Rebecca and I spent the last six hours between two rooms, back and forth like tennis balls in a frantic game of life and death. We went to wherever we were most needed, providing comfort, hoping somehow to ease the transitions for our two dear friends. I was in Melissa’s room at the end of the hall, trying to make childbirth more bearable when Thomas, our appointed messenger, popped his head through the door, mouthing the words, “Sammi, it’s time.” Rebecca signaled me to go ahead, knowing I wanted to say goodbye to Julie, which she herself had done only minutes before.
I turned and hurried down the corridor to Julie’s room; her family and friends gathered round her bed. I joined the circle, standing between Thomas and my boyfriend, Todd, holding hands as we sang some of Julie’s favorite songs, wishing to usher in a joyful and serene journey home. I stood close by her side, and brushed the hair from her forehead, running my finger lightly over her cheek and the red birthmark she had tried so many years to hide. She had scoffed when we said that it looked like a heart because she was so full of love. The lids of her eyes were at half-mast, creating a fixed, hollow gaze that belied the bounty of life they once contained. Suddenly Julie lifted both arms toward heaven, a trace of a smile gracing her barely visible lips. I bent down close to her, hoping to hear perhaps the most significant words she would ever utter. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispered to me on that late golden August afternoon.
There was a sudden tap on Julie’s door. Her mother answered it, and then was shortly by my side, reporting that Rebecca was requesting my immediate assistance. I quietly took leave and hauled ass back down the hall. When I entered the room, Melissa was straining to lift her head. A mass of red curls were matted against her face and, without notice, she released a nail-biting scream. I was amazed that Melissa had the guts to pursue natural childbirth and stood aghast as her pain became unbearable. She writhed in agony, perspiration clinging to every available inch of skin, a look of terror in her eyes.
“Melissa, please focus on your breathing. The way you learned in class. Come on, you can do it,” I said, trying to mimic the techniques we had been taught. But it wasn’t working, for I failed to remember what we had spent all those weeks learning. Some coach I turned out to be.
The veins in her neck pulsated; her eyes bulged in their sockets. Something isn’t right. This can’t be normal. Her pale, bloated belly was stretched to its limit. The midwife peered down between her legs. “The baby’s crowning,” she said calmly. “Stay close by, assist with her positioning, remind her to breathe from the abdomen.” Concentration was challenging, but I stepped up to the plate, forcing my mind to clear. Finally, the knowledge I had gleaned from our birthing classes flooded back. Stooping forward, I held her hand, whispered soothing words and helped to guide her movements. The midwife seemed in total control, doing what she had done so expertly a hundred times before. I had promised my dear friend that I would be there for her, and I was trying tenaciously to uphold our pact.
Melissa let forth with a bellow, pushing so hard I thought her head might pop off. It was then that I noticed within me a growing tide of panic, as I witnessed a pinkish fluid escaping from between her legs. The midwife directed her every move, telling her when to push, which Melissa proceeded to do with all the strength that remained. Her head thrashed to and fro as though on a fulcrum, and with teeth clenched, she let forth with one final push, squeezing my hand, hanging on for dear life. Melissa then fell back against the raised half of the bed, limper than a dishrag, the color of her face a horrid reddish-purple.
The room was filled with a heavy silence as the midwife gently pulled the baby from her womb, holding the lifeless form in her arms. It was in that horrible, frozen moment, in the space between the still warm baby’s entry into this world and her mother’s recognition that her dear Sarah may have been born dead, that I, too, ceased to breathe. Thomas was suddenly tapping on the door, which served to knock us into action, and in an instant the midwife was all over the tiny girl. Thomas and Rebecca fought to keep Melissa calm, but were hard-pressed to contain her, as she cried out repeatedly for Sarah. As Melissa tried to get to her baby, the midwife worked desperately to clear her throat of mucus, breathing into her nose and mouth, pressing gently on her frail chest. Thomas was losing his grip, causing Rebecca to become hysterical right along with Melissa.
It was during this heightened state of frenzy that the baby let loose with the largest wail I had ever heard. A large, life-grabbing, beautiful wail. All the craziness stopped in that instant, as Thomas let go of his ward, and we rushed to the infant’s side. We peered down at the petite fighter, the survivor of one hell of a mighty birth. The midwife proceeded to clean her and check her vitals, then placed Sarah in her mother’s welcoming arms. “Oh, my gosh. She has a birthmark on her cheek, and it’s shaped like a heart,” Melissa said.
No one moved, as one thought invaded our minds. We looked over at Thomas. “Julie just passed,” he said hesitantly. “Her family asked that I tell you right away.” So Julie was gone, gone forever from our lives. Or was she? I ran my finger like a feather over Sarah’s birthmark. “She’s got this because she’s so full of love,” I said.