Time for some real writing.
This is a short story that I wrote, inspired by my aunty – a strong and beautiful woman who recently fought and won the battle against cancer, and dedicated to my cousin Niki. Today he celebrates his 21st birthday.
This is not how I imagined spending the days after finally giving birth to a beautiful baby boy. I spent the past ten years trying to conceive, all the while dreaming endlessly about how wonderful these days would be. All my fantasies featured a delicate bundle cradled in my arms with the sweet aromas of talc and lavender overcoming the smell of a freshly painted nursery. The baby would be making soft suckling sounds while nestled against my bosom, bountiful with nourishment.
I never anticipated that I would be sitting here, still in the hospital five days later, staring at a plastic box cradling my still and helpless baby. I look at the tube in his mouth attached to the machine that breathes for him, at the drip in his tiny arm that delivers him his medicine and at the button inserted into his stomach that my own breast milk gets pumped into. Silently, tears run down my numb face and drip from the end of my chin to my lap, where my hands lie unmoving, dull, lifeless.
“You can touch him,” the nurse reassures me as she places her hand on my shoulder. She leaves it there to linger for a moment while smiling gently at me, nodding her head towards the humidity crib before turning away to arrange the breast pump. My shoulder tingles for a moment when her hand leaves it and this surprises me. I have become accustomed to the deadened feeling one suffers after sitting motionless for a long time.
The nurse wheels the pump over to me and pulls up a chair to sit along side me. I force my hands to move and unbutton my nightgown to reveal two red and swollen breasts. They are hot to touch and feel hard and lumpy. My milk came in the day before last and I am now carrying so much, my breasts throb with the strain, but I have not yet been able to produce a decent amount for my baby.
The machine begins pumping and my milk slowly begins to dribble into the bottle. I know that it is supposed to gush out and I am supposed to feel this intoxicating rush as the pressure is relieved, but I don’t. Still, my breasts throb and still, my milk does not let down. I can hear the nurse talking, she is worried about mastitis. If my milk doesn’t drain soon I risk infection, blah blah blah. I’ve read all the books, yes I know this, but really, what else can I do? I am attached to this machine for half an hour, every two hours as it is. I don’t say anything though; just nod when she stops talking.
“Have you named the baby yet dear?” she asks. I shake my head.
I want to love him, I want to feel a connection, but how can I when I don’t even know if he will live through another night? Right before me in this plastic cot, on a blue blanket lies my fantasy, my dream, my beautiful baby. How could I live through the anguish of losing him if I let him into my heart?
There is nothing I can do for him anyway, other than sit here and express this meagre amount of breast milk and wait. Wait for the swelling to go down. Wait to see if he breathes on his own. Wait for the test results. Wait for those developmental milestones. I want to know how long I have to wait, how long will it take to find out the extent of the damage? Will I always be waiting? The word wait has never had so much, or so little meaning.
The doctor walks in with his entourage of white coated professionals. He tells me that it is time to remove the tube attached to the machine that fills his lungs with air, to see if he will take his first breath.
This is the same doctor who inseminated me with my very best egg, fertilized from my husband’s very best sperm nine months ago, the same doctor who provided prenatal care throughout my pregnancy. It is the same doctor who laughed and joked with my husband and me, while conducting my ultrasounds, and the very same doctor who constantly assured me that everything was progressing perfectly, and that my baby and I were both in the best of health.
And yet, it was this doctor who was playing golf when I went into labour. This doctor who made sure he finished his 18th hole before making his way to the hospital. This doctor who instructed the midwife not to let the birth progress until he was present or he would not be paid for the delivery. This very same doctor, who cared more about lining his own pockets than my baby’s life, yes, it was this doctor who told his midwife to do what ever she had to do to keep the baby inside, until he walked in the room.
I am sure it is this doctor who is to blame for the grapefruit sized cephalhaematoma – the massive purple lump on my baby’s small head.
I was in full labour and feeling the urge to push. After all the books I’ve read about birth and pregnancy I knew that this was it. I was going to meet my baby in a short while. I was bearing down making guttural noises and panting. The midwife was telling me to slow down, don’t push. My husband could see the baby’s head crowning, but the midwife wasn’t helping to ease it out. He was screaming at her, “What are you doing? Move your hand, she’s pushing!”
I could hear the commotion, but the seriousness didn’t register as my whole body was involved in a compulsion that I could not resist. I didn’t know that she was keeping his head inside my birth canal, pushing against it while I was bearing down. I didn’t know she had fractured his skull and caused blood and fluid to rush to his brain, while waiting for the doctor to announce his arrival. The moment he waltzed into the room wearing his golfing whites, the midwife stepped aside and my baby was suddenly born into a flood of haemorrhaged blood.
And now, I sit here staring at this doctor who can’t seem to meet my glaring eyes as he speaks to me and think about the irony of the situation. The one who is responsible for my baby’s condition, will be the one who receives the recognition from his peers should he survive.
He slowly pulls the tube from my baby’s mouth as his team stand by with the defibrillator ready to shock his heart if it stops beating. I look at the clock, the second hand ticks and everything seems to be slowing down. The room is swimming around me, swirling and blending into a big mess that encircles the ten or so people surrounding a tiny baby in his plastic bed.
Finally after an eternity of waiting, his lungs inhale and his chest rises with air. He opens his mouth and his face contorts. His mouth opens wider and he begins to cry, softly at first, then louder. The room erupts with sound, and I find that I have somehow stood up and am by his cot, watching transfixed, looking at the baby writhing and wailing in the cot.
He opens his eyes for the first time and seems to be searching for something to focus on. His eyes find mine and I gaze into the deepest dark brown eyes I have ever seen, and I feel warmth on my stomach. I touch my nightgown searching for the source of the delight and find that it is wet, soaked with my own breast milk.
Copyright By Sophia Marini