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No Safe Haven

4 a.m. is dark and lonely, as I find my torso in the throes of twisting pain. Jason dozes, a slight snoring coming from the cot. Any comfort I once had has evaporated during the nighttime hours. The encircling rubber band squeezes from lower stomach to lower back, announcing labor’s ever-growing presence.

Just hours before, we had to vacate the delightfully purple delivery room. Ashley’s words resonate,“We thought we could keep you here, but we have a larger intake tonight of pregnant ladies than we anticipated, so we will probably need this room for someone else.” As her words end, the real meanings emerge: For the ‘real’ pregnant ladies. For the ‘serious’ babies. For those other than us.

Studying Ashley’s face for a hint of comprehension, cloudy doubt surrounds her, circling in winding wisps, shielding her from the gravity of the situation. Maybe she is still keeping up her optimistic charade. Or am I the optimistic one even thinking that? Disdain mixes with gratefulness, unsettling yet regrettably acceptable.

Ascending a floor, a wire cart of my meager belongings wedges between Jason’s leg and my wheelchair arm, Ashley’s thin frame compressing into the space between the handlebars of my hospital chariot. When the doors open, the first glimpse of the hall appears typical: sterile, white, buzzing. Bumping over the mild gap at the egress of the elevator, reality flashes in small, rectangular announcements: Quiet please. Baby is sleeping. Each door dons this darling, cheerful placard. Avoiding this awkward encounter with the badges of birth, I lower my eyelids, limiting my view to the white fuzz leaching on my pant leg. As our voyage drives us to the room at the far end of the hall, we pass a more calamitous sign: Nursery. Averting my eyes to anywhere else, there is no haven.

Settled in the new room, I quickly run out of things to bide my time. Restlessness does not escape Jason either, walking to the coffee service enough times to compensate for my doctor-ordered movement restriction. Tear-filled and sullen, Jason describes his dismal excursions with each return, “I could hear babies crying.” Swallowing hard, staring at the innocent coffee cup lid, his pauses fill with misery. His face reddens in its futile self-discipline. Not knowing if I am waiting for his tears or his wrath, I reach to his hand, rubbing the bulging veins running along his slender, dry fingers. With little else to offer, comfort is a luxury we cannot afford. “They must be in the rooms with their mothers.” The tears he sheds break through his emotional restraint. “Some doors had balloons.” Balloons. As his face coils in pain, there are no words to reform what he has seen. This hourly fight between restlessness and self-mutilation persists with each walk out of the room. This unsympathetic room at the end of the hall has become his sanctuary. Studying him carefully after each outing, attempting to satiate my own desire to get out of bed, it becomes difficult to rely on his experiences. A new gratefulness shields me from the hatred of bedrest.

Despite a purposeful separation between us and the other rooms, babies’ cries and the mumbles of families talking excitedly carry straight through the paper-thin walls. The room is annoyingly small, like those we lived in all those years ago in Spain. The tan walls don no adornation, no encouraging phrases, no fancy wall sconces. Jason’s cot barely fits, the railing rubbing the metal of my bed. Ming finds his perch, between Jason and me, and softly connects his bed to mine.

Boredom, lurking behind each passing hour, stalks us mercilessly. The TV flashing happy faces blurs as the gripping vice on my temples tightens and twists. The squeezing achiness makes lying still impossible. Tossing, turning, gripping the bed frame, I writhe.

Slowly and carefully rising out of bed, the ridiculous fear of this baby is nearly paralyzing, when I see more blood. Shuffling my stocking feet, crawling into bed, I hear my own disconnected whimpers. Today is the day I will have this baby.

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