When Nurse asks if I want an epidural, I nod my head. Why hurt any more than I have to? I’ve dreaded this part for months. Those nights I laid awake with little feet striking my ribcage and wondering if I had to pee or if I was just anticipating it, I saw myself in this moment: the long, cold needle inserting the small of my back. Eyes pinched shut and body trembling from the burn in my spine. But I remain still and keep watching Family Feud on the hospital TV. “Name a kid’s first you might want to catch on video.” A button is pressed, and a ring sounds — “first words” shouts a graying woman with three grown children. Nurse picks up the remote control. But before the screen goes blank, I hear a young man’s half-certain “first steps” followed by clapping. Just keep breathing.
When Doctor says it’s time, Husband places his hand in mine, thumb brushing over the top. Both legs are pulled back before I have the chance to do so myself. The contractions’ grip around my core tightens with a reminder that there’s an art to breath. My body begins without me.
Through each push, I give a sharp, brief hum but never open my mouth to wail. As the pressure grows, I forget the correct rhythm of inhale and exhale. All I can think is don’t stop. “I see the head,” reports Doctor. Husband chimes in with Nurse, “Just a few more, you’re doing great.” A slight whimper escapes my mouth as I release their hands and grab the bed rails, chest hovering between bent knees. I wish I had a ball of clay to press my fingers into. Something they could leave dents in or break tiny pieces off of — the room goes silent. Husband nods to let me know it’s over and leans into my side. My sweat-soft forehead gently meets his dry one. There are no cries, just the sounds of Doctor and Nurse shifting objects while trading whispers.
“Would you like to see her?” Nurse says. Husband turns to me and waits. I do not answer for some time. But eventually, I lift my palms as Nurse slowly walks over, placing the baby’s back across my left forearm and her limp head onto my right. Those lips are the deepest shade of red I have ever seen. Five pounds, eight ounces swathed in a pink, cotton blanket. Just as she would’ve been were she to come out alive. And she would have heard us say her name: Leila.
Meagan Chandler holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Baldwin Wallace University. She currently attends the Poetry MFA program at Bowling Green University. Her works have been previously published in Baldwin Wallace’s student-run literary journal, The Mill. She placed as a finalist and runner-up in the 2023 competitions for the Hollin’s University Literary Festival. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and six dogs.