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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
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.
“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.
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.