Emily had been promising herself to clean out the attic for years. Each year she would promise herself that she would go through everything and get rid of some of the things clogging the little space between the ceiling and the roof. In the end, however, she always managed to be too busy and the promise was forgotten for another year.
This morning, however, her youngest had left for college. She’d even helped him pack his bags and put them into his new Prius, a graduation present from his father for being class valedictorian. One way or another, however, it was obvious that she had no further excuses. All her children were out of the nest now, so to speak, and the house was quiet. Almost too quiet, in fact.
So, Emily stood in the crowded attic and wondered if she hadn’t bitten off more than she could chew. However, she’d promised her husband that she would at least have made a good start on the attic by the time he came home from work and Emily knew how good it would feel to be able to finally tell her husband that she’d done as promised with regards to the attic. Pursing her lips, Emily rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and began. It took a while to get through it all.
There were a great many things that someone would have to come and pick up, since her little car just wouldn’t hold all the things that she brought down the stairs. What with all the dust and the shocking number of boxes packed full of now useless bric-a-brac that had to be looked through, Emily was surprised that she managed to get it all down the stairs before lunch time. This afternoon, she expected to have to sort through it all again and decide what should be kept and what had to go to either the dump or the Salvation Army.
Finally, she was down to one last box, which was covered in a blanket of fine dust and, quite obviously, water damaged in spots. As she opened the box, it almost fell apart. Inside, however, each wrapped carefully in clear plastic, were a series of photograph albums. Emily reached out, her fingers caressing the books with a reverence that one might expect for a book of scripture. The aging plastic crackled as she touched it. Gingerly, Emily pushed the plastic aside, lifted the first book from the decrepit box, and opened it.
Inside, Emily found a flood of memories. Here was her wedding day. Here, the pictures she and Burt had taken turns shooting on her honeymoon. Then there was…
A set of photos brought her up short. The setting seemed to be a hospital room. The first of these was of Burt, her husband, as a young man beaming with pride as he held a little blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms; her eldest child.
Emily remembered that day. Early in the morning, she’d been awakened by a series of cramps so light that she’d wondered if she was in labor at all. Upon calling her mother, however, the woman had confirmed not only that the little pains Emily was having were labor pains but that they were two minutes apart.
“Call the doctor and wake up Burt, Emily,” her mother advised, “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
“Come on down to the clinic,” Dr. Blane advised when she’d called him and told him the whole situation, “so I can examine you myself.” After that, she’d woken Burt and they’d climbed into the car, into which Burt had already thoughtfully placed her pre-packed suitcase. At the clinic, the doctor had confirmed that her contractions were close enough for labor and that her cervix was ripe but wasn’t opening. “Head to the hospital,” said Dr. Blane conversationally. “We’ll have to enhance your labor with a little Pitocin.”
So, off to the hospital they’d gone, where the nurses and midwives had set Emily up with an IV of Pitocin that almost immediately made things much more painful. She was grateful for Burt, who called into work the minute they arrived at the hospital and never left her side after that. He tried to help her remember the breathing exercises they’d learned together in their Lamaze class and held her hand when the pain got to be particularly bad.
At one point, however, a nurse came in and looked at the paper read-out issuing from the machine they’d connected her to that was meant to measure the intensity of her contractions and keep track of her baby’s heartbeat.
“We may have a problem,” she’d said, “Your child’s heart beat seems to be dipping every time you have a contraction.” They’d put a little mask of oxygen on Emily’s face after that, the result being that Emily’s movements were now restricted to the general vicinity of her bed. They checked her cervix and reported that she’d dilated a full five centimeters, but the amniotic sac hadn’t burst, yet. If they wanted to monitor the baby more completely, they would have to pierce it so that a lead could be screwed into the top of the baby’s scalp. Taking a plastic hook with a point on the top, the nurse had dipped beneath Emily’s field of vision. There were some strange sensations followed by a flood of water.
“I think your baby may be in distress,” the nurse said, then.
“What?” Emily gasped. “How do you know?”
The nurse lifted up a pad that looked like a combination of paper and plastic soaked with water. Near the center was a large black stain.
“Looks like your baby pooped in the water,” she’d said with a little smile, throwing the pad into a nearby garbage can and replacing with a fresh one.
Time lost its meaning after that. The pain of Emily’s contractions continued to get more and more intense. As long as she was breathing the oxygen, however, her baby’s heartbeat remained steady. Finally, the midwife came and checked her cervix.
“Ten centimeters,” she said, with a smile. “You’re ready. Now, whatever you do, don’t push until I tell you to, okay?”
Emily nodded, watching the sudden flurry of movement around her as nurses flooded into the room, pulling in a bassinet and carts full of instruments, removing the foot of the bed, pulling things out of cabinets. She grabbed Burt’s hand and squeezed it hard as the next contraction seemed to hit her at just that moment, pushing the breath from her lungs.
“Hold on, babe,” he’d whispered. “It’ll all be over soon.”
“I hope so,” Emily had replied, weeping with the pain as the nurses rolled her onto her side.
“Okay, now push,” the nurse-midwife ordered.
What followed, Emily barely remembered. She knew there was a great deal of pushing and, at one point, the nurse-midwife had even given Emily permission to scream if she wanted to, which she had immediately done. Shortly after that, however, there was a high-pitched cry.
“It’s a girl,” the nurse mid-wife had announced, placing the slimy baby on Emily’s stomach. While Emily and her baby got acquainted, the nurses busied themselves with cutting the umbilical cord. Then the baby was whisked away again to be cleaned and dressed and to have all sorts of preliminary tests done. The child wailed as if it was the end of the world.
“Aw,” Burt crooned. “Poor baby. She wants her mammy. Good job, sweet heart. She’s beautiful.”
Then the baby, wrapped in a blanket now and with a little pink, knitted beanie crammed onto her head, was being placed into her arms and Emily suddenly felt as if her entire life had been leading up to this moment.
Outside in the driveway, a car door slammed. Reflexively, Emily dropped the album and looked at her watch. Five thirty. Swearing, Emily started gathering up the box of photo albums. However, the memory of her eldest lying asleep in her arms lingered as she re-wrapped the first album in its plastic again. With a sigh, she replaced the lid of the box and shoved it back into a corner. She’d deal with it again another day.