This story is by Jessica Deen and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was time to call 911. I had been clean for two days, clawing at my skin, vomiting, but the baby was coming and she was six weeks early.
I read the shock of withdrawal could induce labour, but weighing the evils against each other, I decided delivering this baby prematurely would be the best thing for her. Now I wasn’t sure.
With the phone in my sweaty hands, I pushed the numbers. When they answered, I paced and whimpered into the phone, reciting my name and address and nature of my emergency.
The rhythmic tightening of my belly was becoming more frequent. The slow build of stiffness signaled another contraction and, this time, a warm gush of fluid followed to soak my pajama bottoms. The tension rippled from my center to my extremities and I held my breath, squeezing my eyes closed and growled to the operator to hurry.
I plodded to my laundry bin, still on the line, stripping off my wet bottoms. I tossed clothes around from the floor from one pile to another, looking for some pants and a long-sleeved shirt to throw on. I pulled it down over my bump when I heard the pounding at my door.
I yelled out, “In here!”
So many times, I’d heard them knocking, barely conscious and unable to respond.
They opened the door and tiptoed over the garbage strewn around my apartment to get to me.
My body was aching for relief, but instead, I stammered “I, I’m really sorry about the mess,” as I tried to push myself forward.
“It’s okay, honey. Just lay down and let us have a look at ya. How far along are you?”
Grunting through another contraction, I said, “thirty-four weeks.”
I writhed in my own pain and sweat and swatted a gentle hand away when they rolled up my sleeve. My track marks were laid bare between us and I felt the blood rush to my cheeks.
In the ambulance, another strong wave approached and I reached for the stretcher bar to squeeze, catching the paramedic’s fingers in my grasp. She ripped her hand away without looking, her lips turned downward and she inched farther away from me. I closed my eyes and stayed perfectly still, trying to disappear.
The baby was already crowning when they wheeled my stretcher into the emergency department to pass me off to the hospital staff.
Mila’s birth was swift. She was born in mere minutes of my entrance into the birthing room and as the enormous pressure waned, I watched Mila take her first breath and scream.
With adrenaline, relief and hormones, my throat constricted. My arms stretched out toward my baby, to guide her to my chest. The doctor held Mila above me while the nurses scrambled to cut the cord and, instead of handing her to me, they whisked out of the room without allowing her to lay her milky, unfocused eyes on me.
The doctor pushed on my abdomen and tugged on the end of the cord.
“Where are they taking her? Why can’t I hold her?” I yelled as I sat up and tried to swing my legs over the side of the birthing bed. “Bring her back here!”
The doctor laid a firm hand on my shoulder and pushed me back on to the bed. Without saying a word, the gesture demanded obedience.
I wailed into my hands and the doctor raised his head, looking at me with raised eyebrows and heavy eyelids. “Your baby is sick and she’s going to be here for a long time. You should get used to being without her.” He added, “They’ll let you see her when she’s stabilized.”
When I did see her, a blanket was laying on the top of her isolette to keep out the light, keep her warm. The nurse explained that any stimulation was too much for her while I chewed the insides of my lips and scratched at my arms.
The nurse left me to sit with Mila and I bent down to peak through the sides, to sneak a finger through the hole to touch my daughter’s newborn skin.
I could see the tubes in her mouth and nose, IV lines in her arm, and at my touch, Mila began convulsing. I jumped up and hid my hand in my armpit after my baby recoiled from me and glanced over my shoulder. I stood silent and stunned as I heard beeping and the rush of shuffling feet, edging me away from Mila so they could intervene.
I sat in my room, sweating, heaving and waiting for the pediatrician. When she came and sat on the end of my bed, I couldn’t stop shaking. My attention was thin, but I heard, “Addicted baby…long recovery…CAS.”
Overnight, I pushed through my withdrawal symptoms, refusing to ask for help knowing my daughter was suffering because of me. This was divine punishment.
The hospital discharged me the next morning without my baby.
I walked into my apartment knowing the worst of the withdrawals would be over with in a few days and, after seeing Mila’s tiny face, I had a reason like never before to get clean for good.
The soreness between my legs reminded me I needed to rest but I had to do something before I laid down.
I swallowed and opened the bathroom cupboard, preparing myself to take out the trash.
All the way to the road this time.
After the last time I shot up, I threw everything, the cooker, the small bag of dope, the syringe into the garbage, but like times before, I didn’t take them out of the house.
I picked up the small trash can with vibrating hands, refusing to look inside at the contents. Instead I caught a glimpse of myself in the dirty mirror.
I was pale and my skin hung from my cheeks. I didn’t know if I’d even eaten in days. My eyes were surrounded by purplish flesh and specks of red burst blood vessels from childbirth. I had claw marks on my neck and both arms were covered with scratches at various stages of healing. I felt a familiar pull, a nudge to convince myself that I could wean myself. I could lower my amounts gradually. I’d stop vomiting now. I’d stop scratching.
I pulled my stash and accessories from the garbage and pitched them on the filthy bathroom counter. I ignored my nagging voice reminding me that this is why I didn’t take it out in the first place. I still wanted it.
From then, I acted purely out of habit. I tied the elastic, pumping my fist, seeing a drop of blood seep from an open wound in my forearm. I poured the powder on the spoon, added water and held a lighter underneath it, waiting for it to dissolve. I set the spoon down and drew the liquid into the syringe.
I held the needle above my arm, shaking and thought of every time I did this while I was pregnant, every time I’d chosen the numbness over my baby girl. My breathing was uneven, my vision sliding in and out of focus. I lowered my arm, clutching the bowl of the sink to steady myself and let out a scream in frustration and pain. I poised my thumb to eject the brown liquid into the drain. I pressed the end and watched a droplet fall into the sink.
My stomach retched, forcing out the contents as encouragement. I coughed, gagged and thought of why I wanted to get clean. I pictured Mila, but instead of dreaming of the day I could bring her home, I was overwhelmed with the choices I made that led to Mila being hospitalized and pumped full of morphine without her mother with her.
I looked down at my chest, my breasts tingling with letdown for the first time. As wet circles formed on my t-shirt, I wanted to jump out of my own skin. I was disgusted with myself, with my situation. It was too much to bear. I just wanted it to end.
I looked in the mirror again and adjusted the needle’s aim. A bead of salty sweat fell from my forehead as I turned my head down and plunged the needle deep into my skin. Staggering, I slowly lowered myself to the ground. The relief was immediate and the ground was coming up to catch me. I shut my eyes and imagined my daughter sleeping and smiling, cuddled in the arms of someone else. This world doesn’t need me. Mila doesn’t need me.
Now, I’m at peace.