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Jessica Kendall, 2020 2nd Place Creative Nonfiction

Submissions for the Creative Non-Fiction category are open to one work of creative nonfiction completed for coursework in the last calendar year. Submissions should not exceed 20 pages. Jessica Kendall wrote the 2nd place submission in the Creative Nonfiction Category for the 2020 President’s Writing Awards.

About Jessica

Jessica Kendall

Jessica Kendall is a thirty-nine-year-old junior working towards a BFA in creative writing with minors in both English and History. She grew up in Nampa Idaho and after hopping around a bit has settled in Meridian with her hunky, science nerd husband and four brilliant, creative, and crazy kids who keep her on her toes and teach her new things every day. After graduation she intends to pursue an MFA, publish her debut novel, and build her business as a freelance editor for aspiring and established authors. She is an active member of several online and local writing communities and has served as a mentor and on the committees for multiple writer’s conferences. She is a self-proclaimed procrastibaker who loves experimenting with new flavors and has been told she is a world class hugger.


Preeclampsia: Cause Unknown.




Another sharp kick to my ribs. The pain comforts me. I’m still alive to feel it. He’s still alive. We’re still alive.




Exquisite agony. It’s an interesting phrase. Not often used and probably even less understood.

But it’s real. I know it. This room knows it. It’s seen it a million times.

Time in this room is not a linear thing. Memories of events that take place here are even less so. The room, though… I will remember this room. Every detail.


Beep… beep…beep…

After the doctor explained that a heart can’t handle 190 over 111, after Erik walked in, covered in every shade of brown and smelling like sand, metal, and gun oil, but before the Herculean pushes and contracted breaths—and around the mind-numbing drugs—I memorized every tile in the ceiling.

From where I lay in the exact middle of the room, Cary Grant smiles down at me. No one else can see him but the dots and dents don’t lie. He’s there. He smiles at everyone who comes in this room.

Him and John Candy and Tim Curry and Christopher Walken. Though that last ceiling tile usually isn’t as soothing or entertaining to me as the rest. Especially not the Milky Way tile. A galaxy of spots and splotches that orbit when the drugs are fresh. Those spots and splotches watch over the agony, offering order in their orbits and peace in their predictable patterns.

The spots grow bigger each day, but the doctors and nurses don’t notice. They don’t see how the planets orbit nearer and nearer the lopsided sun. The fiery center of the greater stain reaching out to consume them, burning them in a loving embrace, until they’ve been swallowed.



Preeclampsia: A pregnancy complication characterized by extremely high blood pressure causing damage to organ systems, most often the heart, liver, and kidneys.



I’m so thirsty. Erik offers me ice chips, one by one, like a miserly Jack Frost. I want to strangle him and steal the cup and pour its contents down my throat to stop the dry burning. But the doctor gave instructions and Erik is so good and so patient and so infuriatingly slow with those damn ice chips.


Beep… beep… beep…


Between each glorious ice fragment, I focus back on the tiles, assuming that eventually the whole square galaxy above me will be consumed, blacked out, erased. Those, like me, who spend enough time in the room, probably wonder if the stain will stretch beyond that first tile and overtake the rest. Or maybe even creep down the pastel, paint splatter walls.

Most people don’t notice the walls any more than they notice the faces in the ceiling. The colors. The patterns. The Jackson Pollock nature of them. There are no faces in them. There are only streaks, spots, lines, drips, and clumps. If it was a deep, wine red color instead of the palest of pink and the softest of blue, the walls could be the macabre background of a gruesome crime scene. And yet, I know there has been blood on those walls. So much blood that if placed under a blacklight the entire room would glow in pain, joy, heartache, and wonder. The glowing ghost of blood bearing witness to all the lives begun and ended in that room.

The blood never leaves. Never really. Just like the fear.


Preeclampsia: the only effective treatment is delivery of your baby. If unable to deliver soon enough, the condition will lead to seizures in the mother and most likely death for the child.


Beep… beep… beep…


I’m so hungry. I beg for something. Anything. The nurse relents and brings me apple juice. I feel the cold fluid land in my stomach and then immediately taste it when it comes back up and splatters, pooling under the wheels of my knobbly bed-prison.

Much like the walls, the floor never comes clean either. The mottled linoleum squares, with their swooshes of every shade of brown, look dirty even after being vigorously assaulted by the night cleaning crew. It’s meant to be taupe. Varying shades of taupe. Brad Pitt once said, “Taupe is very soothing.” But it isn’t. Not in this room. In this room it’s the catch-all color. Blood, urine, amniotic fluid, and vomit. It never goes away. Not completely.

More for the black light to illuminate.

The nurse’s rubber shoes squeak on it. Not the sharp squeak of sneakers on a basketball court but a lower, softer squeak. Like the plaintive cry of an animal asking for attention, for care, for food. Maybe it’s thirsty and needs more fluids. It won’t have long to wait. The flavor changes regularly. O-positive, B-positive, my AB-negative, and the multi-faceted flavors of the seven-layer-dip with extra jalapenos I ate trying to kickstart this agony.

It took thirty-six hours for me to notice the soft mournful squeak and I spend the next eighty-four wondering if it is the floor or the shoes.

After I’m out, on the other side, no longer loitering between life and death, I realize that only those who’ve been drugged as profoundly as I was think that deeply on where the squeak comes from. Erik didn’t notice the sound. Erik’s combat boots didn’t squeak, making me wonder if he was really there or if I was somewhere else.


Beep… beep… beep…


My thoughts are roiling thunderclouds of confusion with lightning flashes of clarity. The exquisite joy of a heartbeat helps me remember where I am. The agony of dread nearly suffocates me. The repeated needle-pricks in my arms verge on torture. Every four hours, like clockwork, they take my blood, “For bloodwork,” creating a patchwork quilt of band-aids up and down my purpling arms until they run out of uncollapsed veins and start taking from my legs. How is it that I still have any blood to give? How is it that he has enough blood to survive on while inside of me?

Erik rubs my forehead when they take blood from my ankle. How can something burn so hot and freeze at the same time? He tells me to squeeze his hand, but my muscles won’t obey.



Preeclampsia symptoms: blindingly severe headaches; change in vision to include blurred vision, temporary loss of vision, or light sensitivity; nausea and vomiting; extreme swelling of extremities, causing pain and numbness; changes in reflexes and dizziness. 



Everything is moving so slowly. They told me five days ago that it was an emergency. They told me I could die. They told me the baby could die. And then they told me to not be afraid. Either they aren’t very bright or aren’t very realistic or a combination of both.

Three heartbeats passed through the ER doors. How many will exit? They told my husband he may lose me. They told him he may lose us both. That’s why he’s home from the other side of the world. That’s why he slept on the cold aluminum floor of a C17 at 30,000 feet up and minus 30 degrees below to reach me, to see me one last time. Or hopefully not, “one last time.”


Beep… beep… beep…


The pullout couch he attempts to sleep on could qualify as a torture device, but he tells me it’s warmer and softer than anything he’s slept on for nearly eight months. He tells me I’m beautiful. I know better than to believe him. I don’t ask for a mirror but I can feel the grease in my hair; the fresh sweat and dried sweat over every inch of my body; the blood and amniotic fluid leaking from me; the not completely wiped off vomit crusted on my chin and down my throat; and the salty trails down my cheeks, bearing witness of the fears I can’t find words to speak.


Preeclampsia: An abnormal fetal heart rate may indicate that the fetus is not getting enough oxygen. To monitor the baby’s heart an electronic transducer is connected directly to the fetal scalp through the cervical opening.



They tilt the bed back so far, I feel inverted. I finally know what Alice meant about people that walk with their heads downwards. Not that anyone in this room wants to listen to me talk about Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.

No one listens. No one ever listens. They keep working on my body, poking and prodding, but no one listens to my words.

While the bed slides slowly backwards, they say it’s only a little sensor. They will just attach it to his head through my uneffaced, undilated cervix. It won’t hurt the baby, they say. It won’t hurt me, they say.

Dear, God, that hurts like a mother bear! That nurse has hands bigger than Hellboy!

Why do I keep believing them? Why can’t just one thing go the way they tell me it will?

The only person who doesn’t lie to me is Erik.

He tells me Afghanistan is a desert. Like the Owyhees, but with bigger mountains. He says it’s cold and Wyoming windy. All sky and sand and land mines.

I try to imagine it. My mind wanders far and wide but keeps coming back to sky, sand, and land mines.

This room has none of those things. No sky. No sand. No land mines. Or does it?

It does have its Milky Way tile. And when the pressure and the drugs take me all the way under, I see worlds spinning in a violent ballet. The narrow window offers me a sliver of the outside world where a few holes of light punched in the indigo sky flicker back at us.

There may not be any sand, but the gown is stiff and prickly like a desert. It scrapes across my skin everywhere but over the ass. This room requires that all who come here must expose their ass for the world to see. It’s a rite of passage. A toll to pay at the door. And in exchange for your paid fee, everything itches. The tape attaching tubes to my body itches. The sheets under me itch. The pillow behind me itches. My skin itches so bad I want to scrape it off but can’t find my fingers.

I can’t feel anything through the smothering pillow of magnesium sulfate and the agony of the Pitocin forcing my body to do what it’s not ready for. I lay there with my cold, itchy ass. Helpless. Trapped between the Magnesium and the Pitocin. The one trying to ease the pressure on my heart and force every muscle in my body to relax, the other forcing my body to eject the little life it wants to cling to.

He kicks my lung. I smile. At least I think I do. I can’t find my lips.

I know there are no land mines here but through the cocktail of medications coursing in my veins I feel as though I’ve lost a limb. It occasionally returns for long enough to ghost a million pinpricks under my tender skin before disappearing again.

Once I finally give up on impressing my traditional-birth-endorsing-mother and agree to get an epidural, the lower half of my body goes from pain to flame. I’m allergic. Of course, I’m allergic because nothing could possibly feel good. I couldn’t possibly have any peace. Fire ants crawl under my skin but no matter how hard I try to scratch I can’t reach them. Soon my exhaustion wins out and I doze into a drug induced Tim Burtonesque world.


Preeclampsia Symptoms: proteinuria due to kidney damage; impaired liver function, causing extreme abdominal pain; shortness of breath caused by fluid in your lungs and chest;


Beep… beep… beep…


I feel my husband’s hand in mine. I think I smile. “He’s coming. You’re doing great.”

They detach the bottom of my rock-hard bed and make room for the doctor to wheel his stool front and center. His fingers pry me open further. Screw epidurals! That hurts like a son of a bitch!

A nurse holds up one leaden leg while my husband holds the other and everyone is telling me to push and then to stop pushing and then to push again. The corners of the room dim, blacking out a few of the smiling tile faces. Cary Grant is lost in shadows.


Beep… … Beep… … Beep… …


“One last push,” the doctor promises, and for once he’s telling the truth.

I hear a cough. At least I think it’s a cough. Small. Weak. Then there is nothing. No cry.

All the shoes squeak in rapid succession. A dissonant chorus.

The doctor shoves away from the bed and says something—a string of medical terminology—in what sounds like an urgent tone. I can’t hear it though. Not completely. I can only hear the soft whimper of my little kicker. Everything else grows dim and quiet. Though somewhere, behind the cloud and under the magnesium pillow, I know it’s not quiet. I can feel the noise.

It’s so cold and nothing itches anymore.

The lights that I didn’t know had been dimmed all this time flash brighter, but my eyes compensate by getting darker.


Beep… … … Beep… … …


I hear the numbers 54 over 12 and somehow, instinctively know they are talking about my heart.

I don’t know where my husband is standing. I can’t feel his hand in mine anymore. I can’t see him. I hope Erik is holding him.

I smile when I hear my kicker squeak and then cry out. At least I think I smiled. It’s hard to tell when you’re balanced in limbo.

I’m finished. I can finally rest…




Beep… … … … … …






Beep… … … … … …







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I don’t know what they’ve done while I was gone but when I open my eyes again there are too many faces standing over my bed. I try to count and come up with fifteen. After the kaleidoscope of faces stop shifting, there are only five.

The beeps are sharper now. They punch at my eardrums. The lights scream and bite my eyes, but the doctor says he can’t turn them down. They are still stitching me up.

A nurse lays my kicker on my chest, but my arms won’t hold him. The muscles won’t answer my order to curl around him. My husband lifts my arms, weaving them through a maze of tubes and wires, and wraps them around the six pounds of life that just took his first breaths.

He’s so warm.

Warmer than me.

Exquisite agony.