Too Late by Lisa Travell
The pain had rapidly escalated from mild to crippling. Fiona bent over the bed panting and trying desperately to dial David’s number between contractions. It was too early; it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Her sense of panic rose with the level of pain. She needed help and deep within her fear competed with rationality as she fought to focus. Downstairs, she needed to get downstairs and find someone, anyone. David’s answer message kicked in again and she threw the phone across the room in frustration, realising too late what a stupid thing she’d done. She’d left numerous messages now, and felt frustrated and angry that he was never there when she needed him.
The journey downstairs seemed to take forever, each step achieved between stabbing contractions. Finally she reached the bottom and stumbled to the door, clutching desperately at the handle. The first face she saw was her neighbour, passing on her morning jog. She cried out and saw the friendly wave drop away and smile fall from her friend’s face.
‘Oh my God Fiona, are you OK?’ Jessica shouted as she changed direction and ran towards her.
‘I need to get to a hospital…’ She trailed off, feeling the wetness before she saw the growing puddle of bright crimson. It spread slowly across the tiles, forming small rivers as the flow increased and she hung onto the door like a lifeline as her energy deserted her. Her last illogical thought before she passed out was what a beautiful contrast this vivid splash of colour provided against the blank canvas of grey flooring.
The lights were overly bright and someone was shouting in Arabic. Fiona noted the panic in their voice but relief flooded through her as she became aware of David somewhere near, his voice raised in anger. ‘What do you mean I can’t come in? I need to be with her!’
‘C section, we do now!’ Came the garbled reply. ‘No men allowed!’
They both knew this might happen but nothing prepared them for it now. They were well aware that men were forbidden to attend the birth in government-run hospitals in Saudi, but they had planned on giving birth in a private hospital. Now the realisation hit them both and as the gurney was hurriedly wheeled along the corridor of the hospital David desperately sought Fiona’s hand. She in turn reached out for David, clutching only air as they whisked her away.
‘I’m so so sorry,’ he cried out, his apology hanging in the air as the doors of the theatre swung closed behind her, leaving just the memory of David’s pained face, fear etched deeply into each line.
Despite the pain that emanated from her Fiona felt another pain, a deep numbing ache that she had suppressed for so long. It came from her heart and she knew without a doubt that it was breaking. David had brought her to Saudi against her will; she was in this situation because of him. If they had stayed in England she felt sure she would not be here now, fighting for her life and that of her unborn children. The stress had been slowly mounting and the discovery of his affair had been like a knife in her heart. That wound had festered and weakened her love, until she felt her heart break open. She finally realised the superficial nature of their one sided relationship, how her need to be loved had made her accept love on any terms, no matter how degrading and self-deprecating. A steely resolve settled in place of her shattered heart and dreams; if she survived this she would never forgive him, ever.
Fiona knew she was still bleeding; the high-pitched noises of alarm emanating from the medical team needed no translation. She convulsed as another pain ripped through her, struggling to speak but her muffled voice echoed back at her, lost in her oxygen mask. She was being connected to various machines and offered no explanation as to what was happening. Reaching out she tried to get the attention of a nearby nurse but her arms felt trapped. They had been strapped down. She fought the tethers and felt a nurse pat her arm. Rather than reassuring it felt condescending and the loneliness and fear consumed her, losing all self-control she started to scream.
They had obviously sedated her and she fought the fog and drowsiness that threatened to drag her back into the dark nightmare of her thoughts. The reality was no better but she needed to know her twins were safe. The reassuring sound of two tiny babies crying in unison instantly brought tears to her eyes and big fat droplets overflowed, pouring down her face. Unable to wipe them she let them flow, joy coursing through her veins as she basked in the relief those insistent sounds brought.
Then a sudden flurry of activity from the corner of the room caught her eye. Through the blur of her tears she saw panic, sensed something more. The alien language and raised voices reached a crescendo as a gap opened up between the sea of green coats and she spotted the tiny blue body the medical team worked on. With a sickening dread she realised that the feeble cries emitting from the corner were now solo. She saw a doctor turn and bark an instruction at a nurse, he unintentionally caught her eye and turned away again quickly, but not before she saw the pity in his eyes. She knew then she had lost one of her babies. She felt the grief like a physical blow on her already battered body and as one twin cried on, oblivious that his sibling had left the world, her wails joined his, starting quietly and rising in volume as the hysteria took hold.
Outside the theatre David was pacing frantically. Retracing his steps on the same path in a manic fashion, the repetition of the act a therapy of sorts. Time seemed to have stood still; resting a while, whilst unbeknown to him behind the closed doors time marched on, taking with it a tiny life. Intend on his incessant march, and oblivious to the events unfolding, David contemplated his own life. He thought about his relationship with Fiona, their turbulent journey through IVF and their absolute joy at discovering they would be parents to not one, but two children. He felt the shame at his exposed affair and realised the stress he had put Fiona under with the move. With clarity his love for Fiona shone through and the thought of losing her now caused bile to rise in his throat. He fought the sickness and the unthinkable. She would be fine and so would the twins. Things were going to change. He was going to prove to his love to her. He couldn’t imagine life without her, she was his soul mate, his rock and he need to make her realise that. They would be the perfect family unit, all four of them; he smiled at the thought and stopped in his tracks. Happily ever after, he could make that happen, they could move back to England, whatever she wanted. He felt the excitement rise inside him, overriding his earlier fear. He willed the doors to open so he could meet his new family and share his dreams; their lives were just beginning and the anticipation was overwhelming.