could happen to her then she would be okay. She and her baby would be okay, and Olivia was okay. She wasn’t happy and she wasn’t sad, she was just okay.
She was okay in her first trimester, mourning the loss of her marriage along with some morning sickness. Despite that, she got out of bed and she went on walks and she ate healthier. In her second trimester when her ankles swelled and she couldn’t walk anymore, she knitted and meditated, and occasionally she indulged in a bag of chips, or five.
In her third trimester, she spent a lot of time in bed, but she wasn’t alone. She had her baby who kicked and pushed and danced and it made her feel good. She felt loved. She talked to her baby every night. She had planned a future for the two of them. She finally had something in her life that felt permanent.
If this was the worst thing that could happen to her ever in her life, then she was grateful, grateful for everything that has led her to this moment. The lies, the cheating, the pain, the agony. She’d do it all a thousand times over just to feel the immense joy that came from this baby.
Olivia knew what it felt like to suffer and she was ready to embrace happiness.
She had been having contractions on and off, the baby was turning and getting ready to make its entrance into the world. Olivia didn’t want to know the gender; she wanted it to be a surprise. She was in an abnormal amount of pain for just seven months. She called the ambulance and as she grabbed her hospital bag on the way out she held her stomach with her other hand and whispered, “if this is the worst thing that can happen to us then we’ll be okay.”
Olivia had faith that she was right about this. Physically this was the most pain she had ever been in but she knew it was worth it, so worth it for her to meet her baby girl or boy.
She had been thinking about that up until the moment the ambulance arrived, up until the moment she got up to walk down the three steps of her building onto the sidewalk. Up until she felt a pain in her side so sharp it caused her to miss a step. She even thought that it would all be worth it as her body crashed to the ground.
The fluorescent blocks above blinded her.
There were various beeps and the smell of antiseptic was in the air.
“Her placenta detached from the uterus. We’re going to have to perform an emergency C section. She’s hemorrhaging.”
There was a whooshing noise in her head but despite the immense pain she was feeling, her brain managed to zero in on one thing.
Her baby was in trouble.
The beautiful baby that she had carried for seven months and twelve days was in trouble.
“Ma’am, ma’am, can you hear us?”
At that moment Olivia imagined having a natural birth, one of those births so calm and easy-going that all the ladies in her Mommy and Me class would dislike her with a quiet and bitter resentment. She imagined her baby acclimating to a sleep schedule so early on and so easy that the other moms would call her lucky. She imagined an independent baby that could self-soothe and wouldn’t cry through the night. It would take the nipple easy and the bottle even easier when she was ready to stop nursing. She imagined the perfect baby and again told herself that if this was the worst thing that could happen then she would be okay.
Olivia nodded and soon everything beneath her breasts went numb.
She felt the pressure of the scalpel as it sliced open her stomach, she imagined it as a knight storming into a castle to save his princess. She thought about her body being wrecked from the inside out. She thought about the scarring and the loose skin. This felt akin to getting teeth pulled. You felt no pain only pressure and yet your body knows that recovery will be ruthless.
And yet, Olivia knew this was a necessary evil. She reminded herself once more that if this was the worst thing she ever experienced then she’d be okay.
The doctors poked and prodded.
Lifted and loosened.
Cut and carved.
Suctioned and saturated.
They shouted things, things that Olivia couldn’t understand. Her eyes became heavy and her jaw felt slack. She tried to speak. She wanted to reach out for her baby but her body felt weak. She felt like she was floating. A doctor started shouting for something and then Olivia’s eyes shut.
They say death is peaceful that’s why the most common euphemism for it is an enteral sleep of sorts.
At her mom’s funeral, she had looked asleep, same as her dad’s and even her cat looked asleep when she found her. Death seems almost peaceful. No more suffering, no more pain. Her mom must have felt utter relief when it was her time after having been in pain for so long. Olivia could have only imagined how hard it was for her father to go about his daily routine without her mom after she passed. She likes to think that her dad died so young because he just couldn’t wait to be back with her mom.
Death was almost inviting.
Olivia never thought about it too much. Never wanted to dwell, just told herself that her loved ones were better off free from pain. That’s what everyone else said, “they were in a better place now, free from suffering.”
When Olivia opens her eyes and reaches down to her stomach which is swollen and bandaged but hollow, her breast cry first.
Her body is numb as she tries to turn her head to find her baby. The nurse comes in first and tells her she’ll get the doctor over to her right away.
Olivia thought that she had never been in so much pain before. Her entire body feels like it’s on fire or like there was a stampede and the animals mistook her for ground.
Olivia tells herself that if this is the worst thing she has to go through that she’ll be okay.
The doctor comes in then and the pain subsides for a second. The way it does on a sick person’s last good day.
“There were some complications during your Cesarian, you lost a lot of blood as we tried to get your daughter out safely, but unfortunately, your daughter was without oxygen for too long, and by the time we got her out there was nothing more we could do. I’m sorry for your loss.”
A daughter is the first thing Olivia thinks.
The second is that she had been wrong.
Nothing that she ever experienced in her life was the worst thing that could have happened.
And she would not be okay.