excerpt from a novel

by Susan Oloier

Happiness never lasts.  Life gives you great gifts.  It lets you touch them, walk around in them, and wear them for awhile.  Then, when you least expect it—BAM!  It is all gone.


As I mill around the maternity section of Target, pushing the camel-colored pregnancy pants with the stretch bellies across the rack, I am oblivious to Life’s samurai surprises.  At three months—twelve weeks in pregnancy lingo—my size 28 Levi’s are just beginning to tighten.  But as an overzealous, first-time mom-to-be, I need to explore my clothing options. 

“Mommy even has something for you,” I tell the little one as I shake a Winnie the Pooh rattle at my belly. 

So customers overhear me, think I am crazy, I don’t care.  

With my street clothes pooled around my ankles, I examine my belly in the mirror.  Just beginning to show.  I wiggle into the powder blue Cherokee dress, assessing myself.  Not bad.  As I turn, a sharp pain seizes my right ovary.  Not the first time that week.  The stretch of the uterine lining, I tell myself.  According to Your Pregnancy Week by Week—totally normal.  I try the cotton khakis, the overalls, and the too-large blouse.  It is then that I feel it.  It starts as a dribble, then quickly turns into a gush.  Increased discharge—totally normal.  That’s what the nurse practitioner told the receptionist to tell me when I called earlier in the week.  Totally normal.  I check my panty lining.  Totally normal.  Or is it?  It doesn’t look normal.  It looks clear.  Clear with a pinkish tinge.  It isn’t the color that bothers me so much as the volume.  It is like an aquarium burst inside my Jockeys for Her.  Then the pain again.  I buckle, hold onto the almost-there seat, and grip the rattle until it breaks. 


It is Sunday.  No doctor’s office is open on Sunday.  I drive home, surprisingly calm, knowing I saturate the seat of the not-yet-paid-for Altima.  Tan interior.  The totally normal discharge will definitely show.  It’s nothing, I lie to myself.  Everything is going to be okay.  Why am I not convinced?  I have never been persuasive in arguments, not like Lloyd.  I punch the home number into the cell phone again.  No answer.  Damnit, where is he?  Not that it matters.  Nothing is wrong anyway. 


“The name is Anna.  Anna Kincaid.”  Lloyd hovers collectedly over the admissions desk. 

The pink acrylic tips of the receptionist’s nails slowly type the information into the computer.  I hunch over myself at the desk, biting back the pain.  This isn’t a leisurely check-in to the Pointe Hilton, sister, I want to say but don’t.  Instead, I hold my tongue and my wrenching abdomen.  Why isn’t a stream of medical personnel rushing into the room with a gurney, ready to sweep me away?  Does no one care what is happening to me?  What kind of emergency room are they running here anyway?  I want to talk to the manager.  Lloyd gives her all the information she requested.  I want to give her a piece of my mind.  I am just in too much pain.

“Have a seat in the waiting area and someone will be right with you.”

Stripped down, naked beneath the paper gown, my butt exposed to the sterile cot, I lie with a maxi pad circa 1955 between my legs.  What’s going to happen to me?  No one has said a word.  No one except for Lloyd.  He sits in a hard-back chair beside me, studying his wedding band.  Is he assessing the state of our baby or the legal papers he left behind at the office? 

His hypnosis suddenly breaks, and he grabs my hand.  “No matter what happens, we’re going to be okay.”

I attempt a smile.  What does that statement mean?  That he has already killed the baby in his mind? 

“I know,” I say.  But I don’t know why I say it. 

“Did I tell you about the newest case?  Hamilton versus Hamilton.  They are fighting for custody of toy poodles.”

The timbre in Lloyd’s words fades and is replaced by the incessant beeping of a life monitor next door.  Maybe someone has it worse than I do. 

The blanched blue curtains ruffle as ghost doctors float by.  My stomach jumps and my heart sinks as I think they may be rushing to me.  I want to know and I don’t want to know.  My cordoned-off area remains dark.  One recessed light shines behind my head.  I notice my blood-stained dress from Target—the one I purchased because I couldn’t put it back on the rack after the totally normal discharge discharged on it.  A stack of super maxi pads and mesh ER panties lie on the emergency room version of a nightstand.  Dark plywood, uninviting.  The message: no one dares to settle in here.  Dead or alive, we’re moving you out.  This all serves as a reminder of what is going on, even though I don’t know exactly what that is. 

I want to reach for another pad.  I feel the plasma spilling out of me.  But I’m certain if I don’t move, all the bleeding will stop.  I know it will.  Mind over matter.  Or the mind can heal the body.  Something like that.  Someone said it to Bill Moyers at some time in a PBS interview. 

I finally look to Lloyd, seated straight-backed in the visitor chair.  Even on Sunday, he wears his dapper Armani suit with an eclectic, Museum of Modern Art tie with its crazy, Jackson Pollack colors.  It is slightly loosened now.  A sign of relaxation…or worry.  His pale strawberry-blonde hair looks perfectly coifed.  His dull blue eyes are plastered to me. 

“Maybe another time with the poodles.” 

I want to hear the poodle story.  It will mean everything is all right.  That our world is not about to change. 

With a rip of the hand, the curtain blows back.  The metal rings clank against the brassy bar like an awakened wind chime.  A white-smocked woman wearing ringlets of chestnut hair settles at my side with a toolbox.  She’s here to fix everything. 

“We’re going to need to take some blood, Mrs. Kincaid.”  She cinches my arm in her padded fist.  “This won’t hurt a bit.”

She stabs a turkey baster of a needle in my arm and proceeds to suck out vial after vial of blood.  I turn my head and grab for Lloyd’s hand.  He smiles meekly.  Normally, I would get a wink, which means everything is going to be okay.  I don’t know the meaning behind that smile.  Or do I? 

“All righty.  We’ll get this specimen to the lab.  It may be awhile before we hear anything.”

Before either Lloyd or I—mainly Lloyd—can question her, she is behind the curtain.  Another scepter in the outside world. 

“How’s the pain?” Lloyd asks.

“Still there.”  I look at my arm, knowing that Lloyd means the pain inside of me, the pain where the baby is.  Better just to concentrate on the arm and the purple bruise that will mark its territory there by the end of the day.  Definitely better that way. 

I lie with my legs open and upward, ankles fastened in the stirrups.  The doctor looms over me.  The lines of experience on his face seem more deeply pressed than they should be as he evaluates the scene.  I am an accident that he has happened upon—disfigured, bloodied, hopeless. 

“We’re going to take a look at things.  Okay?” 

His speech sounds overly annunciated, condescending, as if he speaks to a lost child.  And maybe I am.  I look at his nametag instead of his eyes.  Joseph Frederick, M.D..  It’s easier to pretend there is no worry there—the nametag doesn’t give itself away. 

“Everything will be all right,” he says as the nurse hands Doctor Frederick a suctioning device.  A Hoover is what it is, meant to suck the crumbs from the depths of the sofa cushions, not to be placed inside of me. 

“This may be uncomfortable and the noise may be a little disturbing, so we’ll do this as quickly as we can.”

Lloyd’s hand settles uneasily on my arm as the nurse flips the switch.  Doctor Frederick inserts the hose inside me.  This is wrong.  Not at all how things are supposed to be in pregnancy.  I should be lying in Doctor Perez’s office, my OB/GYN, listening to the baby’s heartbeat.  Instead, I listen to the inhuman sucking of blood through the vacuum.  The blood, tissue, and baby move through the hose like liposuction.  A liposuction I did not sign up for. 

The machine chews noisily, smacking its lips with every taste of what is pulled from inside of me.  As more and more scarlet rushes by in my peripheral vision, so do my hopes and dreams for a future with this child.  I stare off into the distance to pretend none of this is happening.  Just beyond the blizzard white of Doctor Frederick’s jacket, I see the scarlet trail of blood I left on the ceramic tile floor.  It stands lifeless like cairns on a hiking path. 


After the procedure, I lie stiff on the cot in my tiny corner of the ER.  We know nothing more than we did when we first walked in the emergency room.  Communication must not be taught in medical school, I think.  No one even says the word baby.  It is taboo. 

“I’m sorry you had to see all of that,” I say to Lloyd.

“There was a lot of blood.”  Lloyd seems to reel from the gory scene.

We speak no more about it.  The words, once spoken, may actually confirm what we hope is not true. 

“Do you mind if I make a few calls?” Lloyd asks.

“You’re not calling family.” My tone is threatening, afraid. 


I think I nod an approval.  Whether I do or not, Lloyd disappears behind the curtains like everyone else. 


As I lie alone with no distractions, my thoughts turn to the baby.  I wonder what is happening to her.  I call the baby her because that’s who I feel she is.  I won’t truly find out the gender until week 19 or 20.  Maybe I won’t find out at all.  No, no, no, I tell myself.  You must think positively.  If her own mother has already given up on her, what hope does she have?  Maybe it’s the myth about craving salads over meats, maybe it’s a mother’s intuition.  I just know she is a girl.  Mommy’s little girl.  But mommy’s little girl must be writhing from pain right now because mommy sure is.  It’s not like premenstrual cramps.  No Siree!  Premenstrual cramps would be a welcomed guest.  This pain continually beats up and brutalizes my reproductive system.  And the baby.  With lead batons and hammer fists, it pounds every inch of my abdomen.  How can my baby withstand it?  I barely can.  Maybe my body is absorbing all of the pain, so that she feels nothing.  I hope and pray that’s the way it is. 

I talk to the baby inside my head, knowing that conversations are easily overheard between the thin linings of the curtain dividers.  Already I know that the neighbor on my left is hooked up to some sort of monitor.  The nurses already threaded an I.V.  Yikes!  Seems pretty serious when they have to thread an I.V.  I’m certainly glad I don’t need one.  It’s a woman suffering from kidney problems.  She weighs over 300 pounds because she volunteered the information when the ER staff attempted to move her.  I can’t imagine offering up that kind of information without a fight. 

The woman on my right is elderly—93, to be exact.  She managed to get herself to the emergency room by calling a cab.  With no husband, no family, it must be lonely.  Dizzy spells.  That’s the reason she came.  But I would be willing to bet that her true ailment is loneliness.  She came to the ER to have some company.

So in my head, I say to the baby that everything will be fine.  The bleeding will soon stop—though I am on my fifth pad already—and she will be able to heal.  But I’m not sure if my thoughts are a promise or a question. 


“We’re going to take you for an ultrasound.  See what we can see,” the nurse has been sent in to tell me.

Those are the first promising words we have heard all day.  We have been in the emergency room for four and a half hours so far and no closer to what is going on with me, with the baby.  I smile weakly at Lloyd.  He smiles back, so patient considering all the work he has left at the office. 

“First we’re going to insert a balloon inside your bladder.  Makes it easier to see what’s going on.”

Earlier, they put a catheter inside of me for comfort, now a balloon.  Next thing, I’ll have an I.V. 

Sharon Sturgess, radiology technician, rolls me back to yet another examination room like I am in invalid, unable to stand on my own two feet. 

The room smacks of sterility—white-washed walls, bright interrogation lamps, and ammonia-scrubbed floors. 

She parallel parks me alongside a monitor, lubes my stomach with what feels likes mentholated eucalyptus, and takes a seat. 

“I’m going to fill the balloon.  It won’t hurt, but it will feel like you have to pee.”  She whispers her final word, probably to avoid embarrassment.  Nevermind that I am buck naked and emitting fluids galore beneath my barely-there gown. 

She slides an air hockey paddle over my stomach—a double agent that works incognito as a shock device during artificial resuscitation.  No words escape her lips.  Only hmmm’s  and undercover sighs.  I strain to see the monitor, but it is tipped just out of my view.  I want to see my baby, witness the heartbeat, then I’ll know she’s going to be all right.  Sharon touches a few keys on the keyboard—coded language—then the ultrasound is complete. 

“We have to wait for Doctor Minot to read the results before we know anything.  Do you need anything?  Water?  A warm blanket?”

Water?  A warm blanket?  Does she think I am here for a paraffin treatment or a salt water sea scrub?  This is not a day at the spa.  Though, it occurs to me, it probably costs more.  I could probably have the works with a fruit plate at the Phoenician for what I’ll be paying these people. 

“Yes, I’d like a warm blanket.”


Back in my remote section of the ER, the pain crescendos as we continue to wait. 

“What is taking so long?” I ask Lloyd through gritted teeth.  My fist clenches a section of sheet and blanket, a technique I discovered within the last half hour to withstand the pain. 

“I don’t know.  We just have to be patient.”  Lloyd’s tie lies draped around his neck, completely undone about an hour ago.  “Do you want me to request some medication?”  He tries to be helpful in the only way he knows how.

I shake my head, studying the splash of colors in his tie.  “The baby.”

“I think you need something.  You look flushed.”

He sidles up close to the bed just as the curtain tears back violently, and one of the nurses enters.  Lloyd pushes his chair back to its original position so she can continue her clear path to the blood pressure machine. 

“Doesn’t she look flushed?”  He asks the nurse.  “Would it be at all possible to get some pain medication for her?”  His voice has a tone.  The nurse can’t recognize it, but I can.

“You haven’t had any pain medication?”  She asks this as she squeezes the arm cuff even harder.  “We’ll have to get some for you.”


“This will pinch a little,” the nurse reassures me as she stabs the vein of my hand with a needle the size of my index finger and threads an I.V. 

So it has come to this—an I.V. 

“The medication will enter your bloodstream more quickly this way.  It’s a narcotic, so it should take care of your pain rather quickly.”

Narcotic!  I picture a scruffy teenager peddling crack cocaine in the lobby of the emergency room.  In a darkened corner beside the vending machines, Doctor Frederick slips the kid a wad of bills in exchange for a baggie filled with tainted white powder.  It’s that white powder that floods through my bloodstream and washes over my internal organs, making me forget about the pain.  My mind seems to detach from the situation, from reality. The pain fades into the background, and I am almost giddy.  But not really.  I like the feeling, which seems so wrong in the midst of the situation.  The thought, what about my baby? enters my mind for an instant, then I thrust it away.  The doctor wouldn’t prescribe a narcotic if it’s going to harm the baby.

Doctor Frederick blows through the curtain and wafts into our assigned area of the room.  Seated on a stool, he rolls beside the bed.  He looks me directly in the eye—though he could be looking through me for all I care.  Lloyd reaches for my hand. 

Frederick musters up a forlorn face. “I’m sorry.  Your baby is dead.” 

My emotions battle with the narcotic for control of the news.  I’m not really sure who is winning, but I feel the tears stream from the outward edges of my eyes.  Lloyd’s hand tightens around mine. 

Doctor Frederick rambles for awhile.  I am not sure what he is saying.  I do hear certain phrases clearly, such as no sac or baby present in the ultrasound.  He asks me questions, and I don’t know if I even respond.  He draws a picture of what’s supposed to be my uterus on the back of his diagnosis sheet, but I am not sure what he is trying to explain.  Again, I hear scraps of information—scraps I should probably ignore. 

“You couldn’t have been too far along.  Your hCG numbers are pretty low.  And it’s not like there was a heartbeat.”

No heartbeat!  What is he talking about?  I saw it for myself in Doctor Perez’s office.  As vivid as my hand before my face.  Or was I lucid then, too?

“But there was a heartbeat,” I try to spit out through parched lips. 

“Really?”  He looks to Lloyd, more reliable than I am in the doctor’s eyes.  Lloyd nods his head in affirmation.

“Hmmm.  It’s not normal to miscarry when there’s a heartbeat.”

I don’t know what any of this means.  hCG levels low, not normal to miscarry when there’s a heartbeat.  And what’s this with not trusting my word.  I am the mother for God’s sake.  I can’t get a handle on it all.  Damn the street drugs! 

“I really am sorry,” Doctor Frederick utters as he stands from his chair.  “The nurse will give you your final instructions, you’ll need to sign some paperwork, then you’re free to go home.”  The curtain breezes back, and he is gone.  So that is it?  Like a paroled felon, I am free to go home.  I imagine the freed prisoner would feel elation at the news.  I don’t.  I walked into the emergency room pregnant.  I am leaving as if it never even happened.   


Lloyd guides me by the arm as I drag myself over the freckled, linoleum floor of the ER.  The blood-stained, Cherokee dress from Target is wadded in a Fry’s shopping bag, which dangles lifelessly from my arm.  I clutch a twenty count prescription for Percocet in my hand with the rest of the paperwork.  My Levi’s jeans that I asked Lloyd to bring from home bundle at the crotch, and the super-sized maxi pad rustles between by legs. 

Just behind the cracks of the curtains, I catch glimpses of patients, other people in some state of misery now experiencing a brush with the ER.  My 300 pound neighbor moans from beneath her too-small sheet, fluids hang from bags, so you cannot even tell what is going in and what is coming out of her.  A Hispanic man across the way follows me with his eyes, imploring me to be his doctor or at least a nurse.  In every corner, at every edge, misery keeps this place alive. 

“Do you need a wheelchair?”  The nurse asks.  It is an afterthought; her fingers and eyes skim the names of recent urine samples.

“No thanks,” I mutter as Lloyd and I pass into the lobby, slide past more suffering patients and out the front doors. 

“How do you feel?”  Lloyd stops for a moment to ask. 

The wind skims the fronds of the palm trees, cactus wrens bob through the sky, and people continue to streak through life as if nothing ever happened.  How can everything still be in motion after what took place in there?  How can Lloyd’s mouth still be moving, but the words coming from it hold no meaning for me?  How do I feel?  I feel carved out like a jack-o-lantern, hollow and empty.  That is how I feel. 


Susan Oloier has written four screenplays and two novels. She is currently working on a non-fiction book about her son’s diagnosis and experience with Trisomy 18. She and her husband are currently co-authoring a book about their travels through the National Park System. 

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