My friend is sitting at the end of the table across from the chair I am sitting in. The purplish long-sleeve cotton T-shirt she is wearing hugs her body and is radiant against her cream skin. The purple is nearing a deep blue shade, like a jewel. The new necklace hanging down her chest is also striking. I tell her that she looks beautiful. She thanks me but shrugs off the compliment with the rolling of her eyes.
We are waiting in a tight room at the doctor’s office, here for a routine check-up, listening for our doctor’s footsteps out in the hallway. On the walls around us are flyers about flu-shots and notices about insurance. Propped up on a work bench is a flip chart with a diagram of a uterus.
I am comfortable enough with my friend that I don’t consider myself to be staring at her, even when I might be, in fact, staring at her. I sense that she feels the same way about me. So, my eyes trail down to her round belly, where my husband’s and my baby is growing. I am watching for any twitches from underneath her jewel-tone shirt. My friend’s belly remains unperturbed.
About every few nights, I would text my friend and ask about our daughter. “Has she been moving?” Whenever Danith is curious and anxious himself, he tells me to ask her the same question but not to say that the question is from him. I don’t listen because I find his shyness to be funny. Whenever my friend receives such a text, she would write back, “Baby girl was moving earlier. And Danith can ask me anything! LOL!” My friend, who is carrying and caring for our baby, is beautiful in that way. When we first talked about the possibility of her becoming our gestational carrier, some of her early words were, “I want this to be your pregnancy.”
And it really has been my pregnancy — minus the nausea, the food aversion, the fatigue, and the sleep-position difficulty. I get to see our baby on the ultrasound machine and hear her heartbeat via a Doppler at the appointments. I even saw her when she was merely five days along: a wisp, a speck, actually smaller than a speck. I saw when the nubs of her arms and legs began to burgeon. My friend craves ice when pregnant; I crave ice in most of my drinks and always ask for extra. She is the only person I know who is an ice connoisseur like I am. We prefer for our ice to have texture and dimension to it — no slushy ice for us, thank you — we are fans of the cubes with the hole in the center because they allow for our teeth to crunch down on them while giving us a bit of resistance. One time my friend sent me a short video of her round belly. Our growing daughter was very active that evening and some of her movements were strong enough to be seen from the outside, so my friend recorded the short jam session and sent it to me. I had to watch the clip on my phone carefully, though, following my friend’s finger that was pointing to the bottom right corner of her roundness, but I finally saw my daughter’s jabs — I saw the quickness with which my friend’s stomach rose and dropped. Quivering, that was what it was. I saw my friend’s belly quiver because my baby within it was tumbling. That is why I am staring at my friend’s belly now, in case I might glimpse a movement of my daughter.
I tell my friend that I like the pendant she is wearing. It is a silver ball hanging from a long chain, the pendant resting at the top of her belly that protrudes beyond her breasts. Her voice lifts in volume as she looks up from the ball. “This? Did I not tell you about this?” I shake my head. And so she tells me. If she recalls correctly, the pendant is a Mayan harmony ball. A pregnant woman wears it, and as she moves, the ball rings softy like a chime, soothing and calming the baby. After the birth, a mother would continue to wear the necklace (the ball chiming away with her movements), and the belief is that the baby would recognize the comforting sound and associate it with her mother. “I am giving this to you after the delivery,” my friend says.
As a little girl who yearned for a storybook family or even as a young adult woman who was ready to start her family, I never imagined that my living baby — hopefully, my living baby — would come into this world with the help of another woman. That was never a piece of my reality. I don’t think it is any young girl’s. But with the help of my beautiful friend, it will finally be a piece of mine.