SIX WEEKS LATER: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014
“I’m sorry,” Sookie said as Eric took her hand tightly.
“Why?” Eric asked.
“For worrying you,” she responded as a paramedic put an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth.
Eric looked at the paramedic with a question in his eyes.
“Everything’s okay,” the young man assured. “But Dr. Ludwig said to make sure we went above and beyond for your wife. The oxygen is just a precaution.”
Eric nodded and tried to erase the nervousness from his eyes. “See, min älskade” he said, looking down at Sookie. “All is well. No need to worry.”
“I’m only at thirty-three weeks,” she said through the oxygen mask, though Eric made out her words well enough.
“Thirty-three is plenty,” Eric said, trying to assure her. “When you had false labor last week, the doctor said Johan was plenty big. Don’t worry,” he soothed softly, bending down to kiss her forehead.
He looked at the paramedic who nodded his head as if to reassure Eric as well. “And they might decide to try to stop the labor too,” the paramedic stated.
“See?” Eric said, once more kissing Sookie’s forehead and placing one of his hands on her belly. “Everything is okay,” he reiterated, trying to convince himself too.
It was a Friday, and something in the back of Eric’s brain had told him that he needed to get to Sookie. Even as he’d been driving to work that morning, there was an itching in his mind that he couldn’t quite place. He’d gone through his first two hours of work before he’d told Clancy that he’d be leaving to go to the Hamptons early that day. He’d given no explanations, nor had he run his plans by Appius or Andre. He’d simply boarded the elevator and left.
He’d made it to Niall’s home ten minutes after Sookie felt her first contraction. When she and Eric realized that her pains were different from the Braxton Hicks contractions she’d had the week before and when those contractions began to come at regular intervals, it was clear to them both that she was in labor, though her blood pressure hadn’t risen, which was a good sign that her body wasn’t in distress.
Eric had called Dr. Ludwig, and Niall had started calling their “family.” Henry was going to drive up after his shift—which, by no coincidence, corresponded with Debbie Pelt’s. Bobby was already speeding toward them and was bringing Amelia and Claudine with him. For appearances sake, Pam was going to wait until after work and catch a ride with Henry, who would also be bringing Thalia.
And—of course—Niall and Mormor were following in Niall’s car. The ambulance had been a precaution ordered by Ludwig.
“All her vitals are steady,” the paramedic promised.
Eric nodded in his direction, though his eyes stayed locked on his wife. “You’re going to have our son today,” he said, looking at her with as much love as he could convey.
A tear slipped from each of their eyes. She nodded.
“I’m so glad to see you,” Indira said as Sookie was wheeled into a room. “And I just came on my shift, so as long as you deliver in the next twelve hours, I’ll be your nurse.” She winked at Sookie. “Of course, I usually stay for people I like, so I imagine I’ll be your nurse regardless.”
Sookie gave the pleasant Indian-American nurse a nervous smile as she was transferred from the gurney to the bed.
Indira immediately hooked Sookie up to several monitors, and her trained eyes read the progress of the woman and her child. “Excellent,” she said, taking the oxygen mask off of Sookie. “You shouldn’t need this, but tell me if you want it again.”
Sookie nodded. “Is everything,” she stammered, “okay?”
Indira smiled. “Yes. Everything looks okay.” She looked at Eric. “When was the last contraction?”
Eric looked at his watch. “The last one started eight minutes ago.”
Sookie suddenly put her hand on her stomach as another one began.
“Have they been consistent?” Indira asked.
“Yes,” Eric answered. “They’ve been eight to nine minutes apart for the last hour or so.”
Indira smiled. “Then I’m guessing this is the real thing, but we’ll have the doctor make sure. Meanwhile, we’re probably in for a long day.” She looked at Eric kindly. “We can go ahead and get you into some scrubs so you don’t have to worry about it later.”
“I want to wait for Niall and my grandmother to get here,” Eric said, holding Sookie’s hand through her contraction. “I don’t want her to be alone in here.”
Indira smiled. “I was going to let you put them on right in here with her.” She giggled. “I know how you two are. And there’s a station where you can wash up right over there.” She pointed to a sink and the pair of scrubs next to it. “I promise that I will keep my eyes on Sookie while you change.” She winked at her patient. “I might sneak a peek at his ass though,” she whispered to Sookie.
“Me too,” Sookie said with a smile.
“Well?” Dr. Ludwig said with mock anger as she came into the room. “Why are you two interrupting my date plans?”
“You have a date?” Sookie asked.
The doctor glared at her. “Of course I do. I’m a fucking catch.”
Eric chuckled. “Thanks for coming in, Amy. I promise—I’ll buy you and your date dinner at the best restaurant in the area to make up for this.”
The doctor gave Eric a sincere smile. “I’m going to hold you to that, Northman. Now—let’s see what we have?”
After checking the monitors and the readings from the various machines Sookie was hooked up to, Ludwig did a pelvis exam on her patient. Then, she said that she’d be back in an hour to do it all again. Meanwhile, Sookie’s contractions stayed consistent. They were eight minutes apart.
Once Ludwig examined Sookie again, she looked at the couple who were looking back at her nervously and expectantly.
“Well, I’m pretty sure this is actual labor. Your Johan is very interested in seeing the world—it seems.” She smiled. “He’s about five and a half pounds, big for a baby his age. We could try to stop the contractions since your water hasn’t broken, but I think that might put him and you into more distress.” She paused and looked at Eric significantly. “Sookie’s blood pressure has risen a bit during the last hour—not to a dangerous level, mind you—but it has risen.”
“What do you suggest?” Eric asked.
“A cesarean section would be best,” Dr. Ludwig said. “This room is equipped to handle the surgery and a premature baby, and Indira is the best. I’ve also called in Chow to assist since you two know him from before. We’ll get you prepped and get an anesthesiologist down here, and then we’ll get the show on the road.”
Sookie looked at the doctor warily. “Is this the best thing for Johan? Is he big enough?”
Ludwig nodded. “I believe so.”
“If you can stop the labor, wouldn’t that be best for him?” Sookie asked.
Ludwig shook her head. “I don’t want to stop the labor, Sookie. And your health is also what is best for him and for you. Your body is telling me that it’s ready, and Johan is telling me that he’s ready.” She looked at the couple confidently. “Let me take care of him now, and I’ll have him ready to go home with you within a few weeks.”
Sookie looked up at Eric with uncertainty in her eyes. “I need you to decide,” she said in a whisper. “I need you to decide because I can’t think logically when I think of Johan. All I want is to keep him safe.”
“You have kept him safe,” Eric said as he kissed her forehead. “And now it’s the doctor’s turn and my turn to keep you both safe.”
Johan Godric Northman was born at 7:59 p.m. on Friday September 12, 2014. He weighed five pounds and 3 ounces, and he didn’t cry when he was born. In fact, it took him two minutes in Indira’s care before his first cry came, but it did come. And it was strong.
It was the most beautiful sound his father had ever heard.
It was the most beautiful sound his mother had ever heard.
While Sookie was being sewn up, she sent Eric to take a look at little Johan, who was so tiny that it made Eric’s heart ache. But what made his heart ache more was his son’s beauty.
He had a smattering of light blond hair; actually it was more like peach fuzz than hair, and when his eyes popped open for a split second, Eric felt a gnawing at his very soul.
“He looks like me,” he said with awe.
“And he has your heart,” Sookie added quietly, looking up at her husband with adoration.
Dr. Ludwig was the best at what she did, and when she’d told the Northmans that delivering their child right away was the best option, she’d been confident that it was. Still—she went above and beyond when it came to taking precautions with their child, who was more than one month premature. However, Johan was a solid and hefty boy for a preemie. Ludwig examined him very carefully and decided to put him on machines that would help him breathe for a few days. He’d breathed on his own at birth, but his lungs were in a little distress, and she was not one to push a baby before he or she was ready.
However, she was also not one to separate a premature child from its parents as other doctors were forced to do. Thanks to Niall’s contributions and support over the years, she’d established rooms like the one she was in now. In it, a family could stay together, even when the child was premature. She was grateful that Johan seemed most stronger than the run-of-the-mill baby born at thirty-three weeks. He looked and acted more like a 35-week-old. It seemed like he was just anxious to get his life going.
The doctor smiled at Johan’s parents—somewhat discreetly, of course. With the love that they were offering to the child, she couldn’t blame the child for being anxious.
Sadly, there were a lot of children born too prematurely to stay in one of the doctor’s family rooms, but Ludwig bent her rules for the Northmans, despite the fact that little Johan’s breathing was slightly labored. And then she made sure that a nurse—Indira or Chow to be specific—would be staying with Johan all the time for the next twenty-four hours, just to make sure he stayed okay.
However, even as she wheeled Johan’s incubator toward the parents, she knew that no heroic measures would be needed on her part. There was too much power in the love Eric and Sookie shared, and too much stored-up karma for the couple. In a word, there was magic at work, and Dr. Ludwig was not fool enough to stand in its way.
“When can we hold him?” Eric asked.
“Tomorrow,” the doctor assured.
“How will he eat while he’s in there?” Eric asked.
Ludwig smiled. “We’ll feed him intravenously for 24 hours. Then we will reassess; meanwhile, I want both of you to touch him as much as possible. For the next couple of hours, just put your hands through these holes,” she gestured toward the circles cut into the glass of the incubator. “And let him feel that you are close. Then we’ll bring him out and put him on your skin,” she smiled. “If I’m right, he’ll really respond to that,” she grinned, looking back and forth between them. “But I want to make sure his lungs are working well before we do anything too taxing for him—okay?”
Eric and Sookie both nodded, but their focus was on Johan, and their hands were already reaching in to soothe and cover their boy.
Johan Godric Northman was too young to have any real thoughts. His world was about needs. He needed air to breathe, and his lungs were beginning to move more easily on their own.
His breathing was a natural response—instinctive.
Along with the air in his fledgling lungs, he also needed nourishment. He had no way of knowing that the tubes attached to his body were providing him with that, but he was accepting nonetheless.
Again, his need to feed was a natural response—instinctive.
There was something else that Johan needed too—something just out of the reach of his own tiny fingers which flexed inside of his warm box. His hand reached out—looking for something—fisting and un-fisting. His eyes fought to open into the light to seek that which was alluding him—to see that which he’d been longing to see as he’d been inside of his mother’s protective womb. However, he couldn’t open his eyes. They’d been taped up. He had no way of knowing that a doctor and a nurse intent upon protecting his eyes had sealed them for the time being.
All he knew was a moment of panic—of searching. He opened his mouth and cried—an instinct.
But then he stopped. Warmth seemed to cover him all over, and it was just what he’d been looking for—what he’d been “feeling” for.
Of course, he had no cognizant thoughts as he wiggled in the direction of the two sources of warmth. He had no way of understanding his comfort was coming from the gentle touch of his mother and the protective hold of his father. He couldn’t see that the woman who had nurtured him in her womb was poking her hand in through one hole of the incubator so that she could rest her hand on his chest. And he couldn’t see that the man whose voice he’d come to associate with safety had placed his finger into Johan’s hand. However, that didn’t stop the tiny child from gripping that finger.
And—just like his father—the little one had a strong grip.
A/N: I’d so wanted to get this to you last Friday, which is Johan’s birthday in the story. But, sadly, real life delayed me a bit. And—yes—I did have big time jumps for the last two chapters. Once Eric and Sookie had decided to wait to confront Appius until after Johan was born, I decided to move us there faster. And I was anxious to meet the little tyke.
That said, I know little about childbirth in general and preemie babies particularly. That said, I did a bit of research to try to make this chapter “realistic.” Fingers crossed that I managed to do that. And—if I didn’t—I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance on the topic.
I want to thank you all for the wonderful comments about the last chapter!
I’ll be moving to work on the UN-iverse for a few chapters, but here’s a teaser for what’s up next in this story: Appius will begin to understand just how much of a bitch karma can be.
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, check out the following:
1. Sephrenia’s Fall Banner/Writing Challenge: sephwritchallenge.wordpress.com
2. My PROMO story for that contest: “My Valkyrie”