Chapter 1: December 20th
Megan was tense as she hissed sharply, fingers digging deep into the fabric of her father’s worn, faux leather armchair. The television in front of her was blaring the daily local news-station, but Megan couldn’t hear a word of it through the rhythmic thumping of blood in her ears. Usually quiet and calm, she held back every filthy curse word that filtered through her mind as painful, pulsing aches shot through her core. God, this was torture. For a whole week these insufferable contractions had been testing her pain tolerance but today was different. These weren’t just Braxton Hicks.
One moment she had her swollen feet propped up on the coffee table, hands soothing gentle circles onto her large stomach, and the next she was bent forward gasping as a deep pain surged through her.
Deep breaths, deep breaths.
In panic, she stared down at her protruding belly, covered by the ridiculous bright red reindeer jumper her mother had bought her. Her due date was weeks away. Megan might have screamed or cried out, she wasn’t sure, as a second later her mother’s muffled, dreadful rendition of Jingle Bells from somewhere upstairs cut short abruptly.
“No, no, no,” she groaned to herself. “It’s too early.” Another contraction hit and Megan tried to breathe through it – just as she had been instructed to do so – only to find that it made no difference whatsoever. “Mum!” Megan yelled, “Mum!” There was a rushed, stomping of feet down the staircase, and thankfully her mother – panting and wide eyed – came into view. “It’s too early. I’m not ready.”
“I know, I know,” her mother was murmuring to her softly as she helped Megan heave to her feet. “It’s going to be okay Sweetie, just stay calm. Remember your breathing exercises.” Her mother’s hands were turning white under Megan’s tight grip, as she gritted her teeth together to avoid snapping something foul. She was guided to the door at a slow pace, her mother helping her with her shoes and her father nowhere to be seen and unaware of the commotion.
“Phil!” Her mother was shouting. “Phil, get the bag; its time!”
Another contraction hit, and Megan had to stop where she was standing, hunched slightly as she moaned through the pain. The contractions had barely been three minutes apart. She should have been paying more attention to them; what if they didn’t make it to the hospital in time?
“Why?” Megan wanted to wail. “Why is this happening now?” She was only able to stand up because of her mother’s tight grip around her waist. “I hate him so much.” Even Megan wasn’t sure whether she meant her baby or the man who had impregnated her.
Did all women suffer this much? Why had no one told her it would be so horrific? There had been months and months of pregnancy classes with bubbly women telling her how magical childbirth was. There had been no mention of how terrifically painful or frightening it was.
“Phil! You better hurry up!” Her mother shouted again. She wisely didn’t question just who it was that Megan was referring to. Megan was sure to blow up if someone asked her one more time who the father was. For seven whole months since she had revealed the pregnancy, Meg had been interrogated on who it was that had gotten her pregnant but remained stubborn and had not uttered a word. Now really wasn’t the time to resume the questioning and aggravate her further.
It was when Megan and her mother were finally leaving the house that her father clambered down the staircase and into the living room. Huffing and red faced, he slung the hospital bag she had prepared just yesterday over his shoulder. Three minutes later he was starting the car as Megan sprawled in the back seat, squeezing her mother’s hand to near breaking point as another contraction wracked through her.
“I can’t do this, I can’t,” Megan was uttering over and over again on their rushed journey, blinking back the tears that were all but streaming down her face as they grew closer to the hospital, she had not prepared for childbirth so early. She wasn’t ready. Megan’s blurred vision was locked on the passing scenery, counting every second of their journey. The small town outside – the town she had been raised in – was pale and dull, covered in an icy blanket. There were few people out on the streets, which was understandable as her mother’s slender hands were so cold from the freezing temperatures, after only being outside for just a few minutes. Megan was still only wearing her ugly Christmas jumper and sweats, feet hastily shoved into thick boots, no coat or scarf or any other outdoor winter attire. It hardly mattered to her though as she knew her back was damp with sweat.
“I know it hurts Sweetie,” her mother soothed, the hand that was not clutched in Megan’s crippling grasp was stroking the back of her hair gently. “Just keep breathing, stay calm.”
“It shouldn’t be this early though,” Megan cried. She couldn’t bear the thought of something being wrong. This whole ordeal was terrifying enough. “Please, please,” she begged, but she wasn’t quite sure what for. She just wanted this to be over.