“Is my baby okay?” Winnie’s throat was scratchy and dry, but she knew she was awake and that someone was holding her hand. She’d woken up in too many hospitals over the past year, but this was the first time she was excited to smell antiseptic and hear the beeping of machines.
“It speaks volumes that your first words were to inquire about Isabella,” Joel said in a soft voice. “Here, open your mouth, I’ll help you with some water.”
Winnie opened her eyes along with her mouth and saw her very haggard husband holding a Styrofoam cup with a straw close to her face. She drank just a sip and then lay her head back on the pillow. “Where’s our baby?”
“She’s in the NICU,” Joel said. “She’s doing really well considering how stressed your body was during your pregnancy. She’ll need to be there for a few weeks.”
“I’m in a lot of pain.” Winnie groaned. “Did they do a c-section?”
“Yeah, and you pulled through the surgery just fine. You did great. Let me call for a nurse and see about getting you some pain medicine.”
Joel must have pushed a nurse button because a voice came over a speaker, “Can I help you?”
“Edwina’s awake and in pain,” Joel said. “Can we do anything for her?”
“I’ll be right in,” the nurse said. She had a pleasant voice and was at Winnie’s side within a few minutes. “Hi Edwina, I’m Shae, You’re stuck with me all day today but I promise not to torture you too much.”
“I appreciate that,” Winnie joked back but cringed when she tried to laugh.
“Here, sweetie, you push this button right here and a shot of pain killer will go right up through your IV and into your blood stream.” The nurse handed her a little device with a button to self-administer her own medication.
“Is it gonna put me to sleep?” Winnie hesitated and held her thumb over the button.
“Do you want it to put you to sleep?” The nurse seemed ready to answer in whichever direction necessary to keep Winnie comfortable.
“I want to see my baby.”
“You’ll have to wait a day or two,” Shae said. “Baby can’t leave the NICU yet, and you’re not healthy enough to get out of bed. As soon as you are, we’ll get you down there. You might as well take a little nap while you’re both recovering.”
“Okay.” Winnie was disappointed that she couldn’t see Bella yet, but didn’t let it bother her for long as she pushed her pain medicine button about a hundred times until she fell asleep. She woke a million hours later to a different nurse and Joel had changed his clothes and showered. She was in even more pain and didn’t bother asking permission before putting herself back to sleep. The next time she awoke, Shae was there again and Winnie didn’t see Joel in the room.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Shae said, removing a blood pressure cuff from her arm. That must have been what woke her.
“Is it?” Winnie asked. She was still in extreme pain but didn’t want to go back to sleep. Shae being there again meant at least twenty-four hours had passed. “Can I see my baby yet? You said a day or two.”
“Better make it two, sweetheart.”
“Okay.” Back to sleep.
Joel was there when Winnie woke back up and he squeezed her hand gently. “Hey, babe, good to see your eyes. How you feeling?”
“Is that a trick question?” Winnie mumbled. “How would you feel if someone ripped your body open and took out a person?”
“I’d probably feel just as much pain as you feel.” Joel chuckled. “But I have some good news. I got to hold Isabella today. Well, she held my finger anyway. I didn’t actually get to pick her up.”
“When can I see her?” Winnie asked for what felt like the hundredth time.
“As soon as you’re able to walk, probably.”
“Can’t you just wheel me down there in a wheelchair?” Winnie was getting frustrated.
“Can you even sit up yet?” Joel raised his eyebrows.
“There’s your answer.”
“My boobs hurt,” Winnie said.
“Your milk’s probably coming in. You want me to call for Shae?”
“They’re not going to let me nurse, are they?” Winnie realized there were a lot of things a normal mother would do that she wouldn’t get to do. Sucking vital nutrients from her already ravaged body wouldn’t help with recovery from anorexia.
“Not likely. But they might be able to pump a little. That will relieve the pressure and they’ll probably be able to feed the milk to little Bella through her feeding tube.”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
Joel called for Shae and then stepped out to make a phone call while Shae helped her pump. Not that she’d be embarrassed to pump in front of her own husband but this was sort of a girl thing.
A few hours later Joel’s mom and Winnie’s mom came into her hospital room together with soft, apprehensive smiles. Winnie almost cried she was so happy to see them.
“Every time we’ve come here you’ve been sleeping,” Lynnette said, taking Winnie’s right hand. Her own mom took her left hand carefully so as not to jar the IV sticking out.
“I haven’t been much fun to be around lately, huh?”
“You’re the only one not having fun,” Winnie’s mom said. “We’ve been playing Grandma the past three days.”
“Three days? I thought it had only been two days?”
“You must have slept through one of those days. You were in pretty bad shape for a while there.” Lynnette gave her hand a little squeeze.
“Kinda still am in bad shape,” Winnie observed.
“Yeah, they’re going to keep you here at the hospital for quite a while, I think,” Lynnette said. “Once they get you medically stable, they’ll probably transfer you up to the psych ward to get you healthy enough to go back to inpatient treatment at the center.”
“I have to go back there again.” Winnie wrinkled her nose in distaste but knew that was the best place for her right now.
“Only if you want to get healthy and live independently again,” her mom said. “And dancing again… eventually.”
“I would really like that.”
“I have faith in you.” Lynnette leaned down and kissed Winnie’s forehead.
“Will you both help Joel take care of Bella?” Winnie asked, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not going to be a very good mom for a while.”
“The love you have in your heart for your baby is what makes you a good mom,” Lynnette said, her words choking off through her own tears.
“And your willingness to keep getting healthy,” Winnie’s mom said. “You sacrificed nine months of your treatment to bring that little sweetie into the world, but that’s only going to set you back a little. You can do this, Edwina. And we’ll help.”
“Your mom and I will work together to get you and Joel through the next couple years,” Lynnette said.
“And I’ll even move to New York City for a couple of months once you head home,” her mom said. “I love the City. That will be a fun adventure for me.”
“And your parents have offered for you and Joel to stay at their house in Michigan for a few months so Joel can get his in-person medical school classes finished. For now, he’s going to take as many classes online as he can while you’re in treatment and I’m here to help with the baby.”
“You guys are too much,” Winnie said through her tears. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The pressure of the emotions wracking her body brought pain again to the point of needing relief. She pushed the button on her pain meds but mumbled a goodbye before pushing the button again and again into oblivion.