“Joel, this is not your fault,” his mom insisted. They were sitting together in the corner of Winnie’s hospital room as she slept, monitors hooked up, vital signs completely normal, nothing out of the ordinary for a healthy woman at twenty-five weeks gestation. “She’s not having any cramping. She’s not in labor. The baby’s not in distress. The only person in distress is you.”
“Because I caused her to start bleeding.” Joel leaned forward in his chair and gripped his hands into his hair.
“Eh, you might have nudged things down there a little but she’s not in any pain. She’s going to be fine. The ultrasound showed everything was still intact. They’ll probably send her home in the morning after some observation.”
Thank goodness for ultrasounds, Joel thought. All it had taken was one listen to the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a faint but distinct heartbeat and Winnie was just as smitten as he was. There was proof right there on that grey image. Peanut sized proof with a spinal column, and a heartbeat. Her gameplan had shifted and she had been more than willing to move home and continue treatment for her eating disorder as an outpatient.
Now six months later they were back in the hospital, and it was all Joel’s fault.
He had done everything in his power to help Winnie through those first few months. If he thought his marriage vows to care for her in sickness and in health had been tested before, he’d been mistaken.
The care and feeding of a pregnant woman struggling through the very real mental illness of anorexia nervosa was a near constant battle. At any time, Winnie could miscarry, her heartrate could plummet or become irregular, she could pass out or throw up. But most of the time she was fine and told Joel he was being overly cautious.
Terrified was more like it. He started seeing a counselor to deal with his own stress. But he couldn’t tell Winnie that. She needed to live her life in a sweet, happy cloud of love and affection. His mother and father, along with his sister, helped him keep Winnie under constant observation at their home in Santa Barbara.
They paid Ulysses extra to make house calls every couple of days to help with meal planning, Celeste came by nearly every day for at least a little while since she was still in charge of making sure Winnie had everything she needed. She even brought her daughter to come meet Winnie a few times. Anything to keep Winnie from going stir crazy while on bed rest.
A physical therapist was commissioned to work with Winnie to help her do simple exercises designed to keep her muscles, joints, and internal organs moving in a safe and controlled manner. Medical conditions aside, Winnie was still a professional athlete and intended to return to her job as soon as her body was healthy enough.
But first everyone was focused on bringing a baby into the world safely. They discussed baby names but mostly just called the little guy peanut. Until they learned the little guy was a little girl and they named her Isabella in honor of the character from Breaking Dawn who had been so fragile after marrying a vampire.
By the middle of the second trimester everyone had become comfortable with the established routines and complacent. Once into the seventh month, they’d all let down their guard because statistically a baby at that age would likely survive if born early. They all still considered Winnie to be on full bedrest, but the constant terror no longer filled Joel’s heart.
He even allowed a little bit of intimacy. Winnie insisted that people had sex during pregnancy all the time. Joel insisted that no one at this high risk of complications should even attempt it.
But he welcomed her touch, and she welcomed his, and they spent their nights snuggling and kissing, and holding one another.
That night they went a little too far, and Joel let his guard down a little too much, and somehow, something they did in that moment of weakness caused Winnie to start bleeding.
“Do you know how embarrassing it is to scramble to help your wife get dressed as quickly as possible knowing the ambulance was almost to your house?”
“Bleeding after sex is actually quite common and is not a sign the baby is in distress or that she’s going to miscarry.” His mom reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Her cervix could just be shedding cells and that caused the bleeding.”
“Joel?” Winnie’s quiet voice called out from her hospital bed.
“I’m here, babe. I’m right here.” Joel rushed to her side and lifted her hand into his.
“I had a dream.” She laid her other hand onto her pregnant belly. “Oh, it must not have been a real dream.”
“What was your dream, sweetheart?”
“I was holding Bella in my arms, and she was so beautiful.”
“If she looks anything like her mother, she’s definitely going to be beautiful.”
“Joel! She’s kicking! Put your hand right here!” Winnie guided his hand to the correct place and Joel felt like a little foot was trying to push its way out.
Tears fell from Joel’s eyes, and he leaned forward to kiss the spot where the little foot was pushing against Winnie’s skin. “Hi, Bella, it’s your daddy. I’m right here. I can’t wait to meet you.”
“Can she hear you?” Winnie asked. “Babies have ears at this age, right?”
“Absolutely. She can hear everything we say. She probably can’t understand English or anything. But I’m sure she hears the love in our voices.”
“Speaking of love”—Winnie bit her lower lip—“You’re never going to make love to me again, are you?”
“Yes, I will. Six weeks after Bella is sleeping in her crib and no longer sleeping in your belly.”
“Yer no fun.” Winnie pouted.
“Is that my cue to leave?” Joel’s mom said, standing and stretching. “You guys start talking smutty to each other, I’m out of here.”
“Hey, Mom,” Winnie called out and reached for her mother-in-law’s hand. “Can you maybe call my parents and tell them to come to California? I think I’m going to have Bella pretty soon.”
“Soon as in… today?” His mom raised her eyebrows. “Or, soon as in within the next few weeks?”
“Next few wee… uh, days?”
“Days?” Joel’s stomach dropped with excitement and anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of fear.
“Just a feeling,” Winnie said. “A hunch?” She shrugged.
“Hey, either way, you’ll get to hang out with your parents, right?” Joel’s mom said.
“Right.” Winnie nodded definitively.
Joel was thankful for her positive outlook and smile. A little bit of hope made a big difference. He was ready to be a dad and looked forward to Bella joining their family.