The other night I went to turn out Aidan’s light and there was a strange smell in his room. It wasn’t dirty diapers or spilled milk rotting under the bed. It smelled chemical or maybe like something burning. I went into my room and smelled it there, too.
I went downstairs and checked the oven and burners: off.
I turned off the heat—just in case.
I got the carbon monoxide alarm we’d unplugged downstairs and plugged it into my bedroom wall, but it kept chirping like it had downstairs. That’s why we’d unplugged it. The back said if it chirps it’s broken.
Then I called Harlan, who’s shooting a pilot in New York for two months. He asked me a bunch of questions and said it would all be fine. He suggested I open a couple of windows, which I did.
I called my landlady to see if she’d come smell the room or bring over her carbon monoxide alarm, but it was 11:30 and she didn’t answer.
I got into bed, but couldn’t sleep. I texted Harlan: “still worried.” He didn’t respond. He must have been asleep.
I went downstairs and, shivering, googled “gas leak.” The house didn’t smell like gas and it didn’t have the rotten egg smell they apparently put in the gas so you can smell it, but I couldn’t imagine what else the smell could be. Everything I read said to call your gas company immediately, so I did.
I figured I could get some tips, follow them and then get some sleep.
But that would be too easy.
The woman I spoke to said she was obligated to send someone over immediately. By now it was midnight. She said he’d be there within the hour. She was also obligated to tell me not to turn any lights on or off, not to open or close any windows and to immediately go outdoors. I told her it was the middle of the night, it was freezing and my two-year-old was sleeping. She said she was obligated to tell me. I asked her if I was being ridiculous.
“We’re talking about your safety and the safety of your child,” she said.
“You’re right,” I said.
Then I got into bed. I thought maybe I would sleep until the person got there, but I couldn’t. I went into Aidan’s room to check his breathing, make sure he was warm enough, gaze at his peaceful face nestled among a menagerie of stuffed animals.
To be honest, I knew I didn’t have a gas leak. But I was relieved someone was coming over to make sure. Because I kept thinking about that other night back in April when I was so worried I called Harlan. When he told me everything would be okay. When it wasn’t.
Harlan was shooting in New York that night, too. Aidan was sleeping and I was in bed, after midnight, worried and unable to fall asleep. I kept rolling around, lying on my stomach, pressing the sides of my abdomen into the mattress, because that had always made her move. But that night she wouldn’t. I went downstairs and called Harlan—and he reassured me. Relieved, I babbled for a while, then went to sleep. The next morning I felt Braxton Hicks contractions and thought everything was okay. I went to yoga class and only afterward called my midwives’ office to mention my concerns.
By the time I went to the hospital, it was, of course, too late. And I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d gone the minute I began to worry. It’s the part of the story that still eats at me. Experts have told me it was probably a sudden event—it was probably already too late—but we can’t know for sure.
So this time I called.
And a big guy turned up at my house in the middle of the night to wave his “$5000 contraption” around and tell me there was no sign of gas anywhere and tell me next time not to open any windows because if there were dangerous levels of gas in the air, the oxygen could cause it to combust. We chatted for a while and then he went on his merry way, and I slept soundly and so did my son.
I was glad I’d called. As a wise mama once said, Better to be safe than sorry.