Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eleven's End

Jeremy drove, and I rolled down my window to feel the breeze slide like silk over my arms. I noticed that the sun no longer beat down with the passionate force of summer. Instead, it fell across the landscape as if hung from the side. Fall light had always been my favorite. If I believed in good omens, I would have counted this among them.

On that drive to our first ultrasound, Jeremy twined his right hand into my left and squeezed it just this side of too tight. We grinned at each other, and then we turned our grins toward the windshield and beyond it. We grinned out at the fall light and the road beneath us. After so many weeks spent hoping that the sheer force of my desire would hasten time, we were finally going to glimpse the fruit of our sweaty summer project.

“We should ask him about riding the bike.” He repeated this as if one of us might have forgotten.

“All the books say it’s okay.” His hand was a salty envelope around mine. He wiped it absently on my knee.

“Still, we’ll ask anyway,” and he winked at me again before returning his eyes to the road.
Later, our feet crushed the first casualties of autumn against the sidewalk, and we tumbled into the clinic with our hands still clasped together.

“Isn’t it amazing,” he whispered in my ear, “that you and me…we made a whole other person with nothing but ourselves?” I rolled the luxurious weight of those words around in my head as we waited for my name to be called.

The nurse appeared and shuffled us to the examination room where I was questioned about my allergies and my symptoms. My blood pressure was checked and my temperature taken. Jeremy reached again for my hand. The nurse noticed this exchange and asked, "Are you nervous?"

"No, just excited.” To explain what I felt would have been to heave a great stone up a sheer cliff with nothing but my shoulders. I was about to see with my own eyes that our little clay jar - molded so blindly with unpracticed hands, still unrecognizable in form - was present and accounted for. My heart careened into its slick neighbors, never quite stopping to find it’s proper place before bounding away again.

The nurse told me to undress from the waist down and handed me a paper sheet. I sat on the examination table and covered myself over, then tried to distract my spinning thoughts by pondering the various employments of the gargantuan cotton swabs in a glass jar on the counter. Soon the doctor knocked and then entered the room.

“Will we hear the heartbeat?” I asked him, after the usual pleasantries were exchanged.

“Not this time, “ he replied. “It’s too early for the heartbeat to be audible. But we will be able to see your baby on the monitor in just a couple of minutes.” He busied himself preparing the abdominal ultrasound.

When applied, the gel was icy against my skin. Jeremy stood at my waist and peered over my belly into the soft glow of the ultrasound screen. I studied his features, hoping to catch his first flash of recognition of our tiny life on the screen.

“I’m not getting a clear picture,” the doctor wrinkled his nose, and without looking at me, “We’ll try the vaginal wand.”

He warned that it would be cold and that I would feel a lot of pressure, as if I’d never had a foreign object inside of me. I laughed aloud.

He moved the wand first to the left, then to the right, and he squinted as if searching the contours of the sun. His tongue appeared between his lips, and he bit down on it. His face was folded in concentration.

As his eyes searched from beneath a crumpled brow, mine darted between them, silently pleading for them to loosen in smile. My heart knocked wildly on familiar doors, but its neighbors did not answer. I felt the first jolt of fear in my ribs.

As the moments spun out, I imagined that I could drive my thoughts and direct them safely back home. I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and straining limbs and I fixed my mental course towards a dot on the horizon: an aquatic still life on the ceiling.

I drove my thoughts straight ahead and into that panel which covered the fluorescent bulbs above. Upside down to me, it was the vivid blue of tropical seawater. Anemone swayed in the implied ocean current as clownfish flitted nearby. I thought about the ceiling panel as my car sunk into its sandy bottom, studied it closely as the minutes passed, as the wand searched my inner recesses for the life that should have been there.

The doctor, still moving the wand inside me, said, “There is no fetal pole.” His words were filled with the sound of lost time. “The amniotic sac is the right size for eleven weeks, but it’s empty. I’m so sorry. I know this is not what you were expecting to hear today.”

Jeremy drove, and now the light was all wrong. The sun burned red, and everything it touched screamed in agony. It hung crooked in the sky, and had dropped lower to the ground in the since unfurled hour. The dying light pressed harshly down on the landscape, and squeezed from it the warmth of day.

Through my swollen eyelids, I glimpsed flashes of the long, barren winter that lay before us, and the abundance of darkness it would bring. Much time would pass before I’d feel the fertile slant of warm light on my face, and so I began to wrap my mind in layers to keep out the cold.