Ben and I stared at the screen, watching the small flicker in the middle of the unidentifiable blob. A heartbeat. Our baby’s heartbeat, going strong at one hundred sixty beats per minute. It was a strange sense of déjà vu. Hadn’t we been here only days before? Had it really been months, nearly a year really? Now that we’d seen this baby’s heartbeat, we had a ninety-five percent chance of a healthy, living baby at the end of this ride. I felt Ben loosen up beside me, the tension draining from his hand as he stared at our baby on the screen. He felt secure now, sure that we would have this baby. I wished I could be there with him.
“All right,” Dr. Gray said. “Heartbeat is normal; mother is released to an obstetrician’s care.”
Ben held his hand up. “High five.”
“No,” I replied. “Not in front of the doctor. Let’s try to act like adults here. We don’t want her to think that we can’t handle the whole parenting thing.”
During the ride home from Dr. Gray’s office, I thought about the obstetrician issue. I saw an OB-GYN regularly, the same doctor who told us that we had lost Daniel. I was perfectly comfortable letting her check the working condition of my feminine areas, but I was less sure I was okay with her seeing me through another pregnancy. It wasn’t her fault we had lost our son, but I didn’t know if I could be in her office without worrying about the past colliding with the future. Could I be in the room where we learned that Daniel was gone without panicking about the fate of this child?
“Penny for your thoughts,” Ben said, noticing, I guess, my furrowed brow and unnatural silence.
“I want a new obstetrician,” I replied immediately.
“Fine with me,” Ben replied.
I turned to face him while he drove. “You don’t think I’m being paranoid?”
“Of course I don’t.”
“Not even a little?”
“That office has bad memories for me too,” Ben said. “Let’s find somewhere where we can start clean.”
The quest began. We spent the next few days getting recommendations and referrals, and searching the internet for information on prospective doctors. I had thanked Paige and Julianne for suggesting their doctors, but I didn’t feel comfortable going that route. And, of course, our insurance company only covered so many of the options. So we hemmed and hawed, and whittled down our list. Of our top three candidates, only one was taking new patients, so Dr. David Smith won the right to see us through the pregnancy.
I completely fell for him when we went in for our first appointment. He reminded me of my father: portly and mustachioed. Why I felt comfortable with the idea of someone resembling my dad becoming intimate with my most private of areas was beyond me. But he made me feel so at ease, which was exactly what I needed.
He performed a quick exam, declaring my cervix “perfection.” Ben wanted a high five for that, too, but I still wasn’t game. Then we moved on to the ultrasound. I clung tightly to Ben’s hand, terrified of what we might see. The heartbeat was clearer than before, and the baby was starting to form arms and legs, looking slightly less like a blob and slightly more like a gummy bear. It was amazing. It was a real thing, with almost limbs. I had thought I wouldn’t feel calm about this pregnancy until it was over, but something about that sight calmed me greatly.
“You should be set for another month,” Dr. Smith said.
And then the calm vanished. “That’s so long.”
In reality, it was completely normal. Everyone went a month between visits at this stage of pregnancy, but I needed more reassurance than that. In another month, the baby could be gone.
Dr. Smith seemed a bit taken aback by my obvious concern, but he recovered well. “All right, we can do two weeks.”
I agreed to that. Surely I could keep myself calm for two weeks.
At the reception desk, we plotted out our visits for a couple months. I was excited to have a date for the sonogram where we would learn our baby’s sex, which would be in February. I looked forward to knowing if I would have a son or a daughter. Strangely enough, I was excited to know what we would call him or her. I hadn’t been thinking about it, as it felt like bad luck. But I could picture myself thinking up a name, and that felt good. Maybe I could get through this process without losing my mind.
At least, for today. Today I was full of joy, confident in my pregnancy. I had seen my baby. My baby was developing normally, was healthy and whole, was alive. For today, I could put all my anxiety away, and move forward with hope. Tomorrow could be completely different, but that was tomorrow. For today, I was happy.
“I need references,” Julianne said. “You guys will tell them that I’m not crazy or violent, and never lose my temper or use swears, right?”
“I will not lie to government agents,” I replied.
Julianne slapped the table. “Damn it!”
We all laughed. Of course Paige and I would vouch for Julianne. She would be a great mom. And her house was usually clean, which had to count for something.
The three of us were preparing Thanksgiving dinner. We had decided to spend the holiday together, since we had so much to be thankful for this year. Julianne had agreed to host us at her house. Ben and I had always been slow Christmas decorators, maybe getting the tree up the week of Christmas, but Julianne and Greg had gone all out. They had clearly needed a ladder to decorate the top half of the tree, even though Greg was comically tall. Presents were stacked beneath the tree, reminding me that perhaps I should start my Christmas shopping. Stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and there were lights over every square inch of the outside of their house. The place looked as if Santa Claus had exploded inside, casting jolliness to every corner.
Our husbands were watching football; the turkey was in the oven. Julianne was peeling enough potatoes to feed the proverbial army. Paige was making pies. Two of them, from scratch. Not being much of a cook, I was in charge of opening the cans of cranberry sauce right before we sat down to eat. Until it was time to open the cans, I was mostly getting in their way.
“Seriously though,” Julianne said, looking up from her potatoes. “You’ll tell our agency that we’re wonderful and amazing people.”
“Of course,” Paige replied.
“What else do you have to do for your agency?” I asked.
“We have to take a bunch of pictures of us enjoying the holidays,” Julianne said. “You know, so the birth parents can see how great the holidays will be for the child they’re giving up.”
“Are you sure the turkey is big enough to impress them?” I asked.
“That’s why the Christmas tree is already up,” she continued, ignoring me. “We had fake Christmas for some photographs.”
“So the big present in the red paper isn’t for me?”
“Damn it, Elise, take me seriously.”
“I do, Jules. I also think this whole fake holiday to impress strangers thing is a little weird.”
“I know it is,” Julianne replied. “I think it’s all a little bit crazy, but the agency wants these things, so we do them. Jump through hoops and all that.”
“How is the process going?” Paige asked, looking up from her pies.
“It’s fine. Weird, but fine. We have to write our biographies, and concentrate on how normal our childhoods were, and how normally we would raise any potential children. As if anyone has ever had a normal childhood.”
“You know, my childhood was fine.”
“It will be fine, Jules,” I said. “You are wonderful. Greg is wonderful. A child would be lucky to have you. People will see that as soon as they meet you. Or when they read about your messed up childhood.”
She sighed and set down the potato she was peeling. “What if they don’t?”
That stopped me. I hadn’t really understood why she was worried. I knew she was amazing, and I was sure complete strangers would know that too. If I had an extra child lying around, I would give it to Julianne in a second. It hadn’t occurred to me that adoption could fail for her, in the same way that IVF had failed. She was relying on someone picking her, on being good enough to make someone want to give her their child. It was a tall order to measure up to all of that.
“Oh, Julianne,” I said. “I know someone will want you to raise their child. I feel it in my heart.”
“I feel it in my heart that your pregnancy will be fine. But you still worry.”
“Nothing is going to stop our worrying,” Paige said. “We need to keep moving forward, otherwise nothing will work out.”
She had a point. We didn’t need to be worry-free for everything to be fine, to keep moving forward. We only needed to keep going.
“Next year, we’ll need a kids table,” I said.
Paige turned back to her baking. Julianne smiled and picked up a potato.
“You could have at least brought an extra peeler,” she said.
“You think I own a potato peeler? Don’t you know that you can buy pre-made mashed potatoes? You heat them up in the microwave. It is a real time saver.”
“You see, that is the kind of things my agency is looking for,” Julianne said. “I would never get a child if I used instant mashed potatoes.”
“That’s something they tell you to force you to do everything way over the top.”
“But I would,” Julianne said. “I would do everything completely over the top for a child. Can you imagine what it will be like the first Christmas I have a child? We’ll go into so much debt to make sure that kid has the best Christmas ever.”
I didn’t doubt that claim. I couldn’t wait to spoil my child on its first Christmas. And first birthday. And every day of his or her life.