Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  She'd already made that mistake with Logan.

  "Did you get a chance to contact any of the adoption agencies?" Lacy asked.

  Alex had not even taken the pamphlets she'd been given. For all she knew, they were still sitting on the counter of the examination room.

  "I put in a few calls," Alex lied. She had it on her To Do list at work. It was just that something else always got in the way.

  "Can I ask you a personal question?" Lacy said, and Alex nodded slowly--she did not like personal questions. "What made you decide to give the baby up?"

  Had she ever really made that decision? Or had it been made for her?

  "This isn't a good time," Alex said.

  Lacy laughed. "I don't know if it's ever a good time to have a baby. Your life certainly gets turned upside down."

  Alex stared at her. "I like my life right side up."

  Lacy fussed with her baby's shirt for a moment. "In a way, what you and I do isn't really all that different."

  "The recidivism rate is probably about the same," Alex said.

  "No . . . I meant that we both see people when they're at their most raw. That's what I love about midwifery. You see how strong someone is, in the face of a really painful situation." She glanced up at Alex. "Isn't it amazing how, when you strip away everything, people are so much alike?"

  Alex thought of the defendants that had paraded through her professional life. They all blurred together in her mind. But was that because, as Lacy said, we were all similar? Or was it because Alex had become an expert at not looking too closely?

  She watched Lacy settle the baby on her knee. His hands smacked the table, and he made little gurgling noises. Suddenly Lacy stood up, thrusting the baby toward Alex so that she had to hold him or risk having him tumble onto the floor. "Here, hang on to Peter. I just have to run into the bathroom."

  Alex panicked. Wait, she thought. I don't know what I'm doing. The baby's legs kicked, like a cartoon character who'd run off a cliff.

  Awkwardly, Alex sat him down on her lap. He was heavier than she would have imagined, and his skin felt like damp velvet. "Peter," she said formally. "I'm Alex."

  The baby reached for her coffee cup, and she lurched forward to push it out of reach. Peter's face pinched tight as a lime, and he started to cry.

  The screams were shattering, decibel-rich, cataclysmic. "Stop," Alex begged, as people around her started to stare. She stood up, patting Peter's back the way Lacy had, wishing he would run out of steam or contract laryngitis or just simply have mercy on her utter inexperience. Alex--who always had the perfect witty comeback, who could be thrown into a hellish legal situation and land on her feet every time without even breaking a sweat--found herself completely at a loss.

  She sat down and held Peter beneath his armpits. By now, he'd turned tomato-red, his skin so angry and dark that his soft fuzz of hair glowed like platinum. "Listen," she said. "I may not be what you want right now, but I'm all you've got."

  On a final hiccup, the baby quieted. He stared into Alex's eyes, as if he was trying to place her.

  Relieved, Alex settled him into the sling of her arm and sat a little taller. She glanced down at the top of the baby's head, at the translucent pulse beneath his fontanelle.

  When she relaxed her grip on the baby, he relaxed, too. Was it that easy?

  Alex traced her finger over the soft spot on Peter's head. She knew the biology behind it: the plates of the skull shifted enough to make giving birth easier; they fused together by the time the baby was a toddler. It was a vulnerability we were all born with, one that literally grew into an adult's hardheadedness.

  "Sorry," Lacy said, breezing back to the table. "Thanks for that."

  Alex thrust the baby out toward her as if she were being burned.


  The patient had been transferred from a thirty-hour home birth. A firm believer in natural medicine, she'd had limited prenatal care, no amnio, no sonograms, and yet newborns had a way of getting what they wanted and needed when it came time to arrive in the world. Lacy laid her hands on the woman's trembling belly like a faith healer. Six pounds, she thought, bottom up here, head down here. A doctor poked his head through the door. "How's it going in here?"

  "Tell the intensive-care nursery we're at thirty-five weeks," she said, "but everything seems to be fine." As the doctor backed away, she settled herself between the woman's legs. "I know this has been going on for what seems like forever," she said. "But if you can work with me for just one more hour, you'll have this baby."

  As she directed the woman's husband to get behind his wife, holding her upright as she began to push, Lacy felt her pager vibrate at the waistline of her sea-blue scrubs. Who the hell could it be? She was already on call; her secretary knew she was assisting at a birth.

  "Will you excuse me?" she said, leaving the labor nurse in the room to fill in while she walked to the nurses' desk and borrowed a telephone. "What's going on?" Lacy asked when her secretary picked up.

  "One of your patients, insisting to see you."

  "I'm a little busy," Lacy said pointedly.

  "She said she'll wait. For however long it takes."

  "Who is it?"

  "Alex Cormier," the secretary replied.

  Normally, Lacy would have told her secretary to have the patient see one of the other midwives in the practice. But there was still something elusive about Alex Cormier, something she couldn't put her finger on--something that wasn't quite right. "All right," Lacy said. "But tell her it might be hours."

  She hung up the phone and hurried back into the birthing room, where she reached between the patient's legs to check her dilation. "Apparently, all you needed was for me to leave," she joked. "You're ten centimeters. The next time you feel like pushing . . . go to town."

  Ten minutes later, Lacy delivered a three-pound baby girl. As the parents marveled over her, Lacy turned to the labor nurse, silently communicating with her eyes. Something had gone terribly wrong.

  "She's so tiny," the father said. "Is there . . . is she okay?"

  Lacy hesitated, because she didn't really know the answer. A fibroid? she wondered. All she knew for certain was that there was a lot more inside that woman than a three-pound infant. And that any moment now, her patient was going to start to bleed.

  But when Lacy reached up to grab the patient's belly and press down on her uterus, she froze. "Did anyone tell you you were having twins?"

  The father went ashen. "There's two in there?"

  Lacy grinned. Twins, she could handle. Twins--well, that was a bonus, not some horrible medical disaster. "Well. Only one now."

  The man crouched down beside his wife and kissed her forehead, delighted. "Did you hear that, Terri? Twins."

  His wife did not take her eyes off her tiny newborn daughter. "That's nice," she said calmly. "But I'm not pushing a second one out."

  Lacy laughed. "Oh, I think I might be able to get you to change your mind."

  Forty minutes later, Lacy left the happy family--with their twin daughters--and headed down the hallway to the staff restroom, where she splashed water on her face and changed into a fresh pair of scrubs. She took the stairs up to the midwifery office and glanced at the collection of women, sitting with their arms balanced on bellies of all sizes, like moons in different stages. One rose, red-eyed and unsteady, as if she'd been pulled upright magnetically by Lacy's arrival. "Alex," she said, remembering only in that instant that she had another patient waiting. "Why don't you come with me."

  She led Alex into an empty examination room and sat down across from her in a chair. At that moment Lacy noticed that Alex's sweater was on backward. It was a pale blue crewneck--you could barely even tell, except that the tag had flapped out along the curve of her neck. And it was certainly something that might happen to anyone in a rush, anyone upset . . . but probably not Alex Cormier.

  "There's been bleeding," Alex said, her voice even. "Not a lot, but. Um. Some."

  Taking a cue from
Alex herself, Lacy kept her own response calm. "Why don't we check anyway?"

  Lacy led Alex down the hallway to fetal ultrasound. She charmed a tech into letting them cut the patient line, and once she had Alex lying down on the table, she turned on the machine. She moved the transducer across Alex's abdomen. At sixteen weeks, the fetus looked like a baby--tiny, skeletal, but startlingly perfect. "Do you see that?" Lacy asked, pointing to a blinking cursor, a tiny black-and-white drumbeat. "That's the baby's heart."

  Alex turned her face away, but not before Lacy saw a tear streak down her cheek. "The baby's fine," she said. "And it's perfectly normal to have some staining or spotting. It's not anything you did that caused it; there's nothing you can do to make it stop."

  "I thought I was having a miscarriage."

  "Once you see a normal baby, like we just did, the chance of miscarrying is less than one percent. Let me put that another way--your chance of carrying a normal baby to term is ninety-nine percent."

  Alex nodded, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve. "Good."

  Lacy hesitated. "It's not my place to say this, really. But for someone who doesn't want this baby, Alex, you seem awfully relieved to know she's all right."

  "I don't--I can't--"

  Lacy glanced at the ultrasound screen, where Alex's baby was frozen in a moment of time. "Just think about it," she said.


  I already have a family, Logan Rourke said later that day when Alex told him she planned to keep the baby. I don't need another one.

  That night, Alex had an exorcism of sorts. She filled up her Weber grill with charcoal and lit a fire, then roasted every assignment she'd turned in to Logan Rourke. She had no photos of the two of them, no sweet notes--in retrospect, she realized how careful he'd been, how easily he could be erased from her life.

  This baby, she decided, would be hers alone. She sat, watching the flames, and thought of the space it would take up inside her. She imagined her organs moving aside, skin stretching. She pictured her heart shrinking, tiny as a beach stone, to make room. She did not consider whether she was having this baby to prove that she hadn't imagined her relationship with Logan Rourke, or to upset him as much as he had upset her. As any skilled trial attorney knows, you never ask the witness a question to which you do not know the answer.


  Five weeks later, Lacy was no longer just Alex's midwife. She was also her confidante, her best friend, her sounding board. Although Lacy didn't normally socialize with her clients, for Alex she'd broken the rules. She told herself it was because Alex--who had now decided to keep this baby--really needed a support system, and there wasn't anyone else she felt comfortable with.

  It was the only reason, Lacy decided, she'd agreed to go out with Alex's colleagues this evening. Even the prospect of a Girls' Night Out, without babies, lost its luster in this company. Lacy should have realized two back-to-back root canals would have been preferable to dinner with a bunch of lawyers. They all liked to hear themselves talk, that was clear. She let the conversation flow around her, as if she were a stone in a river, and she kept refilling her wineglass with Coke from a pitcher.

  The restaurant was some Italian place with very bad red sauce and a chef who went heavy on the garlic. She wondered if, in Italy, there were American restaurants.

  Alex was in the middle of a heated discussion about some trial that had gone to jury. Lacy heard terms being tossed and fielded around the table: FLSA, Singh v. Jutla, incentives. A florid woman sitting to Lacy's right shook her head. "It's sending a message," she said. "If you award damages for work that's illegal, you're sanctioning a company to be above the law."

  Alex laughed. "Sita, I'm just going to take this moment to remind you that you're the only prosecutor at the table and there's no way in hell you're going to win this one."

  "We're all biased. We need an objective observer." Sita smiled at Lacy. "What's your opinion on aliens?"

  Maybe she should have paid more attention to the conversation--apparently it had taken a turn for the interesting while Lacy was woolgathering. "Well, I'm certainly not an expert, but I did finish a book a little while ago about Area 51 and the cover-up by the government. It went into specific detail about cattle mutilation--I find it very suspicious when a cow in Nevada winds up missing its kidneys and the incision doesn't show any trauma to tissue or blood loss. I had a cat once that I think was abducted by aliens. She went missing for exactly four weeks--to the minute--and when she came back, she had triangle patterns burned out on the fur on her back, sort of like a crop circle." Lacy hesitated. "But without the wheat."

  Everyone at the table stared at her, silent. A woman with a pinhole of a mouth and a sleek blond bob blinked at Lacy. "We were talking about illegal aliens."

  Lacy felt heat creep up her neck. "Oh," she said. "Right."

  "Well, if you ask me," Alex said, drawing attention in her own direction, "Lacy ought to be heading up the Department of Labor instead of Elaine Chao. She's certainly got more experience . . ."

  Everyone broke up in laughter, as Lacy watched. Alex, she realized, could fit anywhere. Here, or with Lacy's family at dinner, or in a courtroom, or probably at tea with the queen. She was a chameleon.

  It struck Lacy that she didn't really know what color a chameleon was before it started changing.


  There was a moment at each prenatal exam when Lacy channeled her inner faith healer: laying her hands on the patient's belly and divining, just from the lay of the land, in which direction the baby lay. It always reminded her of those Halloween funhouses she took Joey to visit--you'd stick your hand behind a curtain and feel a bowl of cold spaghetti intestines, or a gelatin brain. It wasn't an exact science, but basically, there were two hard parts on a fetus: the head and the bottom. If you rocked the baby's head, it would twist on the stem of its spine. If you rocked the baby's bottom, it swayed. Moving the head moved only the head; moving the bottom moved the whole baby.

  She let her hands trail over the island of Alex's belly and helped her sit up. "The good news is that the baby's doing fine," Lacy said. "The bad news is that right now, she's upside down. Breech."

  Alex froze. "I'm going to need a C-section?"

  "We've got eight weeks before it comes to that. There's a lot we can do to try to turn the baby beforehand."

  "Like what?"

  "Moxibustion." She sat down across from Lacy. "I'll give you the name of an acupuncturist. She'll take a little stick of mugwort and hold it up to your little pinky. She'll do the same thing on the other side. It won't hurt, but it'll be uncomfortably warm. Once you learn how to do it at home, if you start now chances are fairly good that the baby will turn in one to two weeks' time."

  "Poking myself with a stick is going to make it flip?"

  "Well, not necessarily. That's why I also want you to set an ironing board up against the couch, to make an inclined plane. You should lie on it, head down, three times a day for fifteen minutes."

  "Jeez, Lacy. Are you sure you don't want me to wear a crystal, too?"

  "Believe me, any of those are considerably more comfortable than having a doctor do a version to turn the baby . . . or recuperating from a C-section."

  Alex folded her hands over her belly. "I don't hold much faith in old wives' tales."

  Lacy shrugged. "Luckily, you're not the one who's breech."


  You weren't supposed to give your clients rides to court, but in Nadya Saranoff's case, Alex had made an exception. Nadya's husband had been abusive and had left her for another woman. He wouldn't pay child support for their two boys, although he was making a decent living and Nadya's job at Subway paid $5.25 an hour. She'd complained to the state, but justice worked too slow, so she'd gone to Wal-Mart and shoplifted a pair of pants and a white shirt for her five-year-old, who was starting school the following week and who had outgrown all of his clothing.

  Nadya had pled guilty. Because she couldn't afford a fine, she was given a thirty-day jail sentence d
eferred--which, as Alex was explaining to her now, meant that she wouldn't have to go for a year. "If you go to jail," she said, as they stood outside the ladies' room in the courthouse, "your boys are going to suffer greatly. I know you felt desperate, but there's always another option. A church. Or a Salvation Army."

  Nadya wiped her eyes. "I couldn't get to the church or the Salvation Army. I haven't got a car."

  Right. It was why Alex had brought her to court in the first place.

  Alex steeled herself against sympathy as Nadya ducked into the bathroom. Her job had been to get Nadya a good deal, which she had, considering this was the woman's second shoplifting offense. The first one had been at a drugstore; she'd pinched some Children's Tylenol.

  She thought of her own baby, the one who had her lying upside down on an ironing board and sticking torturous little daggers against her pinky toes every night, in the hopes that it would change position. What sort of disadvantage would it be to come into this world backward?

  When ten minutes had passed and Nadya had not come out of the bathroom, Alex knocked on the door. "Nadya?" She found her client in front of the sinks, sobbing. "Nadya, what's wrong?"

  Her client ducked her head, mortified. "I just got my period, and I can't afford a tampon."

  Alex reached for her purse, rummaging for a quarter to feed to the dispenser on the wall. But as the cardboard tube rolled out of the machine, something inside her snapped, and she understood that although this case had been settled, it wasn't over yet. "Meet me out front," she ordered. "I'm getting the car."

  She drove Nadya to Wal-Mart--the scene of her crime--and tossed three supersized Tampax boxes into a cart. "What else do you need?"

  "Underwear," Nadya whispered. "That was my last pair."

  Alex wheeled up and down the aisles, buying T-shirts and socks and panties and pajamas for Nadya; pants and coats and hats and gloves for her boys; boxes of Goldfish crackers and saltines and canned soup and pasta and Devil Dogs. Desperate, she did what she had to do at that moment, although it was exactly what the public defender's office counseled their lawyers not to; but she was entirely rational and aware that she had never done this for a client and never would do it again. She spent eight hundred dollars in the very store that had pressed charges against Nadya, because it was easier to fix what was wrong than to picture her own child arriving into a world Alex herself could sometimes not stomach.

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