NO, THE GIRL says, she will not wear the fetal monitoring belt. Her birth plan says no to fetal monitoring.
These girls with their birth plans, thinks Franckline, as if much of anything about a birth can be planned. She thinks
The birth plan, emerging from the packed duffel, is several pages long, many sections, the points single-spaced. There is some sort of long prologue. Lore hands it to Franckline already turned to the correct passage on page 2:
“And no IV,” Lore Tannenbaum adds. They are the same height, the two women: one ample and softly built, the other more slender and taut, and pregnant as well, but not showing yet, not speaking of it — her anxious secret alone.
Well, you see, explains Franckline, the hospital requires fetal monitoring, could get sued for not using the monitor … However, she goes through the play-acting of leaving the labor room to consult with the charge nurse, Marina. Marina returns with her, insists absolutely: legalities, state regulations, etc.
“But Dr. Elspeth-Chang …”
Dr. Elspeth-Chang was mistaken, says Marina. Most likely the doctor meant to say that Lore did not have to wear the monitoring belt
“But no IV,” agrees Franckline, once Marina is gone, resisting the temptation — the responsibility? — to offer the arguments in favor of it: in an emergency, precious time could be wasted inserting the IV; if Lore changes her mind later (perhaps she will ask for an epidural, even though page 3 of her birth plan says
It is twenty minutes into her hospital stay, thinks Lore, and already she is being thwarted, already opposed and harassed, by these people who want pliancy and regularity, want you to do what is easiest for them rather than what is most sensible and natural. They make you sign forms (
“Let’s get you comfortable,” says the quiet-voiced nurse, Franckline — her accent is of the French-speaking islands, Haiti, maybe, or Guadeloupe — as she helps her onto the hospital bed. A cross swings from a chain around her neck. “You’re lucky,” she told Lore as soon as she was checked in. “It’s very slow on the ward this morning. We can give you one of the private rooms — room 7. There’s a large window looking out onto Sixth Avenue.” On the deep window ledge, set back, is a potted hibiscus, its leaves a delicate pink with a deeper flame at the center. Would Lore like the bed angled this way or this way? the nurse asks. Up a bit or down?
“Down,” says Lore.
In the taxi Lore had held her phone in her palm and flipped the cover up and down, up and down. Not calling Diana or Marjorie, who had promised to get her to the hospital when the time came, to stay with her through the entire thing. Her bag had long been packed; it took her only minutes to leave once she decided to go. She flipped up the phone cover, dialed four digits, pressed END. The cab drove too quickly through the streets, the cabbie’s radio too loud with some sort of shrill, sinuous music. Lore dialed a different number — her old number, which was Julia and Asa’s now — dialed even as she knew she would not let the call ring through. A heat rose in her chest; her finger moved through the familiar sequence. It was shortly after eight. Asa, large and sloppy in the narrow pass-through kitchen, would be eating his cereal standing up; Julia would be still in bed, trying to coax herself out of her morning torpor. Imagine: Asa picking up the phone, inquiring “Hello?” in his rich voice, and Lore believing that he could hear in her silence the pains moving through her body, could hear it was time.
She did not want him to come. Never, never. But that he should be rising for his day, comfortable, while she would soon be twisting in pain on a hospital bed … that Julia should yawn and stretch and doze again …
Imagine: Julia in the bedroom, listening, suspecting, knowing that what she’d set in motion had reached its end point in this child.
Lore stopped dialing, stared out the window at the streets racing by: people with takeout coffee in gloved hands, murky morning light against the canopies of apartment buildings. Green wreaths with red baubles in storefronts, the holiday coming soon. The radio, last night, had said something about snow. Lore began picking out Diana’s number once more. Then, interrupting herself, leaning forward toward the cabbie — it was more like sliding her whole body sideways across the seat and then pitching herself in his direction — she told him to slow down or she would have the baby right there in the back. The taxi slowed for a minute or two, then picked up speed again. The music shrilled and shrilled until Lore said, in a voice not to be argued with, “Turn the damn radio off.”
Why should she call Diana, why should Diana or Marjorie come? She did not know either of them that well. Diana, who taught third grade, and Marjorie, one of the kindergarten aides, had swooped in when Lore announced her pregnancy, very late, at twenty-one weeks, when the visible signs became unmistakable and arrangements had to be made for her leave. She had always been cordial with all of her colleagues but close to none. Her life, for years, had been Asa and Julia. Diana and Marjorie: their outrage on her behalf, their advice, their kale, their jargon (“heroic,” “survivor”). How Lore paced her apartment after their visits, guiltily stamping out their condescension and their pity.
“Would you like some water?” asks Franckline.
Lore shakes her head. A girl, yes, a girl, thinks Franckline, but there is something elderly about her as well, something weary. Not the usual weariness Franckline sees, that of a woman who has been up all night and is shaky and frightened, perhaps even her second or third time, but something deeper, something etched into the face — into the young skin that is just beginning to get creases around the eyes and lips — something that goes back a long time. A story I will never fully hear, Franckline thinks, even if she offers bits of it to me. For we only have a matter of hours, and it’s the body that concerns us here today, what it needs, what it has no choice but to do. Will Lore want to be touched or not touched, will she want kindness or to be ordered about? Will she let me help her or will she turn her face away as she does now? Will she spend all her time turning away?
The line on the monitor jumps and jags, the speaker reveals the rapid