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"Hello, Kate? It's just me." Hope Sanders gently knocked on the door and stepped inside her patient's room. "Let's check and see how it's going, shall we?"
Kate kept sucking on her ice cube and just stared, apparently so exhausted she couldn't conjure up any kind of response. Hope gave her a positive smile, sending up a silent prayer that, this time, the poor woman would finally be ready to deliver. After thirty-six hours of labor, any soon-to-be mother was beyond ready, mentally and emotionally, but sometimes her body and her baby just wouldn't cooperate the way everyone wished they would.
"Are you feeling all right?" Hope asked as she washed her hands and snapped on green examination gloves. "Contractions any worse or more frequent?"
"I'm not sure. I just want the baby out. Why can't you get it out?" Kate asked in a tearful voice.
"I know. It's been a long time, hasn't it?" Hope gave Kate's huge belly a gentle pat. "And you've been so tough throughout all these hours. But you're making good progress, so the doctor and I are pretty positive we can avoid a C-section. Maybe you're there now, so let's see."
"I'm sorry," Kate said, sniffing back her tears as Hope began an internal exam. "I shouldn't snap at you like that. Why on earth did you want to become a midwife and have to deal with cranky women like me?"
"First, you're not cranky, believe me. You've been very brave and stoic all this time." And the truth of that made Hope smile as she thought of the many mums who'd been so far past cranky during labor that there wasn't a word for it. "I enjoy helping mums through the difficulty of labor and delivery, and on to the joy of getting to hold their newborns for the first time. There's nothing as beautiful as a baby, is there? That's exactly why I became a midwife."
As she said the words the truth of that statement, and the emotion that came with it, closed her throat. Was she really, hopefully, about to have a baby of her very own? What she'd dreamed of when she'd first studied midwifery? When she'd thought she had all the time in the world to establish her career before having children, never imagining she'd still be alone at thirty-four?
"Well, you've been great, Hope, helping make all these hours more bearable," Kate's husband said. "We really appreciate it."
"Thank you. That means a lot to me." Hope's findings from the internal exam sent a huge sigh of relief from her lungs. She gave Kate a big smile she didn't have to force this time. "Guess what? Great news! You're there, Kate! Fully dilated at ten centimeters. Baby has decided she's ready to come into the world."
Kate kept licking her ice cube, almost as if she hadn't heard Hope, but her husband practically leaped out of his chair and came to stand by the bed. The poor man had dark circles all around his eyes and was about as disheveled as a person could look, but his beaming smile banished his obvious fatigue.
"You mean the baby's coming? It's time?"
"It's time. I'm putting a heart-rate monitor around your belly, Kate, so we can see how baby is doing during delivery," Hope said as she strapped it on, praying this final stage went a lot more smoothly and quickly than the previous hours. "We need to get pushing. Can you give me a push next time you feel a contraction?
I know you aren't feeling them as strongly because of your epidural, but tell me when you do."
"I I'm having one," she said, sitting up straighter and looking alert now.
"Then give me a push. That's it. Well done. Again." Hope kept giving her gentle encouragement and checking her progress, pleased the fetal monitor showed the baby's heart rate was normal. Maybe after the long ordeal, this delivery really would be quick and easy. "Wonderful! Nice job."
Kate moaned and pushed as her husband clutched her hand. "Breathe now, love. Breathe."
"Yes, Kate," Hope said. "Take a breath between contractions. Puff, puff, puff. Then during a push, tuck your chin down, hold your breath and give it all you've got."
Kate worked hard, and Hope kept her tone soothing and encouraging, knowing if she exuded a relaxed composure it helped the mother in labor stay composed, too. After only a few more contractions, the top of baby's head was suddenly there, visible, and Hope sent mum another huge grin. "She's crowning! Almost here, Kate. Give me a push. You're doing a great job. Okay, I've got her head. One more push now. One more. Yes! You did it!" She wrapped her hands around the baby's shoulders and helped her slide out into her new world.
Hope's heart leaped into her throat as she held the slippery infant. No matter how many times she did this, the wonder of it, the miracle, hit her every single time, filling her chest with elation.
"Here she is, Mum! Perfect and beautiful. Congratulations." She laid the infant on Kate's chest, letting them marvel over their new little one for just a moment. "You were wonderful, even after being so tired. I'm so proud of you!"
Kate held her baby close, murmuring and cooing, and Hope hated to disturb the sweet moment. "I'm sorry, but I need to take her, as we don't want her to get chilled. We'll get her cleaned up and warm, then I promise I'll have her back to you in a jiffy."
As she lifted the baby from her mother's chest and placed her on the cloth her assistant held, Hope saw tears sliding down the new father's cheeks as he leaned down to kiss his wife.
A pang of something sharp stabbed at Hope's heart. Regret, maybe, that she'd never experience that? That her own baby, if she was blessed with one soon, wouldn't have a daddy who wept at its birth and was there as he or she grew up? And all because of Hope's physical and emotional inadequacies?
She sucked in a calming breath and attended to Kate as the nurse assistant placed the baby in the bassinet beneath the heat lamp. She rubbed her all over until she was clean and rosy, slid a little knit cap onto her tiny head, then swaddled her in blankets. Hope lifted the infant into her arms, pausing for a moment before taking her to her daddy.
Serious blue-gray eyes stared up at her with a frown furrowing her tiny brows, as though she was asking Hope where in the world she was and why she was there. As Hope looked at the tiny, vulnerable new life she pictured her very own baby in her arms. The thought sent a thrill surging through her veins, warring with an icy fear that seemed to freeze her blood at the very same time.
She was close, so close, to that dream if she went through with her plans. But would her own child look to her with those same questions in its eyes? Who am I, and why am I here? Would she be able to answer, You're here because I love you? Would she be the kind of mother she wanted to be?
She tore her gaze from the precious one staring accusingly at her and took the baby to her parents, placing her gently into her father's arms.
"Your new daughter. Congratulations again."
Both stared at their newborn in awe as Hope swiped her cold hands down her scrubs. Terrifying doubt choked her. Would making a baby of her own be the right decision, or would it be a horrible mistake?
She fiercely shook off the sudden and disturbing doubts. She'd wanted a baby forever. Adored babies. Adored children, too. She was running out of time for that dream to come true, and despite her history, despite what her old boyfriend had said, there was no reason on earth to fear that she might not be capable of being the loving mother she so wanted to be.
Prayed she could be. Would be.
"She's so beautiful." Kate's husband looked at his wife. "She looks like you, I think."
Kate laughed. "Am I that pink and puffy right now? Probably, yes." She reached to stroke the baby's cheek, her voice becoming a whisper. "You were an awful lot of effort, but you were worth it, sweetest one."
She and her husband shared a long, intimate smile, and Hope felt that irritating pang jab her again. What was wrong with her? Why the sudden sadness over not having a man in her life, when she clearly had never wanted one? Why the ridiculous doubt when she'd been happy and confident before?
"Have you picked out a name for her?" Hope asked, busying herself with the final things that needed to be done for Kate post-delivery. Distracting herself with small talk was sure to banish these peculiar and unwelcome feelings swirling around her belly.
"Nine months didn't seem like long enough to decide," Kate said with a grin. "But we finally whittled it down to either Emily or Rachel."
"I'm fond of the more traditional names, and those are both very pretty."
"Here, love, you hold her for a bit." Her husband placed the baby in Kate's arms and stared at the infant with his brows creased. "She's she looks like a"
"Rachel," they both said simultaneously, then laughed.
"Perfect," Hope said, her throat absurdly clogging up at this scene that could have come straight from a chick flick. Lord, you'd think she hadn't delivered hundreds of babies in her career. Or that she'd already received the upcoming hormone injections, with these kinds of silly emotions pinging all over the place.
Probably should buy some stock in a handkerchief company right now. If this kept up, for the next nine months she'd be sobbing all over her patients with every healthy delivery.
"You're all set now, Kate." She stripped off her gloves and managed to smile at the giddy new parents. "I'll be back in a bit to see how you're doing."
Hope headed down the hospital corridor to write up her notes on Kate and baby Rachel and glanced at her watch, glad to see her shift was almost over. And for once her Friday night would be filled with something more than just a casual dinner with friends.
Tonight was the big gala fund-raiser organized by one of the hunkiest doctors at Cambridge Royal Hospital. Not only was the man absurdly good-looking, Aaron Cartwright apparently cared about children, too, creating the foundation that promoted adoption in and around Cambridge. Plus, he'd been nice enough to invite several midwives and obstetricians from the hospital to share a few adoption stories their patients had experienced, knowing some financial donors might be interested in hearing them.
Hope had long admired Aaron Cartwright from afar, starting the very first day she'd spotted him in the hospital three years ago, stopping mid-step to do a double take at the man. He might be a man with a bit of a playboy reputation, but who cared? A woman didn't have to be in the market for a relationship to enjoy looking at a heartthrob.
Tonight she'd finally get to meet the dreamy doc, who half the women in the hospital swooned over. While enjoying champagne and yummy food and dancing, before the start of her new life.
The bounce began to come back to her step as she walked into her office. What could possibly be a more perfect Friday-night distraction to get her mind back on the right track?