Life is Trying
Disclaimer: I don’t own Bleach; if I did, you poor fans would have to see less fighting and suffer more domestic comedy.
Warnings: Sexual references, graphic depictions of natural childbirth, WAFF, mild Soul Society arc spoilers
They weren’t going to make it to the hospital in time.
"I told you so," Ishida said, scooping Orihime up in his arms. "I’m going to have to spirit you there."
"Two bellyaches every three minutes," Orihime said in a bright, awed voice, "and each bellyache lasting at least thirty seconds!" She brought her wristwatch before Ishida’s face. "This thing doesn’t lie. Japanese timepieces are the best in the whole world, right?"
She had bought the watch from a vending machine last week. The face featured a chibi panda with blinking lights for eyes, and the kanji on the band read: Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi (Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it). Orihime had always loved that proverb, even before considering pregnancy. She was always tossing it at Ishida when he started to fret and over-prepare for exams.
Ishida didn’t want to rub it in further, but his refrain for months had been "Expect the unexpected." He had never been happy with the idea of a bumpy taxi ride as part of the birthing procedure, and he was now prepared to run like the wind, over traffic and tall buildings, with his pregnant wife in his arms, all the way to awaiting midwives at Karakura hospital.
Damn textbooks. Never trust them: textbooks said that contractions were supposed to start like mild bellyaches spaced hours apart, but no, Orihime had to zoom from zero to ninety like some European sportscar.
"Hey!" Orihime gasped the word with a sharpness Ishida had never heard before. "Put me down right now!"
Ishida dropped her legs.
"Is it another one already?" His voice sounded years younger. Buck up, man.
It looked like a deep and painful contraction. After Orihime steadied herself--eyes closed and breaths even--against his shoulder for an immeasurable length of time (what timepiece can measure anticipation?), Ishida said, "I will get you to the hospital before the next one hits."
"No." Orihime shook her head. "We’re not going."
Ishida didn’t understand. His spiritron manipulation could get them there in one minute.
Orihime let go Ishida’s arm, dropped to all fours on the kitchen floor, and pressed her cheek against the tile. Ishida realized that maybe they didn’t have a whole minute.
"Another one’s coming," she whispered. "It’s like they’re coming one on top of each other." Her face was intent but somehow serene. Her brow was smooth.
Ishida knelt and rubbed her back with his flat palm. The circumstances were less than ideal, but there was nothing to worry about. He was a fourth year medical student. Granted, he was a mere man outside the holy mysteries of womanhood, but his wife was … special. He knew her specialness went beyond her healing abilities. There was nothing Orihime’s faith and love could not insure, and she had been saying for weeks now how easy it would be, that she was capable of giving birth in a pile of leaves if she had to, that Ayame and Shonou had been singing lullabyes of reassurance into her brain every night.
Ishida frowned. The last time Orihime had been perfectly certain of something, she had been dead wrong.
"This is it! This is it!" Orihime had squeaked in the throes of an outrageous orgasm. "We just made a baby." She wobbled on top of Ishida, insisting as each spasm hit her: "This is it, this is it."
Ishida, who was not yet finished, could not have formed words if he tried--a good thing or else he would have told Orihime that her biology was wrong, that a sperm can take days swimming to meet an egg in a woman’s body. Lately, Ishida had been trying not to deflate his wife’s magical enthusiasm for the world with anything like facts and logic. Life was easier that way.
So, after moaning his usual ohhh of appreciation and coming to his senses, he brought her face to his for a kiss and decided to indulge her baby fantasy. "What color eyes did it get?" he asked.
"Blue, like yours."
"Dark--dark as midnight. Just like yours."
"A Quincy archer or a spiritual healer?"
Orihime had smiled. "Whatever she wants to be."
Four weeks later, the couple had been flabbergasted when the little stick indicated no pregnancy. Even Ishida, who had known of the unlikehood of conceiving the very first time they forewent condoms, had begun to believe that their little girl was already in this world. He suggested that the hormone levels were still low, that they should test again in a couple days and maybe there would be a different result.
"No," Orihime had said, and her forlorn expression had burned a little wound into Ishida’s heart. He so hated to see her disappointed. "I guess it just wasn’t her time."
It wasn’t "her time" next month either. Or the month after that. Orihime read some books about taking charge of her fertility and began to insist that she always knew when she was ovulating because her Uryuu smelled like pumpkin spice and she wanted to whisk him with egg whites into a sweet creamy pudding of looove. Ishida, however, was considering getting his sperm count checked.
"A watched pot never boils," Orihime had said.
"It could be something easily remedied on my part," Ishida had said, "like an epididymal obstruction or a gonadotrophin deficiency. Do you sense…" He was trying hard to look like a man about it all. "Can you tell if there’s anything to heal in me, Orihime?
"Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it," Orihime had said with a wink. "You’re fine, everything’s fine. We just have to be patient is all."
Orihime’s bag of waters broke and spread across the kitchen floor in a clear pond. Ishida’s pant knees went damp, and he noted with relief that the amniotic fluid looked healthy and unclouded. Towels, clean towels. He would need not just to mop up the mess but also catch the baby with clean towels. Orihime was insisting on the all-fours position (Ishida knew it was a good stance to slow down a very fast labor) and if the baby fell out…! Ishida was suddenly at the bathroom door, gathering armfuls of terrycloth. The baby could slide across the wet kitchen floor and break its head against the stove!
"Uryuu?" Orihime’s voice sounded a little panicky. "Where did you go?"
"I’m here." Ishida arrived in a flash of spiritrons at her side. He busied himself with the towels. "Do you feel the need to push yet?"
"Not really." Beads of sweat had started to appear on Orihime’s forehead. "It feels like I’m opening up…" She smiled through what had to be intense discomfort between hard contractions. "Opening up like a flower."
"Is there any way Ayame and Shonou can help with the pain?"
"Uryuu, you know I can’t make the baby float through my skin like it’s passing through some spirit barrier. She’s got to come out the regular way and--" Orihime winced as another contraction caught her by surprise. She willed her features into smoothness. "Some things just have to hurt, that’s all."
Ishida felt his breath getting shallower. "I’m calling my father."
"Nooooo," Orihime sighed behind closed eyes and focused relaxation. "I only need you."
In case there’s a complication, Ishida thought, not wanting to voice his concerns aloud. Ryuuken can be here in a flash. But if he knows I allowed Orihime to have a birth unattended by professionals…
As much as he didn’t want to acknowledge his father’s superiority, Ishida knew that the older Ishida surpassed him in medical experience, as well as in knowledge of all things Quincy.
Ryuuken is going to be so pissed at us.
When Ishida and Orihime had hit the seventh month of trying with no luck, Ishida had decided to consult Ryuuken. Who knows? Maybe there was some mysterious Quincy technique that Ishida needed to learn. Maybe having harnessed so much energy in the past to kill Hollows was now preventing him from properly inseminating his wife? Were Quincy males only able to reproduce under certain circumstances and rituals?
"Don’t tell me," Ryuuken had said, "that she wants to get pregnant this early in your marriage."
"Oh…" Ishida wanted to imply that the Quincy questions were all for future reference, but he couldn’t lie to his father. "Orihime … um … she has always been very enthusiastic about children. She would make a great--"
"Uryuu," Ryuuken began, and he sat back in his office chair with an abruptness that meant a lecture was coming. "Life as a med student is trying enough as it is without bringing children into the equation. You haven’t even chosen a post-graduate specialization, let alone secured a job."
Ishida wanted to justify his wife’s ill-timed maternal urges but did not known how. He knew he wanted to make Orihime happy. He trusted in Orihime’s willingness to determine her own role in life--
"Buy her a plush animal of some sort," Ryuuken had muttered, his attention returning to papers on his desk. He began lifting stacks as if looking for something. "If a woman wants to coddle something, let her volunteer at the Children’s Intensive Care Unit here--"
"Orihime already does that. She started seven months ago. It was your idea, remember? You were wondering if there was a discreet way to use her powers--"
"Oh." Ryuuken opened a drawer and took out a fat agenda book. "I’m busy today, Uryuu. I will see you later in the week for our scheduled geriatric patient rounds. And please, no more questions about Quincy fertility. We are ordinary humans with extraordinary powers; that is all. If anything, our ability to father children should be…" Ryuuken usually looked haughty, but Ishida noted that at this moment his father’s face looked …beyond self-satisfied? "Well, I would expect that your ability to father children would be above average."
Wait. Had that been a proud look on Ryuuken’s face? Was he being ironic?
Ryuuken clicked his pen in a dismissive way. "When the time is right, of course," he added. "Your studies are more important than catering to your wife’s baby cravings. Buy her a parakeet."
That very afternoon Ishida skipped Advanced Pharmacology and went straight home.
He found Orihime, fresh from the shower and about to change into her work uniform.
"You’re not going in this afternoon," he told her.
"Why?" Orihime batted her long eyelashes and looked as lovely as Ishida had ever seen her. Goodness itself embodied in one person. "Did one of the volunteers cancel at the hospital?"
"No, not that."
"Oh." Orihime sounded disappointed. "Then I really do need to go to work."
Orihime worked pouring juice at a health spa on days she wasn’t taking mechanical engineering classes (she had professed a declining interest in her field ever since finding out that one could not build sentient beings all that easily in a fourth-year robotics lab), and school and work kept her as busy as her husband. Still, every weekend, Orihime found time to volunteer at the children’s ward. Her baby cravings were temporarily satiated there.
Ishida had been ambivalent about having a baby before this afternoon; he had wanted a family, yes, and he had always wanted to pass along his Quincy heritage, but the past few months had been mostly about indulging Orihime without really knowing why.
"Call in sick," he said, grabbing her by the waist and kissing her damp shoulder.
Giggling and dropping her bath towel, Orihime turned around to meet his kisses. "Why? We can be done in a few minutes, and then I can still get to work in time." Each of her hands grabbed his two zipper tags--the one at his collar, the one at his crotch--and then froze. "Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be in class?"
"I want to be with you," Ishida said. It wasn’t a haphazard decision. It was just that Ishida had reprioritized his afternoon.
"You saw your father," Orihime surmised. "He always makes you mad, and then you want to have sex!" She laughed at the idea, even though she and Ishida had observed the phenomenon before.
"Seeing him reminds me not to get too distant from you." Ishida lowered one arm under Orihime’s knees and (with the sort of flair he knew thrilled her) lifted her to the bed. "Work is important, but family is more important, and--" He kissed Orihime on the ear. "I don’t want to end up a bastard like him."
"He’s not." Orihime said, pulling off Ishida’s shirt. "He’s trying--"
"Shhh, let’s not talk about Ryuuken."
Slow, moist kisses. Then, after some minutes of tenderness, Ishida felt compelled to make a pronouncement. "Orihime?" he began.
She seemed to recognize the look in his face. She lay her head back on the pillow and met his eyes expectantly.
"I’ve seen you try to mother the whole world before," he said. "I’ve watched you give piece after piece of yourself away--to me, to friends, to perfect strangers." His voice was soft and certain. "I’ve seen you hold a dying baby in the hospital--a baby who was beyond your powers to save, and yet you exhausted yourself pouring energy into that tiny body. You--it was so much spiritual work for you, but for hours you kept that baby alive so that the father could arrive from out of town to say goodbye." Ishida swallowed to keep emotion from overtaking him. "I’ve watched you take these hands--" He took Orihime’s fingers in his and squeezed for emphasis. "These hands which are so small--you fill them with enough strength and love to do the work of several hospitals."
Orihime smiled from ear to ear. "Oh you’re so in love with me." She squeezed back his hand for good measure. "I do like it when you get like this, but I’m just being the person I’m supposed to be, Uryuu--"
"You’re not supposed to be the world’s nursemaid, Orihime. You’re supposed to have your own life, your own family. And me, I’m supposed to have a family too. We both grew up without families, Orihime. Let’s make ourselves a family."
"I--" Her eyes had never looked more loving. "Sometimes, Uryuu, you--"
"Sssh, I want to give you a baby."
And four weeks later, the pregnancy test had read positive.
Orihime was a screamer. She screamed in bed, in public, when scared or delighted. She wasn’t a loud person by nature, and her talking voice was restrained and sweet, but whenever she screamed, she screamed.
So Ishida should not have been surprised that she was screaming while pushing their baby out.
Her face would get serious, the way it got before she aimed and fired Tsubaki, and then she would gather her efforts and push. What started as a moan became a full-fledged, open-mouthed cry as the push intensified.
"No use," Orihime panted after one long scream. "She’s stuck."
Orihime was fully dilated but there was no head emerging from the opening. She had been pushing for some minutes now.
"Does it hurt very much?" Ishida was wondering if Westerners didn’t have the right idea with all their epidurals and drugs for birthing. He had never seen a woman give birth before--except for the videos in his second year emergency clinic, and those had been of mild,
undemonstrative Japanese women.
"Don’t worry," Orihime said. "It doesn’t hurt that much now. This part seems easier. She’s really bunched down low in there. She just doesn’t want to come out."
"Then stop straining yourself," Ishida said. He had absolutely no expertise in this matter and was just going on intuition. "Don’t push anymore."
"Alright," said Orihime, and Ishida bent next to her ear and whispered that he loved her.
I don’t understand, he thought. Why can’t the fairies make this easier? Orihime, Orihime, when this is over, I’m going to buy you all the fruitcake you want for breakfast.
Orihime’s pregnancy had been, for the most part, unextraordinary. Although Ishida had predicted that she would develop cravings for ordinary foods, she still liked bizarre concoctions, only in heartier portions and with more bean paste. Except for tiny bouts of nausea during her first trimester (bouts easily alleviated with ginger soda and melted ice cream), she suffered none of the typical complaints of pregnant women. She gained very little weight--something that bothered Ishida at first, but then the longer her pregnancy was not noticeable, the longer they could delay having to tell Ryuuken about it.
Ryuuken found out eventually, of course.
Orihime was five months along and passing for voluptuous in a blousy dress when, on a whim, she decided to bring some fruitcake to the administrative offices of Karakura Hospital. She had baked several loaves for the children’s ward (her fruitcake was one of her most popular, least offensive concoctions), and it so happened that Ryuuken’s secretary was not at her post.
So Orihime managed to walk right into Ryuuken’s office to chat him up.
When Ishida answered his cell minutes later, his father did not waste words: "Uryuu, your wife is lactating in my office. Were you aware that your pregnant wife was leaking colostrum this early in her pregnancy? Now, I’m sure that your obstetrics class did not cover this, but it’s a very normal phenomenon, albeit rare this early. Orihime told me that she was only twenty-four weeks along--"
"Orihime told you she was pregnant?"
"She thought she had spilled something on her blouse and was very embarrassed." Ryuuken’s voice was calm and measured. "I deduced from the way she ate an entire loaf of sweetbread in seconds flat while sitting here that just maybe--"
"She’s lactating? Already?"
"Uryuu, were you planning until she went into labor to tell me about the child?"
"I knew you would disapprove, so we were waiting for the right time."
In a way, Ishida was glad that his disarming Orihime was the one to break the news. From the story she told that night about the encounter, it appeared that Ryuuken was resigned to the inevitability of becoming a grandfather and intent on getting Orihime the best possible obstetrical care.
"He said I should change doctors," Orihime said between bites of her last fruitcake. "He gave me a long list of phone numbers. He said I should wear breast pads and that temperature changes might cause me to leak a little. Isn’t that weird? I had no idea that pregnant women could make milk before giving birth! Ayame and Shonou had a lot of questions about it too--they were flying all around your father’s head--"
"Wait." Ishida pushed up his glasses. "Ayame and Shonou were in my father’s office?"
"I didn’t call them or anything. They just popped out! They’re the ones who are interested in medicine, you know. And anything to do with babies--they love babies. Anyway, about the leaking thing, your father said that hot showers could cause it. Sex too."
Ishida hid his face in his hands.
Some days later, Ryuuken talked to his son. "Did you even consider," he began in a stern tone, "that there would be no one to help her once the baby comes? She has no mother. She has no mother-in-law."
"Ayume and Shonou--"
"Look, I know those hovering dolls can warp time, but I doubt they can do laundry. After the baby comes, I will hire a nurse and maid for Orihime for a six-month period, but after that, you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your decisions. I told you that becoming a father at this stage of life was going to be difficult."
Ishida managed to thank his father politely for his gift, but he left Ryuuken’s office with the sense that all his father ever gave him was the cruel message: Life is difficult. Life is trying.
Orihime sent the opposite message. Life is butterflies. Life is red dragonflies. Life is trying to catch them.
He went home to sew for the baby. Orihime was only five months along and already Ishida had sewn enough outfits for the child’s first two seasons. Word of the baby was out now, and no doubt there would be the usual gifts of clothes from family and friends. Politeness dictated that the child should wear some of those sub-par factory-manufactured things in public after the birth.
Ishida tied the final knot in a baby sock and bit the thread off. He planned to store the ugly, store-bought clothes deep in the cabinets where Ryuuken’s hired help could not easily access them.
Orihime wasn’t stirring. She was still on all fours, her cheek pressing a towel Ishida had wedged between her and the kitchen tile.
Ishida couldn’t tell if her contractions had gone away or if they had become so intense that she couldn’t talk through them.
She wasn’t pushing or screaming or even breathing very loudly anymore, and the quiet in the room was unbearable.
Ryuuken. All Ishida had to do was pull his cell phone from his pants pocket.
He was starting to imagine that the baby was squished and its heart was stopped dead in the birth canal.
Then there was a gush of amniotic fluid across his lap.
"Oh that’s it, the amniotic sac was--" He didn’t have time to finish because a cream-covered humanoid slid out of his wife and into his hands.
"Yay!" came a tired but happy voice. Orihime’s bottom dropped to the floor. "Yay, she’s out now!"
Ishida felt his world turn inside out. The tiny blob in his hands was indeed a she. There was a lot of black hair, more than Ishida had expected, and the purple-white hands were fisted and squirming
"Oh my god," he said. "Oh my god."
"Tsuyu?" * asked Orihime. She was just checking. It was the name they had agreed upon for a girl. Souken was the name they had chosen for a boy.
"Tsuyu," said Ishida. Just speaking the word felt like a sacrament.
Orihime wasted no time turning around and holding out her arms. She looked amazingly fresh, less tired than after a volunteer shift at the hospital. The umbilical cord was still throbbing, and Ishida was careful not to twist it as he handed Tsuyu to her mother. The baby and mother were still one entity. He felt that.
For a moment, Ishida looked at his hands instead of his family. He had caught the baby with his bare hands. These hands. He had used them all his life to summon energy and destroy Hollows. Is this what Ryuuken was talking about when he said it is better to tend to the living than to save the dead? These hands had always been responsible for taking monsters out of this world--not ushering life into daylight.
Looking up again, he saw Orihime with her t-shirt pulled up and the baby already nursing.
It occurred to him that unlike newborns on television shows, his daughter had not cried; she had gone straight from womb to hands to breast. Warmth to warmth. Sustenance to sustenance. No jagged moments of separation.
This is how it is supposed to be, he thought. This is how a family is supposed to be.
Even though Ishida wanted to get up to fetch the camera he’d bought for this occasion, he also felt that the moment was too pure to be desecrated with photo-taking. He stayed where he was, staring at his family.
"It feels like little fish," Orihime said. "Like when you stick your hand in the koi pond and the fish come to kiss you because they think you’re food."
Ryuuken did not make his appearance until a half-hour later, although Ishida had sensed his father’s presence outside the apartment door shortly after Tsuyu was born. Ishida was partly touched that Ryuuken had considered Orihime’s privacy, partly irritated that his father still insisted on distancing himself.
"I take it," Ryuuken said, unfolding his arms as his son answered the door, "that you’ve already called for an ambulance?"
"Yes," Ishida said. He wasn’t sure where to begin. "It was such a short labor. There was no time--"
"I know that," Ryuuken said. "I could feel the girl’s reiatsu spiking from half-way across town. Birth is not a pathology, Uryuu. The less you interfere with it, the more likely it will progress without any cause for further intervention. I expected that you were capable of handling any emergency, but…."
Ryuuken had stepped into the kitchen now where Orihime was still sitting on bathtowels, leaning against the sink counter. The baby was asleep at her breast.
"I’m here to perform a pediatric evaluation," Ryuuken said. His eyes met Orihime’s, and it seemed to Ishida that his father actually looked a little shy.
"Ryuuken-san!" Orihime smiled and moved some of the towels aside as the baby’s grandfather knelt beside her. "Sorry for the mess."
"No mess at all," said Ryuuken. He turned to his son. "See, Uryuu, there is very little blood if the mother doesn’t tear or no episiotomy is performed. Has she passed the placenta yet?"
Ishida watched as his father did an amazing thing. With an ungloved, unsterilized hand, Ryuuken reached out to touch the baby’s black hair. "Your mother’s hair," he said.
"Uryuu’s hair too" said Orihime. "Black as midnight. And so much of it."
"I will have to wake the baby," Ryuuken said. "The ambulance workers will want to clean it and check its vital signs, and they may be rougher than you want with it. If you would just--" He gestured for Orihime to hand him the baby.
"It’s a she," Ishida said. "We named her Tsuyu."
The smile on Ryuuken’s face was faint, but it was a genuine smile.
"A fine knot," he said as he unswathed the infant from its towel. "Of course, I did not expect that cutting and tying a umbilical cord would be very challenging for you, Uryuu."
The baby began to make mewing sounds, and Ryuuken cupped its head with his fingers. "Now Uryuu, fetch this child some clothes. We can’t have her making an appearance at my hospital looking like a savage."
As Ishida rummaged through the chest of drawers for the perfect dress (he’d sewn several "perfect" dresses) for his tiny daughter, the mythical enormity of the day began to diminish into practical, more manageable pieces.
He had a new daughter. Given the unusual way Ryuuken was acting, maybe he had a new father as well. In any event, he knew that as in all new situations, mistakes were going to be inevitable.
But I’ll try, he vowed. I’ll try, Orihime, to do right by my family. I will give you all my best.
His hand closed on a white sheath with tiny blue Quincy crosses embroidered on the hem. This one for now.
*The kanji for the name Tsuyu are "plum + rain." Uryuu’s kanji are "rain + dragon," Ryuuken’s are "dragon + bowstring," and Souken’s are "shoulders + bowstring." Thanks to thenakedcat for noting that the Ishidas use the Samurai tradition of incorporating a kanji from one generation’s name into the next. Thanks to Wolfie and Chira Chira for Japanese stuff. (eta: I would change Ishida and Orihime wanting to name their son Souken now--because I've since learned the Japanese don't name children for dead relatives but I'm leaving it in as an Orihime quirk--the second child, a boy, wasn't named Souken after all in my post-manga IshiHime fic word!)