At 2:30 a.m. and two weeks early, her water breaks. She calls her mother. I pack: notebook, pen, phone chargers, On Becoming a Novelist, my laptop, my clothes, her clothes, the duffel bag, grogginess, excitement, hope, fear.
At 3:26 a.m., I text my family. “Her water for sure broke this time. Now at the hospital.” On the delivery room couch, I take the January stillness into me. Because of her principal’s promise of being fired, she sits in the bed, tethered by machines and data, and tries to lesson plan. I read, underline, and write page numbers on an ink-smudged sticky note under the front cover. We wait in peace only broken by the occasional nurse’s check.
At 9:15 a.m., her parents and sister arrive from over four hours away. We worried they wouldn’t make it in time. We didn’t know they had ten hours to spare.
At 11:24 a.m., contractions cause her to clamp hands on the bars of the bed. I sit on the couch devouring donuts necessitated by low blood sugar. Unsupportiveness consumes me.
At 12:30 p.m., she’s stopped dilating. Eight is her plateau but ten is the magic number. I begin to get impatient. Anxiety cascades, overloads, and overflows my brain. What if my daughter’s heart stops beating on the monitor? What if they both die and leave me?
At 2:00 p.m., she’s pushing, breathing, pushing. I need to check the mail. Have my comics been delivered? “You’ve got to remember to breath.” I could have taught all my classes by now. “Make sure to keep your chin down.” No more pushing. Instead, walking, standing, leaning. Why can’t they get her out? What if she is in there too long—her head squished and her brain damaged?
At 4:10 p.m., there’s no more natural birthing, but instead, an epidural after the point they said it was unsafe. I watch without watching through the reflection in the mirror above the sink.
At 5:30 p.m., the bro anesthesiologist throws the cap for another needle across the room at the trash bin. He misses just like his efforts to relieve her pain. She’s delirious and shouldn’t feel her legs by now. She can still feel everything.
At 5:40 p.m., the doctor and nurses talk about what to do. They decide a caesarean section is the only choice if after another hour and a half nothing changes. She’s too tired to care or worry, but neither of us wanted that option and thoughts of her death return.
At 6:15 p.m., she’s still not ready. They give her more drugs, but they’ve stopped telling us what they’re pumping into her. I write this and everything else in my notebook. At first, these were notes for a poem, but now, it is record just in case.
At 6:30 p.m., her delirium breaks. “I need to push!” she yells.
At 7:36 p.m., I cry more than anyone else even Gwendolyn, my healthy daughter.
Seth Kristalyn holds an MA in English from Kansas State University. His work has never been published. He lives in southwestern Kansas where he works as an English instructor.