Olivia was born on February 12, a Saturday. I remember that day. I will always remember. It was cold and rainy. John and I were at home. I was putting the finishing touches on the nursery, double checking that the drawers were filled with clothes, diapers, stuff. I placed and replaced decorative dolls, checked that the crib was stable—it was, John had put it together. I tapped the angels hanging from the mobile. Everything was ready. Her name was on the door. These were her things in the room. Before we knew it, she’d be home. I sat in the rocking chair, half smiling, half-worried that we had missed something, that we weren’t ready, and never would be. I heard John come in from the garage, “You want food, babe?” he laughed. I put on thirty pounds while I was pregnant. “This is one hungry baby,” I joked.
I got up to go meet him when I felt a sharp pain crawl across my stomach, my sides. My muscles tightened and I let out a moan.
“John,” I called, panicked. “Contraction…”
He ran into the room and urged me to sit back down, but I refused.
“No,” I bent over, his arms catching me.
“I gotcha,” he rubbed my back. “What do you want me to do?”
I moaned some more.
“What do you want me to do?” he repeated.
“Stop talking,” I moaned.
Then it was over. I stood up, a bit exhausted, but it was over.
“You okay?” John asked, laughing away his nervous energy.
“I’m fine,” I said. “We should time them,” I looked down at his watch. “This could be the day.” We both said nothing, just looked at each other, letting the idea sink in.
Eight minutes later another contraction came. This time we were ready, or at least we expected it. John wiped my forehead with a warm towel. He did his best to do what he’d learned in Lamaze class. He told me to focus on something, to breathe.
“Should we go now?” he asked.
“We have to wait until they’re five minutes apart,” I said, my breaths hard and short.
He stayed with me, timed each contraction until they were five minutes apart.
“I’m right here,” he confirmed, over and over. I squeezed his hand, assured, counting the dusty, white tiles on the ceiling. There were 28.
As soon as we got to the hospital, St. Salvator Medical Center, my water broke. They rushed me up to the fourth floor, into a birthing room. John was right there at my side, telling me to breathe, telling me he loved me, that in no time we’d have our little girl. And we did. I wasn’t in labor for hours like some new mothers. I pushed a few times and she was out. The anticipation of a long arduous birth hung in the air though. I just stared at her at first watching her squeal, her body tense. She weighed just over 5 pounds. She was beautiful, but I didn’t hold her, not at first. John held her. He cried. I cried. She was finally here, the baby I didn’t want, but grew to love. We took her home and loved her.
Olivia was born when we still lived in the brown house on Acacia Way. It was John’s house. He had invited me to stay for a while, to get situated, and I never left. I was very lucky to have John. He was my miracle and I loved him for saving me, saving us. We had the perfect life. The house was always filled with laughter; Olivia’s giggles were loud, contagious. We had everything we wanted. Things. Time. Love. John loved us. He really did. He saved us from a life of ridicule, poverty. As irony would have it, however, we divorced 15 years later, and that broke us. It broke John. It broke Olivia. It broke me. From there our lives spiraled. We couldn’t get our footing. We couldn’t find our way. And then our daughter went missing.
I loved her. I did. Still do. I still love her, more than myself. But she’s gone and I don’t know if I can ever recover. If I can ever truly live again. John says it’s possible. I criticize him.
“She’s not even really yours,” I said once during a heated argument.
“Not mine?” he yelled back. “Not mine?” he pronounced every letter and pointed at his chest. “You stupid bitch.” He backed up. “She is mine.” He paced. “She’s mine because I love her just as much as you do. She’s mine because I provided for her. She’s mine because I never held it against you that my blood didn’t flow through her veins. She’s mine because…” he paused, his voice growing softer. “…because she was yours, and when I married you we became a family, all of us…I didn’t care that she wasn’t mine by. I just cared that she had a father, a family, a place to call home. That’s what makes her mine.” He turned so his back was to me.
“Okay,” I offered. “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t say anything. I heard him sobbing. His shoulders shuddered a bit. He touched his hands to his face. I wanted to walk over and touch him, soothe him, love him again. I wanted to. Instead I walked out the front door, got into my car, and drove away.
“What do you think will help you get to a place where you can live again?” my therapist once asked me. I didn’t have an answer then, not one I could articulate.
The answer was honesty. I had to be honest about my life, about the life I had given my daughter. I had to be honest about who I was, who I had become. I had to accept responsibility for her leaving. She was running away from me.