Chapter 3: Birth
Note: Sorry it’s been so long!
Pregnancy at 32 weeks…
Jayne padded up the stairs to the galley in bare feet in the minutes after midnight. Angel had been asleep for four hours, but River never went to sleep. She stayed awake in bed for over two hours before she got up and started pacing their room and mumbling. After a while, she left for the galley with a notebook and pencil, and Jayne hadn’t seen her since.
He could hear his wife talking to herself, and the scratching of pencil on paper from the hallway. Jayne stopped in the dark doorway and looked into the lit mess. River hunched sideways at the table in difference to her stomach. She wore her white nightgown and the maroon cow socks he bought her for Christmas a few years back. He couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but a few words caught his ear. They were all numbers and math related. He sighed before descending the steps and going to stand over her. River didn’t even look up.
“The frame is crumbling. Melting into little bits, little gelatinous bits. Sliding down. Coming apart. The algorithm is off. Need to find the source….”
“Honey, you comin’ t’ bed any time soon?” Jayne asked.
At that she looked up. Her eyes were wide and shone with intense light. “I have to save them,” she insisted. “It’s not safe.”
“Riv, it’s passed midnight. You need to rest.” He grabbed the top of her notebook. “Come on.”
“No!” She snatched the sides and started a tug of war. Jayne had leverage on her, and in a moment he wrested it out of her hands and put it on the counter behind them. “No, Jayne! I have to! It’s going to melt, and the math won’t stop it! The equation’s off, and…there’s….”
She ended with a whimper and one last reach for the notebook while Jayne tried to pull the pencil out of her fist.
“This is gettin’ ruttin’ old,” he muttered. “Four gorram weeks this is goin’ on. Bad enough I got one kid, it’s like the other one’s already here. Knew this was gonna happen—let it go!”
River jerked and released the pencil. Jayne felt bad for the tears that came to her eyes, but he was exhausted with doing this night after night for nearly a month. The Pax had been out of River’s system for two months now. At first it was just that she got headaches, and some of the oddness that was unavoidable with River became common, but soon the true craziness came back. She was muttering like she hadn’t since Miranda. There was no violence attached, but she rarely slept, and she took to spouting prophetic creep-itudes again. And then there was the constant math that neither Jayne, nor anyone else could figure out.
He pulled in a deep breath and knelt down in front of her. “River, honey, how ‘bout we head on down t’bed, okay?”
“But…I have to…I need…” She gestured to the notebook.
“It can wait ‘til mornin’.”
Like an oil lamp being turned up, the sanity pushed back her dark delusions. River’s tears fell as she lowered her forehead to rest against his. “I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t make sense. I never make sense anymore. I’m sorry.”
Jayne sighed. “I know, honey. Come on.”
River nodded sadly, and Jayne stood, took her hand, and led her back to their bed. He got her all tucked in, and bent to whisper in her ear, “Gonna hit the head real fast. Be back in a minute.”
He was almost out of the room when he heard her whisper, “Liar,” but he ignored it.
Jayne headed down the hall to Kaylee and Simon’s door, and tried to be quiet as he knocked. The Doc was a light sleeper, and used to being woken at odd hours when someone needed medical attention, especially his sister. The two men silently walked out into the cargo bay, and stood under the stairs so that their voices wouldn’t carry as much as they spoke.
“She’s gettin’ worse.”
“I know.” Simon rubbed his eyes to wake up. “I’ve already given her a few of the meds. I’m afraid to give her too much, and there could be complications, it could affect the baby…”
Jayne crossed his arms. “So what am I supposed ta do? She’s barely sleepin’, she plays with her food unless you watch her ruttin’ eat—it’s like she is a child! She goes on like this, she won’t be good to nobody. Mal’s already taken her off flight control. Angel’s afraid to go near her since she had that fit last week and screamed at her.”
“I know, I know!” The Doctor sighed and tugged on his ear. “Thirty-seven weeks. That’s the earliest a baby can be born without being listed as premature and having to deal with the complications that come with it. If we can keep her going for another five weeks, I’ll try to convince her to let me induce labor.”
“Is that safe?”
“I’ll take every precaution to make sure she and Max will both be fine,” Simon promised. “And, as you said, it will be better than waiting several more weeks until the baby comes naturally, with River in the state she’s in now.”
Jayne nodded. He grabbed onto the one of the stair supports above his head, and leaned, again wishing the Shepherd was still with them. He needed someone to talk to; more and more lately, he’d been going to Simon. It was uncomfortable for the both of them, but there was no one else who understood. “I want her safe, but I don’t know how much more’a this I can put up with. I knew this was gonna be how it is when River wanted a baby. This was one’a the reasons I didn’. Just don’t think I can do this much longer.”
Simon crossed his own arms and nodded. “I remember that feeling. Just…” he sighed, “take it as it comes. River does have her more cogent days. I’m not through trying different medications. We’ll start another tomorrow, and see if it helps calm her down.”
“It’s like two steps forward, ten big-assed steps back,” Jayne groused.
“At least you don’t hate her this time.”
“Be better if’n I did. At least then I didn’t lose sleep over her crazy spells. ‘Cept when her yellin’ woke me up from across the ship. Now I got a four-year-old ta take care of on top of River, and makin’ sure Mal don’t get shot. This is ruttin’ exhausting work.”
“You did sign up for it,” Simon reminded him.
Jayne muttered something his brother-in-law couldn’t hear, and stomped off to bed. Simon rubbed his eyes again. It was going to be a long five weeks.
Two weeks later, unnamed moon in the Georgia System…
It was cold, wet, and muddy. You didn’t usually find one Rim planet that was all three. Saint Albans was cold, New Melbourne, being mostly ocean, was wet, and a little moon around Persephone called Suzette was mostly swamp, which covered the muddy. But that all three attributes were located in the make-up of one world was almost unheard of.
Needless to say, Jayne was not happy with this job. There was no gunfire, no one got hurt. They dropped off the goods, got paid, and by the time they were ready to head back to Serenity, they were caked in thick brown mud. It jumped off the ground to coat them as the raid pelted down. There was no escaping it. And when it stopped raining, the mud froze to them. No, no. Jayne was not happy. He wanted to go home, shower, clean his guns—because what good would he be cleaning his guns if he himself was not clean—and get some food. Really, it should have been apparent at that point that there was no way he was going to get any of those things in any timely manner just by the fact that he wanted them so badly.
As soon as they hovered through the open ramp of the cargo bay and set down on the floor, Mal radioed up to where Inara was watching the bridge as emergency pilot, since River was currently out of commission. “We’re home. Start ‘er up.”
Kaylee sat around the kitchen table with the three littlest crew members. She watched Annabelle stir the mess that used to be her lunch with a little spoon, while Dewey tried to concentrate on school work. Angel, for once, was disinclined to help him. She hugged Sarah-doll and the newly named Kě-ài to her chest and rocked in her chair.
As soon as the Captain’s voice came through the speaker, Angel left her dolls on the table and ran out of the room.
“Angel!” Kaylee yelled after her. She was out of her seat a second before she thought to turn to Dewey, and say, “Watch Bella!”
There was no answer from the bridge when Mal pushed the button to raise the ramp, and the ship remained still as Jayne and Zoe started to re-hang the Mule. Mal went back to the intercom with a frown, and pounded the button, but before he did more than open his mouth, a little crying girl came running down the stairs.
Kaylee was fast on her heels, but couldn’t catch Angel.
Jayne looked up from securing one of the latches, and held his mud-spattered hands out to stop the girl before she could get herself all dirty. “Whoa, whoa, Little Bit! Slow up.” He grabbed her shoulders and squatted down before her. “What’s the matter?”
“Mommy’s sick!” Angel sobbed.
“Mommy’s sick?” he repeated, frowning up at Kaylee who had stopped a few steps away.
“Uncle Simon took her to the unferm’ry, an’ Auntie Nara’s in there, and they won’t let me in.”
Kaylee’s face was pinched as she told them. “Her water broke.”
Jayne’s heart stopped a second before picking up at double pace. He let go of Angel, and ran down to the infirmary. He vaguely heard her trying to go after him, but Kaylee must have caught her back.
“River!” he yelled down the stairs.
Inara came out of the infirmary with a look of relief on her face. “Renci de Fozu. She’s in here.”
He barely waited until she moved from the door to go in. River’s sallow, tear-marked face looked up at him from the exam chair. Simon stood by River’s bedside with a hypodermic needle, pushing some medicine into the drip attached to the IV in her arm. He looked back when Jayne stepped his first foot over the raised portal, and left his sister to stop him.
“Jayne, you need to go get cleaned up before you come in here.” Jayne looked like he was going to protest, but Simon dropped his voice and spoke clearly. “You’re covered in dirt, and who-knows-what kinds of germs that are hiding in there. You need to go wash before you come into the infirmary or you could spread infection. You could put River and the baby at risk. Go shower.”
“Jayne?” River whimpered reaching out for him.
He clenched his teeth. “Be right back. Just gotta get this cleaned off. I’ll be right back. Just hang on.”
He was down the hall into the dorm showers in record time. He jumped under the spray before it had a chance to get warm, and scrubbed the frozen mud out of his hair and off his arms in under five minutes. He was just rinsing the shampoo when a knock came to the door and Inara’s voice came through.
“I brought you some clean clothes. I’ll set them on the sink. River’s asking for you.”
“Just a sec.”
A few years ago he would have made a comment about Inara knocking on his shower door, but he’s too scared right now to bother. He stepped out of the shower and put on his old drawers, and the clean cargo’s and tee Inara brought. He sat on the toilet and pulled the clean socks up after he dusted off the dried bits of mud that stuck to him from the floor. His boots were still covered, so he left them where they were, and hurried out to River.
Angel had gotten away from Kaylee again, and slammed into his legs. Jayne bent to pick her up and pressed a kiss onto her temple as he carried her into the infirmary.
“Jayne,” Inara warned, “do you really think it’s wise to bring her—”
“Jayne!” River called.
He paid Inara no mind as he and Angel went to stand next to the bed. “Right here, honey.” He turned to Simon, “Now what the hell’s goin’ on? The baby ain’t due for ’nother three weeks, you said. You said there’d be complications earlier.”
Simon looked down at his niece. “Angel, I think you better let Inara take you back upstairs to sit with Aunt Kaylee, Dewey, and Bella, shi?”
“Is Mommy dying?”
Everyone in the room protested that no, she wasn’t—except River who simply clung to Jayne’s free hand with one of her own, and cradled the swell of her stomach with the other. The monitors started beeping, and she sobbed, “Simon!”
The Doctor checked her pulse against the read-out, and went to the screen that held her chart information. Jayne passed Angel to Inara as he focused his whole attention on the slim, pale, and suddenly very young looking woman on the bed who was obviously having a contraction.
Inara hugged Angel to her. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go upstairs and let Uncle Simon and Daddy take care of your Mommy, okay?”
“I wanna stay,” the child argued. Inara carried her out anyway. “I wanna stay. I wanna stay! Mommy! Daddy! No! I wanna stay!”
They could hear her scream up the stairs to the galley, but none of the adults went after her.
Jayne leaned over and brushed the hair away from River’s face. Tears leak out of her eyes as she rode out the cramp and release of her uterus while her husband whispered what he hoped was soothing nonsense noises. Simon came over and adjusted the drip on her IV.
Jayne snarled up at him, “For the last ruttin’ time, what the hell happened?”
In his most detached, professional voice, Simon told him, “It’s medically referred to as premature rupture of membranes. Basically, the amniotic sack broke before it was supposed to. This isn’t entirely unusual. Many women experience some form of leakage in the last few months, but this was an actual rupture.”
As the monitors slowed, and River’s keening whimpers settled as the contraction passed, Simon’s professionalism flagged and his worry took over. “In some cases—some, mind you—the mother has carried the baby for several weeks, up to two months or so without the amniotic sack. In this case, River is already experiencing contractions. These aren’t Braxton Hicks. They’re coming regularly, about every twenty minutes right now, and they’re lasting for several minutes at a time. I’m trying one of the long-term tocolytics to try and stop the contractions, but these drugs are notoriously faulty. Even the best have only prolonged delivery by about a week.”
“So our choices are deliverin’ the baby now, or deliverin’ the baby in another week?” Jayne clarified.
“I’m sorry,” River chocked out. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
“River, no. It’s not your fault. A lot of contributing factors could have caused your premature labor—stress, the fact that you’re still relatively young, that you’re petite.”
Jayne looked ready to punch him. “Not helpin’, Doc!”
Simon pinched the bridge of his nose to help him refocus. “Alright, look. I’m not an obstetrician. I’ve delivered a grand total of two babies, neither of which was premature. I’m out of my depth here, but I do believe this baby is going to be born some time in the next twenty-four hours if I do nothing. With the drugs, I may be able to prolong delivery. Give us enough time to get prepared.”
“What kinda prepared?”
Simon doesn’t answer, but goes to the com link and presses the button. “Kaylee, boa bei, I need you down here.”
“An incubator,” River said. She continued when Jayne looked down at her. “Max’s lungs will not be fully developed yet, and he may be hypothermic. He will need to be in an enclosed space with oxygen and heat regulated until he is larger.”
“She’s right,” Simon concurred. Kaylee appeared at the door, and he went outside to talk with her and give her instructions on the size and properties of the incubator.
River’s eyes welled up again. “I’m so sorry, Jayne. It’s all my fault. I thought I could do this. Didn’t know my body wasn’t right. Should’ve known.”
“Hey, hey…none’a that,” Jayne murmured. “It’s gonna be okay.”
“Your brain says different,” she argued. “Lissy and Daniel were early. Ma almost didn’t make it.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “You don’t look at those thoughts. This is differ’nt. You’re gonna be fine. The both of ya. You’re both gonna be just fine. Doc’s gonna take care of you an’ Max, an’ it’s gonna be all right.” His voice cracked a little at the end, and he had to clear his throat so she didn’t think he was worried or nothin’.
Simon came back in, and they waited breathlessly for the remainder of the twenty minute interval to see if the medication had done its job. There was no contraction, and the Doctor breathed a little easier. “The hypotocolytic’s kicked in. This should give us about a forty-eight hour window, give or take, to get the incubator ready. I’ll need to put a Wave out to my contacts and see if I can get some preemie immune boosters. Everything we have on hand is meant for children and adults.”
“Should contact a dietician, as well,” River said. “Preemies need special care throughout childhood.”
“I’ll add it to my list.” Simon paused to think. They had already talked about River and breastfeeding, and come to the decision that it would probably be best to feed Max on formula since there was no telling how the Pax might affect him. But the landscape had changed, as Mal would say, and he wanted to make sure that his nephew got the best start possible. “River, I think Kaylee still has the breast pump she used. Once your milk comes, I want you to express some, and I’ll run some tests. If the tox-level of Pax is low enough, I’d like you to start with breast feeding as soon as possible.”
“Is that gonna be okay?” Jayne asked. “I mean, ya said…”
“Yes, but studies show a mother’s milk to be the best nutrition for infants, especially preemies. It also helps to control nutrition-related diseases later in life. I’d feel irresponsible if I didn’t at least try to give Max that advantage.”
“Thank you, Simon,” River whispered, and tugged her ge-ge down to kiss his cheek.
Inara’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Jayne, I’m sorry, but Angel’s crying herself sick.”
The Cobb’s shared a look, and Jayne turned to Simon. “Doc, is it okay if’n I bring her down for a while?”
“Of course. Go ahead.”
Jayne bent over and kissed River. “Be right back.”
She nodded, and lay back to await the next few tormenting hours.
Kaylee had the incubator constructed in eighteen hours. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Simon gave her one of the oxygen tanks and a hose to feed into one side of a large plastic box that once held the brand new compression coil Mal finally bought. Inside was a heating pad underneath a layer of soft blankets, and the heat level could be adjusted from outside. On the opposite side from the oxygen feed was a fan to suck out the used air and keep a good flow going through the box. Both air currents went through a sanitation chamber Simon and Kaylee worked on together, and it was this piece of equipment that took the most time.
Meanwhile, Jayne and River did their best to assure Angel that Mommy wasn’t dying, and everything was going to be fine. What made it all the more difficult was that, if not exactly a psychic like her mother, Angel was already adept at reading people. Since neither of her parents were sure of what they were saying, at least in regard to her little brother, Angel had a hard time believing what they said. She wasn’t ready to call her Mommy and Daddy liars, but there was some untruth to what they were telling her.
Forty-six hours after Simon administered the hypotocolytic, River’s contractions started again, ten minutes apart and growing in intensity. Kaylee took over care of Angel while Jayne stayed in the infirmary, though no one got any real sleep that night. Just before midnight, River delivered Maxwell Thomas Cobb at just over five pounds, and nineteen and a half inches long. Simon silently mused that if the baby had gone to term, he might have had to do a caesarean.
“Why ain’t he cryin’?” Jayne demanded from the head of the bed where he had remained firmly stationed throughout the ordeal. He refused to watch Inara and Simon at the counter where they took the baby to be cleaned up and checked over. Now, Jayne was no expert, but in his recollection, healthy babies tended to cry quite a bit. Max just made wheezing, annoyed sounds.
“His lungs are still a little under-developed,” Simon reported. “The fact that he’s making any noise at all is a good sign.”
Jayne frowned, but he would have to take the Doc’s word for it.
River sat up from her brief rest after eleven hours of struggle to birth her precocious son and then expel the afterbirth. “Is he well? Is he safe? Is he whole?”
Simon put the baby into the incubator as soon as he was finished with his check-up, and came to his sister’s side. He brushed the damp strings of hair away from her pale forehead and gave her a smile. “Right now, he looks good. And I am going to do my best to make sure that he stays that way.” He squeezed her free hand, and reached into a pocket on his now-bloody apron to extract her Pax inhaler. “Here you go, mei-mei. I’ll be right over here.”
River took the hated inhaler, and watched him walk back over to the incubator. She pulled in a ragged breath, closed her eyes, and turned to Jayne who had kept his eyes on her since the moment the contractions started again. “It’s going to be okay. He’s going to be okay.”
Jayne held tight to her hand, squeezed it back when she offered her own as comfort, but didn’t raise his head to look.
As much as she hated the need, and though she felt sane right at that moment, River knew what a strain she had been the last few months. She dutifully raised the inhaler to her mouth and pressed the release. The acrid taste froze the back of her mouth, and in a moment, she dropped into unconsciousness.
Jayne licked his lips, and finally let go of his wife’s hand. He glanced once at Simon before he backed to the door. “I, uh…need ta send a Wave to my Ma. She’ll wanna know what’s goin’ on.”
Inara’s head whipped around. “Don’t you want to come take a look—”
“Doc said he’s fine. ‘S’all that matters.”
Simon and Inara watched the man flee from the room as if someone had died of something communicable in there instead of the arrival of his own child. The Companion pressed her lips together, and she and Simon shared a worried look before the Doctor once again focused on maintaining the correct settings for the hastily constructed incubator, and Inara went to stand in Jayne’s place by River’s side.