It’s as if my body refuses to give me another; as if my very insides are averse to the thought of entrusting another child to me.
Another contraction rolls over me, pulling me into a knot. “Lower, Kate,” Martin says, reminding me that high-pitched crying only tenses my body more. I manage to drop my voice for a moment, but then I feel my face contort, and I am screaming again.
Again and again the world fades into the contractions. I know in reality it’s only my abdomen tightening, turning solid, but I feel it everywhere, down to my fingertips and toes. When I had Lissie, fifteen months and four days ago, I told my body to relax, and it did. Why is it so different now? With each pain, I’m surer and surer that this is the end; it can’t possibly get worse than this.
Lissie had simple ice-blue eyes that made me melt. Her strawberry blond hair was just starting to grow, straight as grass, except where it curled around her ears. Her favorite food was pears, and she never sat still. I had just taken a positive pregnancy test. I was deciding how and when to tell her she was going to be a big sister.
She was eight months old, and I tried to wake her up from a nap. Her skin was cold under my fingers. I can still hear my voice echoing, apart from me: “Call 911!”
“You’re only separated from her by this short life,” my aunt Magdalene told me later, sipping tea in my living room.
“I don’t know if I could bear to see her again, after I… and now — ” I felt my hand settle on my swelling womb. I took a breath. “What if it’s a girl?”
Magdalene thought for a moment. I watched her dark, freckled gray eyes, so unlike Lissie’s.
“Would it really be a bad thing to get to see your baby girl in her little sister every day?” she finally asked.
I pressed my lips together. She had never lost a child, she didn’t have the right — the underside of all my skin prickled and I grasped for something to hold, as if I were falling. I spilled my tea.
I leaned my head on my hand as Magdalene crouched at my feet and used her napkin to clean up my mess. Then she sat next to me. I thought about crying, but I didn’t want her to see. She stayed by my side for weeks.
I’ve tried, but I can’t lift my head or my arms. They’re pressed into warm, wet sheets; the floor under my feet is frigid. I can’t move away from either sensation.
I hear Martin behind me, scared and irritable. “My wife is not moving,” he snaps. “She hasn’t so much as twitched in an hour. What’s wrong?” I can’t hear the nurse’s response. His fingers tighten on mine.
I wish I could answer: I’m still here. I still feel everything.
Another contraction is looming. My instinct is to groan in fear, but I don’t have the strength.
“She’s been pushing for hours,” I hear a nurse say. I don’t remember most of it.
“You’re just a few minutes away from meeting your baby,” the midwife says, while I catch my breath.
“It’s too soon,” I cry, unable to stop the words in my mouth. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” Martin says.
“But — ”
“Forget everything else,” he whispers, leaning close to me. He is sturdy and warm. “Don’t take away from this. Keep going. I love you.”
Everything behind my eyes burns. It’s time to push again.
“Open your eyes, Kate,” someone says.
There is a small, slippery body before me. I want to hold her. I reach forward, slip my hands underneath her little arms and fall back, cradling her against my chest.
It’s Lissie, exactly Lissie, fifteen months and four days ago. Her face is twisted into the same quiet, but angry, cry. She has the same patch of straight hair sticking out of the top of her head.
I can’t do this. I needed this baby to be different.
“My baby girl,” I whisper, fighting back tears. At the sound of my voice, she stops crying and looks up at me. I gasp softly: her eyes. They don’t have a touch of blue in them. They are as gray as a storm.
My daughter is not a memory. She’s a person.
“Do we have a name for her?” a nurse asks.
“No,” answers Martin, fixed on our littlest girl. “Not yet.”
“Magdalena,” I say, and when I glance up I see the glimmer of agreement in Martin’s eyes. I turn back to the nurse. “Baby Lena.”
Brittani Larkin is pretty crazy about Jesus and could read C.S. Lewis’ stuff all day, but also likes to take occasional breaks to write.