In the latest installment of ‘Love, Recorded,’ Matt and Cathreen go for an ultrasound.
My dad’s birthday is the day before Halloween. All Hallows Eve Eve. The night before the night the dead dance, Cathreen and I call with birthday wishes. We are bad children. We bear no gifts. We are miles away.
A month earlier, on my brother’s birthday, my dad not-at-all-subtly hinted at grandchildren. The grand adventure. The grand experiment. He is getting older, I know; his wishes are what comes with age.
Later, we will hear that his entire birthday my mom teased him about a surprise, and he teased her back: grandchildren?
“I’m pregnant,” Cathreen says on the phone. In the background, we hear the crashing of a little Hamlet sailing his sea change offstage.
Cathreen names our unborn baby in Korean, a name that translates to “act of grace.” At first, she believes the baby mercifully gentle. We hope that her pregnancy will be like her second sister’s: a big appetite and little pain. A week later, we are in the ER.
It is her third day of vomiting and headaches and stomach cramps and an inability to eat or drink. No one tells you how frightening pregnancy is. My family was built on adoption.
The nurses draw her blood as I hold her hand. Blood flows down her forearm to the floor. “She bleeds well,” they say simply. My wife is afraid of needles. My wife is sensitive and bruises and bleeds easily. My wife is especially pregnant, pumped full of hormones and cravings. “Someone’s going to have a hard time,” the nurses, and then the doctors, and then another nurse, say to me.
For a while, people pass in and out. Cathreen is shivering and needs blankets that come out of an oven. These people with answers run designed plays to reassure us. But then the visits stop. We are left to wonder.
We are supposed to have an ultrasound. I have seen this on TV: the first view of the fetus; the overwhelming joy. Where is the overwhelming joy?
Cathreen has to go to the bathroom. She is afraid that in the time she is gone, someone will appear at last, then disappear again when there is no one to treat. Like a trick candle. She looks to me for guidance.
“Just go,” I say. “I’ll be here.”
When she gets back, a nurse appears and says the ultrasound can begin as soon as Cathreen feels like she has to go to the bathroom, that her bladder must be full to distinguish it from the womb. I feel like this must be some kind of lesson about waiting.
The nurse gives us a buzzer to press and fills Cathreen’s IV with sugar water. This, she says, will make my wife have to go again soon enough.
It does. Finally, someone comes in and says he will get the ultrasound ready. But once he is gone, we realize he hasn’t unhooked the IV. Cathreen’s bladder keeps filling.
I don’t know why we don’t press the buzzer again at once, but instead I go into the hall and try to spot someone who’s seen us before. By the time anyone answers me, Cathreen is squirming.
“We have to doing the ultrasound right now,” she says.
The nurse puts her in a wheelchair. In the ultrasound room, she is doing the pee-pee dance. I tell her to just go a little bit and hold the rest. The ultrasound operator, however, won’t let her. Cathreen says please. The operator says she will get the pictures quickly. “You have to hold it,” she says.
“This is not what I expected,” I say as Cathreen moans and says she really can’t hold it, “from TV.”
I can see both the operator and my wife becoming increasingly agitated.
“I can’t holding it,” Cathreen says again. Finally, the operator says she feels like my wife is about to pee on her.
Cathreen races for the bathroom.
I’m still waiting for the serene moment when we will hold hands and watch the first black and white movements of our baby’s life. “Is this usual?” I ask the operator.
She says my wife is the first patient from whom she’s ever failed to get all her pictures.
When Cathreen comes back, she almost vomits on the woman, another wave of morning sickness. When I ask if we can see our baby, all I get is a shaking head.
Once the operator leaves, we call my mom and tell her where we are, what is going on, that we just got an ultrasound. A man in a red shirt stands around outside, peeping around the curtain. I avert my eyes. But then I wonder why I am averting my eyes.
The operator has said that a doctor will examine the pictures and give Cathreen another ultrasound if he needs to. We try to parse this. What I am thinking this means is that if the doctor appears, there is a problem with our baby. I feel sick with all the waiting and waiting. The man with the red shirt looks inside again. He vanishes when the operator pushes Cathreen’s wheelchair back to the room we were in before.
It’s another hour before we see a doctor. He stands against the wall in an awkward attempt to appear comfortable and says they found something “next to” the fetus and they “don’t know what it is,” but “not to worry about it.” I wonder how I am supposed to accomplish this recommended serenity. I wonder where our ultrasound pictures are again and how badly popular entertainment has lied to me.
The baby, according to its size, is six weeks, six days old. Yet I know by the cycles of the moon that this is impossible. I know we have an extra large baby.
Cathreen falls asleep—we’ve been in the hospital for seven hours. I can feel from her shallow breathing and even her general aura that she is a mess of stress and pain. At least she isn’t vomiting. We have read that whatever the mother feels, the baby feels times ten. We have read about the importance of diet even though Cathreen cannot eat. We have read about big Korean heads and small Korean hips. We are expecting both far more and far less than we should when we’re expecting.
When Cathreen wakes up, we are still in the hospital. We have spent the entire day in emergency. “We could press the call button,” I say, half joking, “to get someone.” Cathreen presses the call button.
The nurse takes far too long for the possibility of a heart attack, or a stroke, or a seizure, or any of the other million bad things that could sneak up on a person here. When she finally puts her head in and asks what is wrong, Cathreen says, “Can we go home now?”
—We first published Matt Salesses on the day the Good Men Project Magazine launched. That story, “Ouch,” describes his courtship with Cathreen. His weekly column, “Love, Recorded,” gives a real life, real-time view of their relationship.