We are walking through the doors of Providence Hospital at 9:00 am, the exact moment that they open.
Heather, our doctor, is a tall, blonde, no-nonsense woman who wears leather boots, a fashionable skirt and her doctor’s lab coat. She holds the clear blue gel in one hand and the ultrasound wand in the other. I lean back on the bed, lower my waistband and lift my shirt to show my barely rounding belly. She puts the cold goo directly on my skin and moves the wand around, looking at the computer monitor.
“Oh!” she says. “Oh.” Her voice falls.
“What is it?” I say, worried.
“Your amniotic fluid is low. This isn’t good.” She is very matter-of-fact.
“How’s the baby?” Jason asks, standing up from the chair where he has been sitting.
“It looks like a boy.”
Jason and I look at each other wide-eyed, brows raised in wonderment.
“He’s healthy. His heart is beating. He seems perfectly fine. But there may not be enough fluid for him and you are still leaking."
She moves the wand one more time, looks at the monitor, then pulls it away. That is all the info she needs. She goes into business mode. Words pour out of her mouth. She gives me a thin, brown paper towel that seems more closely related to cardboard, then a couple more. I wipe the gel off my skin and do my best to listen closely.
Her words are coming so fast. My water has broken, she explains. I may already have a uterine infection. I need antibiotics. My body is trying to get rid of everything in the uterus, including the baby. My body may go into labor on its own. But it may not. If it doesn’t, they may have to induce labor to save my uterus, to save me even. The baby is healthy and alive though, and for this reason Providence Hospital may consider inducing to be abortion. She doesn’t want me to have to deal with that.
My mind is not keeping up at all. Her words are coming at us a mile a minute and I am suddenly in a frozen mental loop. Playing a scratched record. That word.
Abortion? But I want this baby. Abortion? But I want this baby. Abortion? What do you mean? Abortion? Me? This? Now? What is she talking about? Why is that word here in this room? What?
Meanwhile, she is still talking. I have been left behind.
She is sending us to Emanuel Hospital instead, I find out, racing to listen again and catch up. She is sending us there even though our insurance doesn’t cover it as fully. At Emanuel they will be able to do whatever is needed to prioritize my health. The baby is coming too early to help. She gives us verbal directions to Emanuel, this was before GPS, but I am so scrambled I can’t track any of it. The exit is easy to miss, she is saying. I really hope Jason is getting this.
My face must be entirely blank. I know my mind is.
“Check into Labor and Delivery once you get there,” she says.
Labor and Delivery? My mind has just started on another loop. Labor and Delivery? But I’m not ready to give birth. I’m barely even showing. Labor and Delivery? That’s weird. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Labor and Delivery? That can’t be right. Our baby is not ready to be born.
“Is there someone you would like to call?” she asks us. Like we are going to prison. Do you want your phone call?
Jason and I huddle together in the nurse work area at their phone. He picks up the big landline receiver and pushes the numbers to reach Winter, my sister-in-law.
“Something’s gone wrong. Sarah’s water broke and they are sending us to labor and delivery.” I can hear the words coming out of Jason’s mouth like a foreign language that doesn't quite make sense.
“Yes. I will call Karen at work,” I hear WInter's voice saying. Karen is my mom. She is at work teaching first grade.
“Thank you,” Jason says. It is quick, but the chain of communication has been set in motion. Winter will call the rest of the family. The first domino has been pushed and I can practically see them all falling down in a big, long line that moves forward into this day.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I say to a nurse passing by.
She shows me to the bathroom. I open the large, heavy door and step in. It is a huge single-room bathroom with a toilet in the corner and a mirror over the sink. I sit on the toilet and mindlessly read the printed directions for collecting urine samples that hangs on the wall. Over and over I accidentally read those directions. I finish and stand up to wash my hands, staring at myself in the mirror.
I look at my reflection. I look into my own eyes that look back at me. If I could put the message of my eyes into words it would sound like this. “Something big is happening to you. You are okay. You are washing your hands now. You are here. I am with you.”
I linger, drying my hands. My reflection is grounding. I take a deep breath, then open the door and join Jason by the phone.
* * * * *
Jason told me years later that when I was in the bathroom, Heather came to him and held him by the shoulders, looked at him and said, “Get her out of here. I would normally get you an ambulance, but in this situation I don’t think its best. You need to get her out of this hospital and into Emanuel as soon as possible. Her life could be in danger.” I had no idea how much he was holding when I came out of the bathroom in such a shocked daze. He knew then that not only were we losing our baby; he could also lose me.
* * * * *
“This might sound crazy,” I say to Jason as we look both ways and cross the street to our car. “But if our baby is born today, alive, like Heather said, I want to hold him in my hands. I want him to die in my hands.”
We each move to our respective doors and get in.
“That’s not crazy,” Jason says back to me with authority, his hands not on the steering wheel yet. We are looking at each other, seeing each other. “I totally agree.”
There is a quiet pause. I feel fierce and wild and unflinching. My baby will die in my hands.
He puts his own strong hands on the wheel and turns on the ignition. We are off to Emanuel.
We get lost on the way. We miss that exit. Tense words are spoken as we try to tell each other which way we should have turned. Finally we arrive and park.
We must navigate casino-like hallways to get to Labor and Delivery. We walk-jog through the long halls, laughing each time we come to the next sign waiting at the end of each one telling us which way to turn, which eternal hall to take next. At last, breathless and rushing and laughing, we walk into Labor and Delivery.
I am immediately self-conscious.
I don’t belong here. We shouldn’t be here. I barely even look pregnant. What the hell is going on?
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