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Chapter Eighteen

The next few days felt like a blur. I barely saw Ben, who had the responsibility of handling the logistics of a multi-week (multi-month, if we got lucky) stay in the hospital. He contacted our employers, and began working on my FMLA paperwork, which would allow me to take this time off. He brought me a bag full of all the comforts of home: my laptop, my phone charger, my own pillow. He had to go to work, too, in between handling my issues. He had arranged to have a quiet summer, and a slower-than-usual fall, to be home with me and the baby, but that had meant a little bit more responsibility than usual right now. Which meant he was flooded with work obligations. He still came and sat with me every night, joining me for dinner and a couple hours of TV, or a movie, or sitting together, doing crossword puzzles, which had always been our time-killer during the days of endless infertility appointments. Then, it was almost like old times.

Of course, it wasn’t like old times. We had finally gotten close, so close. I couldn’t stop thinking about my daughter. My Anna, who I wanted so much. What was going on in her tiny little world? Did she know how worried we were, how delicate the situation was? Or was she completely oblivious to how close she was to being lost?

All day long, I lay in my hospital bed, not allowed to get up, not even to use the bathroom. I held onto my belly and spoke to the baby constantly. I told her about all of the things she would have, all the places we would go, if only she would hold on for me. If she held on and waited until it was her time, nothing would be denied to her. Ponies, trips to Europe, anything. I told her how far we had come to have her, and how desperately she was wanted.

“Hold on, my darling girl,” I said to her constantly. “Hold on.”

I was a week into our stay before I allowed Paige and Julianne to visit, even though they begged constantly to come. I had needed to get to twenty-four weeks gestation, to viability, to a point when survival was an option before I could see them. I didn’t want Paige to be scared of what might happen to her. I didn’t want them to see me so despondent. I still had hope that we would see our girl, which was bolstered every day that she stayed inside me, getting stronger, but I was definitely lower than I had been at any point during the pregnancy. Probably lower than I’d been at any point when I was trying to get pregnant.

They came with flowers. The room was so dreary, painted institutional beige, the one window looking out onto the roof of another wing of the hospital, and the flowers really made a difference. Now my girl would have some cheer around when she arrived. The fragrance of the flowers went a long way to cover up the hospital smell of bleach and plastic and medication, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d reek of the hospital for months after I went home. It was infesting my skin, sinking into my pores.

“Oh, Elise!” Paige cried upon seeing me in the bed, clad in a hospital gown, an IV in my arm and contraction and heart rate monitors strapped to my belly, causing unsightly bulges. “You poor thing.”

“How are you?” Julianne asked, pulling a chair over to the side of my bed. She’d given Paige the more comfortable “father’s chair,” which was cushioned and pulled out into a bed, and took a mere wooden chair for herself.

“We’re okay,” I said. “One day at a time. Anna’s viable now, so at least we know there’s a chance that she’ll make it.”

“You named her Anna?”

I could barely believe I had cut them off for so long that they didn’t even know that my daughter had a name. I didn’t remember a time when I’d gone a week without seeing them. This was a travesty.

“Yeah, we named her,” I said, pulling my hands on either side of my belly. “Anna Claire Heller.”

“Good name,” Julianne said. “Classic and pretty.”

“Yes, it’s a perfect name for our perfect girl.”

“Paige named her baby too,” Julianne said, and I noticed immediately that Julianne hadn’t included Jake in the naming process.

“Nathaniel Steven Harris,” Paige said. “I’m trying to decide what his nickname will be. I try them all out when I talk to him.”

Still no mention of her husband. Was he gone? Surely, they would have said something. She was still wearing her wedding ring, so things couldn’t have gotten so bad.

“I like Nathaniel,” I said.

“It’s my father’s middle name. I liked the idea of keeping a family name.”

“Oh, that’s really nice. I bet your dad is thrilled.”

“Yeah, he loves it.”

I was going to get to the bottom of this. I was going to figure out why she still hadn’t mentioned her husband. I had so much time on my hands, and a mystery to solve would certainly occupy some of that.

“What’s new with you?” I asked, turning to Julianne. “How’s the adoption stuff going?”

She pulled herself up a bit straighter. “Well, it would appear we have a couple interested. I don’t want to say too much too early, so we’ll talk more when I know more. We’re trying not to get our hopes up too high yet. There’s a lot of time for things to change.”

“I hope it works out.”

“Me too. Although…they seem really wonderful. I hate to think of them not having a chance to raise their own child.”

“You’re no good at this whole adoption thing, you know.”

“I know. I’ve seen how hard it is for some couples to have a child, and it breaks my heart that they would give it up.”

“Well, if people didn’t give up their kids, where would adoption be?”

“True. It’s so hard.”

“Really, Elise,” Paige said. “How are you feeling?”

“Okay. Still no contractions, which is wonderful. We’re holding on.”

“Can we come every day? Or, as often as we can?”

“Can you stand to see me like this every day? And I don’t mean unshowered.”

“I’d do it for you.”

“Then of course you can come whenever you can. I’m not terribly active or enthusiastic about anything, so I’m pretty dull company, but you’re still welcome. We can watch TV together or something.”

“That could be fun.”

“Sneak me in some good food next time.”

They laughed, which was charitable. Nothing like a joke about hospital food.

They both hugged and kissed me good-bye, and laid a hand on my belly, to say good-bye to Anna.

“We’ll see you again soon,” Julianne said to me. “And we’ll see Miss Anna in a few weeks.”

It had better be a few weeks, I thought as I watched my friends leave. More than a few, really. Sixteen would be great, though unlikely.

I looked up at the clock that hung over the door to my room. Two more hours until Ben would be here. How could I possibly kill two more hours? I flipped through the options on the TV, but saw nothing appealing. I thought about doing some reading, but realized that I’d finished the only book I had with me. Ben was supposed to bring a few more when he arrived. I could futz around on the Internet, the ultimate time waster, but couldn’t bring up the motivation to even boot up my laptop.

Another nap then, I decided. God knows I wouldn’t be getting much more of those in a couple months’ time.

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