Yes, it's been a while! Thanks everyone for sticking with me.
I'm getting more involved in the Labyrinth fandom now, and moving away from Rurouni Kenshin. I write this fic for Springfest on the Labyfic community on Livejournal. There are links to my LJ, where I pimp the community on my profile page, if you're interested.
Please note this story is rated M for childbirth and sexual references.
Sarah had been dusting her bookshelf one morning when her waters broke. Three weeks early.
She looked at the (rather) large puddle on the floor and was thankful that her floor was wooden, and that her mop had an extra long handle.
The labour pains had started about ten minutes later, in the way Sarah had read about in all the baby books – sharp back pain that seemed to spike, settle, then spike again ten minutes later. It kind of reminded Sarah of when she'd jarred her back at the gym.
Realising that the time had come (or, at least, the time was startingto come), Sarah called her midwife, just to be on the safe side.
"Just try to make yourself comfortable hun, and wait for the realpain to start," her midwife, Alice, had advised, after listening attentively to Sarah's detailed description of her contractions, plus the puddle's colour, consistency and odour. "Call me if you start bleeding. Otherwise, I'll be over in a couple of hours to check on you."
It was hard to be a fretful first-time mother when your midwife just didn't seem to think it was a big deal. Especially a fretful, first-time, singlemother.
"She's done this hundreds of times," Sarah reassured herself for what felt like the millionth time, waddling past the birthing pool taking up the majority of the lounge (and chewing up a tonne of electricity), into the kitchen. "She's successfully delivered hundreds of babies. This is totally normal and natural and I am notpanicking."
She'd opted for a natural, at-home birth, because it just felt right and made more sense to her than lying alone on a bed in a smelly hospital with a whole bunch of strangers staring up her cooch.
Also, with the rest of her family across the other side of the country, she couldn't bring herself to ask Karen to travel over on short notice to be her birth partner. She couldn't think of anyone else to trust with the task.
She hadn't thought her stepmother would mind being asked – in fact, she'd been as involved in Sarah's pregnancy as she could be, long distance – it was just that, as Sarah's impending motherhood approached, she felt taking Karen away from her own familial responsibilities would be selfish.
So, Sarah had gone to the pre-natal classes alone, worked with her midwife alone, done her kegels faithfully every day (um, alone) and read a whole pile of books about what to eat/drink/wear/listen to in order to keep her baby in optimum health. She'd then monitored her diet and exercise. Alone.
Sarah had eventually determined that being pregnant was pretty damn boring, at least from the food perspective. No booze, no cigarettes, no sushi, no fetta cheese, no lemon meringue pie, no cake batterfor God's sake. No re-heated food either. It had been costing a fortune to eat fresh food every day.
The first thing Sarah planned on doing once she'd stopped breastfeeding was sitting down with a tube of M&Ms cookie batter, a bottle of Baileys and the box set of Sex and the City and finishing them all.
After a couple of hours, the hot wheat bag on her lower back stopped working. Sarah dragged herself into the bathroom, faintly annoyed that she seemed to need a couple of rest stops along the way to sag against the wall and pant. She turned on the shower tap, running the water as hot as she could stand and leaned her forehead against the tiled wall, bending over as much as she could to let the spray beat against her back.
Sarah didn't know how long she'd stayed in the shower, zoning in and out of awareness in time to her contractions, but by the time she could muster the willpower to step out of it, all the hot water had gone. An hour then, perhaps? Maybe longer?
As she sluggishly ran the towel over her engorged belly and the parts of her legs that were still within reach, she heard the doorbell. Sarah pulled on the nearest t-shirt and wrapped the towel around her hips.
"I'm coming!" she called out, levering herself off the end of her bed as the doorbell rang again. It took longer to get to the door than she would have liked. The contractions seemed to be coming faster now. The pain was spreading, starting in her lower back and wrapping around her abdomen and down her legs like a barbed wire garter belt.
The midwife, Alice, bustled in when Sarah finally opened the door, all smiles and encouraging pats on the arm. It was both encouraging and annoying.
After checking her dilation, Alice told Sarah it was time to get into the birthing pool. Knowing the drill, Sarah dropped her towel and climbed into the warm water bare from the waist down.
She grunted as a particularly painful contraction took her, flopping back to rest against the side of the pool as it subsided.
"Do I push yet?" she ground out, thoroughly over labour already and wanting it to end.
"Not yet," Alice said, much to Sarah's disappointment. "We're not through the first stage yet, but we're almost there. When we get to stage two, the contractions won't be coming so fast, and you'll feel the urge to push with them. That'swhen you start pushing. Remember the classes?"
"Yes," Sarah acquiesced, although truthfully, everything she'd learned in the classes had flown out her ears as soon as the contractions had gotten serious.
Sarah lay in the pool for the next hour, riding out the pain while Alice timed her contractions, then brought her a sandwich and a cup of tea. "Eat while you can," she encouraged, as Sarah stuffed half of it in her mouth at once. "You'll need your energy and strength."
After what felt like forever, Sarah felt the baby shift and was then overwhelmed with the need to push down.
"It's happening," she gasped, as a contraction started.
"Go with it," Alice encouraged her, helping Sarah lean forward a little and pouring some water down her back. "Push down until you feel like you can't push anymore. Keep breathing. Don't hold your breath."
Sarah obeyed, puffing a bit when the pain suddenly turned knife-like. Her eyes started watering. "Is... it... meant... to... hurt... like... this?" she wheezed.
"Mostly," Alice answered, patting Sarah's forehead with a cloth. "Let's hope baby doesn't want to take their time getting out of there."
Not for the first time, Sarah wished the baby's goddamned father was here to stroke her hair, sponge her forehead, have his hand crushed and reassure her she was doing fine; she was doing a good job. Also, having someone to yell at about being inthis predicament in the first place would be nice.
Sarah groaned in relief as the pain subsided. Stage Two, she thought. I'm nearly there. We're going to make it.
As the next contraction started, Sarah pushed again, clenching her fists with the effort. She started in shock as she felt a warm rush – that couldn't be right. Her waters had broken at least two hours ago.
"Alice...," Sarah started to say, looked down and sobbed in terror as she spotted the cloud of pinkish blood in the water, spreading from between her legs. The whole world narrowed to a pinprick, Sarah's memory of reading in the pregnancy books that bleeding was a badthing.
"We need to get you to hospital, now," Alice said in her ear, already putting her cell phone down. The woman's voice was calm, Sarah knew, in an attempt not to distress her more than necessary. "I think the baby is having some trouble making its way down the canal. The doctors might need to do a caesarean to get it out."
Sarah felt her face crumpling in pain, fear and disappointment. Her hopes for having a peaceful, home water birth were gone.
Thoughts of failure were shoved aside for the moment as another agonising contraction tore through her body. Sarah screamed, but muffled it a bit by clenching her teeth. She tried not to push, not wanting to hurt the baby. Ignoring the urge was almost impossible. She sounded a lot like a wounded, panting rhinoceros. There was no way she was going to be able to get through this.
Alice helped Sarah to her feet and out of the birthing pool. Together, they staggered over to lean Sarah against the nearest wall. Sarah tried her best to stay upright and still, while the midwife dried her off and helped her get an Indian cotton skirt on that had been lying on the couch nearby. Alice pulled the drawstrings together – not too tight – and tied them off.
"Where's your hospital bag?"
Sarah, teeth still clenched, pointed down the hallway. "Bed," she grunted. As Alice took off in that direction, Sarah heard the clatter of numerous feet on the tiles inside her front door. Thank God she'd left it unlocked.
A buzzing started in her ears and Sarah gripped the wall as best she could as another contraction squeezed her mercilessly.
Strong hands supported her by the armpits as she sagged towards the floor. One of the three paramedics was a woman, Sarah noticed.
"We've got something for that pain," a burly male paramedic told her. His name tag said "Steve". Steve held a green whistle in front of Sarah's mouth. "Open up," he commanded. Sarah obeyed and he laid the plastic end against her tongue. "You're going to need to suck on this, if you can, to get the painkiller into your system." Nodding dumbly through the pain and terror, Sarah tried to remember how to suck.
The female paramedic was rubbing firm circles on Sarah's lower back as they began to stagger towards the front door in an awkward group of four. Sarah tried not to let her head rest on the burly male paramedic's arm, but it was so heavy.
"Have you had children?" Sarah asked the female paramedic out of the corner of her mouth. She was shocked at her guttural, broken voice. It must be the whistle doing it. Yes, the whistle.
"Four," the woman answered with a sympathetic smile. She kept rubbing Sarah's back, propelling her forward. "You're gonna be just fine. Keep walking now, we're almost there." The gurney was sitting just inside the front door. The lounge had been too crowded to bring it all the way in.
It seemed to take forever for the paramedics to strap her onto the gurney. "Don't worry," one of them had reassured her, a skinny guy, as he fastened the last buckle. It was getting hard to hear voices over the ringing in her ears. "We can deliver babies if we have to – it's one of the rare happy parts of our job."
Alice was suddenly there too, and she held Sarah's hand as her world blurred into a yellowish haze of rocking and floating and silence. The sun was shining through the back windows of the ambulance, right into her eyes. It made the passing world look as though it had been gilded with the soft strokes of an impressionist's paintbrush. Sarah thought about Van Gogh's Sunflowers and wondered if she was going to die in childbirth.
Distantly, Sarah noticed Alice was shaking her hand, talking to her. She couldn't hear the words anymore. Two more faces appeared in her line of vision, mouths moving silently. The female paramedic and the skinny male paramedic. Steve must be driving.
It was all too hard, trying to figure out what they were saying. Sarah opted for closing her eyes instead, it was far more peaceful.
She opened them again, later, feeling a tad annoyed, when they started jostling her head around. They'd put something on her face. The female paramedic had one of Sarah's hands pressed against her chest, which was moving up and down. She was patting Sarah's chest, then pointing to Sarah's hand on her own chest.
After staring at this for a while, it occurred to Sarah that she should be making her chest move up and down as well. It felt like lifting a huge weight, but she managed it. The paramedic seemed satisfied with this effort and let go of Sarah's hand.
Alice was resting her hand on Sarah's shoulder, and she closed her eyes again.
When she opened them again, the world was blue and white, lit with harsh lights that left dancing imprints on the backs of her eyelids. Sarah stared blankly at the blue linoleum floor and the white linen next to her nose.
Hands were rolling her onto her back and Sarah realised she'd been lying curled up on her side. She couldn't see any faces she knew. Alice, Steve and the other paramedics were gone.
"What's... happening?" she asked the nearest light fitting, since she couldn't see any people. It was hard to get the words out. Her tongue felt thick and dry in her mouth.
A young female face appeared above her. It had freckles and green eyes, above a blue mask that covered everything else. Sarah dimly wondered if the hair under the scrubs cap was red and curly.
"We've given you an epidural," Freckle-face said and Sarah was relieved that she could hear things again. "It's to stop you from feeling the pain."
Alarmed, she tried to sit up when she heard the word "Scalpel!" but Freckle-face pressed her back down.
"It's all right Miss Williams. It's all right. We're doing a caesarean section to get the baby out. We need you to lie still and be as calm as you can."
"The baby," Sarah whispered. Tears began leaking from the corners of her eyes as she suddenly remembered the blood. "Is it... all right?"
There was a silence as the nurse looked away, down towards where the doctors were operating. Sarah could feel them tugging and pulling on her lower body, but there was no pain. She felt lost and completely disconnected from her body and her child.
She heard the words "not breathing" and "possible brain damage." Freckle-face still wouldn't look at her.
Silently, Sarah prayed for somebody, anybodyto save her baby. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears.
No one seemed to notice the tall blonde man who was suddenly standing behind Sarah, with his hand resting on her shoulder. It was quite odd, really, as he was rather the type to stand out. For a start, he wasn't wearing scrubs, but a tight fitting pair of grey breeches, tall black boots and a crimson leather jacket. But the gazes of the other people in the theatre seemed to slide right off him.
All at once, once of the doctor's cried "She's breathing!" Sarah's eyes shot open. It was a girl. A daughter. And she was breathing.
As the doctor laid the tiny, wet, blood covered squalling baby on its mother's chest, Sarah cried in earnest with a strange and explosive mix of exhaustion, relief, happiness and love. She bent her head, totally absorbed in her new daughter.
The blonde stranger leaned over the pair to kiss the infant on its velvety little forehead. His long blonde hair fell across Sarah's face and neck, but she didn't feel it.
Before he straightened up completely, he whispered something in Sarah's ear.
Sarah looked down at her baby and smiled. "I think I'll call her Elina," she whispered to herself.
The man smiled and faded away as the nurse gently retrieved the baby from Sarah's arms.