I wanted to show our students Akeelah and the Bee, so a coworker loaned me her copy of the movie. I am preparing for today’s class by testing out the DVD to make sure it will play without a hitch later. My fingernail pushes into the small rectangular button located on the side of my computer, and when the DVD tray pops out, I see this disc. My breath stops. The picture of a baby and its mother on it is jarring. I stare at the disc. I know now what this disc contains. I consider pushing the tray back in, taking with it the baby and its mother. My heartbeat picks up speed. Th-th-th-thump. I take deep breaths. My chest becomes heavy and full as I keep myself from going there.
I can’t decide whose DVD this is of: Daffy or Kiri? And I feel guilty that I’ve forgotten, so soon. How could I? More than that, how could I have forgotten that this DVD even exists? It must mean that Danith and I haven’t viewed it in a long, long time. I whisper I’m sorry to our babies. I keep silent, though, about my shame. I read the name of the hospital on the disc a few times, until I understand that it is the hospital that we attended for Kiri. This is Kiri’s DVD. The morning of that appointment flashes in my mind, before I draw the drapes to it. It was the last five minutes. I again consider pushing the tray back in, but this time hitting “play.” But I am scared to. I want to prove to our baby boy that his existence continues to matter. But I am frightened to return to that day.
When I became pregnant with Kiri, I was determined to take in as many calories as I could. I drank one Ensure and ate one Yoplait a day, in addition to eating the four meals spread throughout the day. I increased even further my intake of fruits and red meat. Some calories I was consuming were deemed “empty,” but that was not my priority. Kiri’s sister had died from placental insufficiency, which has a 20% recurrence rate, and I rationalized (even before Kiri entered my womb) that I could stave off another occurrence by helping our baby to get over the one-pound hump. If he could make it to at least 24 weeks and weigh at least one pound, then if he were to born prematurely, Danith and I would have a chance at taking our baby home with us. So my only concern and goal were to fatten up Kiri. Once he was born safely, I would worry about his healthy calorie-intake.
I hold the DVD and turn it over. I see parts of my face on the slick backside. Between my fingers, the edge of the disc feels sharp. My heart has not stopped th-th-th-thumping.
Danith and I decided to see a group of specialists. Even though they were reluctant to, they ultimately agreed to monitor my pregnancy with Kiri more frequently. I visited our MFM specialists every two weeks to hear our baby’s heartbeat, for evidence that he was thriving, for permission for Danith and myself to go through the next week with less anxiety and worry. A strong heartbeat meant that we could lie in bed at night and speak with color about our future. As soon as I left the routine appointment and entered the elevator, I would excitedly text Danith: the fox is in the hole.
On the day of Kiri’s anatomy scan I was exactly 20 weeks along. I woke up less anxious than Danith. Early blood tests hadn’t revealed any alarming figures. The potential problem with Kiri’s kidney at 12 weeks had resolved all on its own by 15 weeks. The subchorionic hematoma that had caused me to spot from the beginning of the pregnancy had also disappeared. Most importantly, Kiri’s heartbeat remained strong, and he was consistently measuring ahead by a couple of days. There was no sign of placental insufficiency.
At 8:10 AM, the ultrasound sonographer guided Danith and me down a hall and into a room. I was disappointed that Susan, a woman I had never encountered before, would be scanning our baby today — I was hoping for one of the women we had built a relationship with. Susan, I quickly surmised, was a person of few words. Her taciturn demeanor would not impact me, though, just as long as she observed our baby carefully. She asked me if I would be able to empty my bladder, which caused Danith to chuckle, lightening the sterile atmosphere of the small room. I could empty my bladder at any time, I explained to Susan. She, too, giggled.
The room was dim and hospital-like. I was accustomed to such a room, with its single narrow bed that could be raised up and down, a couple of computer monitors, and a station with a computer and keyboard, at which Susan sat. After I lay on the bed, Susan spread a warm gel on my swollen, bare belly and pressed a rectangular wand into my pale skin. I saw the dip of where my belly button was hiding — I’d been waiting for the day that area would pop out and be flushed with the rest of my stomach so that I could have a beautiful smooth mound.
Susan said that she would give us a DVD of the ultrasound that morning. The black and white screen on the monitors, one at where Susan sat and another on the wall for Danith to view, immediately revealed our baby. The monitor screens, like TVs from the 80s, were grainy. Still I knew where to search. I let out my breath as soon as I located our son’s heart beating — beating fast. On the screen, his heart was a dark glob that blinked on and off. I reached my arm out to Danith, who was sitting in a chair beside the bed, and he squeezed my hand.
Susan commenced with scanning our baby, operating at a rather slow speed, at which she apologized for a couple of times. As long as our baby is okay, you can take as long as you want, I said. I saw the black and white outline of our son’s round head, and his belly. His nose. His knees. Susan would describe with a couple of words (heart, neck, spine) each part of his body. Similar to his sister, Kiri was measuring on track. Even though I was not fully brave, I mustered some courage and asked if that grayish, cloud-like part on the screen was my placenta. Susan nodded. I concluded out loud that it appeared nice and fluffy, and Susan agreed.
Susan couldn’t clearly visualize my cervix, so she continued on with scanning Kiri’s brain and heart, saying that she would return to the cervix later. Similarly, she couldn’t see well the four chambers of his heart, because Kiri would either be somersaulting or not be in the position she needed him to be in, and told us not to be alarmed. It’s all there, she said, I just need to able to measure it. I had read that it was usual for sonographers to sometimes experience difficulty when measuring the baby because of his moving, so just as Susan had instructed, I remained unalarmed. She tapped on my belly, with hope that the sound from it would alert Kiri to switch positions, which I thought was funny. She asked me to lie on my side, and as I turned over I saw Danith’s nervous face. I mouthed to him not to worry. I moved my eyes back to our son on the grainy monitor: his beating heart, that luscious fluff of gray. I remember thinking how lucky Danith and I were to have the rest of the day free. We could go to lunch afterward. We would laugh openly at each other. Still high from that morning, maybe we would allow ourselves to talk about the nursery. We would need to change the wall color. I would want to do this for Kiri.
The anatomy scan was running well over one hour by now. Susan explained that she needed to find a supervisor to help her measure the four chambers. She said that she was new to measuring the chambers, and she promised that everything was fine.
When the supervisor returned with Susan, she took the wand, pressed it into my belly, and seamlessly located Kiri’s four chambers. She directed Susan on how to measure the distance from one chamber to the next. She asked me if it would be okay for Susan to try to measure the chambers herself. Not at all, I said. Susan was not a quick learner and apologized a few times for it. I reassured her that she could take as long as she needed to. After about 30 minutes, with her supervisor’s guidance, Susan learned how to find the four chambers and how to measure their distances. Before her supervisor left us, I asked for confirmation on the health of our baby.
“He is one perfect boy,” she said, patting my leg. “Congratulations. Your baby can’t be any more perfect.”
I glanced up at Danith, and he offered a victorious nod. I thanked the supervisor, because our baby was perfect. As she was about to exit the room, Susan reminded her that she couldn’t visualize my cervix well via the transabdominal ultrasound. Her supervisor agreed — Susan should use the transvaginal ultrasound with me.
As Susan prepared me for the transvaginal ultrasound, she apologized, and, again, I told her not to worry. At least it’s the last thing I need to do, she said, and then you can finally get out of here. I laughed. It was 10:00.
I was deciding on whether Danith and I should drive out to Thai Leaf or cross the river to The Cheesecake Factory. The latter would take longer, but we could splurge with our time today since we had a victory to celebrate. I swooned over the idea of us slowly biting into our meals and relishing moments from the ultrasound. We would be like so many other expectant parents. We would compare notes about our baby and revisit the hopes we had for him but were too afraid to voice aloud. And during the lull, we would smile knowingly at each other, overcome with the realization and thrill that our dream would soon, finally, come true.
“Oh, your cervix is short,” Susan said under her breath. Her voice, which was not alarming, but maybe just a bit surprised, was quiet.
I felt my neck and face turning cold. “It is?”
I felt a thick fog rolling into my chest. “How short?”
“What?” My heart was thumping in my head.
“Can you check again?”
“I’ve done it a few times already.” But she did it again for me, anyway, and the measurement did not change.
Susan was apologetic and explained that our OB would speak with us about the next steps. I found the clock on the wall. Five minutes ago, Kiri was perfect. Susan suddenly picked up speed, printing pictures of the ultrasound, retrieving the DVD from her computer and inserting it in an envelope, gathering my papers. She needed to get us to our doctor. Then she said she would be right back. I wondered if she would go to find her supervisor again — maybe the supervisor would return and measure my cervix and determine that it, too, was perfect.
When we were alone, Danith wanted me to explain what Susan had said about my cervix. After I did, he told me that everything would be fine. I remember wondering how it was possible for the face of a man who had lived through a war to still be of such innocence and vulnerability.
“1.2 cm is bad. It can’t get much worst than that.”
He took my hand. Of course, he would not understand the seriousness of a short cervix. All that mattered to him was the health of our baby, and our baby was perfect.
Susan returned, not with her supervisor, but with a wheelchair. Danith, I saw, began to understand why 1.2 cm was bad.
As Susan wheeled me out of the room, I thought, the last five minutes.
At our appointment, the doctor informed us that preterm labor was imminent. We would be lucky if my body could keep Kiri in until 26 weeks. The color and innocence, and hope, drained from Danith’s face as the doctor spoke those words. 26 weeks was at least over the 24-week hump, but it was still too early. There was no guarantee that our baby would survive. I felt my hands turning cold, my head turning numb against the thumping. Not again, I thought. How will we be able to go there again.
I am afraid of recalling the devastation on Danith’s face, the smarmy guilt I felt from possibly failing him and our babies again. I am afraid of reliving the fear stemming not from the possibility of another baby dying, but from losing another baby. The hole in my life would widen because of it. I am also afraid of remembering my shame — at that appointment, I thought about the lunch that Danith and I were supposed to have. We were supposed to talk about our future, including the nursery. I was supposed to hear Danith’s laugh as we studied photos from our baby’s ultrasound. The last five minutes of the anatomy scan prevented us from being like other expectant parents — the injustice I endured because of it. It was all about me.
With great intention, I return the disc to the tray and nudge the tray back in. I move my mouse until the arrow sits on “play,” and I click on it. I return to the room with Danith and Susan. The space is dark and a bit chilly. The walls are bare except for a few flyers about flu shots and instructions for checking out. Our black and white baby boy is back on the screen. There is the outline of his head, of which the interior is a black mass. I see the white ripple of his spine. Now he is yawning, the gap between his lips wide and black. And his heart — the blackness of it flickering. I must go there to see my baby’s life.