There’s a knock on the door before it opens and Doctor Wilson walks in with a smile that reaches her eyes. “Well, how are you ladies today?” She shuts the door behind her and leans against the counter as she scans through the clipboard in her hands.
I smile at her. “We’re tired, but doing very well, thank you.”
She puts her folder down on the counter and washes her hands quickly in the sink before stepping towards Bette and the baby. “Well, let’s have a look at her, shall we?” Bette holds Angie out a little bit as the doctor puts one end of the stethoscope in her ears and the other on Angie’s tiny chest. She listens intently and smiles as she pulls it away. “Her heart and lungs sound just fine.”
She pulls a small instrument off the wall and fits a sterile black cone over the end before pressing a button to turn on a tiny light. Bette holds Angie up over her shoulder as the doctor shines it in her ears and nose and mouth, and peers into the tiny holes. “Have either of you noticed anything of concern?”
Bette doesn’t hesitate to answer. “The other night after she fed, she started to… jerk… in short intervals. Her chest would cave in deeply and by her facial expressions I thought she might be in pain. Are you sure her heart and lungs are okay?”
I smile at the doctor as she meets my eyes and asks, “It was hiccups?” I nod and stroke Bette’s back soothingly. I’m not trying to gang up on her but she’s in alpha protector mode and she’s not thinking entirely clearly; I love her for it, but as her wife it’s my job to temper it. I look to her face and try to let her know this with my eyes as the doctor says. “Her heart and lungs sound perfect, Bette. And you can’t trust her expressions right now. She hasn’t quite figured them out for herself.” The doctor smiles knowingly and turns the device off, this time reaching for a thermometer and placing a small cover over the tip before putting it in Angie’s ear.
Bette continues. “Her umbilical cord fell off last night and the stump bled. Should… should I have taken her to the emergency room?”
The doctor smiles as she carefully lifts the little shirt to see the stump. “That’s perfectly normal and it looks to be healing just fine.”
I stoke her back again as she releases a relieved sigh. There’s a knock at the door as a nurse comes in with a small package. She washes her hands and Bette eyes her speculatively as I ask a question. “Her appetite hasn’t waned yet and we’ve had her home a week.”
The doctor smiles patiently. “Some babies just want or need more than others. The extra food definitely can’t hurt, but don’t worry, she will eventually even out. I would suggest pumping to alternate feedings and give your body a break.” The nurse slips some gloves on and opens the packaging, pulling out a small lance and a tube.
Bette’s posture goes rigid as she holds Angelica tightly to her shoulder, and I step around behind her to avoid watching and comfort the tears I know will follow. It’s one thing when she’s just hungry and dinner is coming; it’s another when the tears will be real pain, pain I’m not only failing to protect her from, but knowingly allowing to happen. My heart is breaking and it hasn’t even happened yet.
Bette turns her face to the back of Angie’s head, resigned in what she has to let happen, and I see the tears gather in her almond orbs as she coos at our daughter and meets my own worried eyes. I feel the hot flush of tears roll down my face as Angie starts to squirm and her face scrunches up. “Please just be quick…”
My baby’s cry pierces through Bette’s heart to sink into my own chest behind her and I stroke Angie’s anguished face. “I’m so sorry, Pookie…”
The nurse steps back with a sad smile. “All done.”
I meet Bette’s eyes and both of us have tears rolling down our cheeks. I stroke the tears from Angie’s face and Bette coos, “It’s okay, babycakes. Mama B’s got you…”
She starts to settle down with whimpers that rock me to the core and I hope the nurse leaves soon. I could strangle her just now. Doctor Wilson smiles sadly. “I know it’s hard, but we just want to check her levels and be sure.” She smiles more genuinely. “She weighs a full pound more, there’s no sign of labored breathing, her heartbeat is strong, her temperature normal… she’s just perfect.”
Bette and I smile through our tears. She is perfect. I hear Bette’s strong voice say, “Tell us something we don’t know.”
Doctor Wilson leans against the counter and crosses her arms over her chest with a smirk. “Well, I bet you can’t stand to be away from her, even while she’s sleeping, you’re getting no rest at all, you don’t leave your home unless you have to, and your libidos have taken a nosedive.” We gaze at her with wide eyes. “How am I doing so far?”
She laughs at our faces. “You’re new parents and all new parents are insecure, especially with one that had such a rough start. But you need to take better care of yourselves or you’re not going to last long, and that does her no good at all.”
I look to Bette and her gaze is so exhausted it’s heartbreaking. She has been working for the last several days, and while it’s only part-time, she refuses to sleep while I take care of the baby at night. I understand her desire to be there; my desire for her to be there is just as strong, but the doctor is right. She needs to take better care of herself. The doctor interrupts my thoughts. “Angelica is strong and healthy and thriving. I suggest that you pump some breast milk and get a babysitter. Get out of the house and do something for yourselves and get a full night’s sleep.” Bette eyes the doctor like she’s grown a second head but Doctor Wilson doesn’t back down. “You need one night, Bette. All I have to do is look at you to tell you’re running on empty.”
Bette’s demeanor softens with weariness and I stroke her back soothingly. She meets my gaze and the doctor sighs. My wife is torn, utterly torn. She knows what needs to happen. I just hope her infinite strength is enough to get her to do this. I can start small. Just taking care of Angie alone at night would help her tremendously. I smile reassuringly at her. This is going to be a fight, I know it already. But my wife is worth it.
I open my tired eyes to see it’s three in the morning. The fussing sounds of my hungry daughter fill the room from the monitor on the nightstand and I sit up to go to her. I feel Bette stir behind me as she starts to get up as well. Nope. It’s been a week since our visit with the doctor last Friday, and every night it’s the same thing. We argue wearily, I relent, she comes with, and now I’m scared to let her drive herself to work. It’s too much. She’s overwhelmed and she has to let this go. “Bette, go back to sleep. I’ll take care of this.” My tone is firm. I’m not trying to order her around but enough is enough.
I get to my feet and start for the door and turn to see her right behind me. I stop in the door and gaze at her. I know she’s strong. She’s my tower, my fortress, but she’s still human. Her eyes are stony as she meets my gaze with defiance. “I have every right to be in there, Tina.”
I sigh and reach up to stroke her face but she pulls away. I close my eyes for a moment. She’s not angry at me, she’s angry at the situation and the unfairness of it; she’s sleep deprived and exhausted. “Bette, of course you do. No one’s questioning that…”
“Then I don’t see the problem. I’m fine and I want to be there.”
“I want you there, more than anything…”
She sighs almost relieved. “Then let’s go.”
She starts to walk past me but I stand in her way. “Bette, you know that’s not true. You’re overestimating yourself, all right? Working five hours a day, up and down all night with me and Angie with little to no sleep, you can’t take on the whole burden, babe. You can’t. You’ve done this before and you always get in over your head.”
“You’re seriously going to throw the past in my face right now?”
I sigh and I can literally feel the anger her words inspire flush through me. “No, I’m not throwing anything in your face. I’m just trying to reason with you, but you’re not listening to me.”
The baby’s cries echo through the dark room and Bette tries again to walk past me. “Tina, if you haven’t noticed our daughter needs us. Not just you, but us.”
I can feel the flush of anger burn brighter and catch in my chest as my heart starts to pound. “You don’t think I know that? What am I supposed to do? Go to her and let you come so you can continue to make yourself so exhausted you get sick or worse, fall asleep at the wheel on the way to work? I love you both damnit! And right now the baby can wait! You…” I can’t catch my breath and I feel my heart start to flutter. “…you…can’t…”
“Tina…” I clutch at my breast as the tears roll down my face. Can’t she see that I love her, that I want what’s best for her? Does she really think I’m a bad mother for trying to help her first? She steps toward me and the world spins. “T…” I feel like I’m being held under water and I can’t stop it or pull myself back up. “TINA!” I watch the world drop out from under me before the darkness overcomes me.
My eyes flutter open and I hear the quick shuffle of feet, circles of murmured conversations, and the heavy thrums of different machines echo around me. I open my eyes and look over to see Bette holding my hand to her face, her eyes are closed and she’s sobbing quietly. I look around the room and realize we’re in an emergency room, nothing but a bed, a few machines, and a thin curtain for a door.
I hear the steady thrum of the heart monitor that I spent an eternity listening to and look back to Bette. I feel something pinch and tug around my face and nose and reach up to feel a tube tight up beneath it. I breathe deeply and the air comes so freely I almost feel light headed. I move my hand against Bette’s face to try and stroke it through her tight grip, and her eyes snap up to mine. She’s heartbroken and worried and I hate what’s happening. There’s only one way to fix it.
Her voice is tight and rough with emotion as she says, “T… oh, thank God…” She starts to sob harder and I feel the tears roll down my own cheeks as she starts to kiss my hand frantically, as if she’s trying to absorb me into her. Her words are choked and stuttered as she says, “I’m… so… sorry. I didn’t… mean… for this… to…”
I have to clear my throat to get it to work. “Shh, Bette, it’s okay…”
Her sobbing stops abruptly and her eyes are almost cold as they meet my own. For a moment I want to shrink away from her. “No, it’s not. Nothing about this is okay. I should have never… never, fought with you. I was being selfish. You’re right. Angie doesn’t need me. I knew you needed to keep your stress down. I almost killed you…”
I feel the anger flush through me and my heart skips a beat, maybe even two. The monitor hesitates and flutters along with it before calming again. Bette’s face turns from stone to worried mortification as she drops my hand. “I should leave you alone. I’m only making it worse.”
She stands to leave and I grab her as hard as my weak limb will allow. My voice drops a couple of octaves as I harshly say, “Bette, sit your ass down and fucking listen to me.” She won’t meet my eyes but she collapses back into the chair releasing an exhausted sigh. I have to remember what I’m dealing with. This isn’t her, it’s the terror of the last month and her exhaustion. “Look at me.” She finally meets my eyes and I open myself as much as I can. “Angie and I both need you. Always…” A tear rolls down her cheek. “You are no less her mother than I am.”
I pause and hope that this is sinking in. I can’t tell. She’s too distraught to get a good read on right now. “We are no different than any other first time parents. Each of us has a responsibility that differs from the other, but neither is expendable. You were needed at work, so I stepped in to cover the late night feedings so you could rest and perform that very important task. I understand why you feel needed at night. You are needed, but you can’t do both. Either you start sleeping at night, knowing that we’ll both miss you but we’ll make it, or you will stop working. I’ll let you pick, but this stops now.”
Her eyes are so sad that I feel my heart constrict. Fortunately, it’s not telling on the monitor. “I’m sorry, T… I just, I don’t want to miss anything and I’m worried that something will go wrong… I feel compelled to be in there…”
I reach for her hand and she takes it. She’s trembling and again I’m struck with how soft my tower is on the inside. “It’s settled then. No more work.”
She sighs. “What about the missing money?”
I squeeze her hand to reassure her. “Has Malcolm caught anything on the recordings yet?” She shakes her head. “Well, maybe that’s because you’re there. Why would he bring Kelly in or go about business as usual if you’re around?”
She furrows her brows and I can almost see her slap herself in the forehead. She smiles sadly at me. “Good. I’ll stay home for a while and see what happens.”
I smile back at her. “That works. And, I’m going to start pumping milk before bed so we can take turns. I don’t always have to be there either.” She gazes at me with that doe-eyed innocent expression and I sigh as I realize no matter how stubborn she is, it comes from a place of love, and I am so lucky have her. “Bette, there’s something else, and I know you’re not going to like it.”
Her wide eyes get even more worried and I pull all the reassurance I have in me up to my face to wear it as a smile. “Sometimes… sometimes the baby may have to wait.” She furrows her brows incredulously and I sigh. “I don’t mean we should ever neglect her, ever, but if you both need me and your situation is more dire, you’re going to come first for a few minutes. If we don’t take care of ourselves and each other, we have no hope of taking care of her. That doesn’t make us bad parents, it maintains our family.”
This information appears to be startling to her. Needs always come before wants, no matter whose they are. I don’t want Angie to wait five minutes for food or fuss or cry either, but if my wife is falling apart at the seams and in danger of an exhausted collapse, she will come first. I need her to understand this, but mostly, I need her to share this viewpoint. Angie may have to wait five minutes sometimes.
I can literally see the information sink. The tears roll down my face as she leans in and tucks her head under my chin. We cry together and I hear her whisper throatily, “I understand. I just don’t like it.”
I kiss her hair. “Me neither, but patience is a part of life. She’ll always be loved and cared for as fast as possible. It just may take a few minutes to get to her.” She blows out a breath and I feel her head nod against my chest. “You scared me so badly tonight. I’m so sorry, T…”
I kiss her forehead. “Stop saying you’re sorry. It takes two to fight, and I forgive you. Can you forgive me?”
She release as sigh and it tickles my neck. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
I smile. “Sure there is, but I’m glad you do.” I stroke the curls from her face. Even if we fight, I’m going to have to learn to keep my stress levels down. I don’t want to leave either of them any time soon. And I think it’s time to start exercising and look into those supplements.