The pain was so intense, Cara felt her whole body bending into it, even as the nurse said, “Just breathe, Cara. Deep breath, in, out.” But Cara’s ability to think about breathing was gone. The pain rippled through her torso, her thighs, and she felt before she heard her own retching scream pierce the stark white room. She quickly grabbed her own mouth to stifle it even as her other hand squeezed the bedsheet, as though doing so would lessen the pain.
Just as suddenly as the labor pain had seized her, it stopped, and Cara fell back onto the bed, sweaty, her right hand still grasping and holding onto her mouth in a desperately tight pinch that, in any other circumstance, would hurt—a lot.
“A nice little break, Cara.” The nurse meant well, but Cara just wanted her to go away. She felt her own lips moving under her tight grip, fingers pinching into both cheeks as far as they’d reach, as she whispered her mantra: My pills. I just want my pills.
Marriage hadn’t turned out the way Cara planned, and her husband, as sweet and tender as he’d once been, quit his job two weeks before their wedding to start his own business. Ever since that day six years ago, Kai hadn’t earned a single dollar. The entrepreneurial life had turned into the video-gaming, beer-drinking life.
Finding out she was pregnant was the worst possible news Cara could have received. The shock of the pregnancy for the first few months carried her along as she stumbled through her low-level secretarial job, never meant to be her career but now their only source of income. Somewhere around the fifth month, she moved into the anger stage and started grilling Kai every time she was in the same room: “Have you heard back about any jobs?” or “What did you do today, besides play video games?” Her tone was anything but loving, and he got the message. Still, nothing changed.
That’s when Cara entered the despair stage.
She went to visit her parents early one Sunday morning and was surprised to see her dad in a cast from his wrist past his elbow. “Fell on the damn sidewalk getting the paper,” he explained.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Cara was shocked she hadn’t known before now.
“Nothin’ to be done!” he declared.
“Are you in a lot of pain?" Cara asked, concerned. Daddy wasn’t so young anymore.
“The doctor gave me these fancy pain pills, but I haven’t had to take a single one. Six days, no pills!” he boasted. “I don’t like taking pills. Should just flush ‘em.”
Later, Cara went to the bathroom. She’d had a thought, and it spurred her to start looking through her parents’ medicine cabinet. There it was: a full prescription bottle. Cara hesitated only a moment before she snatched the bottle, dropping it into the baggy pocket of her sweater. As she started to close the medicine cabinet, she stopped herself. She opened the door wide again and began to quietly move bottles, tubes, razors—bingo: another bottle. This one was about a year old, her mom’s prescription from when she had whiplash after being rear-ended at Pick-n-Save. This bottle was full, too. She swiped it, did one more cursory glance over the rest of the cabinet contents, then quietly closed it, washed her hands and left.
Worse to Cara than admitting she’d married poorly was divorcing, the final admission she’d been a failure. Her parents had been married 32 years and would never understand divorcing. And even if that had been possible, this pregnancy trapped her with Kai. Now she was only two months before giving birth. There was no hope in Cara’s mind for improvement.
She’d already been daydreaming about driving head-on into traffic or jumping from a bridge, bringing the tragedy of this baby having Kai for a father to an end. Ultimately, she couldn’t take the risk of surviving something like that. What if she lived but the baby died? Then she’d be forced to live a life full of more guilt and regret, something she couldn’t risk.
Having those pills in her pocket, peace began filling her. She could physically feel herself relax as she realized she had a plan—a real, workable plan—that would take her out of this mess, out of the next 18 years raising a child with a man she didn’t trust and who she now hated, and removing the chance of killing the baby.
The plan was simple and brilliant. Once the baby was born, she would take all the pills before dozing off to sleep that night, and she wouldn’t wake up again. The baby would be cared for, Kai would be forced to deal, and she would no longer be living this miserable existence.
“It’s time, Cara,” the nurse said as she picked up a telephone receiver, punched a few numbers and sternly said to someone, “If you want to be here when this baby comes out, you’ve got about 90 seconds to get in this room!” She set the phone down politely, like she hadn’t just scolded the doctor in charge of this delivery. Then she looked at Cara and said, “Any minute now, we’re going to push. When I say, you bear down like nobody’s business—but not until then, understand?”
Cara felt her lower back seize up again, slowly at first, but getting intense quickly. She nodded vigorously. The door burst open as Dr. Kim barreled into the room, apparently unafraid anyone might be on the other side of the door. He was pulling up a surgical mask dangling around his neck, and he immediately started ripping latex gloves from a box mounted on the wall. He put them on quickly, saying, “I hear you’re ready to do this thing!” He sounded like he was smiling behind the mask.
Cara didn’t smile back, but she raised herself up almost to sitting position and nodded. The nurse quickly positioned herself next to Cara, grasping Cara’s hand and helping support her back.
Kai was nowhere to be found. He’d not been reachable all day, even though he knew the baby was due any time. He’d started the day at a gamer’s space downtown with friends. Six calls to try to find him had been fruitless.
It’s okay, Cara told herself. It’s almost over and this baby will be out, and I’ll be out, and the rest can be God’s problem.
Dr. Kim exclaimed, “Whoa! You weren’t kidding! I’ll be surprised if you need more than one push. Now get ready.” He told her to bear down. She did it, the baby eased out and Cara’s pain finally began to subside.
Just a little longer, she told herself, while all kinds of hustle and activities were taking place around her. She closed her eyes and let herself lay back. The exhaustion was overwhelming. She was trying to remember what time it had been when she last looked at a clock—6:00? 6:10? Sometime near dinnertime. She was so hungry. Maybe I should eat and then take the pills. These thoughts were going through Cara’s mind as the nurse was shaking her shoulder gently.
“Cara? Don’t you want to hold your baby?” The nurse was smiling, as though this made all the sense in the world.
Cara couldn’t find words. Even as she began to shake her head back and forth, the nurse was nudging the wiggling, wet baby toward her, now at her chest, now touching her chin, her cheek.
Cara focused her eyes on the wiggler, as the nurse guided Cara’s hands up under the baby—and now she was holding him. It’s a boy. His skin slightly yellow, wet black hair stuck all over the place, curly. And he was making this sound, like a kitten, his tiny mouth open, his little hand swiping across his nose, batting away an invisible fly....
And Cara saw him—really saw him—and she froze. She couldn’t stop looking at him. A strange warmth began growing between her chest and the naked baby. And still she looked at him.
And the desperation that had consumed her, the hopelessness, the anger, the death...it came out of her in one, huge exhalation, a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. And she breathed on him.
This baby, this mewling, slimy baby, opened his eyes looking right into hers, and she suddenly realized she could, she wanted to, and she would be this boy’s mother for a hundred years and that no one could ever take that life from her—not even herself.