I sat in the corner of the room staring at what was left of my boring breakfast. The clock read five past ten. The sticky bland oatmeal had already dried up, and a banana peel lay sadly across the dark grey textured tray. I heard a knock and before I could answer, she was already in the room with a huge grin. “Housekeeping! Is it OK if I clear out the trash?” I nodded, and watched her as she moved with a little too much energy and purpose. She made me feel tired. I wanted to be able to move like that. I wondered if I’d ever be able to move like that again. My feet were swollen. My heartburn tugged at my chest, and the nausea was lurking. Taunting me.
Within a blink of an eye, she had already changed the trash bag by the door, and was already making her way to the bathroom. I got up slowly, glanced out at the gray sky, then at the parking lot. I wondered who all the cars belonged. If two-thirds of them belonged the the nurses who had to clock in at 6:30 AM and clock out at 7PM. My eyes shifted to the large white board that sat directly across my bed, under the television. I took notice of the date (wow, it's already been this long?), my nurse’s name (Oh, she must be a new one), and a number to reach her written in colorful markers. I don’t remember when she came in that morning. She must have sneaked in and I could tell that she wrote it in a rush. I could see that in the way the letters dragged across the board. She probably didn’t want to wake me up. I had a tough night.
The cleaning lady came out of the bathroom, and said, “Dang! That’s a big ‘ol baby you got in there!” I said nothing. I gave her a defeated smile, and I looked down at my big, round, lopsided belly. I placed my right hand on corner next to my right hip and left it there for a while. That’s where baby was hiding. That’s the only place she could fit. She was surrounded by massive, firm tumors, that took over all the room she needed to survive and thrive. And so she kicked, and turned, and fought, and made her presence known. She could never be fully seen through ultrasounds. They were always fuzzy because she was always tucked right behind the stubborn fibroids that took over everything. And the only clear pictures I’ve gotten of her in there were of her foot.
I went back to bed, and rang the nurse. It was time to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. I hated the cold gel they spread on my belly. I had to be strapped twice per day for about thirty minutes to make sure baby was doing well and that my contractions were not getting too close. Every time I got a new nurse, I would tell her where to put the gel and where the baby was hiding, but she would not believe me. She would smear it all over and after trying for minutes, she would finally try the corner I had originally showed her. Then she would say, “Huh! So these are all fibroids? She ain’t got no room in there. Poor baby... Poor little girl.” Then she would press on my belly while making several faces that often offended me, but on a good day, humored me. They read: confusion, horror, shock. Every now and then, a new nurse would call in another nurse because she could not believe what she was seeing. And they would both stare at me, shiny with cold gel, and they would both make comments about how big my belly is, how skinny I am, and about how the “dang” fibroids were so HUGE!
There was a nightstand next to my bed stacked with books and flowers. My windowsill was also covered with more books, more flowers, and a little cactus. I had a little message board that read “Stay pregnant Pao” hanging on a little shelf near under the television. Stay pregnant Pao. That’s what the doctors told me when they came in daily to update me. That’s what my friends and family told me when they came to visit. And that’s what I whispered to myself in the wee hours of the morning, in the shower, or while I cried in the middle of a sunny day in February. Stay pregnant Pao.
Then the day finally came. And I was not ready. It was my thirty-first day in the hospital. I had made it that far, but still hoped for so many more. I’m not sure how I stayed sane. How I stayed courageous. How I still kept working behind the scenes. I spent thirty-one days in the hospital trying to keep her in, and I really hoped for so many more days. It didn’t matter how many times I was poked with a needle. How long I stayed on a monitor. How many times I had to hear a nurse or doctor talk about things on my body I already knew. I would have given everything to keep her in safely. I would have spent fifty more days. Even one hundred more if I could. I would have offered my whole being to keep her in there for one more week, two more, three more…
She was born thirteen minutes after the hour on a Thursday morning. I wish I could say I knew what the sky looked like. And that it was a sunny day with scattered fluffy clouds. That the birds were singing. And beautiful wild flowers danced in vast fluffy, colorful fields with the help of a gentle breeze. And butterflies came to our window to welcome her. That I was surrounded by loved ones. And sweet melodies played in the background as I pushed and pushed and pushed. That I held her immediately afterwards, exhausted, eyes filled with happy tears. But none of that happened. I was unconscious. Something had gone horribly wrong. And I didn’t get to see her until two days after. It hurt to breathe, to cry, to move. I was heartbroken. I felt so weak. I cried so hard. Because she has survived. Because my body betrayed me. Because I couldn’t be there for her. I convinced myself I had failed at motherhood before I even had a chance to begin…
(To be continued…)