Wednesday, September 3, 2003

one more day

There was an event at work this past weekend. It wasn’t a huge race, just a medium-sized amateur regional, but I always have much more help with the larger events, so the smaller ones are almost worse for me, with at least as much work spread out over a wider range of responsibilities. Monday was the last day of racing, and around eight o’clock that morning, Holly and I were preparing to leave.

My wife Holly helps out at work sometimes. The pay is decent for outside, non-salaried employees (unlike myself, for whom the paycheck versus the hours averages out to the wage of a waiter minus their tips), and we inevitably need the extra dosh. The job entails little more than cashier duties, and its low-impact nature has been perfect since she got pregnant again.

Because of her two previous miscarriages within the past year, both Holly and I have distanced ourselves somewhat from what would ordinarily be joyous celebration of her condition. Our emotional nerves have been scrubbed raw by these prior high-to-low crashes, and it’s proven difficult to allow ourselves anything but the most skeptical excitement. Holly wears a pad every day and compulsively checks it for blood. I call her twenty times a day, checking on her condition as if she were deathly ill, making sure she’s eating enough, drinking water, taking naps. We are in limbo, lying on our backs in the floor beneath some imagined cosmic bedside, waiting for the other shoe to drop from the sky and cover us up.

We had a good scare several weeks ago when a cyst Holly had from a preexisting condition ruptured and bled a little into the pad. When she saw it, she calmly began making phone calls, and I laced my hands through my hair and sat motionless on the edge of the bed, marveling at her stability and trying to decide how I felt. After calling the doctor, she went back into the bathroom to check again and determined the true source of the blood. When she told me, we laughed, shuddered, attempted to catch our collective breath, found we could stop pretending everything was okay once it actually was okay. I knelt on the floor in front of her, held both her hands, looked into her eyes, and said, “We get a little longer this time, baby. We get one more day.”

Monday morning, the two of us had pushed our schedule to its limit and were rushing to prepare for work in the short time we had left. Holly was upstairs brushing her hair or her teeth, and I was downstairs hastily shaving. I had finished everything but my stubbly chin when I heard her say “no,” forcefully, from the upstairs hallway.

“What?” I called up, but she didn’t hear me, and after a moment I returned to my chin.

Holly came downstairs and poked her head in the door of the bathroom.

“I’m bleeding,” she said, and I knew from her tone that it wasn’t a false alarm this time. I was silent, as I tend to be when I’m upset, and she went off to call the doctor. Once I’d drained and rinsed the sink, I ran it full of clean cold water, dunked my head inside, and tried not to scream.

After contacting my boss, explaining the situation, and arranging for her to open the store for me, Holly and I got in the car and drove to the hospital. Because it was a holiday, the emergency room was packed with people. We waited for over an hour before being shown to an examination room, and then waited another hour before seeing a doctor. By this time it seemed that her bleeding had stopped. The doctor did a pelvic exam and saw residual evidence of the blood from that morning but no sign of a cause. The cervical plug (couldn’t they come up with something more poetic?) looked to be in place, and he decided to do an ultrasound and take a closer look.

As we waited for him to return with the proper equipment, I thought how terrible, to raise our hopes like this. What an awful man. I could already see the glint of promise in Holly’s eye. We were alone in the room, but we weren’t speaking, as if giving voice to our prospects would shatter their possibility.

When the doctor came back, I sat to Holly’s left, well out of the line of sight of the doctor’s KYed machinations (mentally I can handle such things, but no matter how cool I think I am, no matter how necessary it might be, if I see him, any him, touch her, I know I’ll flip out, so I play the avoidance game). For the first minute, he was tortuously silent. Ordinarily, or at least in my limited experience, a doctor performing an ultrasound gives a sort of running commentary on everything he or she sees and does. This guy wasn’t saying a word.

Oh well, I thought. Shit. And somewhere behind it, please oh please oh please.

“C’mere,” he says. I look up, and he’s beckoning me forward with a curling index finger. I stand weakly, come around to the front of the ultrasound screen, and the doctor points.

There, in pointillist black and white, is my child. I had missed Holly’s first ultrasound appointment last week with work and had only seen the static picture she brought home.

“See that?” the doctor said, still pointing. There was a flurry in the center of the fetus, like the beating of a hummingbird’s wings.

“That's the heart,” he and I both said in unison.

“Everything looks fine,” he said. “The cervix is tight, the heartbeat is strong…”

“You can see it?” Holly asked from the examination table. I looked towards her, and our eyes met.

“Sure,” I answered. “Sure I can.”

I turned back toward the screen, and just then the baby wiggled. I thought the doctor might have moved the wand, but then he said, “Hey, look at that.”

“I thought that was you,” I told him.

“Nope. He’s putting on a show for you.”

“Or she,” I corrected him.

“What? Did it move?” Holly asked.

“Yeah, he bucked a couple of times,” said the doctor. “That’s unusual this early. But as far as I can tell, ma’am, everything’s still ok in there.”

He finished his examination, gave us a smile and a handshake, and was off to help someone else before I was able to speak again. When the door closed behind him, I dramatically dropped to my knees on the floor. Holly laughed, and I looked up into her face, smiling through my tears.

“One more day, dad,” she said to me. “One more day."