I was completely serious when I suggested we name our daughter after the doctor who came in to give me my epidural. Dr. Flood was a kind, older man with a warm smile and a genuine interest in seeing his patients being more comfortable. I squeaked when I saw the size of the needle that was about to be shoved in my spine, but Eric was right there in front of me. I was clutching his shoulders as best I could, given how freakishly tall he was. He mumbled in Swedish to appease me.
When all was said and done I was feeling a little better, and by the time the medication took effect, I was pretty sure I was in love with Dr. Flood. From the look on his face, I knew he was used to hearing laboring women singing his praises all the time. While grateful to see me in less pain, I knew Eric was less than thrilled with all of the fawning I was doing over the doctor.
It was strange how I’d been anticipating going into labor at any time, but when it happened, it felt like it snuck up on me. One minute I was getting my shoes on and the next, I was doubled over in pain. Eric being the dependable type that he is snapped into action. He got my bag that was packed and ready to go. It had been chilling in the coat closet for weeks just waiting to be used.
He held my hand the whole way to the hospital. While I got settled in he made phone calls to our parents to let them know all systems might be go. At my last appointment, Dr. Ludwig had said I had already started dilating, and was probably experiencing contractions without even knowing it. She must have been right because I didn’t feel a damn thing until that first wave of pain in the foyer. I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and examined. Once it was determined that I had dilated another centimeter and my contractions were coming at regular intervals, I was officially admitted to the maternity floor.
I’d read that it could be days before I actually gave birth, but I was hoping the Bean wouldn’t take that long to come out. I waited as long as I could stand it before asking for pain medication. I wanted to try and hold off on drugs, but the pain was just too much. I was exhausted already, and if I didn’t want to end up having a c-section, I needed to get some sleep. So, Dr. Flood was called in to give me an epidural.
I relaxed onto my left side. Eric resumed his position behind me and got right back to work rubbing my back, careful not to mess with the tubes that had been taped back there. I don’t know how long he continued to massage me for before the drugs relaxed me enough to let me get some sleep. I fell into a crazy dream in which Eric was squished into a cheerleading uniform- complete with pom poms- cheering me on from the side of the room while I gave birth. It was unsettling to say the least. My husband was dead sexy, but not in a pleated skirt.
I woke up panting for air, and was beyond relieved to see him stretched out in a chair that was a little too small for someone of his size. Better yet, he was snoring softly and he was wearing the same pair of faded jeans and a Pinkerton t-shirt. His hair had grown out a few inches since he’d cut it before Christmas. It would probably be another couple of months before it got back to where it was when we first met, but I realized I really liked the shorter cut. I smiled at him appreciatively and slowly pushed myself upright into a sitting position.
“Eric.” I whispered as I tried to swing my legs off the bed. Of course, he didn’t hear me. He was a heavy sleeper. “Eric, honey, wake up.” I said a little louder.
His eyes fluttered open and his head rolled toward me. As soon as it registered that I was trying to stand up, he bolted out of his chair and was at my bedside. “Whoa, where are you going?”
“Um, well, first I have to pee. Second, I want to walk for a while.” I braced myself on the firm muscles of his chest and let him grasp my elbows to help me up. “Damn fetal monitor.” I grumbled when I remembered I was hooked up to the machine.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Shouldn’t you get some more sleep?” Eric looked concerned.
“Eric, it’s fine. The walking will help speed things along, and I promise I won’t overdo it. Now will you get the I.V. pole for me?” I pointed to the stainless steel pole with all of the lovely bags of liquids hanging off it. I pushed the call button on the bed to summon my nurse.
“Yes, of course.” He kissed the top of my head.
The nurse that had been assigned to me was a sweet woman in her early forties. She had very cheerful demeanor and answered every question under the sun that I could come up with. I liked her quite a bit. She came into the room wearing Tinkerbell scrubs and a beaming smile that set me at ease.
“How are you feeling, Sookie?” She rounded the bed.
“I really, really have to pee, and then I was thinking I might take a walk.” I told her.
She nodded like I’d just come up with the best plan ever. She disconnected me from the fetal monitor and let Eric lead me to the bathroom.
“You’ve got it from here, right?” Eric smiled down at me.
I giggled and said, “Yes, Eric, I’ve got it from here.”
I took care of business and made sure to avoid the mirrors. I was rather positive I looked like hell. I’d already spent a few hours writhing around in pain before getting my epidural. I never realized pain made a person sweat so much, but I certainly had. My hair was a little on the matted side, like I’d just had a week’s worth of wild and crazy sex in just a few hours. I tried to tame my sex hair from hell, but it was no use. Besides, I figured I wouldn’t be the first pregnant woman to have a bad hair day.
“Here, I thought you might want to put this on.” Eric held out a mini robe I’d gotten just for the hospital.
“Oh, yes, thank you.” I smiled as I reached for the robe.
“Here, let me help.” Anne suggested when I realized I had tubes and things coming out of me. She disconnected the tubing from where the line had been started on the back of my hand so I could get my arm through the sleeve, and then she reconnected the medications. “So, you’re going to try walking, huh?” Anne smiled at me.
“Yeah, I want to get her out as soon as possible.”
“Well, Dr. Ludwig will probably get you started on pitocin soon so we have a little more regularity with your contractions. Eric, are you going to walk with her?” Anne looked over at Eric, who nodded vigorously. “Good. That’s good. Well, I’ll be at the nurse’s desk if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Anne.” Eric and I chorused back at her as she walked out of my room.
I held onto the I.V. pole with one hand, and Eric with the other as we walked the halls of the ward. I wasn’t the only expectant mother out for a stroll. We stopped at the nursery for a moment to look at the other babies. My eyes welled up with the thought that it wouldn’t be long before our daughter was going to be in that room with the others.
“Why are you shaking? Are you okay?” Eric asked suddenly.
I was as tucked into his side as I could get, and nodded my head against his chest. “I’m a little scared.” I confessed.
“Of what?” He whispered gently.
I took a deep, wavering breath and said, “What if I’m not good at being a Mom?”
“Sookie, you’re a great Mom.” He hugged me closer.
He was so sweet to me. A tear leaked from my eye and rolled down my cheek before it was absorbed into his t-shirt. “Things could go wrong, Eric.”
“You’re going to be fine. The Bean is going to be great. She’s going to be healthy and beautiful, and you’re going to be the best Mom you can be.” He encouraged with a kiss to the top of my head.
“I’m afraid of the pain.”
He tilted my chin up and said, “If there was a way for me to take it for you, you know I would.”
I nodded and wrapped my other arm around his waist as much as I could with my massive belly in the way. We stood there in front of the nursery holding each other for a while before we started moving again. We walked laps around the ward until I was summoned back to my room to be examined again. I was up to six centimeters. I was given more medication to speed things up a little. My water hadn’t broken yet.
I was hungry, but couldn’t eat anything in case there were complications and had to be taken in for a c-section. Those damn ice chips did little to appease me. Thankfully, Amelia and Tray showed up a short time later to keep us entertained. Amelia and Tray brought Eric a change of clothes and promised us Jeter was doing fine.
They stayed until Anne came in to tell us it was time for them to go. She was also going home for the night, but would be back the next morning. She left me in the care of another nurse named Sandra who was quick with a joke and was just as friendly as Anne. Since my water hadn’t broken yet, they popped the bag and upped my dose of pitocin to move things along. It was gross to feel the rush of water leaking between my legs, but I knew it was a necessary evil to get the Bean out. I got some sleep after that. The chair Eric had been sleeping in earlier could be converted into a bed. I was woken up for an exam about forty-five minutes after I fell asleep.
Eric looked ridiculous in that chair. I reached for my cell phone and snapped a picture. His legs were hanging off the foot rest at the knee. I really was married to a giant. I couldn’t stop laughing. That is, until Sandra informed me I had jumped from seven centimeters to nine. My heart thudded in my chest, all of my fears about giving birth rushing to the surface. I wanted Eric to be awake. I wanted my Mom to be there to hold my hand and tell me everything was okay.
She was on her way. She and Dad were catching the first flight they could to Chicago. Amelia had promised to pick them up from the airport for us. I was really hoping they would get to the hospital in time, but the way things were going, it was possible they might miss it. I tried to keep myself calm, but I started hyperventilating.
“Eric.” I croaked out between gasps for air. When calling his name didn’t work, I whipped an empty Styrofoam cup at his head. It bounced off his temple, but it was enough to bring him back to consciousness.
“What?” He bolted forward. “Is it time?” He noticed the fact that I was crying again and dragged a chair closer to the bed. “What’s wrong, lover?”
I just grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt and pulled him closer. He stroked my hair gently, doing anything he could think of to get me to calm down. He was whispering to me in Swedish which always seemed to calm me. I had no idea what he was saying, but the cadence of his voice was enough to get my attention and force me to focus on something other than what was going on in my own mind.
I wanted him to climb into bed with me. I moved over as much as I could and patted the mattress behind me. Eric did what I wanted, and squeezed himself into bed with me. I felt his thumb rubbing slow circles in the small of my back and I sighed contentedly. I was starting to feel pressure in my pelvis like I needed to push. My tears slowed, then stopped. I closed my eyes and fell into that blissful purgatory of being somewhere between asleep and awake, making sure to keep my breathing deep and even. I had just completely relaxed when Sandra came back to check me again.
“Well, well, it looks like we might have a baby soon.” She smiled up at me. “Ten centimeters. It’s time to start pushing.”
I quickly learned there was no room for modesty in childbirth. My legs were wide open and being pushed up toward my chest while I grunted and groaned as I pushed my daughter out of my body. It was completely undignified. I squeezed Eric and Sandra’s hands as I worked. I was sweating profusely, even with Eric mopping my forehead with a cool rag and feeding me all the ice chips I could eat between pushes.
“She’s never coming out!” I wailed after I’d been at it for a half an hour.
“You’re doing great, Sookie.” Sandra smiled at me. I wanted to hit her.
“Can’t I just have the surgery?” I whined, panting for air.
“I can see the head, Sookie. It’s almost out.” Dr. Ludwig told me. “Do you want to see?”
“No!” I shouted immediately. Eric moved down the bed a little and I saw his eyes widen. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” His face snapped back to normal, but his eyes looked a little haunted.
“Don’t lie to me, Eric Northman!” I glared at him.
“I can see her. She’s coming.” He picked up my hand and kissed it just as another contraction ripped through me.
Oh, yeah, my epidural was wearing off. I no longer wanted to name my daughter after Dr. Flood. I screamed with the pain. Sandra’s eyes were trained on the fetal monitor, watching the Bean’s heart rate and the lines that were jumping up and down on the print out.
“Okay, deep breath and push.” Sandra squeezed my hand.
I sucked in a deep breath and pushed as hard as I could. It felt like absolutely nothing was happening. My eyes were screwed shut. Eric was rubbing circles on the back of my hand and telling me how good I was doing. I wanted to hit him, too.
I pushed and pushed and felt like I was getting nowhere, when Dr. Ludwig informed me my daughter was crowning. The next thing I knew my hand was on something warm and wet. I opened my eyes to find out Sandra had put my hand between my legs. I was touching the top of my baby’s head. My heart thudded in my chest in a way that felt like it might burst. I gasped for air and looked at Eric, who was just staring with wonder.
“She’s almost here, Sookie. You can do this.” Sandra patted my arm.
“She’s got blond hair, Sookie.” Eric said without taking his eyes off of the head that was slowly coming out of my body.
It was a surreal moment, I’ll tell you that. I did everything Dr. Ludwig told me to, including not pushing once the head was out. I’d never wanted to push more, and she told me to stop. I wanted to kick her right in the face. I panted through the burning pain while she cleaned out the baby’s nose and throat to make sure she didn’t suck anything into her lungs besides oxygen. She gave me the okay to push, and told me to look down.
Eric was crying. He was manly about it, but he was crying. I felt his hand shaking as I gave the last push to bring the Bean fully into the world. The most beautiful thing I’d ever heard filled my ears when she cried for the first time. Dr. Ludwig put her on my chest and I’m pretty sure my heart exploded entirely. There she was. After nine months of imagining what she would look like, she was right there in front of me.
“It’s a girl!” Sandra announced with a big smile on her face, like we didn’t already know.
I gasped as I stared down at her little face. She definitely had hair, although how anyone could tell with all of the blood and goo on her, I have no idea. Her cheeks were chubby and bright red. Her head was a little misshapen from its squeeze through my pelvis. Her tiny fingers fanned out, then formed a fist with the ins and outs of her breaths. Her legs extended fully in an almost hesitant kind of way. She was long.
“She’s a giant.” I laughed when I looked up at Eric.
He just nodded, unable to find words. Sandra rubbed the baby with a blanket to get her cleaned off a little more while I let her wrap an entire fist around my index finger. She was so small, even if she was long. I couldn’t believe she was there.
“Hi, sweet girl.” I smiled into her gray-blue eyes and she stared right back at me.
Her wailing slowed down to more uncomfortable cries. I cooed at her, hoping it would ease her a little. A hat was put on her head, covering her golden hair. It was thick and surprisingly long. Dark eyelashes framed her eyes and she had my nose. She had Eric’s lips and chin. She was beautiful.
Love at first sight is what it was. I looked up at Eric and said, “What is it with you Northmans and the ability to get anyone to fall in love with you at first sight?”
Eric grinned broadly and said, “That’s why she’s going to be a nun when she grows up.”
I burst out laughing and gently stroked our daughter’s tiny hand. Sandra took her from me a moment later so she could be weighed and measured. Eric followed the baby while I had the unpleasant task of delivering the afterbirth. What a gross process that was, let me tell you.
“Do you have a name for this little beauty?” Sandra asked.
Eric turned to look at me questioningly. We’d decided on a name long ago. I nodded to him and he said, “Haley Anne Northman.”
The best part was, she looked like a Haley. She was seven pounds, three ounces. She was also twenty-two inches long. I sent Eric with her when she was taken to the nursery to be examined by her pediatrician while Dr. Ludwig started working on my aftercare. I was completely exhausted, and yet, all I wanted was to hold my baby. Unfortunately, my body didn’t agree, and I was sound asleep before they brought Haley back to me.
My eyes fluttered open to see Eric sitting in that same ridiculous chair with our daughter cradled safely in his arms. She yawned for the first time that I’d ever seen, and I had to bite my lip to keep from making any noise. I just wanted to watch Eric with her for a few minutes. Her little fist was wrapped around one of his fingers the same as she’d done with me when she was first born.
Eric was speaking to her in Swedish so I didn’t know what he was saying, but she looked at him with the same rapt attention I would. Her blue-gray eyes stared at his face like she was trying to remember if she’d seen him before. He bowed his head to give her a kiss, and my waterworks started all over again.
“She’s got you wrapped already, doesn’t she?” I teased with a smile.
“She’s my princess, and I will kill anyone who hurts her.” Eric said in a very baby talk sort of tone that made me laugh.
“You’re going to spoil her rotten.” I sighed.
“Yes.” He was completely serious. He stood up without taking his eyes off of her. He brought her over to me and carefully laid her on my chest. “She has your nose.”
“I noticed.” I smiled down at Haley and stroked her cheek. “She has your chin.”
“And my Dad’s hairline.” He joked, making both of us laugh.
There was a knock at the door before it cracked open. Mom’s face appeared, and I immediately burst into tears. She hustled across the room and carefully leaned down to hug me before looking at her granddaughter.
“Baby, she’s beautiful.” Mom kissed my forehead and then Haley’s. “Hello, little girl. I’m your Gran.”
Hearing Mom call herself that somehow made all of this real. Dad and Eric hugged before Eric stepped out of the way so Daddy could hug me and fawn all over Haley. I handed her over to him and he snuggled her close. Mom and Dad stood together at the foot of my bed making faces and cooing at Haley while Eric sat on the edge of my bed so I could lean against him. Gran and Pop Pop were making complete fools of themselves solely for Haley’s amusement.
“Where are your parents?” I looked up to Eric.
“They’ll be flying out tomorrow.” He kissed my head.
“Have you told them about the house?”
“No. I figured I’d wait until they got here.” He snaked an arm around my shoulders.
I snuggled against him and breathed deep. He smelled like himself, but also like Haley. It was my new favorite blend. “I love you a lot, you know that, right?”
“I know. Me, too.” He kissed my head again.
After a meeting with a lactation consultant named Nicole I started breastfeeding, which was just weird. I stared down at Haley while she fed, and stroked her cheek when she started to nod off. She was what Anne called a natural, and had no trouble latching on the way some infants did. Amelia and Tray stopped in to visit, bringing flowers and balloons with them, along with breakfast from my favorite diner. I was starving like no other, and breastfeeding was only going to keep me hungry.
A third nurse by the name of Dee walked me through Haley’s first bath. Haley wasn’t at all happy with the process, but I couldn’t really blame her for it. She was cold and wet, which was the exact opposite of what anyone wanted to be. I swaddled her as quickly as possible once the bath was over, and hugged her to my chest. Her little ear settled over my heart, and she quieted down in no time. Eric had been filling out some paperwork down the hall while I was giving Haley her bath. He came back into the room just as Dee was cleaning things up.
“We’re one step closer to getting out of here.” Eric announced when he walked into the room.
“Good. I can’t wait to go home.” I laid Haley down to get her in a diaper.
Dee turned around and immediately sputtered. “Oh, hello.” She blushed bright red.
“Hi.” Eric smiled at her, and I swear her knees went a little weak. I couldn’t help but giggle.
“Well, I uh… if you don’t have any other questions…”
“I think I’ve got it. Thank you.” I smiled at her.
“No problem.” She was staring right at Eric, who was staring down at Haley.
I started to snap Haley into a onesie, but looked up just in time to see Dee pause at the door to stare blatantly at my husband’s ass. I stifled a giggle and continued to dress my daughter. Once Dee was gone I burst out laughing.
“That nurse was just staring at your ass like it was a last meal.” I made faces at Haley.
“And that’s funny?” Eric seemed a bit offended I wasn’t flying off into a jealous rage.
“It is to me. No way in the world is she ever going to have you, and I know it.”
“Oh yeah?” Eric arched an eyebrow at me.
“Yeah. Because I’d kill her for touching you, then I’d kill you for letting her and the prettiest baby girl in the whole wide world wouldn’t like it if I had to kill her daddy, now would she? No she wouldn’t.” I tickled Haley’s tummy. “No, she wouldn’t.”
I knew it was too soon for her to smile, but I hoped for it all the same. We finished dressing her, and then Eric held her while I got myself cleaned up and ready to go. Anne came in with my discharge papers so I could sign myself out of the hospital. Eric handed Haley back to me and gathered up my bags and things to take down to the car so we could go home.
I signed the last of the paperwork and lowered myself into a wheelchair with Haley in my arms. She was sleeping peacefully, her little cheeks making a sucking movement as she slept. I couldn’t stop staring down at her as I was rolled through the hospital to the front door where Eric was waiting with the car. He took Haley from me and buckled her into her car seat. We said our goodbyes to Anne and thanked her for all of her help before Eric helped me into the backseat.
“So, Mom, are you ready to go home?” Eric asked once he was in the driver’s seat.
“Yes, Daddy, I think I am.” I smiled down at Haley, then blew a kiss at Eric in the rear-view mirror as the car started to pull away from the hospital.