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Birth Plan

by KPetry 18 days ago in Short Story
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A young couple prepares for the birth of their first child with the help of a virtual-reality program and a simulated midwife.

Jamie puts her hands on the big round belly before her, fingers spread wide and palms pressed to soft but unyielding skin, trying to take in as much of it as she can. She looks up at Christine with open and honest awe shining in her brown eyes, beaming.

Christine is exhausted. She's done with the poking and the prodding and the probing, done with the waddling and the immense effort of turning over in bed and the even more immense effort of getting in and out of the car every time they leave the house. She's done with being prompted to drink litres of water every day, and interrogated on the status of her mucus plug. Christine is just done. But gosh, Jamie looks so unbelievably happy that Christine manages a smile just from proximity.

"I can't believe it," Jamie says. "This time tomorrow, we'll be parents."

"I can." Christine huffs.

Jamie rises, swooping in to sneak a cheeky kiss before Christine levers back against the couch cushions and attempts a deep exhale, sending her breath towards the slowly building pain in her pelvis like she used to do in Yoga. When she could still bend over.

"You sure you don't want me to call the midwife?" Jamie asks, voice a little lower as Christine does her breathing.

"I'm sure."

"'Cause you said that I should call if..."

"I don't even know if this is labour. Real labour." Christine shrugs with her eyes more than her shoulders, apparently having decided against extraneous movement.

"Well, maybe I should call. Just to keep them in the loop."

Jamie paces while she dials, chewing her thumbnail. Christine presses her eyes closed and focuses on her breathing as the cramping in her abdomen continues to build and ebb.

"Yes. I think so. The last few hours. Ya." Jamie’s pacing leads to the front door of the apartment where she shuffles a large box around with her bare foot. "Mmhmm. I haven't fired it up yet. You really think it'll help?"

"What?" Christine shoots after her.

"The virtual spa thing from the birth workshop. You want me to get it going? Danny thinks it'll help."

Christine shrugs with her shoulders this time, for dramatic effect.

"OK." Jamie grins. "We'll try it."

Twenty minutes later, Christine is the one slowly pacing while Jamie finishes installing the projection cameras in the four corners of the living room. She looks triumphant as she opens the app on her phone and sees the projectors have registered. "Okay, it's ready!"

"You have the right simulation?"

"Yep, all ready to start."

"What should I..." Christine starts but Jamie's already hitting buttons and before she can finish, the living room begins to dissolve in a rush of colour accompanied by the whirring sound of the projectors booting up. The room is overlain with some kind of open-air, tropical beach simulation. The sofa becomes a beach lounger and the chair opposite it now looks like a high-backed beach throne. Behind them, a lattice wall hung with colourful, floating fabrics and in front, a beautiful, calm ocean painted orange and pink with the vibrant sunset. There's a soft, cooling breeze that cuts through the warmth of... the apartment? The beach? And bird song mingles with the sounds of shifting palm trees and ocean tides lapping at the sand.

"Holy..." Jamie mutters.

"Why the hell haven't we been using this thing?" Christine sounds more amused than angry.

"This is the birthing program? It's more like, sensual beach vacation program."

"Yes. Yes. I need a sensual beach vacation." Christine lowers herself onto the lounger, Jaimie jumping to help her change altitudes.

"I wonder what makes this for ..."

"Hi ladies." A man's voice startles them both. Christine's eyes snap open even as she fails to move from her position on the lounger. Jamie whirls towards the sound with arms raised.

"Sorry to startle you! Welcome to the birth relaxation program. I'm your guide, the Midwife!"

"The Midwife," Jamie repeats incredulously.

"That's right." The man before them is a tall, muscular type with biceps the same size as his head and pecs like coconuts straining under his button-down shirt. He gives Christine an appraising look, taking in her cotton nightgown, fluffy socks and dishevelled hair as well as her giant belly. He turns to Jamie and flashes a grin.

"Shouldn't you be more..." Jamie starts.

"I'm actually created by you." He smiles that snake-oil smile at Jamie again and, this time, she responds with teeth barred in some kind of smile-grimace hybrid. "Well." The Midwife recalibrates towards Christine. "By you."

Christine manages a moment of surprise before being distracted by the cramping. She exhales deeply, relaxing into the sound of the Midwife's rumbling voice, the bird song and the ocean waves. Jamie catches a small smile on Christine's face, looking positively boneless on the lounger.

"I'm sorry," Jamie says with incredulity, "she made you?"

"I am but a featureless program of zeroes and ones, as with the rest of this simulation, until the birthing mother is welcomed to the space." The Midwife tilts his head expectantly, still evaluating Christine with his glassy blue eyes. "Her most relaxing fantasies create the visual matrix of the program, allowing for full adaptability and responsiveness."

"But you're a midwife?" Jame feels the need to demand clarification.

"My program comes equipped with all of the training and knowledge of a midwife, yes." He grins.

"What do we call a male midwife?" Jamie squints, also evaluating.

"Midwife means ‘with women’. It refers to the client, not the practitioner." The hologram chuckles, tossing its luxuriously thick hair side to side like an underwear model looking for their light.

The Midwife practically floats to Christine's side. He adjusts the pillows behind her while she gazes into his face, openly rapturous. "Perhaps," Midwife says, voice soft and gentle, "your birthing partner could fetch a glass of water?"

Christine nods obediently without breaking eye contact. Jamie rolls her eyes and attempts to extricate herself from the simulation to find the kitchen. She feels her way to the edge of the living room and, passing the projector, steps through a beam of light into her completely normal hallway.

Muttering under her breath, she fills a glass of water in the sink. Thinking, at the last second, to add a generous amount of ice. She returns in time to catch Midwife launching into the second verse of Love me Tender, which doesn't seem fair. Christine is relaxed back on the cushion, hair rustling in the ocean breeze. Jamie swallows annoyance with Midwife's buttery, perfect voice. She presses the glass into Christine's hand and kneels next to the lounger.

"How you feeling, baby?"

"Her perspiration levels have dropped 30% and her heart rate..."

"I wasn't asking you," Jamie snaps.

"Good. Nice. It's nice. Sing it again?"

"A cold compress," Midwife says, a cool, damp cloth materialising in his hands to drape over her head. Jamie is glaring at Midwife when Christine's comfort level seems to shift, she screws up her face against an onslaught of painful cramping.

"Ouch, ouch ouch," she repeats it like a curse. Jamie is willing to momentarily forget her annoyance with the simulation. As Christine leans forward against the pain the beach cabana fills with a cool gust of air, the silks behind them billow dramatically, Jamie's hair whips back from her shoulders, Midwife's shirt blows open.

Christine bares her teeth, moaning and Jamie moves to catch her hand. Christine bats her away, hand reaching up to grab Midwife's oily, hairless chest. She stares into Midwife's handsome face as she clenches his pectorals and MOANS.

"Christine...." Jamie growls.

"WHAT." Christine whips her expression of abject pain and strain and unhinged vulnerability to Jamie and it's so utterly different from her wife's regular demeanour that Jamie can only stare back with wide eyes.

Just as soon as it peaked, the contraction ebbs away. The tide goes out and the wind dies down, a soft, gentle breeze dries the sweat on Christine's face as she relaxes back against the lounger.

"You are doing fabulously," Midwife promises, all perfect toothy smiles over his perfect naked chest.

"When do we call the actual midwife?" Jamie does not sound pleased.

"Your regular midwife will be kept automatically apprised of our progress."

"Christine's progress. You have nothing to do with it."

Midwife doesn't seem offended, he grins, patting Christine's leg with an overactive sense of familiarity. "I should check your dilation, Christine."

"NO," Christine and Jamie say in unison.

"Whoa." Midwife raises his hands, capitulating. "Perhaps you'd prefer a different practitioner?"

"Well no," Christine starts at the same time that Jamie answers, "YES."

Midwife offers one last smarmy, oscar worthy grin and then shimmers out of existence.

With a little privacy, Jamie leans down to Christine and grabs her hand. "Please, please imagine someone just a little less good looking, okay? I do not need to develop an inferiority complex on the day of my child's birth."

"I'm not doing it on purpose!" Christine snaps. "I guess I just find it relaxing to look at..." she trails off, biting her lip to keep the smile contained, "pretty things."

"Chris..."

"Hello you two," a deep, smooth female voice materialises behind Jamie. Christine's eyes widen, her small smile returning. Jamie cringes while she turns to look. The new hologram is of an average height, but that's about all that's average about her. She's a dark-haired, brown-skinned woman with the most symmetrically beautiful face Jamie has ever seen. She looks like Halle Berry emerging from the water in James Bond, an image that's been burned into Jamie’s — and apparently Christine's — head since she was 12. Not-Halle-Berry Midwife has something in common with her predecessor, that pearly, perfect smile that she flashes their way just as Christine grabs Jamie's hand and starts to squeeze.

"FUCK."

Jamie snaps to attention. "Breathe, breathe baby."

"I'M BREATHING," Christine grits through clenched teeth. Jamie wants to remind her of the breathing techniques they learned in the birth workshops but not only are Christine's nails digging into the palm of her hand, but she does not look like she wants any advice at this moment. Jamie feels something prickling up her ankle. She moves to swat it away and finds the sensation only multiplies.

"What the..."

Hundreds of small red and black bugs are moving up her legs from the sand, biting her as they go and leaving behind angry welts. "JESUS," she curses as she swats, dancing away in an attempt to dislodge her attackers.

"Please remain calm," Midwife says.

Christine moans from the lounger. As the contraction ends the bugs dissipate.

"What the — you did that!" Jamie points at Christine who rolls her eyes.

"Deal with it."

"No, no that's it. We're turning this thing off."

"NO." Christine's voice turns to a growl. Midwife comes to her side and helps her sit, applying deep counter pressure to her back just like Jamie remembers their actual midwife showing them at the birth workshop. As they wait in the ebb between contractions, Christine closes her eyes, taking in the warm press of Midwife's strong hands against her back, the soft sound of the ocean beyond, the tittering of the tropical birds, the breeze through the cabana.

"I have to inform you," beautiful Halle Berry midwife breathes against Jamie's wife's neck. "You are progressing rather quickly, and it is unlikely your actual midwife will make it here in time for the birth."

"WHAT?" Christine whips around, eyes wild. The sky above them turns black, clouds suddenly swirling in an ominous circle directly above their heads, laden with who knows what kind of holographic atmospheric torture.

"Don't worry," Midwife smiles sweetly, "I am fully equipped to handle the birth. Jamie dear, would you find some towels, please?"

Christine seems to melt under the warmth of the Midwife's gaze. The sky turns back to soft blue offset by encroaching sunset. Jamie sighs with frustration, levering up and scrambling out of the simulation to find the towels. Behind her, she can hear a new contraction ramping up in volume. She pauses with her hands in the linen cabinet. There's a piece of paper stuck to the towel at the top of the stack. A little folded note that Jamie opens with shaking hands.

Jamie, you're going to be such a wonderful mum.

Jamie folds the note back up and slips it into her pocket, taking a minute to lean her forehead against the stack of soft towels and breath in the scent of fabric softener and laundry detergent. Chris is always hiding notes around the house for her, reminding her of how much she's loved. How much she matters. It's sweet, it's always been something Jamie loves and looks forward to. Tonight, it stops her in her tracks. Her jealousy about Midwife seems a million lifetimes ago, leaving the joy and anxiety of the moment alone in the pit of her stomach, competing for attention.

Christine calls for her, voice full of fear and pain and those same emotions Jamie is feeling. She grabs the towels and heads back to the simulation.

Things have kicked up a notch since Jamie left, and that's something she remembers from the birth workshop, that things can go quickly or slowly and you never know which one you'll be. Also something about a "birth fairy" that will ensure that something, at least one thing, goes completely and utterly wrong.

The birth fairy must have visited because their real midwife is not here and somehow, in the middle of a simulated beach cabana, Halle Berry is delivering their baby while Jamie looks on, dumbfounded, arms full of towels she has no idea what to do with.

Christine does not look particularly relaxed at this point. Mid-scream, she looks at Jamie and reaches for her. Jamie drops the towels at Midwife's feet and grabs Christine's hand. She squeezes. They both scream. The sky overhead responds with more gathering clouds and ominous swirling, then a crash of thunder precedes a wide beam of light that parts the darkness and shines onto the cabana, illuminating just the three of them and their beach lounger with the precision of an exam light. Fifteen minutes later, Halle Berry clad in a bikini just like in James Bond passes Christine, a tiny baby boy wrapped in a towel that somehow still smells softly of home and familiarity, warmth and love.

Jamie looks up at Christine with open and honest awe shining in her eyes, beaming. Christine is exhausted. She manages a small, sheepish smile.

"I'm sorry," she says to Jamie, "that the midwives were hot."

Jamie laughs and leans across to kiss Christine on the lips, "I'll get over it."

Short Story

About the author

KPetry

Communicator. Storyteller. Mother. Gamer. Feminist. Frequent cryer. Spotify playlist curator. Movie watcher. Netflix binger. Sometimes blogger.

kpetrywrites.com

@kpetrywrites

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