In the Quiet Moment By Mike Nolan

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We don’t talk—I mean, sit down and have a conversation—during the day. There isn’t time. We have three kids under the age of five, we both work, and spare time revolves around booster chairs, baby food, and car seats. There’s always something else, something more immediate, tugging at our attention. Our communication as a couple, our heart-to-heart conversations, take place in bed at night, in what I call the quiet moment.

It’s late now, the kids are asleep, and we are spooning. In hushed voices, we discuss the family getting together for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, which leads to a conversation we’ve had before.

“I think it’s the right time.”

“So do I,” Ann agrees. “You know, coming from a family of seven kids, I always thought we might have a bigger family.”

“The ‘Irish Catholic curse.’”

“But with three in day care and me in my upper thirties . . . ” she says.

“It’s time,” I answer. “We’re older parents as it is.”

“The oldest in our birthing class,” Ann chuckles. “We have three wonderful kids right now, so we’re done.”

We talk a little more, in that quiet moment, concluding that we’ll stop where we are; a family of five is the right size.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

*    *    *

We live in a small town, and the office where I’m referred for my vasectomy is “old school,” a one-person practice, just a doctor and a receptionist. In the waiting room, I notice the magazines from last year and the worn eighties-era furniture. The cabinets are made of plywood and covered in floral contact paper, not the standard medical-reception-area Formica. You notice things when you sit and wait.

I introduce myself to the gray-haired physician, who seems easygoing. As I explain my situation, he nods his head, and when I stop, he says, “Right this way, ” motioning to a small room just off the reception area. “Why don’t you hop up on the exam table?”

“So . . . day surgery?” I ask. “Just in and out, right?”

“Right,” he says without looking up. Clanging stainless-steel instruments into a metal pan, he adds, “It’s all pretty quick.”

“And the success rate?”

“Oh, yeah, good.” He turns to me. “Really good. I mean, the statistics on this are something like ninety-nine point seventy-five percent.”

I nod. Once everything is in place, the doctor rests his hands on the exam table and leans in closer.

“Now . . . most guys just use a local anesthetic.” His bushy eyebrows knead together. “You’re good with that, right?”

“I guess so . . . it means I sit here and watch everything?”

“You bet.”


The procedure seems routine enough, at least for the doctor. I bet he’s done this a thousand times. He makes a couple small incisions, working with a scalpel and forceps, then uses scissors and some clamps. Propped up and watching, I’m fascinated, though he sometimes gets in the way. While he works, the doctor mentions something about a follow-up test. It barely registers, I’m so focused on the operation.

The procedure takes half an hour. Feeling groggy as I leave the office and get into my car, I’m lightheaded driving home, wanting nothing more than to climb into bed and go to sleep. Ann tries to keep the kids from getting underfoot once I get back to the house, and make my way upstairs. I sleep through to the next morning, and we celebrate the following week by going off birth control.

*    *    *

Our lives continue in the chaotic routine of work and home, but five weeks later we skip a beat.

“I missed my period,” Ann tells me.

“Hmmmm . . . do you want to get a pregnancy test?”

Ann ignores the question. “Did you ever do that follow-up appointment with the doctor?”

I admit that, knowing the success rate is 99.75 percent, I didn’t. “Couldn’t you just do one of those home pregnancy tests?”

“No,” she says, “I’ve been doing pregnancy tests for the last eight years. That’s five pregnancies in five years: three births and two miscarriages. It’s your turn to get a test.”

The little container the receptionist gave me is still in my glove compartment, and the next day at work, while everyone in the office is busy, I lock myself in the men’s room. I run water in the sink to create background noise then, as quietly as possible, produce my semen sample. I hurry out, avoiding eye contact as I leave the building during lunch, and drive to the doctor’s office.

The following day, we get a phone call. Ann takes it.

“I’ve got news,” the doctor reports, “some good and some bad.”

“Start with the good.”

“Well, in situations like this, the second operation is free.”

*    *    *

Again I sit on the exam table, the local anesthetic taking effect. This time I’m even more focused on the procedure, watching the doctor make a larger incision and do more cutting and stitching. The steely click of the forceps, clamps, and surgical scissors makes me think I can feel the operation inside me, as tissue is pulled and clamped and cut.

The doctor keeps busy and maintains a steady monologue, but I’m not hearing a word, fully absorbed in the operation. I do tune in when he stops talking though, because he’s suddenly hurrying and distracted. Something’s not right. Scrambling, he needs gauze, another clamp, then more gauze. The doctor hollers for the receptionist, who doubles as his lab assistant.

I become lightheaded as she takes me by the shoulders and gently eases me onto my back. From this position, I can’t see anything, but I hear the doctor mutter something about “uncontrollable bleeding,” which is strange. Wasn’t he just supposed to snip down there then stitch me up?

The operation winds down with the doctor regaining his composure, the bleeding being staunched, and me getting sewn up and cleaned. I sense the local anesthetic wearing off. Should I ask for more? Forget it. I want to head for the door and get out of there.

The procedure took longer than expected, but I only have a twenty-minute drive home. I can make it. When I step into my car though, pain shoots through my groin. I gingerly ease in behind the wheel and struggle to buckle my seatbelt. Now the anesthetic is gone. I grit my teeth and drive through the pain.

Ann will later say, “That’s why you always bring someone with you to surgery, no matter how ‘minor’ it’s supposed to be.”

I’m driving a stick shift, and it’s snowing. I go from low groans, downshifting for stoplights, to out-and-out shrieks of pain every time I engage the clutch. Halfway home, tears start edging down my face. I’m a mess by the time I make it to our neighborhood.

“I can’t do this . . . ” I say out loud. Unable to shift anymore, I leave the car in the road beside our steep snow-covered driveway, forty yards from the house. Moaning, I carefully extricate myself from the car and hobble, stiff legged, up the drive. When I slip, I begin to curse, then stumble back to the car.

In an effort to make things easier for me, Ann had picked the kids up at daycare and took them to McDonalds for dinner. It’s another hour before she finds me shivering in the car.

*    *    *

The following week is a tribute to our resiliency as a couple. Ann is pregnant, and we do a mental and emotional about-face, embracing our new situation. We’ll be parents to a newborn again, and we rise to the occasion and become incredibly excited about having this baby.

That weekend, we ask Ann’s folks to watch our kids while we escape to the city, going to the ballet and staying overnight. For two days, we’re a married couple, not parents. At one point, I put my hands on Ann’s shoulders and say, “We can do this!” She agrees, smiling, and I add, “Besides, we like being parents.

“We’re good at it,” Ann says.

After the ballet we work on names, coming up with Ben and Cecily.

“Right now,” Ann says, “we’ve got two girls and a boy. I’ll be happy with whatever we have, but if we happen to have another boy, everyone will have a brother and a sister.”

We return home exultant, ready to add a new chapter to our story, standing tall on the mountaintop.

A couple weeks later, Ann is walking outside and slips on some ice. She falls hard, landing right on her tailbone. “The shock went all the way up my spine to my head,” she told me. “It made my head ache.”

The next day, Ann starts bleeding, and the world stops turning. She miscarries. We lose our baby.

*    *    *

Ann has miscarried twice before, but this time it’s different. As a couple, we’ve just spent ten weeks going back and forth between extremes: planning, anticipating, reacting, and adjusting our emotions with each phase. Now we’re spent. For the next several nights, the quiet moment actually is quiet.

Eventually, there comes an evening when we’re spooning, and I whisper, “We’re going to get through this.”

“Maybe five is how big our family is supposed to be,” Ann says.

I lie very still. “We do have three wonderful children.”

“Yes, we do.” We hold each other just a little tighter.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”


Mike Nolan

Mike lives in the little town of Port Angeles, USA, on the Olympic Peninsula, just across the water from Vancouver, BC. Mike has published stories in Flash Fiction Magazine Across the Margin and The Cabinet of Heed

Find Mike at

Image by Alexis Muñoz from Pixabay


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