Claire was startled awake by a swift kick in her belly followed by a gushing of water between her legs. She gasped and leapt from the bed as more fluid trickled to the floor.
He rolled onto his back and mumbled, going back to sleep.
He sat straight up, disoriented, looking around at the unfamiliar surroundings. When the fuzz had cleared, he saw his girlfriend wife standing with bowed legs holding her white nightgown up and a grimace of pain on her face.
Claire could tell the exact second that Jamie finally pieced it all together.
He bounded from the bed and shouted, “Christ, Claire! Is it time?!”
She panted, scared out of her mind, and nodded as a pain like nothing she’d ever felt before shot from her abdomen, into her back and down into her thighs.
“What do I do?! Isn’t it too early?” He grabbed his phone and began to dial his mam.
“I don’t know! I’m not due for another month. You don’t think we’re going to lose her do you?” Claire was clearly headed for a panic attack and she tried to get her breathing under control and took several deep breaths.
“Mam! It’s Claire. She’s...I dunno...I think her water broke!”
Claire listened to the one sided conversation as a distraction while she breathed through another pain.
“No, it’s clear. I dinnae see any red or pink.”
Claire looked at her thighs (or what she could see beyond her tremendous belly) and didn’t see any blood. That was a relief, at least. She and Jamie had signed up for childbirth classes, but wanted to wait until after graduation to attend, given that their evenings were consumed with studying and homework. Now, it was too late. They would be going into this blind.
And she began to panic again. She had NO idea how to do this!
Tears sprang to her eyes as she heard Jamie hang up and then dial the hospital to alert them that they were on their way. She heard the exchange of various questions asked and answered (when is she due, how far apart are her pains, is she bleeding, do not wait...come immediately).
She heard a car pull up to the door of the cottage and Brian and Ellen rushed in carrying old towels and a change of clothes for Claire. Brian took Jamie, who reluctantly left Claire’s side, out to the car, where they prepared the back seat for Claire to sit with a layer of old blankets. Ellen had grabbed their suitcase from its place by the door, where it had sat for several months in preparation for this day.
Claire stood as Ellen took over and helped her strip off her sodden nightgown and clean up a bit before hurriedly putting on clean clothes. Ellen tossed a wad of old towels on the wood floor where the fluid stood in a puddle and quickly mopped up what she could then tossed it all in the bathtub to be dealt with later.
Ellen soothed Claire’s nerves as best she could as she got in the car, where Jamie and Brian waited. Claire grabbed hold of Ellen’s hand and held tightly as Ellen called Jenny and Willie to alert them to what was happening. Claire whimpered as another pain hit her and Jamie turned around in the front seat, worry painted all over his face. She saw Brian’s eyes frequently shift to the back seat in the rear view mirror and felt the car shift as Brian pressed down on the accelerator. Claire knew they were speeding and was glad of it.
Before she was even aware of it, they pulled into the hospital A&E, where Claire was whisked away to the maternity ward and admitted in a flurry of activity. Jamie was left to sort out the admitting paperwork with his parents.
A kindly nurse took her arm and began to hook her up to a blood pressure cuff and a pulse oximeter.
“Hello, dear. I’m Nurse Fitzgibbons. Ye can call me Mrs. Fitz. I’ll be taking care of ye today. What is yer name, then?”
“Claire Beauchamp. Oh...wait. That’s Claire Fraser now, I suppose.”
Mrs. Fitz’s eyebrow raised slightly and typed in the information. In her years of experience in labor and delivery she had seen it all. Not much surprised her anymore.
“And how old are ye?”
“Is this yer first birth, then, dear?”
“Yes. We were supposed to begin our childbirth classes next week, so I don’t know anything about all this, I’m afraid.”
“Och now, don’t ye worry about that dearie. We’ll see ye through this just fine, ye ken? How far along are ye?”
“Alright. We’ll get ye set up and comfortable, then we’ll find Da and get him in here. Did ye have anyone else in mind tae be in with you during the birth? Like yer Mam, perhaps?”
Claire, for the first time, missed her mother more than words can ever express. She burst into tears. “Noooo…”
Mrs. Fitz turned to her and scooped her up into a motherly hug. “There, there, dear. Ye’ll be in good hands here.” She reached for a tissue in the nearby box and wiped away Claire’s tears. “Dinnae worry yer heid about anything. I’ll be here tae walk ye through everything. Women have been giving birth since time began. Ye can do this!”
Claire nodded and wiped another trickle coming down her cheek with the tissue Mrs. Fitz handed her. As her nurse continued to hook her up to various pieces of equipment and take note of her vitals, Claire gritted as another pain hit her.
“Ah. I see ye are having quite a time wi’ that one, eh?”
Claire could do little but nod.
“Why don’t we get ye out of yer clothes and into a hospital gown, and we’ll get the doctor in here to check ye. Then we’ll have a better idea of where ye stand.”
Matter of factly, Mrs. Fitz helped Claire change out of her clothes and took all her valuables, placing them in a bag provided by the hospital. “I’ll just be popping out tae get the doctor, then. If ye need anything, ye just hit that button by yer side.”
Claire leaned back on the bed and concentrated on just breathing in and out with the pains. She hadn’t learned anything about lamaze breathing or anything of the sort, so she just simply worked on trying to relax her tensed up muscles.
Just as a contraction passed, there was a soft knock on the door and Jamie walked in, followed by Brian and Ellen. They all had identification badges.
Jamie walked around to the far side of the bed and took Claire’s hand, looking pale and worried. He brushed back a stray hair behind her ear.
Ellen rubbed her arm, from the opposite side of the bed. “How are ye feeling, love? Can I get ye anything? Maybe help ye put yer hair up?”
Claire nodded at that. Ellen busied herself with the task and did her best to distract the young couple with good-natured chatter.
12 hours later
“Hello, Henry, this is Brian. I just wanted tae phone ye tae say that Claire is in hospital. Her water broke this morning but she’s having some trouble. Ellen asked that I phone ye and, well.. Christ, man, I’m no’ asking. I’m tellin’ ye, come tae the hospital.”
There was silence on the line for a minute. Brian thought he’d hung up.
Finally, he heard, “Will she be alright?”
“The doctor didnae tell the kids, but he talked frankly to Ellen and me. He’s afraid she’s fading too quickly and feels like surgery might be necessary.”
“She’s been asking fer her mam.”
Brian heard what might have been a stifled sob on the other end.
“Please, Henry. Yer daughter needs ye both.”
“We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Claire drifted in and out of oblivion. She heard sounds of activity around her, but couldn’t focus on what they were. She was racked with pain after pain. She could hear Jamie beg her tearfully to push just once more. She could voices that morphed from Ellen, to Julia, to Mrs. Fitz. But Mum wasn’t there, so she must be dreaming.
Suddenly she felt another rush of pain and pressure and she pushed with all she had left, feeling a gush between her numbed, shaking legs.
She heard a small, thready cry, amidst the beeping and screeching of alarms.
Jamie’s voice in her ear saying, “She’s here!” was the last thing she heard before she succumbed to the darkness.