“It’s a boy!”
Paige’s shriek was more shrill than usual. Her anatomy scan had been that morning, and I suspected the results were in.
“A boy, you say,” I replied, switching my phone to the other ear, now that I’d been half-deafened.
“He’s healthy and beautiful and perfect. And a boy.”
“I’ll start buying you blue stuff,” I said. I didn’t really know what else to say. I was excited for her, incredibly excited. It had been so long since I’d been able to feel this happy for one of my friends, but like with my upcoming scan, it felt hard to really put my excitement out there. I didn’t want to tempt fate, I realized. I didn’t want the universe to know that I was happy, for fear that it would be yanked away from me.
“Elise! Be excited for me,” Paige begged.
“I am. I’m not as excited as you are. Really, I shouldn’t be.”
“You are excited to find out what you’re having, right?”
I was, of course, but I think, deep down, I was convinced that if I were carrying a boy, the pregnancy wouldn’t last. I knew this was a bit irrational. I was still cautious at this point, and I knew that wouldn’t change until I was holding my child. For a while there, I’d been debating whether to even find out whether the baby was a boy or a girl, but I knew Ben was dying to know, so I let him take the lead on this one.
“Yes,” I said to Paige. “Of course I’m excited.”
“You’ll call me when you find out, right?”
“Of course I will. We’ll all go to lunch this weekend and you and I can compare pictures.”
“I can’t wait. Good luck.”
“Thanks for coming with me,” Julianne said as she drove.
I’d agreed to accompany her on an unnamed errand, having an entire Saturday with nothing better to do.
“Any time,” I replied. “Where are we going, anyway?”
“I have an appointment to update my tattoos.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know exactly what to say to that. Julianne wore her lost children on her skin, something I could never do. It was hard enough to carry Daniel in my heart. “God, Jules, it sucks that you’re in a position to have this tradition.”
“You’re telling me,” she replied, pulling into a parking lot.
The tattoo parlor was nicer than I’d expected, the day spa of tattoo parlors. Why I’d expected the place to be dirty was beyond me. Julianne was certainly too smart to put herself in a position to contract hepatitis or something. It was bright, every surface gleaming. The chairs for the tatooees were comfy looking, more like the massage chairs that were ubiquitous in nail salons than what I’d expect to see in a tattoo parlor.
“Julianne Walker,” she said to the receptionist, and again I was impressed by this place. A receptionist at a tattoo parlor! Who’d have seen that coming?
“Brodie will be right with you,” the receptionist replied, and Julianne and I sat down in the waiting area.
When Brodie the tattoo artist came to retrieve Julianne, I was relieved to see that my tattoo-related stereotypes weren’t entirely off. He had tattoos starting at his wrists and going all the way up to where his sleeves covered their end points. The designs were beautiful and intricate, and for the first time in my life, I began to consider getting inked myself.
“Sorry to see you back,” Brodie said as Julianne got settled in her chair.
“Thanks,” she replied. “Hopefully my last visit.”
“Naw, we’ll have to put something on here for the take home baby, right?”
I raised an eyebrow at that term. Alright, stereotypes only got you so far. Was he also part of the club of people who had lost a child?
“This is my friend Elise,” Julianne said.
“Moral support. Cool.”
“She’s ink free for now.”
I laughed. “Probably forever,” I said. “Sorry.”
“If you change your mind, you know where to find me,” Brodie replied. “Okay, Julianne, how does this look?”
She looked at her wrist, where a temporary guide had been drawn on her skin. “Looks good.”
“Always a little bit different, right?”
I’d never noticed before that he was right. Each of Julianne’s stars was a little bit different, like each of her babies had been.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” Brodie said, and Julianne laughed.
The sound of the tattoo gun switching on made me jump. Julianne grabbed my hand with her free hand, looking away from the procedure. I couldn’t look away, completely fascinated by the process. It must have hurt like hell, though. Julianne squeezed my hand with enough force that I started to worry about the safety of my fingers.
Within minutes Julianne went from three stars to four. I couldn’t help but think of those four little babies, each one gone almost as quickly as Julianne had been marked with a reminder of their existence.
And once again I thought of how brutally unfair this whole situation was.
I clung to Ben’s hand for the entire anatomy scan. We had immediately seen our baby’s heartbeat. Moreover, we had also seen the baby move around as the ultrasound tech collected her measurements, which she assured us were all normal. I was only starting to feel the baby move, small flutters and twitches that I was never quite sure were actually something. The faint movements, watching the baby on the screen, these things comforted me, but I was still nervous. If it was a boy, would I ever stop worrying that I would lose the pregnancy? If it was a girl, would that mean that I would instantly become worry free?
“All right,” the tech said. “Are we ready for the main event?”
I squeezed Ben’s hand a little tighter and nodded. This was it. Boy or girl, son or daughter? What would our child be, and how would we react?
“I have it up on the screen. Would you care to hazard a guess?”
I looked at the blurry projection of the inside of my uterus. There she was. Clearly, my daughter.
“It’s a girl,” I said softly.
I didn’t feel relief, or sadness, or fear, the things I was sure would take over. Instead, I only felt excitement, elation, and awe. My beautiful, perfect baby girl.
Ben leaned down and kissed me. “She looks amazing,” he said softly. “Our little girl.”
She did look amazing. I was stunned by how real she looked. She had a face, she had fingers. In one shot of her face, she was clearly sucking her thumb. She was a little person. Our little person.
“So what now?” Ben asked as we drove home from the appointment.
“What do you mean?”
“How far can we go now? Can we choose a name? Can we decorate a nursery? Can we plan a baby shower? What can we get away with and still be sure about this pregnancy?”
I paused, thinking. How far could we go? If our daughter had a name and a bedroom, would she hold on, or be scared away? Would I be more sure of her, or would I doubt more? Did I really think that the universe was going to take my baby away because she had a name?
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s go slowly. Maybe we can buy furniture soon.”
“That’s certainly something I’d like to accomplish before she arrives.”
“Obviously,” I replied. “I worry that as this pregnancy becomes more real, my anxiety level will rise. The more baby stuff around the house, the more real this baby is.”
“She is real, you know. She’s very real.”
“I know. I’m being cautious. I need that, Ben. I need the barrier of caution between this child and me. I can’t get my hopes up that this is it.”
“Why not, Elise? We’re at twenty weeks! We’re halfway done.”
“But we’re not done, Ben.” I turned to face him. “Twenty weeks is not forty weeks. If she were born right now, she couldn’t survive.”
“I know that, but she’s not born right now. She’s safe inside you. We’re planning to keep her there for a long time.”
I sighed, knowing how much Ben wanted to be excited about this baby, and how much I was holding him back. I wasn’t being fair, I acknowledged. Ben had every right to celebrate his daughter.
“If it makes you feel better, you can paint the nursery this weekend,” I acquiesced.
“Can I pick the color?”
“I guess so.”
“Can we get the rest of the furniture next weekend?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“It’s what I want, El.”
“Then yes, we can get the furniture next weekend.”
“Thank you, Elise.”
“I know this is your baby too,” I said. “I need to let you enjoy it.”
“Yes, you do,” Ben replied.
“I think I shall. I know you’re scared, Elise. I don’t blame you, but I can’t let being scared keep me from enjoying this time while you’re pregnant. I can’t worry that this will be the only time we have with her.”
“What if it is?”
“Worrying about it won’t make that easier. It won’t make that not hurt. Worrying about what might happen will only ruin this time. I want to get the most that I possibly can out of this time.” Ben sighed. “I want to name her. I want to have a baby shower. I want to buy her a damned pony, in case she wants one later. I want to do everything that normal people do, Elise.”
But...I didn’t. I didn’t want to do any of those things. I wanted to hide in a cave – while still receiving top-notch prenatal care – until our daughter was born. I didn’t want other people to know about her, because I didn’t want to have to tell them if something happened.
I wasn’t ready to share her. I wanted her to be mine, and Ben’s, only ours. It felt safer, and it felt...special, like our daughter was a special thing between me and Ben that no one else knew about. Obviously people knew about the pregnancy, but the idea of keeping it as quiet as possible was so appealing to me that I couldn’t understand how someone could want it otherwise. I didn’t understand where Ben was coming from. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of shouting it from the rooftops that we were going to have a daughter. I couldn’t understand feeling that confident that we were.
“I’m sorry,” I said finally.
“I’m sorry too,” Ben replied. “I’m sorry that you can’t enjoy this. As much as I want to do all of those things, I want you to want to do them too.”
“I wish I could. I wish I weren’t afraid.”
“Well, then you be afraid for both of us, and I’ll be brave for both of us.”
“You can do the nursery.”
“And you can...I guess sit in the living room and watch TV while I do the nursery? Wait, this doesn’t seem like an equitable division of labor.”
“I’m also, you know, growing a human.”
“That is an excellent point.”
“But maybe hold off on buying the pony, okay?”
“All right, deal.”
We even shook on it.