Red with Love
Fear not, sweet girl, this isn’t a sad story. It’s a story that taught me to hold each precious moment, this thing we call life, close to my heart and replay it over and over until I run out of recording space.
I shifted uncomfortably in the lush green sofa. It wasn’t the cushions that made me squeamish or how close the seat reached the floor when I sat on it. No, it was something much bigger than that. I rested my hands on my belly, relaxed my eyes on the protruding bump and a sad smile captured my lips. How cruel life was, I thought. Why couldn’t it deal us all the same cards, I wandered. Why make us less or more of one another, watching from the sidelines as we claw to the top, using each other’s faces as a stomping ground. Only to see us all succumb to our inevitable ends. Why couldn’t it let us have more?
“Glory Anderson!” I looked up, studying her. Her brows furrowed as she read my file and her face softened. Realization set in and her eyes looked everywhere but at me.
She wore the nurse uniform well, the light blue color complementing her big orbs. I was used to such reactions by now. I placed my left hand behind my back for support and slowly got up. She jumped into action sliding her arm around the small of my back and directed me to my room.
Time had become a weird concept to me ever since I fell pregnant. The first month seemed to stretch on for eons, a time where I only existed in my bed and doubling over the toilet seat. In contrast, the past few weeks had flown by, even when I begged them to stop, pleaded, really. And now my due date was tomorrow. That’s another thing that was cruel, time.
The smell of cleaning supplies mixed with peppermint hit me all at once after I stumbled into Dr. Grace’s office. Her office was if put into words, white. The only splash of color came from her desk and chair. Her blonde hair was, as always, pulled tightly backward into a bun and her red-rimmed glasses rested upon her pointy nose. Her eyes flickered with which I had come to recognize as pain. I took a seat, thanking the nurse as she closed the door behind her.
“How are you?” She left her chair behind the desk and came to the one just inches from me, her attention undivided.
“Some days are good…but most of them l can’t leave my bed.”
She nodded slowly. I played with my fingers, working up the courage to ask her the question that had haunted me since. “How long will I have …I mean, after I give birth?” I faced her this time, bracing myself for the answer.
She opened her mouth, closed it and opened it again. “We cannot say with certainty, but the rare times this condition happens, three … to four hours.”
I let out a breath of relief. That was longer than what I had feared.
“Thank you, Dr. Grace. We can start with our last treatment now.” I smiled, showing her I hadn’t completely broken. She nodded curtly and got up to fetch her equipment.
They called it Amniotic fluid embolism. It was a very, very rare condition in which the mother has an allergic reaction to the amniotic fluid that enters her bloodstream. The very fluid in which my baby floated in was lethal to me. I found out about this a month ago, eight months pregnant. By then it was too late, I’d already fallen in love, and nothing could harm my baby, not even me.
Everyone was furious with my decision. I understood them and yet I didn’t. They told me I could have another child. But what about the one I already have, I would ask. They told me what good is it if I wasn’t alive to raise the baby. I told them my husband would be there as well as my family. They told me to live and be selfish; I told them I couldn’t live with myself if I chose myself over a defenseless baby.
I was stupid, they said, didn’t know what I was throwing away. They didn’t understand you see, from the moment I heard the little heartbeat pounding away, mine didn’t want to continue without it. We were linked by an unexplainable bond that made me want to protect it for the rest of my life.
Sometime in the two weeks leading up to my labor date, Michael and I were driving home. He sat next to me, stress and worry creased his forehead, while defeat hunched his back. It pained me to see him like this. I loved him with all my heart. He saw me looking at him and stretched his left hand, seeking my own, and squeezed it gently.
“I love you.” He kissed my knuckles, easing my worry like he always did.
“You’re going to make a great father,” I told him. His eyes darkened with drops of water then receded. He looked at me in between drives, overcome with emotion.
“I need you here,” he finally whispered as we pulled into our driveway. He turned the engine off and faced me, desperation gnawed at his eyes. He grabbed both my hands. “Oh God Glory, how is this all happening?” His head hovered above our intertwined hands as if in prayer.
I rested mine above his and told him a story that I’d once heard from my high school best friend, one that would always make me feel lighter as if I’m not all alone in this world. Neither I nor my husband grew up in religion, but we never decided against it either. I hoped it’d give him some peace like it did me.
“Do you know how Jesus was forced to carry the cross he’d be crucified on?” I begin. “The cross was all wood. It was beyond the strength of one man and yet they forced him to do it. He carried it silently, falling down multiple times against its weight, almost getting crushed by it while the people that condemned him stood laughing and pointing. He was doing all of this to save their lives.”
I freed one hand and brushed his hair down.
“Everyone in this world is carrying their own cross. Each not given more than they can handle. Michael, the cross I’m carrying is this choice.” I paused, recalling the verse. “‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ I find myself coming back to this verse whenever I’m faced with a challenge; it’s taught me to be patient, resilient and not give up. And that at the end, when I finally reach my destination, however bruised and battered my back will be, it’ll all be worth it.”
I took a long breath and let it out. “I’m rambling, just know that I love you more than I ever thought possible, and I will always be with you.” I brought his hands to my belly. He pressed his now damp forehead against mine and remained still for a long time before finally whispering, “I’ll help you carry your cross.”
Mom had the hardest time coming to terms with my choice. She tried multiple techniques in order to get to me; to make me change my mind. She yelled, ignored and threw things at me for most of the first week.
She was hurting; driven mad by the prospect of losing her only daughter. I struggled the most with comforting her because I knew what she felt. I’d only tasted a fraction of bearing a child, and I’d already fallen madly in love with it. I couldn’t fathom having it for the past twenty-four years and have it ripped away so suddenly and by an event that was supposed to bring profound happiness. It was beyond anyone’s threshold. It tore my heart to a million pieces and more.
One rainy afternoon, I was having lunch in my dining room, enjoying the spaghetti she’d cooked. I twirled the strings around playing with it, swallowed by the suffocating silence. She was across from me barely touching her plate, absentmindedly staring at a spot on our yellow table.
“Mom,” I dropped my fork. Her eyes jumped from the spot to my plate.
“You should eat.” She pointed to my untouched food. Her tired eyes indicated she hadn’t slept in days and that wrought me with even more guilt. I went to kneel in front of her but a huge bump reminded me that was not a great idea, so I did the closest thing. I grabbed my chair and dragged it in front of her. Her eyes rested on me, finally.
“I need you back, Mom.” I grabbed her hands, forcing her to interact with me as she used to. Talk to me like she used to. Look at me like she used to. She sighed, and anguish captured her face. She played with my fingers, stalling to ask me a question she feared would result in another plate smashing.
“How do you know this is the right choice?” she finally asked, gripping my hands tighter. I took a moment before answering, thinking of the best way to phrase it.
“If I was in your belly when you were eight months pregnant and faced with this choice what would you have done?” I asked gently, seeing her mouth gape in what seemed to be uncertainty, then closing. It was a rude question, I realized, but I needed to get through her any way I could, I needed her, and I was being selfish.
She didn’t respond. A full minute went by, and I wondered if I should say something, maybe I had crossed a line.
Her shoulders sagged; the tension left her body as her hand reached for my cheek, caressing it. “I would have chosen to give birth to you.”
“That’s how I know this is the right choice.” I smiled and leaned into her hand. “I know you’re going to love this baby more than anyone because you’re the one that understands the most. That unexplainable bond, Mom, it’s powerful.”
Her eyes filled with water, and tears trailed down her cheeks. She dropped her hand from my face with a nod that held such fierceness and promise. “I’ll not let you down, Glory. She’ll grow up to be as smart, kind, beautiful and selfless as you.”
Now it was my turn to be drenched in tears. “Oh Mom, I love you so much,” I whispered as I dove into the arms that had held me since the moment I joined this world, and wept, for I would miss them forever.
“What should we name her?” That was your grandmother, coming in through the door with a smile.
I struggled with coming up with your name. I wanted it to carry strength and yet kindness, I told them.
Your father stood near my bed, looked directly at mom and nodded in agreement. I looked to both their faces, curious of what they had come up with.
“Glory,” they said, simultaneously.
“My name?” I asked.
“What other name carries more strength and kindness than your own?” Your father said, wrapping his forefinger around your hand as you gripped it tightly.
“She’ll own a name that holds great love,” your grandmother added, teary. I looked back down overcome with tears I thought had gone forever and decided.
I named you, Glory.
That’s your story, Glory. If you ever feel sad, or angry, come back to my letters and read our story again and again. They’re not much, my letters, but they hold pieces of me no one else knows except for you. I’d held a journal since I was fourteen documenting all the messes of my life day by day. I didn’t know then, it’d be the only way my daughter could talk and understand me one day. How thankful I am I picked up that pen and how mysterious and wonderful life is.
I asked Michael to give you this letter and story written in the last two weeks before you came into this world. I wanted you to start from the very end. To know how much you’re loved as you turn each page. I asked him to give it to you when you turned fourteen. So Happy Birthday, my dearest Glory, your mother adores you. Go on, delve into my tattered, messy handwriting, and I’ll hold your hand as we walk through this journey we call life. But go easy on your mother; she took a long time to figure herself out. And try not to laugh at your father, he was incredibly nervous on our first date, he didn’t mean to snort his milkshake all over our table.
I made Michael fetch my journal from the car. The time is 2:45 p.m. as I’m writing this final entry. He thought I was being ridiculous but brought it to me all the same. It is a hot Saturday, and I just spent the past two hours with you, and they were glorious. You were so tiny as I held you in my arms, I feared I would break you. The nurses said I had to say my goodbyes to you about an hour ago.
I held you close, analyzing your wisps of hair, round red face and parted mouth, and smiled. I had created a human being and how wonderful that was.
I didn’t cry like I thought I would, my tears were all dried out the past month, all that was left was contemplation. Michael never left our side, not even once. I never knew you could see both pain and happiness until I looked into your father’s eyes. He’d get up every now and then, brush away my hair, kiss my forehead and go back to sitting right next to me while I rocked you in my arms.
I laid there with your father and grandmother by my side and imagined you all grown up. The many lives you’ll touch and the woman you’ll become. I stayed high on that imagination until the nurses and doctors rushed in as red started to surround me. They didn’t seem to understand it was red with love.
Tigest Girma is eighteen-years-old and lives in Australia. She loves to write and dreams of seeing her books on bookstore shelves one day. You can follow her writing journey on Wattpad.