“Hey, are you ready to head to the gym?” I called, having let myself into Julianne’s house.
I had arrived at Julianne’s house, ready to follow up on my promise to attend a yoga class with her. I was dressed in a brand new outfit bought for the occasion, from shoes to pants and all the way up to a top, the whole ensemble matching. I’d had to get a new outfit, because none of the workout clothes I owned fit anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to this class, but a promise is a promise. Not to mention that I really did need to get back into shape.
“Yeah, I’ll be ready in a sec,” Julianne said, poking her head out around a corner.
She ducked back around the corner, and I stepped into the foyer. Julianne returned a moment later, her hands behind her back.
“Don’t hate me,” she said softly.
“I could never hate you.”
“Okay, don’t be mad at me.”
“No one says that unless they’re about to say something awful.”
“Please, Elise. You aren’t going to like what I say. I’m not trying to hurt you. I have your best interest at heart.”
She held out her hand, and I stared at the familiar device she held in her palm.
“Jules. What is that?”
“It’s a pregnancy test.”
“Oh, of course. I had totally forgotten what they look like.” I glared at her. “I know it’s a pregnancy test, Julianne. Why do you have one?”
“I want you to test. I’ve been thinking about your weight gain. It’s not regular putting on weight. It’s all in the middle. You look pregnant.”
“Uh, thanks? Remember, I just had a baby.”
It really did seem like Anna had been born only yesterday, and yet it had been more than four months since she’d died.
“I mean that the weight is all in your stomach. It’s starting to stick out. Like as if you were pregnant. I’ve seen you pregnant before. It’s been so long since you gave birth. There’s no way it’s still post-baby body.”
“Jules, I’m infertile. And we aren’t trying.”
“Are you saying you haven’t had sex?”
I felt my face go hot. “I’m saying that having sex has never gotten me pregnant before.”
Julianne looked hurt, but what did she expect? I knew that she hadn’t meant to anger me, but this seemed like a cruel joke. I was still trying to get over the loss of my child, trying to face a future without children, and here she was speaking lightly of how pregnant I looked after putting on some weight while in the middle of that mourning.
“Please do this for me,” Julianne pleaded. “I’ll never ask anything of you again.”
“If I do this,” I said, hoping my anger was evident, “you have to swear not to mention it to anyone. The whole idea is ridiculous.”
“I’ll never mention it again.”
I went into the bathroom. I couldn’t believe Julianne would do this. It wasn’t funny. The whole idea that I could be pregnant was laughable, painfully so. It pulled at my heart that Julianne would do something so cruel. We had been there for each other through so many dark times, and now she was making light of something so unbelievably painful.
I set the stick down on the counter while I washed my hands. I would hold this against Julianne for a while. It was likely that I would never forgive her. What if this destroyed our friendship? What if I really could never bring myself to forgive her? Would she and I be able to maintain our separate friendships with Paige, or would I lose Paige in the bargain as well? Damn it. Why did Julianne have to push this?
I picked up the stick and glanced at it. Then I walked back into the hallway, threw the stick at Julianne, and walked out of the house.
I returned to her house an hour later. She answered the door, then stood back to let me enter, not saying a word. There really wasn’t anything that she needed to say. I was the one with something to say.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a moment. “I thought the idea was so ridiculous. I was a little offended that you didn’t think I knew my own body. After all, I had done nothing but monitor my body for over four years.”
“But I was right,” Julianne replied, her arms crossed in front of her chest. “You are pregnant.”
“I am pregnant,” I replied.
“How did you not know?”
“I haven’t had my period since I got pregnant with Anna. So I assumed no period, no ovulation, no baby. Plus, you know, infertility and all. This wasn’t supposed to be able to happen.”
“So you haven’t seen a doctor?”
“Why would I have?”
“I’ll take you. We’ll go now.”
“I don’t have an appointment, and I’m sure the doctor is busy. I’ll go home and make an appointment and go another time.”
“No, we’ll go now. You’ll chicken out if you don’t have some reassurance as soon as possible. I see the panic in your eyes. Let’s go now.”
I didn’t doubt that there was panic in my eyes. I felt frozen inside, as if all the steps I had made toward normalcy, toward handling my grief, since Anna’s death were for nothing. Now there was a whole new reason to be upset twenty-four hours a day: another pregnancy. This could mean another miscarriage or premature birth, more time spent in the NICU, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Would there even be a way to reassure me, to make me believe that this pregnancy could be okay?
I let Julianne load me into her car. She asked for directions to my obstetrician’s office, and drove me over. I spent the whole ride worrying about what to say to Ben. “Hey, guess who’s accidentally pregnant.” I think not. Would he even believe me? Would he be angry? Would he be excited, or would he be as terrified as I was?
Julianne led me into my doctor’s office. I hadn’t seen Dr. Smith since Anna’s death. Oh, God, what would I say to him? “I know you did what you could?” “I know it’s not your fault my daughter died?” While these things were true, was it really necessary to voice them? Clearly, if I had come back, I must not have blamed him for what had happened. After all, I couldn’t go back to the OB-GYN I’d been seeing when we lost Daniel.
I sat down in a chair in the corner of the waiting room, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I curled into myself, trying to disappear into the chair. Several of the women in the waiting room looked over at me anyway. It wasn’t often two women arrived together. Were they wondering if Julianne and I were a couple? And why did I care if they did?
Julianne walked up to the reception desk, intent on her mission to get me in to see my obstetrician. “Elise Heller is here to see Dr. Smith.”
“I don’t see an appointment for her.”
“She doesn’t have one.”
“I’m sorry, but Dr. Smith is fully booked today.”
“It’s kind of an emergency.”
“He’s with a patient. If this is an emergency, you should go to the emergency room.”
Julianne took a deep breath, her face starting to turn red with anger. “Why don’t you walk back there and tell Dr. Smith that Elise Heller is here, and that it’s an emergency? Let’s see what he would like us to do.”
The receptionist heaved a sigh, and then got up and disappeared through the door behind her. Clearly, she didn’t want to do as Julianne had asked. If Dr. Smith didn’t want to see me, the receptionist would make sure that I never got an appointment again, I was sure. Within seconds, Dr. Smith burst through the door. He looked vaguely panicked, much like I probably did.
I looked up at him, the confusion and fear obvious on my face. I felt so lost, so scared sitting in the waiting room. What if there was something wrong with this pregnancy? I couldn’t start to believe in it. I had to hold on to my fear, my distance from this potential child.
“Come on back, Elise.”
Julianne took my arm and led me through the door and into an examination room. She helped me up onto the table, and then took my hand.
“What brings you here?” Dr. Smith asked.
“It seems I might be pregnant,” I said after thinking for a moment.
I wasn’t sure I believed it. Okay, I’d gotten a positive test. But that had happened before, and I was still waiting on my take home baby. I was still struggling with the idea that I’d never have a living child, and here I was, accidentally pregnant, like it was nothing.
“Alright. Do you have any idea how far along you might be?”
I’d been thinking about this all morning, trying to remember when Ben and I had found the energy and desire to connect with each other. I could only remember one time: the day Anna died.
“Close to twenty weeks,” I finally said.
He paused for a moment. “Are you sure?”
“I haven’t had my period since I got pregnant last time. So I didn’t think I could yet. And it was so hard to conceive before.”
He nodded. “Alright. Well, how about you lie back and we will do a quick ultrasound to check on how things are going?”
I did as he asked. I was here now, and there was no point in fighting, or denying the reason for the visit. It was time to face it.
“Where’s Ben?” he asked, while getting the ultrasound machine running.
“I haven’t told him yet. I don’t know what to say. We thought we were done. We weren’t going to try fertility treatments again, because we didn’t think we could take it.”
Another nod, and then he squirted the frigid ultrasound gel onto my stomach. My breath caught at the familiar chill, memories flooding back unbidden. I squeezed my eyes shut against the flashbacks. Not today.
He started moving the ultrasound device around on my belly. The baby appeared on the screen immediately, unmistakeably actually there. So it was real. I really was pregnant again, and I was pretty far along. I could make out fingers and toes. Dr. Smith moved up to the baby’s face, and I saw exactly what I knew I would: the baby had Ben’s nose.
“Well,” Dr. Smith began after taking a few measurements. “You’re definitely measuring twenty weeks, more or less. The baby looks very healthy.”
I watched the baby move around, waving its arms, kicking out its legs. I realized that I could feel the movement, those little pops and bubbles that I remembered from my time with Anna, now that I was paying attention. God, how had I missed this before? Pure willful ignorance? Denial was more powerful than I’d thought.
“Would you like to know the sex?” Dr. Smith asked.
“No,” I answered immediately, instinctively. It would do nothing for me but make this baby more real, and I didn’t need that. I had lost a son and a daughter. There was no gender left that would comfort me. Really, there was nothing about this pregnancy that would comfort me. I wouldn’t be able to relax again for another twenty weeks, when I held him or her in my arms.
I couldn’t believe that I was really pregnant. I hadn’t wanted to believe it could be possible. As more and more time had gone by without my period, and the weight piled on, I had begun to wonder if something more might be behind it, but the denial was too strong. Or the fear. I couldn’t do this again. The longer I didn’t have to know that I was pregnant, the longer I could go without being afraid of what could happen.
“Is there anything I can do?” Dr. Smith said. “Do you want me to do more testing? Do you want an amniocentesis or anything?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to do anything that has any level of risk.”
“Would you like me to admit you to the hospital?”
“No, thank you. Not yet, at least. Probably down the line, especially if anything starts to look…funny. Everything looks okay right now, right?”
“Yep. Healthy baby, good fluid levels, cervix is long and closed. And it’s like I told you before, it was likely a random accident that took your daughter. I know that doesn’t help much.”
It didn’t, no. Random or not, my daughter was gone, and no one had been able to tell me what went wrong, and how we could keep it from happening again.
Dr. Smith continued. “I’ll put you down for ultrasounds every two weeks to check on the baby and to keep an eye on what your body is doing. We can do biophysical profiles or non-stress tests, which are non-invasive. We can move the ultrasounds to every week whenever you would like. Does that sound okay?”
I nodded, realizing that I was still staring at the ultrasound screen. The picture was frozen on the baby’s face. “I suppose I need a picture. For Ben. He’ll want to see the baby.”
He handed me a photo of the baby’s face. It was definitely our baby. He or she looked so much like Anna, it was painful to look at. I still didn’t know what to say to Ben, but now I had this picture of our child to show him, and to bolster my courage.