A Labor of Love

by Mary Ferrell

I don't want to leave you alone, Robert says, his voice trembling.

            Calm down! Take a deep breath. You will scare Stephen, I whisper. We have time, drop him off at your mother's and you'll be will back in plenty of time.

I am trying to be brave, but I don't want to be alone in the hospital. My hands are shaking as I tie the arran wool scarf around my neck, my last defense against this biting cold wintry evening. I hug my red woolen tent coat close to me, my cozy blanket to keep out the evening chill. I touch the collar, I loved this coat, but after two winter pregnancies and countless shopping trips it is time for it to retire.

I open the car door; a cold damp night greets me. It is not welcoming, I am shivering, I am scared to get out of the car. Underfoot it is slushy with yesterday's snow trampled and wet.

Robert looks at me; his eyes are painful with fear. His eyes tell a story of his concern. He is not saying it aloud but I know the look, it's the same look he had the night Stephen was finally born. Living through twenty-five hours of labor, followed by an emergency delivery in the operating room to save your spouse and child, leaves a permanent mark.

Let me help you, a friendly voice breaks the tension and warms the evening chill.

He helps me out of the car.

I will take your wife to check-in, follow me with your son.

The police officer gestures to me, hold on to my arm.

Be careful, it's slippery in places, Robert stresses.

Robert carries Stephen. Stephen's blond curly hair peaks out from under the tartan blanket he is wrapped in. He is unaware that I just kissed his forehead.

I walk slowly and hesitate taking care where there are snowy patches. I am grateful to this stranger for helping me and taking charge.

Towering black lampposts throw light on our path. The light forms random patterns of shadows on the red sandstone brick of the hospital archway. The archway leads you to Glasgow maternity entrance. The stranger pushes the heavy wooden revolving door, I timidly follow him into the reception. The reception area is not welcoming. Cold white sterile tiles cover the walls; a smaller white tile with a black diamond forms a uniform pattern on the floors. An overwhelming clinical smell fills my nostrils. In stark contrast to the cold night, the heat is oppressive, I feel lightheaded.

We are very busy tonight. Please wait here. The nurse gestures to where two couples are standing. The police officer in his friendly Edinburgh accent wishes me, good luck! Robert holds my hand and he smiles bravely, I told the nurse I have to leave. She knows that you are here alone.

I look into his worried eyes, he kisses me gently.

Take Stephen to your mother's. You'll be back in an hour. We have time.

He leaves with Stephen, I feel nauseous and exhausted. The round wooden- framed clock above the reception desk chimes midnight.

A heavily pregnant woman smiles at me, our eyes meet, we give one another reassurance without speaking. Her husband has his arm around her shoulder.

Without warning a sharp contraction radiates through every nerve in my back, a hot burning poker. It takes my breath. A hot damp clamminess is covering my forehead.

I fear I am going to fall onto the hard tile floor.

My baby, my baby. I scream as another contraction sears through my body.

I lunge at the man next to me, I cling onto him. I am scared I am going to fall. My arms are around his neck.

He supports me but his face is frozen in sheer disbelief and panic. His pregnant wife screams for help. There's commotion all around me, a nurse brings a wheelchair and unleashes my grip from this poor stranger. I did not want a fuss, I try to compose myself. I was waiting quietly for Robert to return. My mind is racing.

Let's get you up to delivery, the friendly nurse smiles at me.

I need an epidural, it's on my chart. I was 25 hours in labor with Stephen. Please, I am scared.

Dear child, if we don't get you to a room you will be delivering in the halls.

We are in the elevator; the brown metal gates are closed with a loud shrill bang. I focus on my breathing and stare at the safety notice, the metal label reads 1845. Oh God, the elevator is so old. I silently pray the doors will open on the third floor.

With another loud slamming sound, the metal gates open. We are finally in the delivery room. The motherly nurse places a blood pressure cuff around my arm. Simultaneously I feel pain thrashing through my body.

Mother please help me, please help me, I say aloud.

In my pain, I dwell on the loss of my mother who died two years ago. Her loss is a huge burden I carry with me every day. There is an emptiness that time will never fill. We were so close. She was the sister I never had, the friend who is always there for you and the mother who nurtured and cared for you like no other. All through my childhood she cared for me unconditionally. I had chronic asthma. She sat with me day and night, caring for me. She even managed to make me laugh at times when breathing was a struggle. There was no end to her love.

Her sudden and untimely death on December 17, the week before Christmas devastated our family. The quilt of love she covered us in, was ripped apart. The fabric of our being was now in tatters. We were left reeling from the sudden loss of the person who was the thread who held our family together. Sadly my father did not take over this role, he died emotionally, the day Molly died. My husband lost his second mother, and my four- year -old son a precious jewel in his life. And now I am lying in this lonely room with wracking pain pulling me apart, calling for her.            

I know she is watching over me, I am panting, talking to her.

The nurse is smiling her eyes gentle and kind. After a quick examination she speaks sternly.

I need you to start pushing, when I tell you push.

Push.

I push. The pain is searing through my body. It rips me apart. I push my feet harder into the stirrups trying to divert this agonizing pain. I stare at the ultra bright light above my head, until it hurts my eyes. The nurse wipes my damp clammy forehead.

There is a feeling of pressure on my right hand, it is being held gently. I turn but there is no one there. Suddenly a peace washes over me; a calm presence is overtaking my mind, drifting through my body. The sense of peace has overtaken my very being.

My mother is with me. I am not alone, I say aloud.

I believe you. I have witnessed many miracles happen at a delivery. Push.

Ripping, jarring, agonizing pain, fills me. It lasts for a few minutes, every second feels like an hour. And then immense relieve and joy.

My baby enters the world. Our son is born.

After a few moments, the nurse swaddles the angelic bundle in a white blanket and hands him to me. His hair is thick and dark and forms a frame around his tiny cherub face. He is perfect. I touch his long fingers and kiss his forehead.

I am overwhelmed, tears flow freely. My face is wet with joy. A teardrop falls on his cheek.

My dear, stop crying, you will drown this beautiful baby. The midwife laughs.

A doctor is now in the room, congratulations, did you do this all alone without your family?

No, I respond. I don't feel the need to explain.

As the baby is being weighed, the door of the delivery room opens, Robert appears. His face is grey with concern. His eyes still show pain. He looks at me and then over at the scales. He is speechless.

Would you like to meet your son? The midwife smiles, her eyes glistening.

He is looking down at his baby boy, the pain and anguish slowly disappears from his face. I can't believe he's here. I wasn't back in time. You were alone.

He whispers, I prayed your mother would watch over you until I got here.

I smiled.

You know my mum was here.

She held my hand, she kept me calm. The feeling of her love washed over me. I have always known from the day she died, that she would never truly leave me. But now I know it's true.

We both looked into our beautiful babies face, and at the same time we said, Christopher.

One of the names my mother always loved for her future grandchildren many years before.