It starts like this: a man, thirty-two, a woman, thirty-one. Youngest kids in their families. Three of their four parents alive. His father recently dead. A slow, quiet hospital coma. Then: a long, hot cross-country trip in a Jeep with no air-conditioning. Conception in her parent’s house. Everyone’s first grandchild. Newspapers, journals and magazines will be purchased, read, copied, clipped, and sent to the couple. The clippings will litter the house like table scraps.
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They arrive home. There are two stripes on the stick. The young couple begins to call one another mom and dad. At first he winces. At first she smiles. Phone calls are made. They are congratulated. For having sex, he reasons. Is it possible to be chastised in this situation? The scissors are retrieved from utility drawers. They are sharpened. Stamps and envelopes are stocked. Mail arrives daily. Some articles are read. some are scanned, left on end-tables and sideboards. Many catch the late summer breezes and follow the uncharted path of flowing air.
The Four Daily Do’s
1. Walk at least 15 to 20 minutes each day in a cool, shaded area, or indoors where it’s air-conditioned
2. Drink eight to ten glasses of liquid, such as water, juice, milk, and other fluids without caffeine, carbonation, or artificial coloring
3. Rest on your side for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening, and sleep on your side.
4. Eat five or six small meals throughout the day.
Giddiness takes over. Is giddiness a disease? The couple strolls through the baby aisles in the local department stores. “I’ve never done this before,” he says. “You’ve never looked at baby clothes before?” she says. “No.” Was he allowed to look at baby clothes before? The other fathers stand around a sixty-five inch rear projection television, one section over, as if it were a Rodin. Or a Boticelli. Or a baby? The price tags are invisible to her. “This is cute,” she says. Isn’t it all cute? “This is expensive,” he says. He flicks the price tags over one by one. Thirty-two-fifty. Twenty-seven even. Eighteen-ninety-nine. Fifty dollars. Flick. Flick. Flick. Flick. She places items over her shoulders. How do you try them on? He pulls out his wallet. Thumbs out his charge card. She pays the bills. He studies at the university. Isn’t she brave? He’ll take care of the baby while she works eight-to-five. Is he brave too? Isn’t everyone in the baby aisle brave?
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Her breasts begin to swell. His urges swell in response. Her mind wanders. How could it not. “Your hair is thickening,” he says. “I hope it doesn’t fall out after,” she says. They need an OB/GYN. she has always gone to a nurse practitioner. They scan bios off the hospital’s website. “She’s just out of med school though,” he says. “All the women doctors are,” she says. “But I want a female doctor. Does everyone view a doctor’s office as a public restroom? Same sex only? They pick one. An older woman with other degrees as well.
“There is some blood in my underwear,” she says. The doctor says, “No sex.” “What about exercise?” she says. “That’s fine,” the doctor says.
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The couple ceases to have sex. The bleeding continues. He goes to the university library, the public library. They research on the internet. She phones her doctor’s nurse. “No exercise,” the nurse says. “Le’ts try bedrest,” he says. “Today’s Friday. Bedrest for two and a half days,” he says. Bedrest? Is this something to be concerned about? Can bedrest be anything but? “Probably implantation bleeding,” he says. “After all these weeks?” she says. “It’s just lingering,” he says. She’s always been prone to bruises. Why not bleeding. She trusts him and rests. She knows he’s reading everything. When his father was dying he spent hours every day in the hospital’s health library. “Wouldn’t everyone,” he said. His mother said he was like a sponge with information. “How could you not be under those conditions,” he said. Most people aren’t. His mother for instance. He’d draw up charts and define everything for her. He tried to explain to her that his father couldn’t live. Too many complications. She couldn’t absorb the information. How could she? It was her husband that was dying. It was only his father after all. “I’ve gone through that already,” she said. “That was nothing compared to all this.” She couldn’t make him understand. How could she? “His organs are going to fail one by one,” he said. She held her husband’s hand and spoke to him. Seven a.m. to ten p.m. every last day. His hands grew to twice their size. “Edema,” he said. “Pitting edema.”
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“You may have an Rh conflict,” the doctor says. “Here’s a pamphlet. Go give some more blood on level three.” She has Rh positive blood. the baby’s may be negative. Or was it the reverse? She tells her parents what matters is that they don’t match. “How could the baby not match you?” her mom asks. “It’s complicated,” she says. She hangs up the phone. “How?” she thinks.
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“The baby’s heart rate is too low,” the doctor says. The couple have been waiting in the waiting rooms for ninety-seven minutes. “What does that mean?” she asks. “Nature’s way of saying the fetus isn’t strong enough.” The husband stiffens his back and shoulders. He asks the question the doctor wants to hear: “Have you ever seen a fetus with that heart rate make it?” “No,” she says. She is positive. Her body language is positive. In the lobby the husband says, “She’s been practicing for less than a year. We’re switching doctors. It’s not a gender thing, we need experience. We have only male doctors to choose from.” “Let’s see the complications specialist,” she says.
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The specialist isn’t taking on new patients. He’ll consult. He sends them to another ultrasound. “My fifth,” she says. They tell the technician what is going on. The lady says the heartbeat is fine. Her child’s was 10% lower. Don’t worry about it. She sees it all the time. “Will you be our doctor?” the husband asks. He’s serious. The specialist wonders why they’re seeing him. He refers them to the doctor with the most seniority. “He looks like Santa Claus,” she says. They download his picture off the website. “Everyone will give me gender shit about this,” she says. “Screw everyone,” he says.
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Her friends with babies tell her about episiotimies. No Tears. Ripping or crying. “How about the afterbirth?” she asks. “Better than an undetected twin,” says one. They tell her about mucus plugs. “Will I think I’ve peed in my bed?” she asks. They tell her to smell it. “Amniotic doesn’t smell like urine. Urine resembles ammonia. Amniotic smells sweet.” She raises an eyebrow in protest.
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“You’re carrying too high,” says the doctor. “Is that a problem?” she asks. How could it not be? Would they point it out otherwise? “Why are the sonograms always sealed?” the husband asks. He asks the wife. He asks the doctor. “They’re our records, aren’t they?” Even the walls and the stirrup table and the little stack of paper-thin blue dresses ignore him. He opens the next one. “It says you have cysts,” he tells the wife.
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The wife wakes at two in the morning. Three in the morning. Four in the morning. “You can’t breathe,” he says. She can’t answer. “The baby is in my ribs,” she says later. He keeps an ice bag on the bed for her. She forces the baby down. She had a friend that used a cold coke can for a parlor trick. Moving the baby side to side for amusement. “This isn’t amusing,” she says. He knows it isn’t. He tells his friends about the trick. In one four week period, she gains fifteen pounds. “You’re fat,” her father says. “I’m hungry,” she says. The fetus is growing fast. “Let’s settle on a name,” he says. “I mean, a list of names.”
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“The baby is growing fast,” the old doctor says. “We’ll move up the date,” the husband says. “We’ll need to find out why,” the doctor says. Ultrasound is scheduled. “We’ve had almost every tech,” she says. He nods. Not this one. Stoneface he calls her afterwards. She staples the ultrasound six times. Do they know he opened the last one? The doctor says, “The femurs aren’t within the normal range of length for the length of the fetus. “What does that mean?” the husband asks. “Just what they wrote is all. What’s normal anyway?” he says.
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“The baby is breech,” the doctor says. The couple smiles. “What’s next?” they ask. “We’ll try a version,” he says. Or was it aversion? The doctor who does them is a woman. She gives it her all. “They baby’s stuck,” she says. Not for lack of her trying. “We should have used her,” the husband says. “Yes. That version hurt,” she says. “It looked it,” he said. Like turning an elephant around in a broom closet. C-Section the doctors say.
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The anesthesiologist explains the choices. “Which would you do?” she asks. “Given my druthers,” he says, “the spinal block.” “Then do it,” she says. She’s brave. The husband waits. She’s gone. People in white coats and her in a blue hospital gown. Him in a room with a broken TV and a clock. Fifteen minutes go by. The head’s out before he gets in. He peers over the curtain. Holds her hand. “Didn’t feel a thing,” she says. That was easy, the Dr. says. Easy. “Now comes the rest,” she says. “Now comes the rest,” he says.