It’s beautiful this weekend, warm and sunny, a desperately needed break from the usual Lowland dark and drizzle. A spell of summer in early spring, gorgeous. Just like it was a year ago.

That day – a Saturday – technically began in the night, a bit before 2 a.m. I woke up plagued by digestive pain, the cramps pulling me out of bed and into the bathroom for a spell. Tired of the havoc late pregnancy was causing on my internal organs, sure it was something I shouldn’t have eaten. Desperate through the exhaustion to believe that’s what it was.

I’d been worried all week. I remember sitting at my desk at work the previous Friday, an hour or so after lunch when I realized it – I hadn’t felt any post-lunch kicks. Usually, afternoons were a time the little one would remind me of her presence – a secret conversation we’d have, just the two of us, every midday – before I even knew she was a she.

That day, she was quiet.

And for the rest of the weekend, everything just seemed off. I searched my belly for signs and I felt the sides of it expand and harden. That must be her, stretching out sideways, trying out new positions, rebelling at the shrinking space. I didn’t know what practice contractions felt like.

I remember undressing during that week, sizing up my belly in the mirror, that impossible feeling it had somehow shrunken. I remember getting ready to walk out on some unnecessary errand, my hand on the doorknob, the strong, uncanny sensation of my huge pregnant belly slowly melting away into nothing. The feeling of my child dissolving away, just as she had never been, a figment of my imagination after all these months.

It felt so real, a deep conviction I couldn’t give voice or sense to.

I called the midwives a few times that week, giving into the worry, feeling embarassed for asking. The first time, they said not to worry, that this was the point that movement slowed down. To wait and see and then call again if all still seemed quiet. So my belly expanded and hardened and I wanted to believe it has her, stretching out, moving. I had to. Later in the week, I noticed a new discharge, mucous with a bit of blood. I called again, worried it was my mucous plug loosening, a sure sign of labour starting too soon. The midwives told me that, oh yes, it was certainly too soon, that I probably had a bladder infection or irritation from intercourse. They pointed out I had an appointment the coming Monday and we’d sort it out then. I knew better. But I still said, ok.

There was a woman at work. After sharing a scare earlier in my pregnancy and being baffled and frustrated by Lowland medical culture, she told me her story. About her tragic second pregnancy, how her child died with no explanation at 25 weeks. How such things are handled in the Lowlands. This is a country with a deeply embedded Calvinist culture, hard and stoic. I’d been terrorized already for the entire pregnancy by all the tales of how birth is handled here, how women are denied any pain relief unless they demand it, kicking and screaming, and even then – they’re likely told the anesthesiologist is busy on another floor, at another hospital, or simply not available at that hour. That the home birth model extolled here is for suckers, that the hospitals don’t care what you want. I tried hard to tune out the harpies, I wanted to be open to home birth, and I wanted to avoid drugs and other interventions, to believe this was a place where birth could be beautiful. But her story stayed with me. When she learned her child had died, they sent her home, they told her to wait. That it was better to wait, to let the wisdom of her body dictate what was next. She spent an entire tortured week walking around with her belly full, her baby dead – enduring comments from strangers about glowing, about joy expected. She didn’t know she could demand that they induce labour, that if she insisted loudly enough, they could end the extension of her agony. It was over a week before she finally went into labour and gave birth to her child. She told me this is how they handle these things here.

So knowing that, I was afraid to insist on being seen, to be told the worst and then sent home to wait. I was sure I’d go insane. Instead, I needed to hold onto to any evidence, even invented, for hope. Because it seemed clear there would be no help if the worst had happened. I’d rather be kept in the dark than be kept waiting, knowing.

So for a week, up until that Saturday at 2 am, I waited, in the dark.

But I knew. I knew.

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