“No epidural for you,” Spike whispered, poking me in the ribs with his elbow.
We were sitting in a half-rectangle of tables with all the other parents-to-be. Earlier, we’d introduced ourselves and announced how far along we were, if we were having a boy or girl or twins, and when we were due. This had been awkward because many of the parents had given Spike side eye at his bleached hair and black leather. He hadn’t exactly donned a welcoming facial expression in response to their wariness despite our talk about how he had to play nice to learn about baby care.
We had been listening to the ins and outs of labor, which honestly was a bit boring with all the talk of minutes between contractions and centimeters dilated. Now, our instructor was going over the gory details of the epidural’s potential negative impact on child and mother, which of course, made my vampire very anxious.
I frowned at him and elbowed him back so that he grunted. “Says you. And ow.”
“But look at this list of side effects!” He thrust the list up at me as if I couldn’t read my own copy right in front of me. “Longer labor, vaginal tears, fever, compromised fetal heart rate, difficulty breastfeeding, nerve damage, spinal headache – ”
“Mr. Pratt? Everything okay?” The middle-aged teacher glared at Spike as she removed her bifocals with one hand and adjusted her floral top with the other. She looked like a disgruntled librarian but in a different and grumpier league than Giles.
All the other parents stared at him, which I knew didn’t bother him, but then, I emitted a small huff.
Admonished, he slouched and tried to appear reasonably embarrassed, which was not an easy thing for him. “All good.” I tried hard not to laugh at the century-old vampire being sort of put in his place by the teacher.
Giving him a run for his money with her eyebrow arch, she asked, “Do you have questions about the other forms of pain management for mothers?”
She re-donned her glasses and firmly straightened the papers in front of her. “All right then. Let’s take a break. How about we come back in ten minutes, and we’ll change gears to newborn care.”
Chairs scraped over scuffed linoleum and pregnant ladies waddled back toward the snack table or out the door to the bathroom in the hallway. Their husbands wandered around looking a little lost or staring at the posters of labor positions on the walls of the hospital classroom. The nurse who was teaching the class started pulling fake babies out of big plastic tubs.
Setting my jaw, I turned to Spike and crossed my arms on top of my baby bump. The baby kicked me in the ribs, which made me groan before I said with less firmness than I intended, “I want an epidural.”
Spike studied me. “Fine.” The worry was still in his eyes though, and I hated that.
Shifting to try to catch my breath, I took his hand in both of mine. “It seems like a lot of things can happen during labor.”
Spike glanced over at the papers in front of him. “There are a lot of bloody variables.” He peeked at me. “Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding that part of the book.”
Fiddling with his thumb, I asked, “Could we maybe play it by ear? Go with the flow? See what happens first? Let the doctor tell us what and when?”
“Sure, pet. Just scares me is all. I don’t want to lose you. Same as the surgery for your eggs.”
“You’re looking at a Slayer. I got this. . . we’ve got this.” I forced his blue eyes to meet mine.
“We do.” Then, he hedged, “Slayers can handle a lot of pain, so – ”
“Still on board the epidural train.”
He grinned at me. “Playing it by ear seems wise.”
“For our physical health. Yours and mine.” The corner of my lips quirked up. “You’ll walk me through all these exercises first,” I said, shuffling through the pages until I found the list of labor tips, positions, and techniques.
He leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. “Of course. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“Good.” My smile broadened. “Now, this momma needs to use the bathroom. Again.”
“Need anything from the vending machine?” He stood with me and then gestured at my left foot. “Looks like you need to prop up your feet again.”
I glanced down. Damn. Swollen already? “Looks like.”
“I’ll get you some water and a chair.”
With reverence, the instructor placed a rubber baby down in front of us along with a disposable diaper and a thin blanket. The faux baby’s eyes were the kind that opened and closed and were somehow stuck open and staring creepily up at the ceiling. It reminded me a bit of Sid, the puppet. She smiled at me and gave Spike a stern once-over, no doubt judging his hair and all-black ensemble.
I widened my eyes at Spike as she moved on, and he heaved an irritated sigh. “Dunce cap for me, pet. Thank god there’s only one class.”
I giggled as he headed for the snack table. Then, I hurried to the bathroom. After my bladder was relieved, I followed the other couples who were meandering back to class.
I discovered that Spike had procured a pillow for my back, a chair for my feet which was arranged on the other side of the table, and a large, cold bottle of water from the vending machine instead of the mini ones from the provided stash. Running my fingers over his shoulders, I kissed his cheek and settled down. “You’re the best.”
He folded the pillow in half as I leaned forward, tucking it at my sore lower back. Since the instructor was taking her own bathroom break, I decided to broach something else that had been on my mind. “We should talk about names because seriously? Baby is due in six weeks or so. Movers are coming this weekend.”
With Giles on the task, the house closing had been quick. Lucky for us, we had lots of helpers, aka Slayers, to carry and move the heavy stuff. No expensive movers were needed. Willow, Carrie, Dawn, and Crystal planned the shower for the next weekend at the new house. Everything was moving super-fast, and it freaked me out a little. I was worried that I’d forget something that had to be done before the birth.
Spike had been battling it out every night with the names, and I swear that every name I thought of, he nixed. And vice versa.
“Yeah. We should. The tyke needs a name. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.” He bit his lower lip, and I was momentarily distracted by the cute indention his tooth made.
“We both have.”
Spike fidgeted with the corner of the handout on breastfeeding, different colors of poop, and the importance of not using a pacifier. Avoiding my gaze, he waggled the flexible paper until he finally bent the corner. He was more nervous than I’d seen him when we discussed names. “And I know I’ve been a right pain about it.”
“Um, yeah. But so have I.”
He took a deep breath and looked me uncertainly in the eye. “How do you feel about the name Asher?” Before I could say anything in response, he said in a rush, “I like what it means: ‘happy.’ You make me so happy, pet. I keep coming back to that. And it sounds. . . I dunno, like a bit of tosh, but I like that we were both ash at some point and yet, here we are about to have a baby together.”
My eyes filled with tears, and I retrieved his wayward, anxious hand. “We’re like phoenixes.”
“It’s a bloody miracle that we’re even here.”
“And I love the name.” I blinked rapidly to no avail. The tears escaped the defenses of my lower lashes, and I smiled. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care.
“You sure?” Spike sounded uncertain.
“Surer than sure,” I assured him. A thought came to me, and I knew then that I wanted the answer to be “yes” to my question. “Can his middle name be William? He can be a happy ‘resolute protector’ like his Daddy.”
The tears shone in his eyes, and he squeezed my hand. “Asher William?”
I nodded. “Uh huh.”
“It has a nice ring to it.” He cocked his head. “Are you sure you’d want William in there?”
“Of course. I love your given name.” And I did.
“Okay then.” He leaned over and kissed my belly. “He has a name.”
I laughed, a watery, emotion-drenched giggle. “Can you believe we just named our kid at a birthing class under all these fluorescent lights?”
He chuckled. “Mood lighting not up to your standards?”
“Um, no. Not exactly.”
Spike tilted his head at the other couples, who somehow had no idea that an emotional, very important discussion had just happened. “No one even noticed.”
It was true; they were all either staring at their phones or eating snacks. One mother-to-be was even napping.
“You’d be surprised how many people do that,” the nurse-instructor said with greater kindness than I’d witnessed so far. She paused behind us, wiping her damp hands on a paper towel from the bathroom. “It’s a. . . nice name.” Then, she hustled to the front of the classroom, tossing the napkin in the garbage and bringing her reading glasses from her chest to her nose. “Now, we’re going to all practice diapering your babies,” she proclaimed to the group.
I glanced at Spike, who was back to seething in annoyance. “Ignore her. It’s more than nice. Asher William is a perfect name.” Trying to distract him, I passed him our naked fake baby, dangling the creepy plastic thing from the toe while wiping my cheeks with my free hand. “You go first.”
Spike raised both eyebrows. “I’m thinking that’s not how you hold the baby.”
“We will cover newborn holds after diapering and swaddling. Please focus on diapering your baby,” the instructor said pointedly.
Spike grumbled under his breath and plunked the baby hard on the table. Then, he unfurled the tiny newborn diaper, lifted the baby’s bum, and delicately slid the diaper underneath.
Trying hard not to laugh, my eyes flicked back and forth between my vampire and the nurse, who was glaring at him in disapproval.
Spike shimmied the diaper up through the narrow opening between the baby’s legs. “Sodding legs are unbendable.” Then, he attempted to attach the diaper. He growled, “What the bloody. . . how am I supposed to attach it?” He gestured at the mess in front of him. “We got a defective nappy,” he said a little too loudly.
I reached over with some hesitance and noted, “The, um, diaper’s on upside down.”
Spike clenched his jaw, started to rip the diaper away from the plastic baby, and then, smirked.
He found the Velcro on the front side, peeled it away, and wrapped the front around the back of the baby. “There,” he said in satisfaction and sat back with his arms crossed and legs spread, his body language daring the nurse to say something about his diaper being on backward.
Studiously ignoring all the other couples, who were probably staring at us, I patted his knee. “Good job.”
The nurse announced, “Once one of you is done putting the diaper on the baby, the other partner should take a turn. Make sure that in real life, you put the diaper on properly, or you will have a mess on your hands. One tip is to make sure the edges of the diaper fan out. This will prevent leaks.”
Spike unceremoniously stripped the diaper and shoved the little baby in front of me. “Your turn, pet. Hopefully, our son will be more flexible than this chap.”
“This creepy chap.” I sighed, focused on the baby’s navel so I didn’t have to see the frozen eyes, and quickly diapered the baby.
“Now, for the swaddle,” the instructor said with renewed, forced-sounding encouragement.
“I’ll do this one first,” I offered, snagging the blanket. “How hard could it be?” Biting my lip in concentration, I watched as the nurse folded the blanket into some sort of fashion that looked like advanced origami.
“Now, you try.” She listed the instructions again, and I didn’t follow any of it. She might as well have spoken to me in a language I didn’t understand.
I gawked at the blanket, feeling bewildered.
“You know, pet, you have to actually start folding.” Spike sounded very amused, and I was tempted to kick him.
“I know. I’m just thinking about where. . .”
“Just take the plunge,” he urged.
“There are a lot of steps.” I pushed my lips to one side. Then, I did what Spike suggested, folding one side and then the other in small triangles or was it supposed to be a rectangular flap? Argh. I kept folding and wrapping, and somehow the baby ended up wrapped up in the sloppiest swaddle known to man. It looked way worse than Spike’s Christmas present wrapping.
“Looking good, love. The little nipper is now snug as a bug.”
“As long as he doesn’t move at all,” I said with dejection.
The nurse was inspecting each swaddle. All the other couples got it right, but when she lifted up our faux baby, the covering fell right off. Oops. The instructor didn’t say a word but just shook her head. My cheeks flushed as she moved on. We were so going to suck at this newborn parenting thing.
Spike whispered, “Don’t worry, love. We’ll use the swaddles Crystal suggested. The ones with Velcro.”
“As long as we don’t put them on backward.”