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After Hours

Jennifer Osmond, from Badger, Newfoundland, currently lives in Clarenville, Newfoundland, where she is raising her three beautiful daughters with her husband of nearly 12 years. When she learned about a writing contest involving birth stories, she knew exactly what story she could contribute. The pregnancy with her second child highlights the challenges of smalltown hospitals where there are only a handful of OBGYN’s on staff. After hours is a whole other ballgame to be won.

The summer air was cool, the heat from the day drifting away as the moon took over from the sun in the sky. The night was black, the darkness pierced by the headlights of a red 2002 Subaru that hurtled down the highway, breaching the speed limit.

Behind the wheel, white knuckled, and still half asleep from being awoken from a post-night-shift nap, Andrew drove on. Beside him, Jennifer's rounded belly betrayed the reason for their haste. She was five days past her due date, and had just finished putting her nearly three-year-old daughter to bed a mere hour before—her daughter’s last night as an only child. Jennifer realized the significance of that statement in the back of her mind, but it was almost too good to be true that this day was finally here. Another tightening had her squeezing her eyes shut and she practiced the breathing exercises taught to her from the birthing classes three years ago. Looking out the window as the pain finally ceased, she hoped nothing, like a moose, would delay them getting to the hospital. She wanted no surprises.

What felt like ages later, Andrew finally dropped Jennifer off at the doors to the hospital and went in search of a parking space. It should have been simple considering it was around 8:30 p.m.; after-hours was prime parking time with so many coveted spots available. Slamming her door and wincing at the noise that broke the stillness, Jennifer took a steadying breath.

At first, she foolishly tried the main doors. Locked. Right. It’s after hours, she thought. She headed to the emergency entrance, and after a slight pause to lean against the building and sway, thanks to a contraction, she finally made it to an open door. Entering under the fluorescent glare, she shuffled to the emergency reception. The waiting room had a few people scattered about, sitting in utter boredom for their name to be called. Luckily, Jennifer only needed to register. Then she was supposed to head straight upstairs to the maternity ward. Hopefully, the doctor was in.

So began the administrative process: information was sought and given for verification: name, date of birth, current address. Somewhere after her name but before her address, another contraction struck. Clutching the counter and swaying her hips, Jennifer breathed in quick breaths. As soon as it was over, she looked up with a grimace on her face.

"I feel like I need to push," breathed Jennifer. The room was silent, the occasional murmurs she’d heard moments before halting abruptly.

The emergency room clerk stared back, eyes wide and mouth slightly parted. The hum of the vending machine provided a steady drone. Somebody coughed. Looking around briefly as if searching for the answer or divine intervention, the clerk reached over and lifted the receiver of the phone. After a brief pause she began muttering quickly to the other side. Andrew finally returned, touching Jennifer's back in a brief caress before immediately departing in search of a wheelchair. He returned to the desk moments later, but Jennifer was long gone. He looked around frantically, gripping the handles of the wheelchair tightly. Without missing a beat, every head in the waiting room lifted a hand and pointed toward the elevator. Andrew quickly followed their direction.

It felt like she was sitting on a ball. This was happening too fast! Jennifer had been pacing the elevator like a caged animal, waiting for Andrew to arrive, putting her arm through the door every time it started to close. She wanted a comfortable birth, not one in this elevator, thank you very much! Thankfully he made it before she had to decide. "I'm not that big!" said Jennifer sharply when he came around the corner pushing his prize. It was double wide, a black behemoth. Jennifer eyed it with distaste. But having waddled through the hospital in discomfort this far, Jennifer knew she wouldn't make it upstairs without it. With a grimace, she eased herself down. You could fit two of her on this thing, she thought to herself. The doors closed unencumbered.

Arriving on the fourth floor, Andrew wheeled a huffing and puffing Jennifer to the nurses’ station. There was barely a moment between the contractions now. Just as the crescendo was departing, another would leap up in its wake. The nurse immediately rose from inside her fortress. She attempted to ask Jennifer questions, but Jennifer was too far gone, unable to get a word or two out before another contraction would knock her down, sweeping away the rest of her words.

"Straight to the case room!" the nurse declared, pivoting herself out from behind her desk and setting off briskly down the hallway.

Rolling along like a whirlwind of motion, they passed rooms both empty and occupied. In most of the rooms, sweet, sleeping babies were cradled by their exhausted mothers. Heads turned and watched the trio’s progress until they went through the double doors down to the birthing wing. They swept through the caseroom door. Finally, they were where they were meant to be! Jennifer was afraid to stand. If she stood now, she was afraid the baby would fall out. No passing go, no collecting $200! Andrew must have sensed her dilemma. Taking her by both hands, he pulled her up to stand. But it was too late--sploosh! Everything let go like a geyser, amniotic fluid splashing all over the black behemoth wheelchair. This wasn't how Jennifer expected it to go. Where were the hours walking the corridors? It wasn't nearly this fast with her first. This time was so different. Jennifer's mind was swimming.

Finally ensconced on the hospital bed, time slowed for a brief moment. The partner to the nurse was still MIA; the doctor had yet to show his face.They wished they were home, comfortable in their own bed. The second nurse finally arrived at a run; she had been busy with another patient. Everything resumed its blur of motion and information. The cervix was checked. The head was right there! This baby didn't want to wait for anybody.

The new nurse came up beside Jennifer with the fetal monitor while the first nurse puttered, getting things ready for when the doctor arrived. Squirting the cold gel onto Jennifer's belly, she started moving the monitor around to check on the baby, pushing the fetal monitor all around. Only static sounded in the room.

But there was no heartbeat.

The nurses shared a glance. It should have been easy to find the heartbeat of a term baby. It should have been galloping along, ready to meet the world. The silence beared down, suffocating in its implications.

With a determined gleam in her eye, the first nurse, the one who greeted us so readily, donned some gloves and gave a nod. This baby had to come now. There was no time to wait for the doctor to arrive. Jennifer was relieved to finally be allowed to push. It almost felt good.

The head popped out easily. So much hair! Then Jennifer was told not to push. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck and was too short to fit around its head. Lifting the cord as much as she safely could, the nurse handed Andrew the scissors first, giving him a gentle nudge, and he cut the cord

Like a little fish swimming in the water, the rest of the baby flowed out. She was out. A girl! The euphoria was short lived, though. There was no cry to herald the new life. No balling fists in birthing fury. She was laying limp in the nurse’s hands, suspended in a moment that would be burned forever into Jennifer's mind. Those tiny toes and little fingers, suspended in midair. Everyone, hyper-focused on the tiny being, the lifeless body.

The ticking of the clock sounded louder and louder in Jennifer’s ears. Tick. Tock.

The nurse glided across the room to the warming bed, placing the lifeless bundle down. No one dared breathe.

The first nurse, so in control from the moment she was accosted by a frantic pair of soon-to-be parents, lifted the receiver attached to the wall, intending to call a “code pink.” The silence cut through the air. Jennifer knew something was wrong, but no one would come out and say it. Where was the cry? It felt as if everyone in the room stopped breathing along with her baby. The air became stale, the room was silent, the light was too bright.

And then … a tiny cough broke through the air. Then a piercing cry shattered the silence. All eyes were upon the little bundle whose voice was now wailing.

The little bundle, tiny and pink, was placed in Jennifer’s arms at long last. A feeling of peacefulness flooded her. The nurses began puttering as the new family was acquainted. This night could have ended so differently. Thank God it did not.

Suddenly, the door to the room swung open and a man rushed in, abruptly interrupting the calm. The doctor surveyed the scene.

"I guess I owe the nurses another pizza," he said casually. Nobody spoke, as if in disbelief. With a grin, Jennifer gazed at her sleeping babe. The doctor wasn't needed after all.

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