Our son was born dead.
His skin was the strange grey color skin becomes after it has been submerged in dirty sink water for too long. His little chest didn’t beat with the magical power of new life. The heart that should have been pumping blood of beginning was still.
“Why isn’t my baby crying?” my wife asked. Her voice was like a tear given sound.
No one answered.
I stood at the head of her bed on weak knees and squeezed her hand.
The room whirled around us as doctors and nurses flitted like ghosts. I couldn’t help our lifeless son in the corner of the room on a tiny, yellow, plastic bed. He was out of my reach, surrounded by white coats, medicine, and machines. My wife’s inner thighs were smeared with blood.
“Aaron,” she said. Doctors and nurses weaved what manufactured magic they had on the baby’s motionless body. Machines beeped the sounds of artificiality. Shoes scuffed the linoleum. The smell of blood mixed with the smell of antiseptic. My stomach churned. My mouth was thick with tar.
I fell into my wife’s eyes as she fell into mine. Four dark pools, matched only by the two on the baby who wouldn’t move.
“What’s going on?” my wife asked.
At the bottom of her bed, in a pool of blood, a doctor, up to his arms in my wife, nodded as though she was talking to him. “We’re just taking care of you, Mom,” he said.
She ignored him.
I had to face him though. I saw the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he spoke, the way his surgical mask moved slightly as his smile lifted. I cried in my mind for the God I doubted to take this doctor instead of our son.
I shook my head. “I-IಞI don’t know.”
Her hand tightened around mine.
I squeezed back as we sank into the silence of acceptance; until, in the corner of the room there was a noise like a squeak, like a small cough.
Like magic, real magic.
My head moved with effort. Fear was fighting to keep my hope at bay. The white coats around our son toppled away and a nurse picked him up. His chest moved.
“We’re not sure what’s wrong,” the nurse said. “But you should hold him for a moment before we take him to the NICU. I can clean him and wrap him up before, if you’d like.”
“No,” my wife said. “Give him to us.”
Together, we reached for our son.
AE Stueve is the managing editor at EAB Publishing and on the side runs a yearbook, video yearbook, and website for Bellevue West High. His stories, essays, and poems have appeared in various magazines and journals on the web and in print. His novel, The ABCs of Dinkology, from WSC Press, was released to critical praise in July 2012. For more information on him check out his website and facebook page, and follow him on twitter @aestueve.
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What fascinating, surprising things can you tell us about the origin, writing, revision of this piece?
“Birth” is my first published piece of creative non-fiction and it began in my head the night my son was born with a congenital heart defect that left him lifeless as he entered the world (as it states in the story, he was revived and is alive and well today). It took me 11 years to attempt to write it and now that I have, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve also come to realize that my life might be just as interesting as the lives of some of my totally made up characters. The revision process was a welcome one as it left me feeling better about the story and about the incident in my life that was, frankly, the lowest place I’ve ever been. For me, though probably not for the readers, the most surprising part of the entire process has been the fact that I am now seriously considering writing more non-fiction.
Congrats to the Best Small Fictions nominations from Matter Press for Compressed Creative Arts: Sara Backer’s “Oh, What a Night”; Dan Crawley’s “Powers”; Jill Talbot’s “Malahat Highway on Boxing Day”; Christopher Allen’s “Falling Man;” and Kathy Fish’s “Five Micros.”
Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now open. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes June 15, 2019; submit here.
03/18 • Tamara Gane
03/20 • Tiff Holland
03/25 • Sara Crowley
03/27 • Hannah van Didden
04/01 • Ian Mahler
04/08 • Cindy Hunter Morgan
04/15 • Mason Binkley