Contest #109 shortlist ⭐️

34 comments

Fiction

CW: miscarriage

 “It doesn’t hurt,” the radiographer says, her voice light and cheery. Youthful. She shakes the gel, it slaps against the ends of the bottle, the vulgar noise harsh in the softness of the dim room.


"It did last time.” The words escape. Their weight settles on my chest, and each wretched syllable wraps around my throat and squeezes, forcing bitter tears from my eyes.


The transducer is cold as it skims the barren expanse above my pubic hair. She pushes hard on my bladder, and I squirm and hope it holds under the incursion.


“The first one can be a bit uncomfortable,” she says.


I stare at the light switch by the door. Three switches and a dimmer. Such an unobtrusive object. So essential. In this dim room of hope, who else lay on the bed and gave it thanks?


“You can see on this screen here.”


The third switch comes after the dimmer. Two switches, a dimmer, and then another switch. On. Off. Light. Dark. Yes. No. Life. Death.


Her arm points at the screen and eventually drifts to her side.


The silence stretches and I hear her swallow. I sense the inevitable question looming.


“Is this your first pregnancy?”


“No, it’s my sixth.” She should know better.


She seems surprised, clearly her assumptions reach wide.


“They must keep you busy.” So light. So cheerful. So youthful.


“I don’t have any children.”


Even in the dim lighting, I see the shame splash over her face. Her gaze drops to my notes. I know what she sees. G6P0. I stared at that line too, surrounded by swollen bellies in the waiting room, and contemplated my failures. I stare at the light switch now. On. Off. Light. Dark. Yes. No. Life. Death.


“There’s a heartbeat,” she says.


#


I stare at the tiny fingers entwined in the strands of pink merino. Clutching them, like they’re her only lifeline. Perhaps she’s right.


I rest my tea on the coffee table and try to summon the energy to lean over and free her pinky.


“You’ll hold her in your arms, and feel love in its purest form,” my mother-in-law said, before she was born.


The cuff of my dressing gown catches the handle of the bassinet and it tips. I lurch and stumble, catching it before it falls.


She wakes.


And cries.


I hold her in my arms and…


I look at the clock hanging on the wall in the kitchen. How many minutes should I wait?


Her toothless mouth opens to a red gaping chasm, her tongue vibrating with each scream. My breasts tingle and two dark, desolation-shaped splotches form on my dressing gown.


I look at the clock. The second hand jerks from one second to the next. Jerk. Tock. Jerk. Tock. Jerk. Tock.


She sucks in a sob-soaked breath between each scream. She’s seventeen days old. Seventeen days of relentless, soul-crushing screaming.


I look at the clock. The second hand still jerks from one second to the next. Like the arm is reluctant to leave. Like it’s being dragged forward.


Her face is red and a sheen glistens on her forehead. Perhaps I should feed her. I look at the clock and subtract forty-five minutes from three hours from now. Nothing. My mind clings to the jerking hand, hitching a ride out of this reality.


Four weeks ago, I wore power suits and shuffled money around the globe with a series of precise clicks. And now, my soiled dressing gown and I are dithering in the kitchen, about a single adjustment to the feed-sleep routine.


Nose to nipple. Or chin to nipple? A milk drop hangs from the remains of my nipple, primed in anticipation. At least one part of me is working.


She’s screaming with such ferocity that she’s rigid, and I struggle to get her in a comfortable position. She stretches out her tiny fingers, pink, rigid, and I wonder, if I tried to bend them, would they just snap right off.


Four weeks ago, I was a pregnant merchant banker, eagerly anticipating a long-awaited child.


Now I’m a monster.


We finally wrestle close enough for her to latch.


“Breast feeding is a special bonding time with your baby,” the antenatal teacher had said on the first night. And on every night thereafter.


It feels like I’m nursing a piranha. I’m holding her in my arms, she’s nursing, and I’m looking into her eyes.


At her eyes. One of them is sticky.


I look at the clock. The second hand jerks forward. Jerk. Tock. Jerk. Tock. Jerk. Tock.


I lay my head on the couch and.


#


I wake to the front door opening. The baby stirs in my arms, and for a moment I wonder whose baby I’m holding. Then the crushing weight of realisation falls on my soul. It’s mine.


“Hey, sorry, did I wake you?” My sister puts a bag of something-helpful on the bench.


“Just resting.”


I follow her gaze as it passes over the half-drunk tea, the pile of dishes in the sink and the debris of my past life scattered over the lounge.


“Are you okay?” she asks, her eyebrows creeping together, forming three lines between them.


“I chose this,” I say, not quite succeeding at keeping the bitterness out of my voice.


She sits and puts her feet on the edge of the couch. I’m listening, she says with her whole body.


“I fought so hard, for this.” I gesture with my head, not wanting to wake the baby.


“You fought harder than most.”


“I should enjoy it. I should be grateful.” I struggle to lower my voice. It’s hard to have an adult conversation with a screaming baby.


She shrugs. “Everyone finds it tough at first.”


“It was my dream job. Being a mum.” The tears are gathering and then falling. The milk starts in sympathy. “It’s not what I expected.”


Her reply is lost, drowned out by the screaming baby.


#


I sit in the waiting room, my daughter jiggling on the seat beside me.


“Will it hurt Mama?” she asks, golden curls tumbling around her porcelain face. Her bottom lip quivers.


I pull her onto my lap and kiss the top of her head. “Only for a second bubba, and then I’ve got a treatie in my bag for you.”


She peers at my handbag resting at my feet.


“What is it?” she asks, her demeanour shifting from miserable to inquisitive.


I smile and kiss the top of her head again. “You’ll have to wait until after.”


She climbs down and wanders over to the fish in the corner.


A lady with a bulging belly smiles at me. “How old is she?” she asks.


“Four,” I say. “We’re here for her jabs.”


She pats her tummy. “My first.”


“Congratulations.”


“Got any advice?”


I think of everything I could say. How I could tell her the sleeplessness isn’t the worst of it. The sagging tummy, leaking bladder, sore breasts don’t even feature on the list of genuine horrors. How nothing can prepare you for the baptism of fire, which strips bare the hidden parts of yourself and reveals them to all the world. Your true self. Exposed. Vulnerable. And how the worst of it is, your true self might not be someone you knew. Or like.


Your true self might be a monster.


And then I see her sitting there, full of hope, naïve enthusiasm that can last, at most, four to six weeks.


I laugh and say, “Always check the dryer for crayons.”

September 03, 2021 09:59

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34 comments

Shea West
17:01 Sep 10, 2021

Ooof. You just spoke on something I help families navigate every single time they have a baby and bring it home. What people think they see: Bright-eyed, happy, a family, grateful, strong, loved, responsible, confident. What people don't see: So tired, postpartum depression, lonely, resentful, physical pain, touched out, inadequate, scared. There's always another facet that isn't seen, and these things can co-exist while also not being mutually exclusive. Beth I think you navigated this topic very well, with a precise delicateness. The la...

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Beth Jackson
00:42 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you Shea! I really appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments! :-)

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Shea West
01:09 Sep 11, 2021

You're very welcome :)

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05:25 Sep 13, 2021

Beth, This is a work of art, truly. The middle section was incredibly relatable, I felt like you wrote it about my experience with my (very difficult) first baby. Actually, the terror in waiting for the heartbeat was also relatable to my experiences with miscarriage too. I love the piranha breastfeeding, and I love the calculation of trying to keep a "feed-sleep schedule." I may be in the minority, but I actually felt the shift to the last segment was a little jarring. You have segment one, plus nine months-ish to segment two, plus a few m...

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Beth Jackson
18:13 Sep 13, 2021

Thank you so much for your lovely comments Rachel! I really appreciate your insight, and feedback, it’s super helpful. Thank you, you’ve really given me something to think about!

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Keya Jadav
04:51 Sep 12, 2021

Oh my god! This is soo sweet. I couldn't help but smile at the end. All I could say is this shortlist was well deserved. Great Job Beth, I just love it!

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Beth Jackson
08:51 Sep 12, 2021

Awww, thank you so much Keya!

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Alice Stannard
18:52 Jan 18, 2022

I was drawn into the story by your amazing talent. The first person present tense was perfect for the story and really engages the reader into the small details of new motherhood. I felt every bit of the anguish. Very well written.

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Beth Jackson
06:57 Jan 19, 2022

Oh, thank you Alice! What a lovely comment! I really, really appreciate it. :-)

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Suma Jayachandar
04:40 Sep 11, 2021

This is such an incredibly honest writing! Superb!!

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Beth Jackson
06:54 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you! :-)

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Keri Clarke
21:56 Sep 10, 2021

Beth, this is exquisite! It brought tears to my eyes. Wow, wow, wow! Incredible. I really felt it, as if it were me. And your descriptions were perfectly applied. This is beautiful, raw and real. Thank you.

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Beth Jackson
00:39 Sep 11, 2021

Awww thank you Keri! I really appreciate your support!

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Amanda Lieser
18:31 Sep 10, 2021

Hi Beth! I thought this story was exceptionally heartwarming. I really loved how you created this story surrounding your main character. I also love how you chose to write this story based on the prompt. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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Beth Jackson
00:40 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you for your kind comments Amanda! :-)

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Amanda Fox
15:42 Sep 10, 2021

I'm so thrilled to see your story shortlisted! Congratulations.

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Beth Jackson
00:42 Sep 11, 2021

Thank you so much! :-)

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Olivia Lake
04:04 Sep 10, 2021

Hi Beth! This was so beautiful and honest. I love the objects that you focused on - the light switch, the ticking clock - and how you used them as an emotional and thematic through line to ground your story. Great work!

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Beth Jackson
08:09 Sep 10, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind comments! I really appreciate it! :-)

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Robin Owens
21:47 Sep 08, 2021

So well done, love and appreciate the honesty!

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Beth Jackson
00:36 Sep 09, 2021

Thank you for your kind comments, Robin!

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Johana Htwe
12:32 Sep 08, 2021

OMG!! Beth. This is so so beautiful! The way you described the scene of the doctor and the mother, the way you portrayed the thought of the mother and the theme of this story is so so perfect! I love it!! This deserves a win, Beth.

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Beth Jackson
18:21 Sep 08, 2021

Awww, thank you so much for your kind comments!! I really appreciate it! :-)

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Johana Htwe
13:12 Sep 17, 2021

Told ya this deserve a win! Congratulations!!!

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Beth Jackson
18:43 Sep 17, 2021

Haha thanks!!

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Linda Gruenberg
10:09 Sep 08, 2021

This story surprised me and kept me reading at every turn. At first, as I was gathering information at the intro, I was understanding how hard it had been for her to keep a pregnancy and what a lot of suffering she had already been through. I thought it would continue as a story about trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy. But no. Then came the line: "There's a heartbeat." I didn't expect that. It was lovely. In the next section, I didn't expect the depression and desperation about the screaming baby. It was beautifully described ...

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Beth Jackson
18:27 Sep 08, 2021

Thank you so much for your beautiful comments Linda! I am genuinely touched by your insights and the time you spent writing them! You’ve really given me a boost, thank you, I really appreciate it. :-)

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Don B
21:22 Sep 06, 2021

Great story I really enjoyed it

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Beth Jackson
07:05 Sep 07, 2021

Thank you for your kind comment! :-)

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14:47 Sep 04, 2021

I really enjoyed reading your story. I found it easy to read, relatable and poignant. I smiled at the memory of having my own piranhas! A great description! The final line about looking for crayons said so much without saying it.

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Beth Jackson
00:42 Sep 06, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate your feedback. :-)

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Francis Daisy
13:27 Sep 03, 2021

Beth, This poor mama! She suffered through so many miscarriages and then through post natal depression, but she rallied at the end to give encouraging words to the new mom in the waiting room! My heart smiled. I hope she finds more silver linings. Excellent story. I loved how it was broken up into snippets of time, like snapshots into her life. It was fascinating from start to finish. I was glued to my screen. Take care, Amy

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Beth Jackson
18:57 Sep 03, 2021

Thank you Amy!! I really appreciate your feedback! You’re always so generous with the time you take to write thoughtful comments, thank you, I appreciate it. :-)

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Francis Daisy
02:21 Sep 04, 2021

Beth, I honestly feel honored to be here on Reedsy and have access to all of these amazing stories written by talented writers such as you. I feel like I stumbled across a gold mine when I joined Reedsy. I can't get enough of these stories! And, everyone likes and deserves recognition for their hard work and effort. I am just trying to do my part. We all grow by building each other up. :)A

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