The Unexpected baby chronicles (Part 3)



Time just disappears in emergency rooms. The waiting takes on a religious quality — it makes you feel like a monk performing some kind of mortification of the mind instead of the flesh.

They verify her name at every point. Every time someone new enters the room or sits at a computer in the near vicinity, she is asked to recite her date of birth.

“Eight, fourteen, eighty-four.”

I must have heard it a thousand times that day.

And then: more sitting, more waiting, more being cold — why are hospitals always so insanely cold?

She’s convinced; I say we don’t know anything yet. They haven’t told us anything yet, but they never really do, do they? Piss into this, follow me this way, open your vein, take off your clothes. They ask for everything, and then tell you everything except the precise bit of information you need: the only conceivable reason you would hang around this soul-sucking place.

As they take her vitals for the third time she gazes straight ahead, not seeing anything through eyes glossy with tears. She knows. I do not. The hospital does not. She is beautiful and far away in this moment. She is terrifying in her certainty.

An exam. Another ultrasound. We have a heartbeat, and it’s the right kind of heartbeat. More waiting.

I try to lighten the mood with a weak attempt at being funny.

“Not right now,” she says, not unkindly. More like how a mother would react to her babbling three-year-old in church. I lay my head on her knee and she lays her hand on my head.

It feels like the kids we already have won’t remember who we are, should we ever get out of this place. Life is rushing by at a breakneck pace just outside the heavy glass doors. People are doing things. Business is getting done. We are cut off from that, immersed in stillness, while the minute hand winds down towards the end of the world.

We are released back into the wild after five hours. Five hours in that alternate universe where you are greeted with unfamiliar eyes and cold hands, where answers such as “Everything looks OK, just rest, here, let me prescribe you some meds,” are offered as if they are substantial and pertinent. As if, “Well, yeah, should be fine, couldn’t really see anything out of the ordinary. Oh, all the blood and pain? That just happens sometimes, everyone is different, bye,” is an acceptable thing to say to someone.


We are home. We get the kids in bed. She needs a bath. I want to read.


There’s nothing like hearing your name called in that way. It’s seared into my dendrites. My first reaction is blankness. My mind feels like it has been completely bleached, like it’s an empty warehouse, but filled with bats.

Survival instinct kicks in: I’m sure it’s just blood, and the pain, I’m sure she’s just in a lot of pain and there is a lot of blood and I will help.

I proceed down the hallway with considerable apprehension and what seems to be a tiny troll hacking away at the back of my skull with a pickaxe.

I step inside. She’s crying; she can barely breathe. Her hand is cupped around it as she holds it up. Lightning flashes as the troll in my brain makes solid contact.


It didn’t look like I was expecting it to look. In all the renderings they look like aliens, barely humanoid, especially at seven weeks. But ours — our failed attempt — didn’t look like that.

It could have been the state we were in, but it appeared serene and miraculous and beautiful.

We had no idea what to do. We tried to fight through the tears and confusion to make some rational decisions, or at least, to figure out how to get her out of the bathtub.

In the end, we ended up holding each other and crying, her on the inside of the tub, cold and wet, me on the outside, dry and warm. That is an apt description of the differences in our experience of the same event. I can only use how I feel to estimate: her feelings of devastation and sorrow must be ten times that of mine. She had ached for this, desired it more than I have ever desired anything. I was OK with it eventually. There is no comparison.


We have to tell the kids; they were so excited. We have to tell our friends and family, who were so happy for us. The love and support we are given are sustaining. Many have gone through the same thing and that means a great deal.

But, really, it’s just the two of us left to deal with it behind the walls we have been building for the last 16 years. These walls are strong, and it is warm inside, but pain and heartbreak still pour over the top.

Still further inside, she is left to wonder why. Why did it happen? What was the cause? Is it something wrong with her, or was it something specifically wrong this time around? It happened to us before, but we had been successful two times since. Was she done forever? Would she be allowed another chance?

I can’t offer any satisfying answers to these questions and it makes me feel useless. I can’t know the acute pain — physical and mental — this causes, I can only experience it adjacently, removed from it physically and, mostly, psychologically. But I am here, and she knows that.


Do I want to try this again? Do I want to risk this happening again? Do I want to rip another soul of out nonexistence and set it off on a path towards the countless potential terrors of life? I don’t know.

For a long time I didn’t want to. I felt it wasn’t worth it. And then the unexpected baby came along. I came around to the idea. Holding your baby is an experience that defies description. Watching your child grow and learn and become who they will become is not something you can do vicariously.

In the end, it is not about me. It’s about us. It’s about her. And she deserves another go. She deserves to take on all the potential pitfalls and horrific outcomes. She deserves the maximum amount of happiness possible in one lifetime.

Who am I to deny that?

A ORP pic.jpg

Michael Harshbarger lives in Southern Indiana with his wife and two children. He reads as much as possible and attempts to write whenever he can find time. In addition to his day job, Harshbarger writes about sports for He believes the best axiom in the world comes from Cinderella: Have courage and be kind.