Short Stories

Heartbeat

 

 

I held the pregnancy test stick in my hand and watched as a faint, pink line developed. The hormone signature of a human life, HCG, was detectable even before a baby’s first heartbeat at six weeks. I should have been bursting with joy, but the positive result filled me with dread. My three-year-old daughter Sophia broke into the bathroom and startled me.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” she asked.

It was too late to hide the pregnancy test and I felt exposed, not ready to tell her that a baby brother or sister might be on the way.

“Are you going pee-pee?” she asked. After months of potty training, the bathroom was her new obsession.

“Mommy, you need a stamp,” she said.

She picked up the blue inkpad from the back of the toilet and dipped in the round smiley-face rubber stamp. As she fiddled with the inkpad lid, I discretely slipped the test stick into the pocket of my robe.

“Hold out your hand,” she commanded. She stamped my hand with a happy giggle. Her smile still took my breath away, a cherubic miracle with dark wavy curls like her father and my bright blue eyes.

“Mommy, I’m hungry. When are you going to make my pop tart?” she asked.

“In a minute sweetie,” I said.

Sophia ran out of the room and I heard the mechanical whirr and clicking of her motorized Thomas train. Our living room coffee table had been converted into a train table covered in wooden track, trestle bridges, and a volcano mountain with a train tunnel. Sophia spent hours connecting the red, green and blue magnetic trains and imagining new stories and adventures for Thomas, Percy, Henry and Gordon.

I slumped down on the bed and contemplated calling my husband Jason at work to tell him about the baby, but I felt drained. My visit to the obstetrician’s office last year replayed in my mind. Jason took vacation to attend my first ultrasound appointment and I cooked a special breakfast for us, fresh croissants from Upper Crust Bakery and crisp bacon. As we sat down to eat, he surprised me with a gift for the baby’s room. Nestled inside a light green gingham gift bag was an exquisitely crafted Noah’s ark snow globe. The base contained a wind-up music box that played “You Are My Sunshine.” We calculated the baby’s due date- almost Christmas and I made a list of baby names on my napkin: Christina, Noel, Holly and Christopher.

We arrived early for my ultrasound appointment, eager to see the first picture of our baby. The technician squirted warm gel on my stomach and recorded the images on the computer as she moved the probe. When Dr. Stanton entered our exam room a few minutes later, I knew something was wrong. She held the ultrasound picture in her hand and her solemn expression betrayed the bad news.

“A blighted ovum,” she said.

The pregnancy began normally producing my positive home pregnancy test, but the fertilized egg was not healthy and stopped developing. Jason squeezed my hand as I held back tears.

Dr. Stanton was upbeat and reassuring. “Don’t worry,” she said. You will pass some tissue in couple weeks and once your hormones have stabilized and your cycle is regular, you can try again.”

The following week I was so busy caring for Sophia, I barely thought about the miscarriage. Jason left on Friday for a business trip to Germany, leaving me home alone with Sophia. As I tucked her into her crib that evening, I heard the distant rumble of a thunderstorm. Exhausted from a long day, I fell asleep quickly in my bed. A few hours later, I woke to the sound of pounding rain and bright flashes of lightening. I sat up in bed and felt the gushing sensation and wetness. A dull, metallic smell filled the air- my own blood. I fumbled for my glasses on the bedside nightstand and my fear turned to panic when I realized the sheets were already soaked. I thought about Sophia sleeping peacefully upstairs in her crib. She could not see me like this. Where was my cell phone? On the charger in the kitchen. I swung my feet to the side of the bed to stand up and a wave of violent vertigo followed. I was too dizzy to stand- I would have to crawl. The kitchen seemed miles away and I left a trail of blood behind me on the floor as I inched slowly across the living room. My rising panic produced a rush of adrenaline and disconnected thoughts: Sophia, Jason and the absurd notion I was ruining our new white Berber carpet. Our family’s black Labrador Retriever Max woke from his dog bed and came to my side whining, acutely aware something was terribly wrong.

My cell phone was finally within reach and I yanked it down from the countertop, not bothering to unplug the charging cord. I dialed 911, my hands shaking and heart racing. The dispatcher listened and then interrupted my frantic call.

“How far along is the pregnancy?” she asked.

I tried to explain the blighted ovum. My only thought was of Sophia sleeping upstairs and I began to cry. The operator’s calm voice and another question followed.

“Help is on the way. Can I call a friend for you to stay with your daughter?”

“Christy,” I said without a second thought and said a silent prayer.

The dispatcher dialed her number and she was on the line in seconds. Christy arrived at my front door a few steps behind the firemen who responded first to the emergency call.

“Kelly, I’m here,” she said. “The firemen are asking me to wait in the living room.”

I had crawled back to the bathroom and sat on the toilet in an attempt to contain the blood flow. The ambulance arrived as a young burly fireman with a thick beard tried to take my pulse. Christy stood pale and frightened in the living room, still dressed in her pajamas, as the paramedics wheeled me out of the bedroom on a stretcher.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Kelly lost a lot of blood,” one of the paramedics explained.

Christy touched my arm as I moved past her. “Don’t worry about Sophia,” she said. “I’ll be here when she wakes up.”

In the ambulance, another paramedic took my pulse and tried to calm me down. I was close to hyperventilating.

“I thought I was going to bleed to death,” I said.

“You’re going to be fine,” he said. “You had a serious hemorrhage, but it’s slowing down.”

By the time the ambulance pulled into the hospital, my status changed from critical to stable. The attending ER doctor discharged me a few hours later and Christy’s husband Mike drove me home. Sophia met us at the front door and I scooped her up in my arms.

“Mommy, Christy came over to play with me. She made me pancakes for breakfast.”

I held her soft face close to mine and smelled her sweet hair, overwhelmed with relief and gratitude.

The loud clicking sound of Sophia’s Thomas Train outside the bedroom door jolted me out of the dark memory. She ran to the side of the bed and plopped the moving train on my stomach.

“Mommy, you forgot my pop tart,” she said.

“Do you know what happens when you tickle the tickle monster?” I sat up quickly and snatched her in my arms. She screamed happily as I turned her upside down on our way to the kitchen.

“You’re making me dizzy,” she said.

I gently dropped Sophia on the floor and opened the cabinet next to our stove to look for the pop tarts.

“What flavor do you want? I asked. “We have strawberry or blueberry.”

“Chocolate frosted,” she said.

I laughed. “We’re all out of those, Daddy ate the last one yesterday.”

“I guess blueberry.”

As I pushed down the lever on the toaster, I thought about the baby and said a silent prayer. Just give me a sign, God, that this baby will be healthy.

Sophia waited expectantly by the toaster.

“I see two pop tarts,” she said.
“I’m having one too,” I said.

I pulled out Sophia’s favorite plastic hedgehog plates from the cabinet and peeled a mandarin orange for her plate. We sat down at the kitchen table to eat and Sophia let out an excited cry.

“Mommy, look! There’s a blue bird on our feeder.”

I looked up from my plate and saw the brilliant plumage of a blue parakeet.

“It’s like the birds at Pet Smart,” Sophia said.

“You’re right, those are usually kept as pets,” I said.

“Do you think he’s lost?” Sophia asked.

“I don’t know sweetie, but it’s a beautiful bird. Some people believe birds are angels in disguise.”

The parakeet flew off and the feeder swayed gently. I picked up my cell phone to call Jason. “Honey, I have some good news.”

 

 

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