Reese’s eyes popped open. She froze, staring into the darkness. Her heart pounded against her chest and heat flushed her body. Beneath the covers, she slid one hand to her swollen belly and waited, not daring to breathe. There. A slight tightening of her lower belly held for just a moment before releasing. She tapped the screen of her watch and stared at the minutes. Almost ten minutes passed before her uterus contracted again. Reese exhaled and tapped her watch back off. She quietly turned her head to look at her sleeping husband. She stretched a hand out to wake him but froze just before she touched his shoulder.
She chewed her lip. It would be a while before the contractions were close enough together to head to the hospital. No point in waking him yet. He didn’t need to sit there, awake, in the middle of the night. Reese pulled her hand back, tucking it underneath the covers. The next contraction rolled through her body and she stiffened. It was getting uncomfortable to be laying down. She thought about the birthing class they had attended and the different positions they had tried for when the time came to relieve the pain. Most of them involved sitting up or hunching over something. Most of them also involved a partner rubbing your back or helping you balance.
“Honey,” Reese whispered, knowing full well it wouldn’t wake him up. He slept like an absolute rock, immune to any and all noise. Reese had always been mildly jealous of his ability to sleep like that. It took her eighteen different positions and a sleeping pill to fall asleep for half the night.
Reese slid out of bed and tucked her feet into her slippers. Pulling a sweater over her head, she quietly slipped out of their bedroom and made her way downstairs. She sipped a glass of water and pulled up the internet on her phone.
“For first babies, go to the hospital when your contractions are approximately four minutes apart and last for about forty-five seconds each.”
“Okay. Well, kid, looks like we’ve got some time before you come out of there, huh?” Reese rubbed her belly. The contractions weren’t painful yet, just slightly uncomfortable. Standing helped but her legs somehow felt like they were in the way. She walked slowly over to the couch and turned on a lamp, careful not to make too much light.
She glanced up the stairs, noting that the landing at the top was still dark. Sighing, Reese grabbed the television remote and put on Working Moms. She sat on the floor and spread her legs wide. Dropping her head back onto the couch, she tried to tune out the discomfort and just watch the show.
The camera panned in on one of the main women, who, as luck would have it, was just starting to go into labor. She sat on a yoga ball and bounced gently while rubbing her stomach. The woman’s husband perched behind her and rubbed her shoulders.
Reese pulled her hands off her own shoulders where she had been trying to squeeze the tension away. She dropped her hands to her lap and glanced up the stairs again. Maybe he would happen to wake up and notice she wasn’t in bed…Reese considered going up there to wake him up, but another contraction took hold. Breathing deeply, she reset the timer on her phone and waited until it ended to see how long it was. Still not long enough. And not close enough together.
Shifting to the side of the chaise section, she hunched over and spread her knees frog style, letting her belly hang toward the floor. She sighed in relief. That felt good. Except for the pain in her lower back, she could manage this for a while.
The contractions grew closer together and she knew it was almost time to wake her husband up. Her chest tightened. Feeling like a weight just depressed itself onto her chest, she buried her face in the couch and breathed.
The show kept going. The woman was in the hospital now. She clutched her husband’s hand, staring at him with wide eyes.
“It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you,” he was murmuring. Then she was sweaty and pushing and screaming and crying. He kept up a steady stream of encouragement, wiping her hair out of her face and accepting all the words she threw at him. When the baby finally entered the world, he looked at his wife with such admiration and love. It was like nothing else Reese had ever seen.
A sharp pain overtook Reese’s attention. She reset the timer. Contractions were now about fifty seconds. She reset the timer again. Six minutes apart. It was time to wake him up. Reese slowly stood and paused the TV. The woman in the show was holding her newborn baby and smiling, and the man was holding a cup with a straw in it for her, beaming at them both. They looked so blissfully happy. Exhausted. But happy.
Reese’s thumb found the red power button. The image froze for a moment before switching to black. Tossing the remote down, she turned the lamp off and made her way upstairs, gripping the railing as if her life depended on it.
“Here goes.” She leaned over the edge of the bed to tap his shoulder when another contraction hit. She froze, hand outstretched once more. “Shit,” she whispered, dropping her hand. Her sleeping husband woke immediately at her touch.
“What is it?” he asked, annoyance lining his voice.
“It’s time to go,” she said, quietly, standing back up.
“Are you sure this time? They’re not already close enough together, are they?”
“Yes, I’m sure. We need to go. I’ll get the bags.”
“I’ve got them. Just get dressed and get downstairs.”
Reese pulled some easy clothes on and made her way back to the couch. She waited until her husband put the bags and carseat in the car and then made her way down to the garage.
The ride to the hospital was a long one. Her husband called both their moms in the car to let them know the baby was coming.
He reached over and patted her leg.
“Just keep breathing. Like we practiced.”
“I’m fine. You just drive, please,” Reese answered. She kept her breath steady and looked out the window. The dark sky was still lit up with a few stars. She had always loved the night sky. It was quiet and calm.
Her mind floated back to a time when her and her husband had been driving to visit his family. He had pulled to the side of the freeway without warning and told her to step out of the car. Then they had both just looked at the sky, his arms wrapped around her tight. They stood like that for a while before getting back into the car and finishing their drive. Reese chewed her cheek. She couldn’t remember the last time he had done something spontaneous like that. Or romantic like that.
She looked down at her belly, riding the waves of pain. In just a few (hopefully) short hours, she would be holding her baby. And then maybe everything would be okay. Reese had had the most perfect pregnancy possible. She worked out consistently the whole time, even teaching a fitness class a few days a week, and she had worked up until just a week ago. She’d only thrown up once when she got the flu and craved salads of all things. Pregnancy had been a breeze and she was crossing her fingers that the delivery would be too.
They needed it to be.
But of course, it wasn’t going to be. Reese found herself wishing for the straight pain the woman on TV had gone through. She could handle just pain from the contractions. They weren’t even that bad. But then the back labor started and she lost feeling in her arms and legs. Then the throwing up started. And then the nurse was telling her she had to have an epidural or else the baby wasn’t going to come.
Reese found herself hugging a pillow and breathing through a contraction while a doctor poked a massive needle into her back and commented on her tattoos. She glared at her husband, silently willing him to make the doctor shut up. How he expected her to talk through what was happening was insane. But her husband just shrugged at her and sat at the foot of the bed.
“I think we’re good here, Doctor,” the labor and delivery nurse said, patting Reese on the arm. Reese leaned into her, grateful that she had picked up on the hint.
Hours later, Reese lay in bed, trying to watch TV. While her physical pain was nonexistent, something still festered in the back of her mind. Her husband mindlessly clicked through channels, looking for something to watch. She rolled restlessly to her side. She was starving and sick of popsicles. The contractions came rolling through, closer and closer, now just a mild tightening and releasing of her body.
At five p.m. the doctor checked her once more and said it was time. She instructed Reese’s husband and mom how to position Reese’s legs and told Reese to just push when she felt a contraction. Barely twenty minutes later, the nurse was laying a squirmy, messy newborn on Reese’s chest and saying congratulations.
Reese couldn’t register what was happening. She felt the pressure of the nurse sewing her up. She saw her mother with tears streaming down her cheeks. She saw her husband’s face, looking oddly delighted. But all she could feel was heat rising to her own cheeks and panic welling up. She looked up at her husband.
“It’s okay. You did it. You’re done,” he whispered. But he’d misunderstood. Reese gazed up at him, wishing she felt the bliss and happiness the woman on TV had felt.
But she didn’t.