Only Two Hours
By Ilze Duarte
CW: Pregnancy loss
“No one’s driving you home, honey?”
“No. I drove here by myself. It’s only two hours,” I said.
“Only two hours,” the nurse repeated. “Said like a real trooper. Are you going to be okay?
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay. Drive safe then, hon.” The staff’s tender care never failed. In a clinic specializing in high-risk pregnancies, you would expect the staff to be sensitive and tactful, but at Hershey Medical Center they were more than that. They were sweet, compassionate, loving. I hadn’t come to the clinic for treatment—I was beyond that—but for testing, as I had every other week for the past two months, since I found out my baby wasn’t growing because my placenta was malformed and wasn’t providing her with the necessary nourishment. The doctors advised me then—at twenty weeks—to terminate the pregnancy, but I chose to let nature run its course.
Though I was now twenty-eight weeks along, you could barely tell I was pregnant. The doctors had tried to warn me gently. If you carry to term… My best hopes for your baby are… Oh, now we are coming to the end of the road… None of it registered with me. As long as my baby’s heart was beating, I believed I could deliver her. Sure, she would be handicapped, severely perhaps, but did only physically and mentally abled people deserve to be born, live on, be loved? I didn’t think of the quality of life I or my husband or the child would have. I couldn’t think, overwhelmed as I was by baby-bearing hormones and perhaps a bit deranged with the grief I was already feeling but was unable to acknowledge at the time. I was in denial about the gravity of the situation, the helplessness of it all, the precariousness of my state of mind, and the toll the long drive home to State College might take on me.
I would be fine. There was too much loveliness on the way home, how could I not be? As I drove away from the medical center and onto route 322, the road took me around lush rolling hills, where valley after valley red-roofed farmhouses and tall silver silos, my trusty companions these past few weeks, appeared in varying but familiar configurations. Flanked by majestic evergreens in wild clusters or carefully planted rows, the road climbed gently back toward the white-dotted sky in its deepest blue, as it always is on a mid-fall day in Pennsylvania. Such a glorious afternoon could not portend the end of beauty. It could not be the backdrop to loss and sorrow.
Soon my favorite spot would come into view. Another dip, another curve, and I would see the lake, its placid blue framed by the green hills and trees. There it was. The lake remained in view for just a minute or so, until the road curved again and hid it behind the next set of hills. But the anticipation and then the sight of the bright lake, every precious second of it, made the whole trip worthwhile.
There was beauty in the world. There was sweetness in the presence of this life inside me, in the fragility of its flutter-like movements, in the sliver of hope I still held of its survival. I made it safely back to State College. The next few days, I remained on bedrest, as my local obstetrician had recommended. Then the flutter stopped. I ignored that development. Two days later, the bleeding started. There was no ignoring this: it wasn’t spotting, it was profuse bleeding. I went to see my doctor, and he confirmed there was no heartbeat. He had told me and my husband all along that he would not perform the procedure should it become necessary because he was in the business of bringing babies to life, not of terminating pregnancies. I would have to go back to Hershey. My baby was dead, and I would have to be driven two hours away to deliver her.
My husband drove. I sat quietly all through the trip down route 322. I didn’t see trees or hills or farmhouses or silos or sky. There was no beauty in the world that day. There was only gray asphalt. And it was only two hours between home and emptiness.
About the Author
Ilze Duarte writes short prose and translates works by contemporary Brazilian authors. Her original work appears in New Plains Review, Dear Damsels, Please See Me, and FlashFlood, and her translations in Your Impossible Voice, Massachusetts Review, Columbia Journal Online, Ambit, and Northwest Review. Ilze lives in Milpitas, CA.