The lights hanging over the young woman’s head were so intense that her eyes began to water. She tried not looking into them, but her only other option was to gaze upon the doctor and nurse there in the makeshift delivery room, or the drawn, silent man in the dark suit, lingering in the corner.
“Dear,” said the nurse, reaching beneath the curtain hanging between them, “I’m going to need you to push again.”
“No,” said the girl, cringing from the last shockwave of pain still reverberating through her body. “I can’t. I can’t do any more.”
“This is an important time,” said the doctor solemnly, his eyes never rising to meet hers. “I know it’s hard to find the energy, but we need you to push now.”
“Doctor,” said the nurse, looking over her shoulder toward the pulsing monitors, “something’s wrong.” The obstetrician pulled the surgical mask from his face to reveal flushed, damp cheeks. He dabbed trickles of sweat from his forehead, while at the same time trying to mask a look of concern.
“Her pressure is dropping too rapidly,” said the nurse, glancing back and forth between the monitors and the doctor. “We should call in a surgical team.”
“No,” said the man from the corner, “there will be no one else. Keep going.” The prone young woman issued a shrill cry as a growing pool of blood appeared from between her legs, dripping to the floor.
“I don’t think you understand,” said the doctor. “This woman needs more specialized care than we can give her here. We need to get her to a hospital.”
“No, it’s you who doesn’t seem to understand,” growled the man in the suit. “When you agreed to do this, it was on the condition that no one else would be called in.”
“But she could go into shock…”
“Get the baby out of there,” said the man from the corner. “Save the woman if you can, but the baby is what matters.”
“Doctor,” said the nurse, “her pulse is dropping too.” The young woman’s eyes rolled back as the nurse came around the curtain to cradle her head. “Hang in there, honey,” she said, pulling a lock of hair back from the girl’s temple. “You’ll be just fine.”
“You have to get her to push,” whispered the doctor, glancing over his shoulder toward the corner. “This baby has to come now, or else they’re both going to die.”
“But she’s in and out of consciousness,” said the nurse, eyes widening.
“Get behind her,” said the doctor. “Lift her up and forward. Try to get her to focus on you. She’s starting to crown. I just need another couple of pushes and I can handle the rest.” Another wave of blood poured out from beneath the curtain, covering the doctor up to his elbows. “Christ, she’s hemorrhaging everywhere. She’s got to have a transfusion if she’s going to have any chance.”
“Doctor,” said the man in the corner. “The child, please.”
“This is on your head, you know,” the obstetrician said over his shoulder. “If she dies, someone will have to answer for it.”
“And if the child dies,” said the man in the suit, “the loss will hang around your neck like a stone, so I suggest you remember what’s at stake.”
“I know what’s at stake,” said the doctor, reaching below the curtain for signs of the baby, “although I think you’re all insane.”
“Just do your job, doctor.”
“What’s going on,” the young woman mumbled, her eyes gauzy and weak. Her face was void of color, and the nurse looked like she was handling a fresh corpse.
“If you want to live,” whispered the nurse into her ear, “you’ll push right now.”
“If I had known,” said the girl, tucking her head against her chest and closing her eyes, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Never mind,” the nurse looked up, “she’s incoherent.” She held the girl’s head in her arms. “Now give me everything you have, honey. I’m here to help you, but you’ve got to push.” The young woman looked toward the floor.
“Is that blood?” she asked, here eyes wide. “Is it mine or the baby’s?”
“No more talking,” said the doctor. “She’s crowning. One good push and we’re there.” The girl drew in a deep breath and, leaning against the nurse behind her, strained with what little strength she had remaining. “Good, yes,” the voice came from beneath the curtain, “that’s it. Just a little more.” His head emerged, eyes trained on his hands which held a squirming, agitated little figure. “Nurse,” he called, “I need you around this side.” As the nurse rounded the curtain, a third surge of blood trickled out across the operating table, followed by a muted groan from the young woman.
“What can we do?” asked the nurse.
“Without a team of surgeons?” The doctor pulled the mask from his face again. “Not much. She’s bleeding internally, and I don’t have the equipment to stop it here.” He glanced toward the corner where the man in the suit stared intently at the child.
“It’s a boy,” said the nurse.
“I know,” nodded the man. “Get him cleaned up. I’ll take him.”
“But after a traumatic delivery like this,” she argued, “the baby and mother should be in intensive care.”
“Do as I tell you,” he hissed. “Know your place, and keep your mouth shut.”
“Is he all right?” said the young woman weakly, straining to see over the divider. “Is my baby all right?”
“Don’t let her see,” the man in the suit advanced toward them. “Just get him clean and wrapped up, and give him to me.”
“I want to see him,” she said.
“That’s not part of the deal,” said the man. “You know that.”
“I want to see him,” she repeated. “I want to see my son.”
“Listen,” the man leaned across the curtain to meet her eyes, “This is not your child. He’s ours, and you’re never to see him. Never, understand?”
“My baby,” she whispered, her head falling back against the delivery table. “My baby boy.”
“Enough of this,” grunted the man. “Give him to me.”
“No,” said the doctor. “This isn’t right. We have to look after him to make sure he’s okay.”
“You were paid to do one thing, doctor,” the man in the suit drew out this last word with grave deliberateness, “and as far as I’m concerned, your work is done. If you want to try to keep her alive, that’s up to you. But I have a job to do, and I intend to do it.” He grabbed the infant form the nurse, wrapped him in a nearby towel and turned toward the door, careful to occlude the young mother’s view of the boy.
“My baby,” she cried, stretching her arm out toward the man. “My boy!” She managed to grasp the corner of the towel as he walked briskly by, ignoring her pleas.
“Doctor,” the nurse started toward the door, “stop him.”
“No,” he said, turning back toward the young woman. “If we leave her now, she’ll die in a matter of minutes.”
“But what can we do?”
“I don’t know,” he said, crouching again beneath the blue privacy veil, “but we should at least try to do something. What do we have that might serve as a temporary clotting agent?” His question was met with silence. “Nurse,” he called, reaching into the woman for the source of the blood, “a clotting agent, please, what do we have?”
“Doctor,” said the nurse, “you have to look at this.” He looked behind him toward her, standing motionless before the monitors. “Her pressure, pulse, everything is completely normal again.”
“But the bleeding,” he said, grabbing a towel and placing it between her legs. He removed it and stepped back in disbelief. “My God,” he said under his breath, “it’s completely stopped.”
The echo of the baby’s cry wove a chaotic chorus with the mechanical blips from the machines as the medical attendants stood together in silence. The young woman rested, eyes closed, on the table as if in the middle of a peaceful rest. She opened her eyes and smiled groggily when the nurse came alongside her to check her vital signs.
“It was a boy, wasn’t it?” she asked. “I just knew it was going to be a boy. I just knew it.”