He sat on the edge of the bed and slumped his shoulders forward and exhaled. I could see his jaw tensing, as the side of his face was exposed to me. There was so much emotion written on his face, that all I could do was look away. I sighed and tried to find the words to express what I was deeply feeling, but the tears rolling down my cheeks were overbearing. I closed my eyes and he began, “I have tried my best to figure out a way…to…to help ye through the guilt your feeling but all ye want to do is shut me out. Why can’t ye just let me be there for ye? Can ye answer that Claire?”. I squeezed my eyes shut when I heard the word “guilt” leave his mouth. I felt his eyes on me searching my face, looking for an answer and the truth was I couldn’t give him one. All of this, everything is my fault and no amount of comfort could ever shake this bone deep pain and guilt I feel inside. “Claire,” he begged and I just looked down at my hands and shook my head.
***Five months earlier***
“Happy birthday to you…”
“Now make a wish” I echoed to the identical faces that were illuminated by the lit candles. The two auburn-haired girls brought their heads close together, leaning into one another to blow out the six candles. Both grinning from ear to ear, the beaming smiles matched each other exactly. “Keep smiling and look up at me, a’leannan and m’annsachd,” Jamie said with his phone up trying to take a picture. The girls held the smiles then the one on the left dropped hers and said loudly, “Can we have cake now? We been taking pictures all day Da”. I snickered shaking my head and began removing candles from the birthday cake, “Yes, you can have cake now but only one big piece”. I cut out rectangular pieces of the cake and placed them on small pink plates. Today the girls turn six years old and I don’t know where the time has gone. Jamie and I decided that it was easier to have a birthday party for them at our home. The girls got to pick out everything they wanted from the color of the balloons to the print on the goodies bags. Planning their birthday party was such a painful process, these two never agreed upon anything. There was only one thing that we could get them to agree upon, lots of pink and a strawberry shortcake. The girls’ preference in pink and strawberry shortcake is the only commonality between the two. They are so drastically different that sometimes it’s hard to believe they are identical twins.
Six years ago, today, at 1:54pm, Brianna entered this world, loudly; she was a mere 5 lbs. and 6 ounces. Brianna was such a tiny little thing with soft peach fuzz, where hair should be. With skin still covered in vernix and blood, she was placed upon my chest; it wasn’t until she was placed in Jamie’s arms that she had stopped crying. Emotional from the life changing events taking place, it was then that the contractions started again. Approximately 10 minutes following her sister, Faith entered this world; her birth not as smooth sailing like Bree’s. I could feel that something was wrong before the Obstetrician told me not to push. It felt like my insides were being twisted, pulled, and squeezed all at once but at the same time it felt like I had to take the biggest shit of my life. Faith was stuck, her left shoulder was wedged on my pelvis preventing her from being born. As the birthing team tried their hardest to unwedge her shoulder, I was screaming so hard my vocal cords felt like they were tearing and my throat was drier than the Sahara. While all this chaos was going on Jamie was holding my hand (he didn’t have a choice I was dead set on breaking his hand) trying to calm me down. During that moment, his name escaped my mind, the only thing I could muster up to call him was a “damn bastard”. Finally, when the doctors un-wedge Faith’s shoulder, I pushed with everything I had. It took a few pushes for her to come out, but there was yet another problem with my sweet baby girl. She was blue, not the rosy pink her sister had. My heart shattered into a million pieces when I didn’t hear that piercing cry that Bree let out upon entering the world. The doctors had to resuscitate her. That was the scariest couple of minutes of my life. When I heard a small cry, I let out the breath I had been holding all that time. Jamie kissing every part of my sweaty and tear stained face as tears were running down his face. After being momentarily placed in my arms, the nurses took her away to get tested and cleaned up as her sister had been. Reeling from birthing two little humans and afterbirth, I immediately gave into sleep. Hours later I woke to the doctor explaining to Jamie exactly what happened to Faith. My contractions caused the umbilical cord to be squeezed, thus cutting off her oxygen.
After unwrapping their presents, handing out goodies bags, and saying goodbye to their friends, both girls were knocked out on the sofa in our living room. Faith was stretched out on the left of our ash-colored sofa as Bree was on the right. Both girls with their heads lying next to each other (auburn curls draped off the end of the sofa) with mouths slightly ajar. After placing the last of the dishes into the dishwasher, I leaned into the solid warmth of my husband. “Next time, I bring up having more than four children, remind me of how tired I was in this moment”. I placed my arms around his waist as I hugged him from behind, exhaling as my cheek pressed against his back. “Aye, Sassenach. Are ye ready to discuss having more bairns again?” he said with an innocence that was out of pure curiosity. “No I am not.” I mumbled.
We have been deciding on whether it was the right time to have more children. This was a discussion we have had many times, sometimes it led to an argument and sometimes it led to tears. The root of this issue was my fear, after what happened with Faith the likelihood of that happening again is extremely high. I could see the yearning in Jamie’s face every time he looked at our girls or any baby in public. I wanted so very much to fulfill that desire he held, but something was holding me back. The timing of it all just didn’t feel right.
I slowly was about to release my arms from around his waist, when he grasps them and squeezed, “I’m sorry Sassenach, I dinna mean….”,he trailed off. I released a shaky breath as he turned around to hug me tightly and gently place a kiss in my hair. I responded, “I know. Shall we get them into bed?” He placed both hands on my cheeks moving my head to look up at him. I couldn’t help but smile as my eyes met his, after all these years he still made my heart flutter every time our eyes met. He smiled back and placed a gentle kiss on my lips. “Aye. Lets get them into bed.” he said and placed another quick kiss on my lips. He let go of my face and I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. One look from him and…
Jamie walked quietly over to the sofa and kneeled in front of our girls sleeping bodies. Faith had migrated to curling herself into a cradling position. She had her hands between her cheeks and the sofa with her curls laid out neatly. On the other hand, Bree had her arms thrown up on both sides of her head, with one leg dangling off the sofa. Jamie whispered gently, “Faith, Bree, come let’s get ye in bed”. Both girls groaned and opened their eyes slightly. Jamie moved to stand up but Bree then Faith climbed into his arms and laid their heads on his shoulders. I smiled to myself and shook my head at them. Jamie brought his big arms around their bottoms and looked over at me. “Soon I won’t be able to do this anymore Sassenach. I must take advantage of it now” he defended. Jamie made his way up the stairs rather gently as if he was carry precious cargo. We each got their birthday dresses off and put their pajamas on them. I kissed their small heads and moved to leave their room. Jamie bent down and whispered something to Bree before kissing her forehead. It wasn’t until he bent down to kiss Faith, that I heard him whisper, “Happy birthday a’leannan and m’annsachd".
Little did we know that for one of our daughters, today was the last birthday she would celebrate on this earth.