A couple of weeks ago I posted a story I had written for my Creative Writing class. The whole idea was to write a story, submit it to our tutor, she’d give us feedback and we would review/rewrite the story, before submitting the final version for assessment.
I submitted the final version of the story tonight, so thought I would share it here, because I know a few people were interested in reading the reviewed/rewritten version!
(Here is the original version of the story)
The story is about a couple who experience a late miscarriage… so if this is likely to be something that triggers you, perhaps give it a miss, or read it when you are in the mood to cry. I think that pregnancy loss (particularly late miscarriage and stillbirth) needs to be spoken about more so women (and their families) don’t feel it is something they need to keep hidden inside. Many of my friends have experienced late miscarriages and have had babies born still, I myself have had four first trimester losses, so it is something very close to my heart.
and with that said, here is my story… I hope you… I don’t think ‘enjoy it’ is the right term… but I hope it strikes a chord.
They Would Remember Her
Lucas was torn between wanting Jenna to wake up and wanting her to stay in the drug-induced sleep she was in. Jenna waking up meant that part of the nightmare would be over for him; his beautiful Jenna would be awake and his fear that he was going to lose her as well as their baby would be a thing of the past. But Jenna waking up also signified the start of their new life together – life as parents whose baby had died – and he wasn’t ready for that. How was he supposed to support Jenna when he could barely hold it together himself?
The voicemail kept replaying in his head, ‘Luke, I need you… the baby, I’m… something is wrong, Luke. I’m bleeding and these cramps are… oh god, Luke, I need you… I have to ring… ambulance, I… oh god…‘ there had been a cry of excruciating pain before the voicemail abruptly ended. It had been a deep-seeded cry of agony that he knew would haunt him forever.
What had started out as a day of hunting and other manly pursuits with his best friends had concluded in the most overwhelming panic he had ever experienced. The second he’d heard the terrified tone in Jenna’s voice, his entire body had tensed up, his heart had begun racing and his palms had grown sweaty; the voicemail still going as he’d torn through the pub, gasping for air, hoping the silence outside would calm him and he would realise he had misunderstood the whole thing.
Sadly, he hadn’t misheard.
Jenna was blurred by the silent tears he couldn’t stop, but even through his distorted vision she looked peaceful, angelic even. Her pale hands were resting protectively on her belly and there was the slightest hint of a smile on her lips, their usual redness drained to a dim, almost lifeless pink. Perhaps she was dreaming about their baby, perhaps she was dreaming that she was still pregnant, that their hopes and dreams for their little one were still obtainable.
That Jenna was oblivious was something Lucas envied. How he would have loved to go to sleep and escape the grief which was strangling him like a noose pulled tight around his neck. Every breath he took was a struggle, it hurt going in and it hurt even more going out. With every pained breath, the fog cleared a little more and their new reality became more real, more focused, sharper.
Lucas shifted in the uncomfortable metal chair −the nurse had offered to move a more comfortable chair in for him, but he had refused her offer. Jenna had gone through the scariest experience of her life alone, while he was off laughing and having fun, so why should he accept the offer of anything that would make life a little easier for him? He should have been there with her, the panic should have been something they shared, she shouldn’t have had to call for an ambulance, she shouldn’t have had to be alone. Alone. Because of him, she had been alone.
A nurse came into the room and quietly set about recording Jenna’s vitals on the blue clipboard at the end of the bed. Lucas tried to avoid making eye contact with the young woman, but when she addressed him he had no choice but to turn toward her.
“She is stable,” the nurse, Lucy according to her name badge, informed him and then gave him a sympathetic look. “Is there anything I can get you?” she asked softly.
“My baby back?” Lucas replied bitterly and then cringed. It wasn’t the nurse’s fault. “I’m sorry, I… no, there isn’t anything you can get for me,” he told the woman, who again gave him that sympathetic look.
“She will be awake soon,” Lucy reassured him, “Are you sure you don’t want the doctor to talk to her about the surgery?”
“Like I told the doctor, it needs to come from me,” Lucas sighed, dreading the moment when Jenna was with it enough to ask what had happened. The nurse nodded her understanding.
“Just press the call button if you or Jenna need anything,” Lucy said quietly and again gave him that look.
‘The look’. He was already sick of it. It was a mixture of pity and sympathy combined with a huge dose of ‘I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me’ and a dash of ‘oh crap, is he going to cry again?’ The doctor had given it to them, the nurses who had been involved in Jenna’s care had given it to them, the anaesthetist had given it to him. He knew it was only the start too, because other than him, Jenna and the staff at the hospital, no one else knew their baby had died yet.
Telling other people was something he was dreading, almost as much as he dreaded telling Jenna how serious things had been for her. Both sets of parents needed to be contacted, his sister, Jenna’s brother and sister, his grandparents, their friends, their colleagues, the old lady who lived across the road. How the hell was he supposed to retell the awful story over and over… and over?
Lucas had been preparing for the day he could share with the world that their darling baby had arrived. He had been so excited about announcing their baby’s name, their baby’s weight, the time he or she was born, whether Jenna had had a natural birth or a caesarean. It was a day that was going to be full of the overuse of the classic cliché statement ‘Mum and baby doing well’, a day full of introducing his pride and joy to their family and friends. He would over-enthusiastically share photo after photo after photo of their baby – with anyone who would look – and he would say dozens of times that he was so proud of Jenna.
A fresh wave of grief hit and he felt angry with himself. How dare he be upset after everything he had made Jenna go through without him? He didn’t deserve to feel upset, it wasn’t him who had had to go through hours of bleeding and contractions, it wasn’t him who had been alone in hospital while strange doctors examined him and prepared him for the likelihood his baby was going to die soon. All the while he had been laughing, he had been making jokes, he had pretended to be sad that that particular outing would be his last before the baby arrived and he was – as he had put it – ‘tied down forever’.
He slumped forward and buried his face in the firm mattress and stiff cover of the hospital bed, while gripping onto the cold metal frame. A loud scream erupted from somewhere deep inside him, it felt as if every single nerve in his body was screaming. His muscles clenched and shook, his heart started to race, he could feel the blood thumping in his head; the scream was long and continuous, he was trembling violently and couldn’t stop. There was no heat in the room, he was frozen and could feel his teeth chattering together, even through the scream.
The scream was replaced by loud sobbing and he was quickly aware of the rough bed cover feeling wet and salty against his face. His eyes felt almost raw because of the amount of tears he had cried since that voicemail which had changed everything. No. He lied, the tears hadn’t come until he’d answered the phone call from Jenna’s doctor, requesting that he make his way to the hospital as fast as possible. He was told that Jenna was experiencing a ‘likely impending miscarriage‘ and the ‘pregnancy‘ was coming to a ‘natural end‘, as the doctor had so coldly put it after quoting some stupid statistic about instances of ‘late term miscarriage‘.
Lucas had cried angry tears as he thought of the doctor’s wording, referring to their baby as ‘the pregnancy’, using the terms ‘likely impending miscarriage’ and ‘natural end’, rather than being up front and saying “We suggest you get here quickly, we believe your baby is dying.” It would have been blunt, but it would have been realistic. Did the doctor think that by de-humanising what was happening the pain they were going to feel would be lessened?
The journey after that was a blur, all Lucas knew was that Jenna was in room 4 on the obstetrics ward and that he needed to be with her as fast as was humanly possible. He drove with his foot far too heavily on the accelerator and his hands gripping the steering wheel so hard it hurt. He yearned to be by Jenna’s side and couldn’t remember ever feeling so desperate to get somewhere. When the city had come into view, his tears fell even faster, turning the cityscape into abstract art, bright shocks of light and vaguely rectangular shapes which formed a picture that didn’t quite look real.
Lucas stilled when he felt fingertips brush against the nape of his neck and he let out a loud, shaky sigh as that hand came to rest lightly on the back of his head.
“Lucas,” Jenna’s raspy voice was barely a whisper.
He didn’t want to look at her because he knew she would see right through him. At the same time, he neededto look into her eyes, to see for himself that she was alive and he wasn’t imagining it. Slowly, he looked up and was surprised to see she was smiling. Had she forgotten that before she’d begun to crash the doctor had confirmed their beautiful baby had died?
“You’re here,” Jenna observed and he nodded as he placed his hand over hers.
“I’m sorry I left you,” Lucas told her, his voice wavering as more tears threatened.
“You didn’t leave me,” Jenna reminded him, her voice surprisingly full of conviction. “I wanted you to go to Trev’s stag night,” she added.
“I shouldn’t have gone,” Lucas replied, shaking his head, his anger at himself simmering back to the surface. “If I hadn’t gone I would have been there with you and this wouldn’t have happened,” he proclaimed.
“Luke, look at me,” Jenna demanded. She only ever called him Luke in their most intimate or emotional of moments. Lucas looked at her, his eyes brimming with tears. “This would have happened if you were there, or not,” she declared, her voice breaking as tears began to cascade down her cheeks.
There was no way Lucas could simply sit at her bedside and hold her hand while she cried. She needed him and he needed her. He slipped his shoes off and without even thinking about it undid his jeans and removed them too, placing them in a heap on the chair he had been sitting on. Hospital beds weren’t made for two people but somehow he managed to get in and lie on his side next to Jenna. He held her as close as was possible considering the monitors she was attached to, and the fact she had had abdominal surgery. It may not have been as close as he would have liked, but to finally have her in his arms felt amazing. He hadn’t realised how much he had needed that contact with her.
The sounds of their grief combined and created a haunting symphony which echoed around the room; if he cared to think about it, Lucas would have been sure their cries probably carried right throughout the obstetrics ward.
“I need to know what happened,” the hushed tones of Jenna’s voice shook him from his thoughts.
“You should rest some more,” Lucas suggested, trying to stall the inevitable.
“Luke,” Jenna’s voice was firm. There was no way he was going to be able to put it off any longer.
“How much do you remember?” Lucas asked, wondering from which point in time he needed to start recounting the story for her.
“I… I remember the doctor… and the ultrasound… saying the baby was… was…” Jenna started, then took a minute to compose herself. “I know the baby died… I remember the pain getting worse, I remember the doctor telling me I was dilating… I… I remember that I was in labour… then I felt dizzy… I remember you pushing the button for the nurse… and she didn’t come… and you said they were fucking useless and you left the room… you were running… I could hear you shouting about blood… I was going to yell at you for yelling at the nurses…” Jenna continued between sobs. She took another deep breath and carried on, “And then you were in that chair screaming into the mattress, and I wanted to hug you, but I couldn’t talk… and you couldn’t see me… and I needed to touch you…”
Lucas lifted Jenna’s hand up to his mouth and kissed each knuckle. Jenna moved her fingers between Lucas’s and gently squeezed his hand.
“I’m ready,” she told him and Lucas kissed her on the cheek before finally starting.
“When I got back to the room with the nurses you had passed out, one of the nurses called for the doctor while the other checked your blood loss,” Lucas began, squeezing his eyes shut as the scene replayed in his mind. “The nurse called the doctor again and said it was urgent, that you were haemorrhaging.” He had to stop, the image of the blood-soaked sheets was too much for him.
“Take your time, baby,” Jenna whispered soothingly and squeezed his hand again.
Lucas exhaled loudly and picked up where he left off. “The doctor arrived and told me they had to get you into surgery immediately, he said they would do an emergency cesarean and try to stop the bleeding.” The next part was the hardest for him. “He warned that you might not make it through the surgery.” The memory of that alone stopped him in his tracks, and again he began to cry.
“I’m okay, baby. It’s okay,” Jenna whispered. There was so much compassion in her voice, it had so many soothing qualities that it caused his heart to break all over again. She would have been an amazing mum. Would be. When their time came… again.
“What… what about the baby?” Jenna asked, there was a soft quality to her voice he had never heard before.
“Doctor Bishop said that if we would like to spend some time with the baby we can, when we are ready, but that we don’t have to, in which case we need to let them know and they will advise us of the options for.. well… what happens with the…” Lucas started to relay the information the doctor had given him, but Jenna cut him off.
“I need to see my baby,” Jenna insisted, her voice full of conviction and strength. “Before we even think of cremation or burial, I NEED to have my first cuddle with my baby,” she added and Lucas felt a lump rising in his throat, not because he was sad, but because Jenna sounded as desperate to see their baby as he felt.
“Do you want me to ring for the nurse?” Lucas asked and Jenna nodded.
“Please, I want to see our little… wait, do you know if it is a girl or a boy?” Jenna stopped him before he rang the call button.
“The doctor said they were able to determine the sex but I wanted us to find out together,” Lucas informed her.
Jenna and Lucas had agreed early on in the pregnancy that they didn’t want to find out the sex of their baby until he or she was born. Both looked forward to that special moment when their baby was placed into Jenna’s arms for the very first time and together they would peek inside the soft blanket their child was wrapped in to reveal whether they had a son or a daughter.
It was that thought that got them through the weeks of morning sickness Jenna had experienced. Every morning at 6.45am Jenna would wake up, groan, stumble out of bed and rush to their ensuite. Lucas was always close behind and would crouch down beside her as she leaned against the toilet to throw up. He would rub her back and tell her it was okay, even though he didn’t know if it was normal for her to look so pale and for every movement she made to seem so sluggish. Every morning for ten weeks she would slump into his arms and he would pepper kisses all over the top of her head while she tried to get the energy to stand up and go back to bed.
After Lucas informed the nurse they were ready to meet their baby, the nurse helped Jenna get more comfortable, propping her up on pillows and changing the angle of the bed so she was as close to sitting as the pain in her abdomen would allow. Lucas and Jenna sat in silence while waiting for their baby to be brought to them. He wanted to talk, he wanted to find something comforting to say, but they were about to hold their dead baby… he knew there were no words that would suffice.
The door finally opened and not for the first time that day, Lucas struggled to breathe. All he could see was the small off-white blanket the nurse was cradling in her hands. A baby wasn’t meant to fit in the palm of your hands, it was meant to be cuddled protectively in your arms. Lucas felt tears sliding down his cheeks as he watched the nurse carefully place their baby – wrapped in the tiny blanket – in Jenna’s hands.
They finally had their baby.
Before she had gone to get the baby, the nurse had informed them what their baby would look like, the mottled colouration, the disporportionate body and head, the fragile nature of an under-developed fetus. Lucas had imagined the sight of their child would upset him, that it would possibly even scare him, and now he felt immense guilt that he had worried the sight of their child would give him nightmares.
What he hadn’t been prepared for was that when he drunk in the sight of their precious baby, he would be looking at a miniature version of Jenna. There was nothing ‘mottled‘ or ‘disproportionate‘ or ‘fragile‘ about the angelic baby he was looking at. The only word that came to mind was ‘perfection‘.
“She looks beautiful, just like her mother,” Lucas whispered.
“She? How do you know?” Jenna whispered back.
“My darling, she looks just like you, there is no doubt in my mind we created a little princess,” Lucas told her in the same hushed tone.
“I don’t see it,” Jenna replied, her voice still a quiet whisper.
“The little nose, it is a replica of yours,” Lucas began. “The little lips, the same beautiful bow shape as yours,” he continued. “Even the eyelashes, they would have been long, I can tell,” he turned and smiled at her. “And I bet she has the same bright blue eyes as you, eyes that would get her out of a lot of trouble growing up,” Lucas surprised himself by chuckling quietly before he adding, “Like you… I can never stay angry at you, one deep look into those eyes and I am rendered useless.”
“I need to see for myself,” Jenna stated, and had their hearts not been crumbling piece by piece, he would have been sure she sounded almost upbeat. Grief did funny things to a person.
Lucas moved a pillow onto Jenna’s lap and she gently placed their carefully swaddled baby on the pillow, Lucas heard her inhale deep and long and held his breath as she opened the blanket. For the first time – and the last – they took in the sight of their perfect baby girl. Normally Lucas would have exclaimed ‘I told you! I’m always right!‘ and Jenna would have rolled her eyes as she shook her head and giggled quietly.
Not in that moment though.
He needed to get to know his daughter. He needed to touch her hand, to gently run the pad of his thumb down the sole of the smallest foot he had ever seen, to stroke her cheek… and through tears he did it all. Through tears he watched Jenna committing every tiny feature of their daughter to memory, her touch so delicate, so protective… the touch of a mother, he realised.
“We need photos of her,” Jenna suddenly said loudly, her voice full of panic.
“I have my phone, we can ta…” Lucas began to say, stopping abruptly when Jenna gripped tightly onto his forearm.
“We can’t call her ‘her’! She needs a name Lucas!” Jenna exclaimed, clenching his forearm so tightly her nails dug into his skin painfully.
“Sweetheart, try and breathe… I want us to name her as well,” Lucas assured her and felt the tension leaving Jenna’s fingers before her hand fell from his arm to his thigh.
“Sasha…” Jenna’s whispered, she swallowed loudly and seconds later her sobs filled the room.
“Sasha,” Lucas said nodding his head, his throat burning and jaw clenching as he began to weep.
When there was a break in the tears Lucas silently took the only photos they would ever have of their darling daughter.
They were photos he knew they would look at in fifty years time and cry as they thought about the beautiful child who had been a physical presence in their life so briefly but would always be their first born child.
On her birthday, they would remember her. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, they would remember her. At Christmas, they would remember her. Every single day, for the rest of their lives, they would remember her.
No matter how many times they were blessed with a new addition to their family, no matter how rich their life was, no matter how much happiness they had, no matter how many great memories they created and shared, there would always be something missing. Their first born. Their Sasha.