For all my painful waiting and anticipating, summer vacation flew by like a shooting star and I was left looking back with longing. Childhood worked the same. Now, sitting in the Obstetrician's office with my four-month pregnant wife, I looked back at the preceding years and felt the lost-youth-longing return. I remember meeting her at eighteen, the anxiety of the first date; the curiosity about what makes her tick, what was her family like, what she'll look like naked. I never thought, "I'm going to marry her and have a baby with her," but there we sat. Eight years ticked by faster than a sonogram heartbeat.
My lifestyle changes parade through my mind like an acid flashback slideshow; from unbending-idealistic-youth to stiff stockbroker to born-again-wannabe-edgy-artist to whatever-the-hell-kind-of-job-can-keep-me-alive. The bun in the oven means no more first dates, no more all-night-drinking-Tuesdays, no more blowing the cash and eating Raman noodles before payday. Selfish concerns are supplanted by the well being of a near helpless infant version of yourself. You're a father when you have these realizations, and you're happy with it.
For all the joyfulness supposedly inherent with these places and occasions, I found the Obstetrician's waiting room nerve-racking as my anxiety built inside me like a storm-system. Contrasting pink and blue walls peppered with children's decorations like an explosion of happiness, the eye burning visual stimuli made it difficult to sit still. I felt antsy and ill at ease, questioning myself for not experiencing the collective euphoria. With two rows of ten seats along opposing rows, meeting in a 90-degree corner, a cross section of our population's diversity was present. A Latin couple sat with two children in tow near an affluent African American couple who both stood over six foot tall and looked annoyed, while a Korean couple was dwarfed nearby and a Caucasian couple who had taken their happy pills, were enjoying every moment of being pregnant. Lastly, there sat my wife and I.
After two years of machine-like effort towards getting pregnant, neither of us could believe the positive pee test. The ritual of trying and then waiting, trying and then waiting, only to receive the inevitable disappointment each month was the rhythm for our relationship. So, when the miracle was thrust upon us, we almost were too stunned to be happy.
"What'll we name it if it's a boy? Sydney for a girl. What about the boy? It can't be Sydney for both. Sydney for a boy's name, means he will either be a bankrobber or pedophile. What about Mike, after my dad and brother?" My wife said. This being her attempt at humor since her father and I got along like Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
"I'm not sure. What about Christian?" I said, astounded at the conversation topic.
There was a Discovery Channel special showing the cellular assembly initiating with conception. At first, the cells split and formed new cells, doubling again and again. It reminded me of a building erecting itself brick by brick, intricate patterns spreading this way and that, every cell knowing its job.
With our names called, we entered the antiseptic smelling sterile examination room, equipped with two chairs, a desk full of baby-related literature and an unnerving cushioned table with two stirrups at the end designed to hold the mother's feet. I knew this was a necessary procedure, but the thought of someone poking around territory where only I ventured was difficult to swallow. I would find this idea even more preposterous later.
"So, how is everyone today?" The doctor said as he strolled in.
A middle-aged balding white man with a large waistline and deep voice, Dr. Curtin was exactly the doctor I'd always pictured would deliver my baby. "Laura, would you please climb up onto the table, so we can get a look at your plumbing."
My wife, having changed into one of those awful backless gowns that tie in the back, climbed into the stirrups. The paper cover on the table crinkled as if she were opening a Christmas present. Sitting on a rolling mini stool, the doctor comically rolled to a stop between my wife's legs and turned on his flashlight.
"Now you're going to feel something cold followed by some pressure, that'll be the speculum. You'll feel some discomfort, but I'll get this over with as quickly as possible." The doctor said and I knew the words were for my benefit. My wife had been to the gynecologist countless times and would certainly have known the drill. "After we're finished here, we can fire up the ultrasound and see your baby."
My mind was racing as he smeared a substance like petroleum jelly on my wife's stomach, which had recently begun to show signs of the four-month-old fetus growing within. The doctor's action reminded me of spreading butter on toast.
"If we can tell the sex, let's go to the Baby's Room afterwards and buy something. Then we can go to Chili's and get Nachos and Chocolate cake. We can make a date out of it. It's been a long time," she said, trailing off slightly at the end.
"It's too early to tell anything like that. What we're going to see will seem like the outline of the baby, since most of it is still in its early stages. Even at six months it's not an exact science to tell the sex," the doctor said as he charged up his doohickey.
Rubbing a small rectangular metallic device attached to a cord over her stomach, the blank screen seemed to blink suddenly with life as the doctor moved the sensor in an effort to get a better look. At once, the picture was filled with a small creature who seemed to be sucking his or her thumb. I was moved from amazement to lightheadedness to tears faster than I could reach my hand to my eyes.
"There he is. I mean there's your baby," the doctor said.
"It's a he?! My god, I'm having a boy," my wife exclaimed.
"No no, that was a slip of the tongue. Seriously, kids, we can't tell the sex yet."
Foolish as it was, we ran with the idea of a boy. It gave us the excuse to buy a blue mobile for our boy. I thought a baby monitor would be more practical and less of a risk. It was more expensive than we could afford and gender specific, but we decided even a girl could have a blue mobile. If the mobile made her a boyish girl, than at least I could teach her to throw a football. We had our Chili's date and indulged ourselves with shopping, followed by lovemaking that was more satisfying than it had been in months. It was like the baby had injected a shot of uncut happiness into our relationship.
One month later, the night before our next doctor's appointment was unusually strained conversationally. This tension was unwarranted, but at the same time we were experts at pretend, so if we didn't admitted anything was wrong, nothing would be. My drift into slumber was only accomplished after four hours of staring at the ceiling and three sleeping pills. My usually dreamless sleep was inundated with abstract dreams, unknown shapes large and small breaking apart and reforming before of my eyes. I had a hard time focusing and woke repeatedly drenched with sweat. Deciding to try an old-fashioned remedy, I got up and fixed myself a glass of warm milk and had a shot of Kahlua for a quick fix. I felt better and was sure I wouldn't fall back into the same dream. This time I found myself lying in a hospital bed, the doctor and my wife standing at the side looking down at me. Though no words were spoken, I knew I had died.
A somber mood filled the car ride with stretches of silence that made me want to jump out of my skin. Both of us focused only on the task at hand. "This is no big deal you know. We're just going for a check up. I think we're worked up over absolutely nothing." I said, convincing myself at least.
The waiting room was stiflingly hot and my body dehydrated as the sweat poured from my pores steadily. I sought out juice or water repeatedly for Laura, who seemed to have discovered a new level of sweating. Her shirt was plastered to her now barrel-like belly. Her hair was matted down and the area surrounding her body was a cloud of thick humidity, as if she'd created her own tropical rain forest effect.
"Come on in kids," the senior nurse said. A Ukrainian strongly-built no-nonsense type of woman standing no taller than five feet. "Go ahead and get changed and I'll be right in. We're trying to get everyone through here quickly, so we don't roast our young mothers."
Ritualistically, my wife changed and got onto the paper covered examination table as I read a magazine. We tried to exhibit our cool and experience with our laid back nature.
"Alrighty Laura, how're you feeling today? You look like you're getting enough nutrition," the nurse said, and immediately tried to think of a way out of her misstep. "That's what I want to see."
Slathering on the KY lookalike, the nurse ran the sensor over Laura's stomach and again the image flashed onto the screen. This time, the image seemed more solid, not necessarily any bigger but possibly more substance, for lack of a better description. I felt more at ease seeing the baby, as if it was reaffirmed that we were pregnant.
Laura quietly wore a strange puzzled look as she observed the actions of the nurse. Fixated on the screen and franticly darting the sensor back and forth over her stomach, it seemed like she was accessing a problem from all angles.
In a whisper she said, "I'm not getting a heartbeat."
The sound was sucked from the room like the quiet after an explosion.
Hurriedly, she scurried toward the door, "I'll be right back, I'm going to get a doctor."
An eternity and two minutes later, with my wife and me holding our breath the entire time. The doctor came in and did a systems check on the ultrasound machine. All indicators pointed to functional equipment. He restarted the machine in hopes of a glitch, and searched again for the heartbeat or any movement. We both knew there was nothing to check. The doctor was just stalling. Everything technical was in working order. Our baby had died.
My wife sobbed in uncontrolled gasps as if trying to find air, but made next to no noise as she held her face hard into the crook of her arm. Reaching my arm around her shoulder to console, she brusquely rejected me attempt, her grief infusing her with phenomenal strength.
I tried to think of what to say. Don't worry we can try again? Maybe it just wasn't meant to be? It'll be all right? We'll get through this? Would we?
In the end I settled on, "Don't cry, Laura," and as my vision blurred slightly, I realized my tears had jarred my contact out of place. My shirt was wet and I had no idea how long or hard I'd been crying.
The nurse was finally able to embrace Laura and she cried on her shoulder. I wept like I never have before or since. I cried for the lost life of the baby, but it wasn't long before I acknowledged the true cause of my tears. The miscarriage was crushing, but with the baby, our relationship died as well.
I had plenty of time to reflect in the months and years that followed, but I figured everything out that moment in the doctor's office. Feelings had been slowly deteriorating for years and the desire for a baby and the struggle to get pregnant allowed us to focus on a single goal, a common enemy, and allowed us to pretend everything would be fine if we just achieved this one miracle. I know now that a baby is not a Band-Aid, or glue that can hold a family together. I didn't realize this until after the shock, and even this thought filled me with guilt.
I thought of how it would have been if the baby had been born. We would have put up with each other and lived out our lives in silent pretending-to-be-happy misery, or we would have separated at some later date. The wheels had been set into motion by a number of problems spread over years, but the miscarriage revealed our counterfeit happiness for the lie it was. We ended up divorcing one year later.
About the author:
Brian Hoffmeister is enrolled in the Grad Fiction Writing program at Columbia College. He's 30 years old and a lifelong Chicago resident.
© 2011 Word Riot