A DIY Foosball game

Every year in my family, we have a tradition we stick to (and have for over 30 years). It's to draw a name at Thanksgiving and you make a gift for that name. On Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day as it's moved to now), we present our handmade gifts. It started out with four family members and grew to include spouses, and a couple years back the kids were old enough to join in, so now there's ten of us. It's probably the most exciting part for our family - to see what the others have crafted and created with their own hands. 

Over the years, there have been so many unique handmade gifts -- housecoats, chess boards with golf players for pieces, under the bed storage units, wedding scrapbooks, string art designs and so much more. 
This year, I drew my youngest's name and struggled with what to make him that
A) he wouldn't see me creating. It is supposed to remain a secret until the big reveal and
B) something that was sturdy and can withstand a tough playing ten year old and
C) wouldn't take up too make valuable play space in his room and
D) was something I could make within my limits and knowledge and budget. 

I scoured the internet, hunting for ideas and kept coming back to a miniature foosball game. Most if not all were made out of a shoebox, and would take ten minutes to create. That wasn't going to work. I wanted something that would withstand a play, and maybe even last a few years. I continued searching. Nothing. Sigh. 

Well, I'm not one to give up. I'll create my own, and use my limited math skills and construct the thing from scratch. Since there was nothing readily available, I jotted down notes and took pictures to share with you, if you are deciding to make your own table top Foosball Soccer game. 

Here's what my finished product looked like: 

 As best as I can recall, this is my supply list: 
- 3/4" thick board 4 inches wide of about 8 feet long. 
- 4 x 1/4" dowels of 4 foot lengths
- 1 x 1" dowel (I needed about 16" worth)
- 1 sheet of 1/4" thick particle board - for the base. I used something similar to what goes on the back of bookshelves but a tad thicker
- 26 clothespins
- 4 corks 
- carpenters glue
- paint
- nails
- varnish
- saws/drills/hammers/etc

I started out simply enough. I took my clothespins apart and glued the fronts together to make miniature men. I made extra (thank goodness, as two snapped when I drilled the holes for the dowels. Start small and change out your drill bit, working your way up to 1/4". Too big, too fast and heads will fly. LMAO!) I'd recommend saving the painting until the drilling is complete. ;) Lesson learned for me.

Then came the fun part. I'm not a math person by any stretch, but I drew out and mapped the layout so I'd know how much wood I needed, based on the size of the men and the distance apart they needed to be. They could be spaced even an inch further apart which would add to the overall length, but for mine, it worked out okay even if they men have potential to hit each other on occasion. Like I said, there were no drawings/diagrams for me to base a smaller version on.

 And then I got to put to use my woodworking skills. I used a hacksaw on the dowels, cutting the 1/4" ones to 22" long, and the 1" thick one into 2" long pieces. I drilled out a 1/4" thick hole down the centre of each thick dowel, but did NOT go through (this will become the handle).
Using a saw, I cut the poplar board into 2 x 28" lengths, and 2 x 12.5" lengths (so the overall width would be 14".) I will leave out the part that my board was warped and as such, did not go neatly together like it should have. Lesson learned -- buy perfectly straight boards. Apparently, these are known for warping. Anyhow, some adjustments were made, and I got everything hammered together and it laid flat. Good enough for me. :)
I cut the bottom board into a 28" by 14" piece and nailed it on. Perfecto!!

Then came more drilling. I drilled eight 9/32" holes along the length 2" from the bottom. Anyone who has ever shopped in the wood department knows a true 1x4, is not actually 1" x 4". ;) The holes are just large enough for the 1/4" dowels to go through and turn/twist with ease, and the height is perfect so the little men don't scrape the bottom and their heads are barely visible over the top of the side boards. The cork pieces also got a 1/4" hole through the centre -- these will become the bumpers to stop the dowels from going to far in/out.

With everything flat and drilled, I gave it a nice sanding to smooth the sides and the ends of the dowels. Time to paint. I grabbed a couple of 'sample sized' paint containers and had them tinted to the colour I needed, and used that. For the bottom, it took about 3 coats to get a nice even coverage and it took at least that to cover the sides in a rich brown. I painted on the white goalie lines before finishing with multiple coats of varnish. It's so shiny!!

Working on the men was by far one of my favourites, and easiest of the entire project. I had lots of acrylic paint on hand, and painted all 26 men, and painted the handles red & blue to match the players, and the bumpers black. 

Binder clips work awesome to hold them while they dry. ;) After all men were painted, each got a number on his back before the varnish went on and were tested to make sure the dowel fit through when everything dried. 

With everything painted and varnished, it was assembly day. Dun-dun-dun!! They all fit - the dowels through the holes, the bumpers on the end, the men through the middle. :) Happy dance! I glued each piece on, spacing them according to my measurements. 

My oldest came into the room and we tested it out with a little ball. It works well and the players are good kickers. Now to wait until Christmas Day to reveal my project. Can't wait to see his little face. I hope he likes it. I'll keep you posted. 

If you make your own based off of this, I'd LOVE to know of any adjustments you made. 

November - a month in review

Wow - November flew by in a flash. Already December is knocking on the door, good thing I am starting to prepare for it. Are you? Our tree is up, the cards are signed (and mostly mailed) and the little people (nieces, nephews, kids) are all purchased and wrapped. Just a few adult gifts to purchase remain. Hopefully, I'll have time to do some Christmas baking, and if not, that's what the bakery is for, am I right?
What are you plans for Christmas? Do you have any traditions?

So what have I been up to professionally?
In October I wrote a short 45K novel, featuring Jasper and Jade (they've had a couple of name changes but these names are much more fitting to the characters) a Bohemian and a straight laced lady. This is the first book of a brand new series, affectionately titled the Westside Series, about a group of servers searching for love.

For the month of November, I set daily word goals as part of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) and wrote the second book in the series. It's not finished yet, as I still need to wrap up the ending. But it's an amazing love story, and won't be quite what you think. ;) You'll see. The story revolves around one of Jade's co-workers named Evanora, and her journey to love and acceptance. My plan is to finish it up before Christmas so it can hit beta readers and my critique partner in the new year. If all goes well, I want to release the entire series before the end of 2018. Wish me luck.  

Interested in being one of the first to see sneak peeks, promos, blurbs and more? Join my special group where all the news about this series will release FIRST. :)  You won't want to miss it. 

And personally, in the month of November, I got some great news as far as my youngest son's health, after a nightmare-ish health scare. Had to deal with a bully who attacked my oldest son at school, and ended the month with bad news about another family member. That's my three, right?  My anxiety has reached epic levels and I'm not sleeping much. Really, some good news would be most welcome and that's my Christmas wish - health and happiness for everyone. 

Thanks for reading and see you in the brand new year! :)

Check it Out - #NewRelease from Emma Tharp

Keeping It Casual by Emma Tharp

Now available for free! 

Amazon UK: Amazon AU: Amazon US:

It started with a proposition: one night.

But Reid Livingston’s steel eyes, hot as hell body, and alpha male attitude tempt Mia to accept his second proposition. A no-strings attached relationship while he’s in town.

Mia thinks she can do it. She’s in no position to start a new relationship anyway. But when she starts seeing his sweet, thoughtful side, the one that takes care of her and starts healing her, she knows she’s falling for him. Who’s going to be there to pick her up when he leaves town - and her - behind?

Mia thought she was strong, thought she could keep it casual.
 Turns out she was wrong.

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Be sure to check out Emma's other books and enter the contest.

The Aurora Trilogy is complete

It started with a standalone (Duly Noted), a story about a girl-Aurora, her prescription drug addiction, and her fear of cars that gave her vehicular PTSD. I thought was over when I got to the final page. 
Turns out I was wrong. 
Something inside my brain was tickling that I hadn't told the whole story. In a whirlwind, That Summer fell out of me. It explained so much more, and delved even deeper into Aurora's PTSD but the end result was that it also made her question so much more. Hmm... what to do? 
It took a while longer, but finally the rest of the story came to light. And it made so much more sense. It explored her addictions, and her need for something stronger. Her new drug became something else she hadn't expected, but it turned her life around and gave her hope. The final pages of If You Say Yes showcase her true happiness, something she never expected to find. 
It took three stories spanning seven months to show her complete growth, from sassy and closed off to a woman who's ready to explore and finally live her life. 

Duly Noted (book 1)- regular price $3.99 

The blurb and the cast of characters await you here
You can also read the first chapter here

That Summer (book 2) - regular price $2.99

If You Say Yes (book 3) - regular price $3.99

Want to be the first to know about new stories, cover releases, teasers and more? 

Join my StarGazing Romantics Group on FB for exclusive content. 

If You Say Yes - Playlist

Seems to be a trend, where curious readers want to know what you were listening to when you wrote your book, maybe to get a general feel for the mood and tone.

For the last book in the Aurora MacIntyre Trilogy - If You Say Yes - there were plenty of romantic moments, and accordingly, a lot of music played into that.

Here's a brief list of some songs that captured certain scenes.
  1. James Arthur - Say You Won't Let Go
  2. Shawn Mendes - Mercy
  3. Taylor Swift - Love Song
  4. Christina Perri - Human
  5. Rachel Platten - Fight Song
  6. Ellie Goulding - Love Me Like You Do
  7. Ed Sheeran - Thinking Out Loud 
  8. Taylor Swift - Stay Stay Stay
  9. Evanescene - My Immortal 
  10. Shawn Mendes - Treat You Better
  11. Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
  12. Pink - Just Give Me  A Reason 
  13. Christina Perri - Arms
  14. Taylor Swift - All Too Well 
Any favourites in the list? 

October -- A Month in Review

It's November 1st, which for many authors (myself included) is the start to NaNoWriMo--National November Writing Month. The goal is to get 50,000 words down in one month. It's fun, exhausting but completely amazing. But that's for next month's blog post. ;)

October was a whirlwind month, mostly as a month spent behind the scenes.
Promo spots are booked for the upcoming release If You Say Yes, coming out Nov 17th. A few wonderful authors (Magali A. Frechette, Emma Tharp, Em Shotwell <- give them some love!) are going to help me out too. How great is this community of writers?

It took a bit of back and forth, but I got a cover designed nineteen days before release. So much for a slow cover release, eh? Oh well, lesson learned for the next one. But she did a great job, wouldn't you agree?

And speaking of next one, a short story turned novella turned short novel fell out of me in October. It's sitting around 50K (before any editing), and features a female lead more in line with me than any character I've written before. She's definitely no Aurora and light years away from Charlotte. The male lead? Totally different than Jack or Andrew, or Nate or Lucas, but just as lovable. I'm debating how to release this one, and when. I could post a chapter a week on my blog like the uber-talented Anya Rousselle, or release it around Valentine's Day as a quick read. Thoughts? Ideas?

Well, off to write the next story for NaNo. I'm going to try something new. Rather than a set or a trilogy, I'm writing a series. Each novel about a set of characters, with their own plot line(s), but each as a standalone. Should be fun. I hope. We'll see.

Thanks for reading.

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me...

I hate and fear thunderstorms. I have cleared a queen size bed when an unexpected bolt lit up the bedroom window and scared the tears right out of me. They cause me massive anxiety, especially the nighttime ones. Bad things happen in the dark and combined with thunder and lightning, it’s just plain nasty. I’m a total wreck when one wakes me up in the middle of the night.

I love my McD’s coffee. Probably makes me less of a Canadian to not covet the iconic Tim Horton’s – but seriously, I find their coffee disgusting. To each their own, right? If I meet someone there (at Timmy’s) I’ll have an ice cap or a French vanilla, or a tea, but never the coffee.  

I always wanted three children. Growing up, I had fantasies of three kids, a boy and then two girls—because a girl needs a sister, and the sisters need a big brother. Yep, too many teenage novels influenced that thought I’m sure. Although I never had my three kids, and I never had a daughter, I could never imagine my life without my two sons. Now I get to be Queen of the household and I don’t have to share the spotlight.

I hate the spotlight. Ironic, given my last statement. But I really do. I don’t share my birthday at work (and am grateful when they respect that!) and I don’t post about it on social media. I don’t like talking about myself in general as I find I’m not that exciting. But I have zero issue chatting you up about your life, and taking in all the juicy details. Where do you think I get my story ideas from? Just kidding. Or am I? LOL.

I read a lot of kids books. I have to in my job. Kids want recommendations, and although word of mouth works wonders, so does actually having read the book because then I can pick their brains and ask what they liked or didn’t like about a character or about a character’s decision. I love getting kids to talk about books. And I love getting them excited to want to read a book. Kids who read lots tend to be less troublesome. 😉 

I’m not a morning person. Like at all. I need to mentally prepare myself for waking up. My alarm goes off every nine minutes a few times each morning in hopes of rousing me to full awake. The weekend? Better be a damn good reason to wake me up, otherwise I’ll be sleeping in until about 8:30 or 9.

My favourite colours are blue and yellow. The blue I adore borders on the edges between blue and purple, a royal kind of colour. Majestic and loyal. The yellow that interests me is a bright and bold ray of sunshine. It’s happy and vivid, much like me when the sun’s out. 

I’m a sucker for a feel good romantic comedy. Something like The Princess Bride or While You Were Sleeping and I’m all in. If it makes me cry the ugly cry (thank you very much August and Hazel), then it’s a definite favourite. The Empire Strikes Back may not be considered a romance film, but there are a lot of romantic elements at play and the witty banter between Han and Leia – classic. 😊 

In my before children life, I was a nanny. Over the course of a few years, I nannied for three separate families, and one family captured my heart completely. Those three children are now grown up, but I think of them and refer to them as my ‘first kids’. We keep in touch (and just recently, the oldest announced her pregnancy - does that make me a grandma?), meet for lunches and they come for visits. Who knew when I landed that job, that they’d have such a wonderful impact on my life. Recently, I took a photo my first kids and my biological kids all posing together. It’s priceless to me.

Star Wars is better than Star Trek. There I said it and now I will run. LOL. Don’t get me wrong, ST:TNG was the best, and Captain Picard can kick Captain Kirk’s ass any day of the week, but Han Solo is wayyy better, IMHO. And only the original series of Star Wars (Episodes 4 - 6)... don't get me started on the new groupings, so many things were wrong if they followed canon, which they (Rian Johnson) most certainly did NOT! 

Did you learn anything new about me?

Half My Life Ago

Today -- October 5, 2017 -- marks a halfway point in my life - a line divided into the Before Hubs, and After Hubs. It's a tipping point for one day only.

As of today, I have been with my husband for half my life.


Who knew when I asked that cowboy, after a night of dancing at Esmeralda's to come to my birthday party at my parents, that it would turn into something more? If he never came to the bar that night, would the future have turned out the way it did? Would we ever have gotten together? It's fun to think about, although I'm glad it worked out the way it did.

Half my life ago, I was someone completely different. I was single, and working at the Science Centre, where my hourly earnings were $8 ish per hour (and I thought that was HUGE money). I lived on my own in a basement suite where rent was $300 a month. What?? I know right??

A few things have changed since that point.
I've had many jobs in many different fields (Customer Service Rep, nanny, teacher, doula, librarian, author)
I've lived in seven different residences, all within Edmonton.
I've had five different vehicles.
I've put on some weight (lol! we'll go with 'some')
We became parents six years after our wedding, and added to that 33 months later.
We've travelled to Mexico, Cuba, Vegas and Toronto, along with many trips to BC and within AB.

Looking back, we had a few tough spots. Job loss can test the strongest marriage, and infertility can strain it even more. But we survived. For now. ;) We have an almost teenage son and one waiting in the wings. Some say that's the truest test of a marriage, but we'll see.

I'm very interested in the next doubling of my life, when I'm a frail old grandma. It's interesting to me to think about how much my life will change in those years. I can't even imagine, just like when I was twenty-one. Who knew what that doubling of my life would bring.

Happy dating anniversay, Hubs!

Writing is therapy... I still remember...

It's funny how six years ago on this day -- Friday September 30 -- I can recall without fail exactly what happened. I'll save you the details, and give you the Cole's notes version.

I dropped my youngest off at preschool, and went to visit my BFF who was ill in the hospital. She and I had been friends for the better part of twenty-five years. I can still hear the rasp in her voice when she struggled to say hi, and can still remember her less than stellar colouring - she looked and sounded very sick. We visited for a bit and when I left, I told her how much I loved her and that I'll see her tomorrow.

As I left and stood at the entrance to the Grey Nuns Hospital, a horrible feeling settled over me that I could not shake. I prayed for my friend. I prayed for her family. I prayed for healing, although it felt like a tall request.

I picked up my youngest, and prayed some more. That feeling--that one like something isn't right in the universe--refused to leave. It was only later, I discovered (via FB, no less which I won't get into because that opens a whole other can of worms) that she had died not long after I left. There would be no tomorrow.

My best friend had died.

I still remember how we went out for dinner that night with my in-laws, as I didn't want to cancel or be the reason for canceling and have to explain to them how my world has unexpectedly shattered. She was gone and there was no warning, no lead up, nothing.

Did you know you can actually run out of tears? I found out that weekend. And the heartbreak... I hope none of you readers ever have to experience that.

She was my best friend. I didn't hang out with her husband, and rarely with her kids, it was always just us. Once a month, we'd have supper together, and commiserate and/or cheer the other on, like BFF do. We had always joked we'd be old bitties sitting in our rocking chair, yelling at kids to get off our lawn. But that changed. Everything changed that day. The one person who knew everything about me (good, bad and in between) was gone. I cried constantly, without warning or reason, and did for a few years.

It wasn't until I finally saw a therapist, after another nearly-as-upsetting event occurred, when she strongly suggested that I'd never dealt with Wendy's death. Crying everyday wasn't dealing with it. People saying "well at least you got to tell her you loved her" didn't help. I know in my heart they meant well, but it still stung. Burying my best friend on my birthday probably didn't help either. 

My therapist suggested I write about it. In all the detail I could handle.
My beautiful bestie Wendy
My beautiful bestie Wendy
So that's what I did. I channeled her essence into one of my favourite characters, and wrote and wrote, pouring out my heart and soul. And something amazing happened. The tears that came daily, stopped showing up. My heart felt a little lighter, and I could recall things without the need of nearby tissues. The writing had helped.

And when people who know me read that character, I think they knew. She was an amazing being - so bubbly, and her star shone so brightly, it's a crime she's not here anymore. There was just something about her that made others smile and feel comfortable in her presence, for I was not her only best friend. She had many.

So if you're in a funk, I suggest you write about whatever is bugging you. Of course, you don't have to turn it into a character and write a book (something my therapist was a little surprised I did.) But writing is therapy. It's healing. And it allows you to pour out all your fears, frustrations and moments into a safe place. My only regret is that I had done it sooner, but then, maybe that's just how it was supposed to be.

Thanks for reading.

If You Say Yes - Coming SOON!

Mark Your Calendar --- After some hesitation (all on my part), I have a release date set for If You Say Yes - the third and final novel of the Aurora MacIntyre trilogy, following Duly Noted and That Summer.

I'm so excited to share this with you. 

With the help of her best friend Lucas, and a summer of battling her anxieties, Aurora finally thought she'd found Happily Ever After.  She lost the love of her life in Nate once before due to her PTSD and painkiller addictions, and wasn't going to lose him again.

But was he ever really hers?

She thought being able to ride in a car after the accident that sacrificed her momma and sister would be enough for him.  She thought keeping her prescription drug use at the recommended dose would be enough for her.She thought juggling her romance with Nate and her friendship with his brother Lucas would be enough for everyone.

But in Aurora's world, Happily Ever After is just the beginning. 

If You Say Yes contains the final chapters of Aurora MacIntyre's trilogy. It's a New Adult, contemporary romance dealing with PTSD, and drug addiction.

Want to pre-order? 
Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble     iBooks      Smashwords 

Help Me Decide Please.

I'm struggling with the back cover copy of If You Say Yes - the third and final story in the Aurora MacIntyre trilogy.

I have two blurbs, but can't decide which is more appealing. Which one of these would get you to buy the book? Which is the most intriguing?

#1 This: 

Aurora never believed in happily ever afters until she reunited with Nate. Now she has her man back, a new best friend and her drug addiction is in recovery. Hell, even the PTSD has taken a backseat. Finally, everything is roses and sunshine.


Aurora has a little accident with big consequences. That shot of morphine she gets in the ER? It fans the embers of addiction and she easily gives into her cravings. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s totally in control and can stop whenever she wants to. It’s just not going to be anytime soon. Especially if Nate says yes and signs the contract for his dream opportunity. One that would fulfill a lifetime of wishes but would change their future dramatically. Plus, she’s not sure her PTSD has that loose of a hold of her.  


Nate’s younger brother, Lucas, refuses to stand by and watch Aurora fall apart. Again. As her best friend, he sees through the darkness and knows that the path to true happiness may not be the one she has her heart set on. But Aurora has to decide on what she honesty wants for her future, and if that future has Nate in it.

#2  That:  

Aurora has a few loves in her life; the boyfriend, the best friend and the drugs.

First, there’s Nate, the charming and sexy boyfriend, the one who started the healing, and encouraged her to fight the PTSD. Without him, she’d still be lingering in her own backyard, convinced she’ll never touch a car, let alone ride in one. Yet, because of his suggestions, she pushed herself and rode a great distance all to stop him from retiring his dream.

Secondly, there’s the best friend, Lucas. Playful and empathetic, he urges her to be more than she believes is possible, catches her when she falls and is her biggest cheerleader. Without his devotion, she’d never have conquered the long-distance trip and stopped Nate’s retirement in the first place, and in doing so, learned alternative methods to handle the addiction.  

Finally, the drugs. Their pull is intoxicating, but manageable. Over the summer, with Lucas’ guidance to win back Nate, she lessened the need for Percocet and reduced her Xanax consumption. Things are finally looking up.

But now? Nate’s got his hands on a dream contract, and he’s hiding things from her; an accident causes her cravings to spike and she fights with giving in; and her best friend? Well, he’s been the one constant. With everything flipped upside down, the only way to straighten out is to dig deep into her soul and figure out what matters most. 

For Readers of Ask Me Again - a BONUS Chapter

For readers of Ask Me Again... Here is a little bonus for you. 

The following is a removed chapter, as it slowed the pace of the novel and was deemed unnecessary by the powers that be. It flashed back in time to Sophie’s birth. It gives a deeper insight into the relationship of Charlotte and Jack, and also shows the motherly bond between Madre (aka Claire Harrison) and Charlotte. I hope you enjoy.
BTW – it’s raw and unedited so there will be a few mistakes.

Warning - it deals with traumatic birth. Read at your own discretion. 

Copyright 2015 -- H.M. Shander
No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopied, recorded or otherwise without express written permission from the author.  


Last June
Charlotte staggered down the hall, attempting to be as quiet as possible, to the spare bedroom where her guest slept. Knocking on the door, she softly called out, “Madre?”
The door opened a moment later. A sleepy-looking, middle-aged woman stood there rubbing her eyes. “Charlotte, you okay?”
She grabbed her swollen belly, and grimaced as a contraction held her focus. Shaking her head and fighting back tears, she reached for Madre’s hand, and placed it where her belly seemed tightest.
“Oh, honey,” Madre said, her eyes widening and a hint of smile forming. After the contraction passed, she asked, “Has this been going on long?”
Charlotte nodded, and closed her eyes. “A couple of hours.” Tremors built within and rippled out over her body. Focusing on Madre, she whispered, “I’m so scared.”
“It’s going to be okay. Woman have been having babies forever. We’ll get through it.” Madre looked deep into her eyes. “Does Jack know yet?”
She shook her head, the long braid swishly across her shoulders.
“Okay, you go wake him up, and I’ll get dressed.” Madre held her gaze a little longer and gave her a tender squeeze. “You’re going to meet your baby soon.”
Tiptoeing back down the hall, Charlotte stepped into the master bedroom, holding tightly to her belly, wondering how much worse the pain would get. She placed a shaking hand on Jack, and patted his arm. “Jack? Jack?”
He rolled over and blinked rapidly. “Charlie, what the hell?”
“It’s time.”
“Geezus, not now, Charlie. It’s three am.” Turning back onto his side, he pounded his pillow and readjusted the blankets.
“It’s baby time, Jack.” Her voice barely louder than a whisper.
He threw the covers off. “What? It can’t be. It’s too early.”
“Apparently, someone doesn’t think so.” She gripped her stomach as another contraction surrounded her. Breathing through it, she lowered herself to the edge of the bed, rocking gently until the peak of it subsided.
Jack shot out of bed. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since twelve-thirty.”
He glanced towards the alarm clock and reached for his Rolex. “How far apart are the contractions?”
She inhaled sharply and held her breath, counting to ten before she released. “Four minutes-ish?”
“Jesus.” The lamps flickered on, blinding Charlotte in the process. He padded rather loudly over to the master closet and threw open the doors. A hanger banged against the top of the closet. “Get dressed.”
A pair of sweatpants landed at her back and she reached for them, trying to manoeuvre into them. With the band of the pants underneath the girth of her belly, she waddled over to the closet and pulled on a sports bra and top after another contraction rocked her core.
A knock on their master bedroom door. “Honey, can I come in?”
Charlotte looked to Jack. He was suitably dressed in chinos and a button up, and was in the process of stuffing an overnight bag. He gave her a subtle nod. “Come in, Madre.”
There was a lot of pressure, a heaviness lower down and she felt like a bowling ball nestled between her legs. Rubbing her bump, she walked towards Madre. “I think we should get going.”
Madre reached out and held her hand. “Where’s your bag?”
“I haven’t packed one yet.”
Jack’s voice boomed through the quiet of the night. “Seriously? You haven’t packed one?”
She chanced a quick look at Jack. “The baby books recommended you wait until the 38th week.” Thankfully his anger faded, and with it, she found herself relaxing. Now wasn’t the time for another fight.  
“I’ll pack some basics, honey.”
“Use the navy bag in the bottom of the closet.” She slammed her eyes shut and braced herself against the doorframe.
Visions of a long uphill road flooded her brain, and she focused on walking the gravelly path. As she reached the peak, she released her breath and blinking, set her gaze on Madre.
“I’ll pack my toiletries.” She stepped into the bathroom and piled the necessities onto the clean, clutter-free counter. “Just add these to the bag please, Madre.”
The expansive bedroom stood between her and the hallway, an impossibly long distance to cross. Jack’s expanded bag sat on the messed up bed, while he stood in the closet getting clothing for her overnight bag. The sight of the two of them working together was unique. Usually Jack dismissed Madre, but in the moment, he seemed to be looking up to the older woman for support. He asked for suggestions on what to pack.
“There’s a bag on a hanger. It’s got a coming home outfit. Please don’t forget that.”
Madre walked out with the white bag and retrieved the items from the bathroom, packing it all into the navy overnighter. Her loving hand rested against her back and she turned to Jack. “Can you help her down to her car? We’re going to need to hurry.”
He crossed the room in a heartbeat, and held her hand. Instinctively, Charlotte leaned into her husband. As he wrapped his arm around her, another contraction began and the tears fell. The pressure and the pain raced for the top.
“Uh oh,” she said, gripping him tightly as a warm, wet feeling flooded her underpants. The pain changed at that moment, from an intense ache to the feeling of being ripped apart from knee to naval. “Jack!” she screamed as she folded in half, clenching her teeth and growling.
“No, Charlotte, breathe,” Madre whispered in her ear. “Breathe… Again… Don’t hold your breath.”
“It… hurts.” She grimaced as the hurt subsided. Slowly, the tendrils of pain retreated to a dark place, preparing for another advancement. Catching her breath, she said, “I think the baby kicked me in the bladder. I peed my pants with that contraction.”
“Gross, Charlie,” Jack said, and he stepped away from her.
“Your water broke, honey. It’s all good.”
A huge sob bubbled out of her. She was so unprepared. When they realised she should enroll in prenatal classes, they were all full. With nothing available, she watched a few videos on the internet and borrowed a few from the library, but it wasn’t enough. Clearly. She was frightened and worried and something deep in her soul told her this was going to be a rough night.
Madre, in a voice that had always calmed her, said, “Okay, first things first. Charlotte, go sit on the toilet and I’ll be there in a second. Jack, you grab a towel and a garbage bag to protect the car seat for the ride. I’ll clean her up and we’ll be downstairs in a couple of minutes. We may not have a lot of time.”

After a few more painful contractions, Charlotte leaned against her car, her arms braced against the roof, her head tucked in between as she fought to remember how to breath. Her belly relaxed for a breath, and Jack assisted her into the passenger seat of her car. If any vehicle was going to get dirty with birth, it would be hers. Arriving at the hospital many long, painful minutes later, he once again helped, handling her like fine china, a nice change from the ordinary.
Waddling slowly through the emergency department was a nightmare. All she wanted to do was stop and grunt, but the nurse wouldn’t have any of that. Instead, she got Charlotte a wheelchair to sit in but sitting on the bowling ball between her legs was far more uncomfortable than walking and she refused.
Contraction after contraction slammed over her, burying her in waves of pain and pressure. With each one behind her, a fresh set of tears emerged along with the hope, that soon she'd be holding her beautiful baby. And she would find out her baby's sex. 
Finally, they arrived to the birthing suite, a tiny room with a single bed and a few small machines on wheels.
Charlotte squeezed Jack with one hand and Madre with her other. Terror seized her, and bodily shakes overwhelmed her. “I can’t…” Sourness rumbled with her stomach, and an acidic taste filled the back of her mouth. Hospital rooms from her past flooded into her memory. "I can't..."
Madre rubbed her back. "This will be a good experience." 
The nurse gently pushed her into the labour and delivery room. “Here’s a gown to put on. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes and we’ll get you assessed.”
Charlotte fell against the bed. “It hurts to sit, it hurts to stand…” Gripping her tummy tightly, she grunted, and Madre was by her side. Encouraging her to breathe. Encouraging her to focus on the baby. Reminding her what she was doing. 
As if she could forget. The pain was ripping her in half, although she couldn’t figure out if it was in half from the waist down, or from head to toe. All she knew is this was the one of the worst pains she’d ever felt in her life. And she’d felt a lot of pain.
With the contraction finished, Charlotte removed her shirt and pulled on the hospital gown. Slowly she removed her pants, the fresh ones she’d changed into before coming. Madre gathered it all and placed it into a bag.
She looked over at Jack. He stood there, looking as confused as she felt scared.
The nurse bustled back in, holding a binder which she placed on the desk. “Okay, let’s get you up on the bed and we’ll see how you’re doing.”
Charlotte winced as she sat on the bed and pulled her legs up. Another contraction tore through her body, and she swore she was actually tearing in half. The ripping sensations moved from her lady parts straight up to her belly button and pulled back. She envisioned a giant red tear.
The nurse, who didn’t care about Charlotte’s contraction nor her modesty, lifted the gown up, revealing a very stretch-marked tummy. She fiddled with some giant elastic bands and wrapped them tightly around the bump, after fixing a cord to them.
“What are these?” Charlotte asked, taking a short breath. She tightened a hand around the handrail as the other dug itself into her palm.
“Contraction monitor,” she said, adjusting the top elastic band, “and the heartbeat monitor.” She turned some knobs on the machine. “Hmm…” she said, undoing the heartrate monitor. Adding some gel to the unit, she once again placed it on Charlotte’s tummy.
Coming out of the contraction, Charlotte wiped her face.
The nurse re-positioned the device, moving the unit around and holding it for a moment while staring at the machine. “Your baby is quite the active one.” The hand-held device moved from one side to another, up above her belly-button, and lower down to her pubic bone.
“Here comes another.” Charlotte hissed through gritted teeth. The pain was like nothing else she’d ever experienced, or cared to ever experience again. Labour was hell. 
Madre mumbled something, but it was indiscernible. 
Opening her eyes as she descended the other side of the peak, she focused on Jack. Either he didn’t care, or he was going into some form of shock because he just stood there, expressionless, staring at her as she tore apart.
The nurse readjusted the top elastic, her warm fingers pressing into the hardest part of her bump. Different places, different pressures. “Tell me when this is through. I want to do an internal. Maybe your baby is just so low that I can’t get a proper reading.”
Another nurse knocked and popped her head in. “Everything okay?”
“No, the heartbeat disappears. I keep picking up mom's.”
“Want me to try?”
“Sure.” The nurse turned and spoke to Charlotte. “Gwen can find every heartbeat. She’s got a gift.”
The older nurse walked over and palpitated Charlotte’s tummy. She added fresh gel to the unit and moved it around. Like the nurse before her, she covered the belly in goo trying to locate the missing heartbeat. She turned to the other nurse. “What’s she at?”
“Haven’t checked yet. But the contractions are about 4 in 10, 90 long.”
Gwen patted her leg. “Not too worry.”
Charlotte glanced between Jack and Madre. Both wore concern, and the panic within her started building at an impressive pace. “What’s wrong?” She breathed and swallowed down the bitter taste of bile.
The older nurse turned back to her. “When did your water break?"
"I don't know. About half an hour." Charlotte flitted her gaze between Madre, Jack and the nurses, panic seizing her tighter than the contractions.
"I’m going to check your cervix, okay?”
She nodded slowly as the head of the bed flattened out. Another contraction crippled her and she tightened her grip on the cold railing, swearing as the peak reached its maximum pressure.
On the way back down, the first nurse said to Jack, “Can you remove her underwear please?”
Madre moved up to the head of the bed, while Jack jumped and quickly walked over to the foot of bed. It didn’t take him long to lower and discard her panties. Charlotte couldn’t even look at him. It didn’t feel sexy. It felt downright shameful to be so exposed and vulnerable to two strangers, and to have her husband be a willing participant in her nakedness.  
“Okay, I need to take a peek. Can you open up please?” Gwen elbowed her arm between Charlotte's closed up knees.
“I’m… scared,” she fought to say as the contraction blinded her, and a rough elbow pushed her knees apart. The sensation of a hand digging in to her most sacred parts, terrified her.
Gwen called out, “Hit the call button! We have prolapse.”
The other nurse lunged over the head of the bed and smacked something on the wall where Charlotte couldn’t see. It beeped twice.
“Page Dr. Livingstone. Code Blue. Cord prolapse.” The hand stayed put inside her.
Charlotte’s heart beat in her throat and a brand-new fear rippled through her and she clenched her legs together as tightly as she could with the elbow forcing them apart. “What’s a prolapse?”
No one answered, but in the blink of an eye, the room filled with people. A doctor burst in, grabbing a pair of gloves as he passed by. “Talk to me.” He spoke to the nurses only.
“No heartbeat, and I feel a cord.” Gwen got out from between Charlotte’s legs.
Madre’s hand gripped into her shoulder.
“Get me an IM.” The doctor sat on the edge of the bed and forced her legs open, replacing the nurse’s hand with his own.
His hand definitely felt larger, and Charlotte groaned both from the position and movement as he reached in and around her. An oncoming contraction built. “You’re… hurting… me.”
The nurse passed him something with cords. She focused on the monitor, no sound nor movement registered. The screen stayed blank. No one spoke as the nurse hooked up the cords while the doctor fiddled around.
“Turn it up,” he barked.
Jack shuffled in closer to the bed.
Madre hitched her breath.
Charlotte held hers.
The room went pin drop quiet.
“No heartbeat. I need forceps.”
The first nurse banged open a drawer and Gwen assembled a table draped in the unhealthiest shade of green, littered with silver tools.
“Madre?” She turned her focus up to her mother, searching her face for answers. Her body started shaking uncontrollably.
“I’m going to get your baby delivered now.” The doctor’s voice echoed off the walls. He jumped up out of the way, never removing his hand. “Someone break down this bed."
Like a well choreographed dance, another third nurse appeared and the bottom half of the bed fell away. Scrambling, the new nurse held her legs until the stirrups were moved into position and the doctor stood back between her legs, his hand having never moved. The nurse dropped Charlotte’s legs into the medieval torture device, which pulled her legs wide open and bared her nakedness to a crowd of onlookers, all of who were staring at the most sacred part of her.
“Madre,” she breathed. Instantly she felt the motherly hand wrap around hers.
“Let’s do this,” the doctor called out. “You’re going to feel a lot of pressure with these.”
The pressure was already so intense she didn’t think it could get worse. 
But it did. 
Intense pain as her delicate insides stretched further than naturally allowed, and instinctively she screamed out in pain.
“You’re going to need to push.”
Something between her legs clinked but she didn’t want to know what it was.
“NOW PUSH,” the doctor ordered.
“Like you’re having a giant bowel movement.” The nurse beside her was calm as she spoke quietly on her right.
With every ounce of strength she had, she pushed. Coming up for a breath, she pushed again. An intense burning circled the baby's head, and a heartbeat later, a violent ripping sensation ran through her. Screaming through the agonizing pain and a back and forth tugging and pulling movement, she clenched her teeth and growled. Suddenly, relief washed over her as the pressure and pain disappeared in a breathe.
Curious what happened, she looked between her legs. “My baby,” Charlotte whispered as the doctor passed the grey, floppy baby over to another team of lab coats.
They surrounded the baby, blocking Charlotte from view.
There was no crying, no gurgling, nothing to indicate the baby was okay.
The room was filled with hushed voices, and silent looks between the staff. The doctor stood between her exposed middle but he wasn’t looking between them. Instead, his attention was on the field of white. One nurse held her hand, and Madre held the other, while wiping both her eyes and Charlotte's.
Jack stepped back and leaned against the wall. Normally so stoic and uptight, he was as pale as a ghost who was ready to collapse.
Time stood still.
Heartbeats passed.
“Oh no,” Charlotte said as her voice quivered. With minimal effort and a small grunt, something slimy slipped out of her.
The doctor caught it and the blood-covered bowl came into sight as he placed it atop the green draped tray. “Your placenta.” 
She didn’t care what it was. She wanted her baby. Her eyes shot back over to the group of staff. Charlotte released her grip on the handrails and wiped her face, hoping with it, she’d be able to see clearly.
"I'll need to check for damage." He poked and prodded without  permisson, and turned to the nurse. "Suture kit two please." 
While spread-eagled, the doctor stitched and repaired the physical damage to her body. But the emotional damage wouldn't be repaired so easily. 
Charlotte remained focused on the group of five surrounding her baby, desperate to hear a cry or any sound of something good going on. All she got was whispers and mutters.
She winced as the doctor tugged tightly, and cried when the nurse cleaned her up, moving the cloths over very sensitive and traumatized tissues. 
Finally, several minutes later, a clear voice spoke. “Call it and let’s give the mother back her baby.” 
"Three fifty two."
Charlotte looked to the young nurse, the first one to check her. Tears streamed down her face.
A white-coated lady in pink scrubs held the baby. “I’m sorry. She didn’t make it.”
A pained, high-pitched cry escaped Charlotte. Her heart was violently pulled from her chest with those six words and stomped on the floor. Rivers of tears flooded over her cheeks as her arms reached out for her baby.
“Would you like to hold her before we need to take her away?”
Charlotte’s blurred gaze fell upon the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. The nurse tenderly placed the bundled up newborn into her shaking arms, and she snuggled the baby close to what remained of her heart.
Aside from a couple of nurses, the room cleared out. Their footsteps soft and muted.
“She’s beautiful,” Madre said, her voice a notch below a whisper.
Charlotte no longer cared that she was exposed, although the nurse grabbed a blanket and covered her up. She didn’t care that Jack left the room, deciding to not glimpse the sweet perfection nestled against her bosom. The only thing she cared for was the angel with a shock of jet black hair, who appeared to be sleeping. And Madre, who silently sobbed beside her.
“Sophie. Her name is Sophie Claire," Charlotte said, saying the baby name she'd chosen. 
Unwrapping her, she counted her fingers, all ten of them. Running her finger along the soft skin, she touched it to the baby’s chest. There was no heartbeat, no rise and fall of her chest.
Her baby’s bum filled up the palm of her hand, so tiny it was. Trailing further down, over the baby’s scrawny legs, she wiggled each tiny toe before covering her back up. The baby—her daughter—was beautiful. The only thing missing was a healthy pink color. Pressing the baby tightly against her chest, she sobbed.
She sniffed the top of Sophie’s head, hoping at least there would be that new baby smell. It was absent.
Her fingertips caressed her newborn’s delicately upturned nose, the smattering of eyelashes and the lobes of her ears. They would’ve looked perfect with cute little diamond studs.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Noellette?” The first nurse, the one who’d been unable to find the heartbeat, stood at the foot of the bed. “It’s time.” She refused to make eye contact.
Charlotte shook her head, and clutched Sophie tighter to her chest.
Gwen pushed a bassinette into view. “Mrs. Noellette?” She stepped closer with her arms outstretched.
“No, she’s mine...” She cried. “I’m not ready to give her up.”
Jack walked into the room, looking anywhere but at her.
The nurse reached for the baby again.
“Jack… Please…” She tugged on his sweater covered arm with one hand, the baby firmly grasped in her other arm. “Please don’t let them take her. Not yet.” She sobbed. “Please.”
“Can I hold her?”
She searched his face, devoid of expression. His eyes were glassy but not enough to indicate he’d spent any time shedding painful tears. Hesitantly, she slackened her hold.
Jack picked up his daughter; their child. In a motion too quick to stop, he passed the baby to the nurse. “It’s time, Charlie.”
“Oh, Jack,” Madre whispered behind Charlotte.  
“NO!!” Charlotte cried out. The remnants of her already shattered soul cracked into more fragments as the nurse wheeled her daughter out of her sight. “No.” She craned her neck to her husband. “I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.” She sobbed and fell back against the bed.
With his bag in hand, Jack stormed over to the nurse. “Call me when she’s ready to be released.”
A soft hand rested against Charlotte’s shoulders. “It’s okay, honey, let it out.”
And that’s what she did. 
For hours. 
For days. 
For weeks. 
For months.

Her physical scars healed, but the emotionally destroyed part of her, the part the doctors couldn't see and therefore couldn't heal, never got better. It killed her will to live.  

Thanks for reading.