Laurel panted, clinging to the side-rail of the hospital bed. Her whole body ached with the exertion of the birth. Her avid eyes watched the nurses carrying her baby back and forth. She knew in some small, less exhausted corner of her mind that they were doing important tasks with Jocelyn. Probably important. Still, she wanted her baby. She wanted her without understanding exactly why. She thought about that for a moment. Didn’t she love her baby? Weren’t all mothers automatically in love with their babies? What was wrong with her? Was she broken? Did the birth break something in her head? A wall of green and purple snails moved in front of her, blocking her view of Jocelyn, ending the tired chase of her thoughts. She tipped her head back to see a nurse standing there.
“Hey, sugar. That was a hard one, hmm?” A large hand, covered in blue nitrile, tucked a sweaty braid behind her ear. “I got something for you. Thirsty?” A straw bumped against her lips, her slack hand molded around cold plastic. Laurel sucked on the straw. Slightly watered-down apple juice squirted into her mouth. For a split second, Laurel forgot her exhaustion. For a moment there was only the cool, sweet juice. In seconds, the cup was empty. She looked up at the nurse to thank her and saw a pink-swaddled caterpillar in the nurse’s arms. Black hair escaped the top of the blanket.
She took her baby from the nurse, tucking her hand automatically under Jocelyn’s butt. Her thoughts began to rabbit around her head again. What if the nurses noticed her lack? What if she hurt the baby because of her inability to love her? She gazed down at Jocelyn, trying to frame an apology. Puffy eyes gazed blearily up at her. A tiny pink mouth yawned toothless pink gums at her. She bent her head down to place a tentative kiss on the mottled cheek. Warm-caramel baby smell wafted up. Laurel felt every emotion concentrate down to a piercing sun in her heart. The nurses smiled at each other and quietly left the room.