Getting Ready To Breathe
I sat down with the genetics counselor for my pre-amnio chat, gearing up for the enormous needle that would puncture my belly, penetrating muscle and tissue, and draw two tubes full of amniotic fluid from me. I answered questions. I smiled. I made jokes. I was ready.
And then I was told to go home and come back in two weeks. The amnio could be performed at 16.5 weeks, but for the toxoplasmosis test I'd have to wait until the full 18.
Suddenly I felt like one of those underwater escape artists in the final few seconds before heading to the surface for that first gasp of O2. I was ready for the air. I needed the air. I could go no longer without it. The top of my head emerged from the water--and yet there was now this hand on it, holding me down, telling me, "just two more weeks, okay?"
I hadn't realized until then just how long I had been holding my breath, keeping my eye on the calendar for that blessed 16.5 week mark so that I could finally put to rest all fears of the toxo in particular, plus all the other general genetic worries that Women of Advanced Maternal Age are taught to lose sleep over. I had counted down those weeks, alternately anxious beyond belief and in a very comfortable state of denial. "It's just six more weeks," I told myself. "It's just four more weeks." "It's just three more days."
And now, my anxiety calendar had been reset back to "it's just two more weeks."
I was okay with it. Really I was. Until the geneticist herself, a woman who reminded me in equal parts of a beloved college professor and my own mother, looked at me with genuine sympathy and asked, "are you okay with this?"
And I responded by sobbing uncontrollably in this stranger's office.
"So we wait a little longer," Nate told me over the phone. "It's not like they're doing this to annoy you." Wrong answer.
His second answer was an improvement - a long hug and a handful of Kleenex with aloe when I walked in the door.
For all these months, while I laughed and socialized and worked and cleaned and wrote and ate too many cheese calzones, there has remained this nagging, horrible fear in the back of my mind that my diseased body was poisoning my baby. I have functioned fairly well in a comfortable state of denial, which I wasn't entirely aware of until this day. Mostly I've functioned by dehumanizing the fetus. (Not baby, you see? Fetus.) It sounds harsh, I know. But to get through this, I've behaved more as if I'm treating a condition than preparing for a baby.
I haven't dared to imagine its due date, its features, its gender. When friends suggest baby names I just smile and mentally sing the whatever bad song is stuck in my head that day to block it out. I can compare pregnancy complaints with friends (and fellow bloggers), but I don't allow myself to talk about "when the baby comes." I have yet to set aside Thalia's outgrown clothes. I have yet to think about nursery colors or cribs or even find a new OB in Los Angeles for the delivery. I'm an idiot, I know. But I just can't bring myself to take that step it until I know that everything is okay. To have to call her back and say, "you know that appointment we made? Yeah, cancel that..." well, that would just be too much to bear.
But then things happen over the last few weeks that foil my otherwise perfect plan. Like feeling the first kicks at 16 weeks. Or seeing the baby clearly on the sonogram monitor at my monthly exam, kicking and squirming, waving like it was hailing a cab on 5th Avenue in the rain. Or friends and family who point to my belly and tell Thalia, "there's a baby in there!" At which point, yeah, it's a little hard to avoid thinking about this as a baby instead of a rare and unusual parasite that makes my boobs grow and my gag reflex work overtime.
This system is not working well for me, not one bit. I am a Virgo. I'm anal. I need things to happen in the proper order: Find out baby is okay, see baby, feel baby, get excited about baby. But that's just not in the cards for me this time is around. Instead, we have moments of excitement, which we then have to temper with the potential reality of the situation. We make various "looking good so far" announcments to the family after OB checkups, but we have to follow each one with the now cliche disclaimer about waiting for the amnio results.
The results which were pushed off two long, arduous weeks.
Of course I know that none of this will matter if--when--the call comes announcing all is well, and let the baby naming debate begin. But for now, well, I've just been biding time.
Yesterday I lay on the table in the darkened hospital room as the doctor prepped me for the long-awaited procedure. He swabbed iodine over my belly and the tech then spread me with a coat of warm, gooey gel. I averted my eyes from the enormous needle, instead watching Thalia squirming in Nate's arms, pointing and exclaiming "baby! Baby!" at every photo on the wall. Her new favorite word of the many coming out of her mouth these days. And I thought yeah. Baby. There's a baby in there.
I saw it. I felt it. I feel it.
I was then surprised by the question, "do you want to know the gender right now?" I hadn't even considered this option would be available to us yesterday.
The correct answer: "No thank you. I'd rather wait to know everything is okay. I want to keep saying it. I want to keep saying fetus instead of baby. I can hold out another 9 days."
My answer: "Yes! Tell us! Oh my God, definitely!"
It's an odd thing, calling family with news when there's still the big news to come. But at least there's something to keep my mind off the final stretch of waiting...for the good news. Right? The good news. Definitely good news.
It better be. Because now I know.
It's a girl.