Eve of the Eleventh Hour

The first thing to know about Labour & Delivery is that there is no guarantee of when a child will be born.

When I step onto the ward for my first L&D observership, I am greeted by the sounds of howling mothers and mewling infants. Twenty minutes early and two births in process. Beginner’s luck, it would seem. I rush to switch from street clothes to scrubs.

Ten minutes later and it’s ten minutes too late.

I pass the next five hours of my six-hour shift with nary a broken water to be found.

I see a generous spectrum of expecting mothers — premarital teens and older career women; healthy hefty bellies and spontaneous pre-term terminations. The clerk, who is a casual acquaintance, takes pity on me early on. We chat about class reputations, naughty acronyms for sexual histories, the constant ritual of being pimped on rounds, and the adventures of living out of a suitcase. It’s not what I’m there for, but I’m happy to be learning from a familiar face.

Ten o’clock arrives. One hour remaining and I have yet to see a single birth.

“It’s not looking good,” the clerk says.

“Thanks,” I reply. I wonder if the next woman will go into labour at 10:59pm.

___

By 10:45pm, two women have agreed to have Caesarian sections. I can’t help but laugh. The clerk and I decide to share: one life per learner.

___

The whole delivery is over in less than twenty minutes.

The surgical staff is quick. Scalpel flies through slips of skin fat fascia fat fascia. Once they breach the high-pressure uterus, there’s blood. Lots of blood. No one panics.

Hands plunge past the gaping jaw of a retractor, grasping for Baby in an abyss of muscle and endometrium. Once Baby’s head is found, it is pulled out like a noiseless, grey rag doll. One, two, three sturdy tugs and Baby is free. The attending prods lovingly and a cry bursts from brand new lungs.

It’s a girl.

The OR nurse hands me something and I take it in a stupor, deaf to her instructions. It’s only after I pass it off to the circulating nurse that I realize it’s an infant’s hat, small and striped with blue and pink and meant for me to give to the newly arrived paediatric team that crowds around the incubator. Their soft cooing and swaddling is an odd contrast against the hasty movements of the surgical team just feet away. The hat is so tiny that I don’t recognize it until too late, and I then realize the honour that the nurse had bestowed on me and that I had unwittingly passed on.

Mum is hidden from view, but I make eye contact with Dad at the opposite end of the table. He holds Baby in the stiff, careful embrace of a first-time father. Our smiles scrunch up our surgical masks.

Dad hums quietly to Mum and to Baby, who miaows in his arms. On the other side of the surgical drape, Mum’s slashed uterus is stitched back together with thick sutures and strong fingers. By midnight, the OR is empty: the surgical staff already stained in the iodine of the next case, the new parents huddling around Baby in their private room.

I don’t know what they name her, and so my mind calls her Eve, first girl, last gift before morning.

- Stefania S. (Queen's University)