Early Risk Assessment

In the latest installment of ‘Love, Recorded,’ Cathreen approaches her second trimester and Matt ponders the unknown.

We’ve been waiting for the second trimester like it’s our Superman. There have been certain promises made, or at least implied. The end of morning sickness. The safety of the baby. Faster, stronger, etc.

At the hospital, the doctor offers us a test that can tell us if the baby might have Down syndrome. A measurement of the neck and a blood test. She says it’s done automatically if the mother is over 35, but anyone can do it. Thirty-five is the age when a woman’s eggs start to rot or something.

This leads to a slew of Googlings and worries. The test is not conclusive. It only means there’s a chance. And what happens if we know there’s a chance of Down syndrome? The a word? This leads to a slew of hypotheticals and more worries.

There’s the cost to consider, too. Three hundred dollars is not a sum to laugh it, especially when you’re already spending four times as much as usual on food. People said having a baby was expensive, but I thought they meant after the baby is born, not before.

We decide to skip the test. It’s fear, mostly, of the decisions we might have to make after.

♦◊♦

Cathreen has not been the only one sick. My dad, since the start of the pregnancy, has had stomach aches, trouble breathing, a cough, a sore throat, a lost voice. At first we called them sympathy pains. It seemed sweet. Now it seems scary.

On Thanksgiving, when we walked through the door, he coughed, and we asked how he was. “I’m dying,” he said. Cathreen and I freaked.

This is my dad’s idea of a joke. To his son and his son’s pregnant wife.

His joke left us afraid of death for a while. I mean, more than usual.

Around Christmas—did I mention Christmas came?—my mom says she took him to the hospital. “Lateral bronchitis” or something. She says he was doubled over, outside in the cold, unable to breathe.

She also says he is recovering, that he will be better soon.

♦◊♦

My mom sends my brother to Boston with a plastic tree. I decorate it with ornaments from my youth. My grandparents used to give us an ornament every year. There are some seriously old baubles: bears of all sizes, Mickey, basketball hoops, a rat from The Rats of NIMH, what looks like an Apple IIe. I am dubious, but the tree turns out like a picture of not dysfunctional family Christmas.

The only problem is Bear. Boise never really climbs anything, but Bear, soon after the tree is set, is halfway up its plastic branches, chewing on its plastic pine needles. Lately, he’s been naughtier than usual.

Cathreen and I wonder what to do with him. Sometimes it’s hard not to worry about becoming an abusive parent. I pull him out of the tree by his tail. I flick him in the nose. Later, I worry he loves me less, that I hurt him. I overcompensate until he’s back in the tree again.

Cathreen tries to employ Boise. She complains to him, “Look at your brother.” Sometimes, Boise seems to listen. He whines at Bear in their cat language.

Bear attacks the toilet paper while you’re going to the bathroom.

♦◊♦

At last, we go for the 12-week ultrasound. You might think 12 weeks is the end of the first trimester (I did), but it’s actually 14 weeks. Twelve weeks is usually the first ultrasound. Our baby has been through quite a lot to have had three already.

“See it moving?” the nurse says as she slides her little tool over my wife’s stomach.

And then I can see it, squirming around in there. Our baby. Its back arches. Its feet kick. It’s really alive, there inside my wife.

“See its legs crossed?” the nurse says.

Cathreen says it has her nose. The nurse prints out a string of pictures, and we look for parts of ourselves. We see our child’s face for the first time, its tiny profile. Cathreen changes her mind and says it has my nose.

“Oh no,” she says. “Maybe we should be wanting a boy.”

When the doctor comes in, he says the neck size is normal. We wonder what he is talking about. He says someone will come in to take Cathreen’s blood. The early risk assessment.

“Oh well,” Cathreen says when we figure this out. She says we should do it. We wonder if they are charging us. We never gave any consent.

♦◊♦

Christmas, Cathreen is too sick to go to Connecticut. My dad is too sick to do anything but stay at home. I wrap gifts for other people and put them under the plastic tree. I put an orange there, at the base, because the smell is supposed to keep the cats away. Bear plays with the orange like a ball.

Cathreen sleeps for 18 hours. I go to church. I watch Christmas movies. I read a hundred pages of a thousand-page book. I bring a gift up to our landlords before they leave for the girlfriend’s parents’ house. I edit a novella about a Korean War POW who gets screwed over by the U.S. Army. My character is cold and jilted by his fiancée and hungry and in denial of death. But later, he will fall in love. I keep that in mind.

On New Year’s Eve, I will walk in the door and Cathreen will call out that I’m going to jail, that we got a letter that I committed a crime. “What can we do?” she says. This doesn’t seem like the way crimes work. Then she hands me a letter that says Claim. If you pronounce this in Korean, it sounds like “crime.” Hospital charges. The knot in my ribs unties.

I will tell her, for 2011, I’m going to be a better husband. I will tell her to just say if I’m being a jerk, and I’ll stop. She says she’s going to be a better wife. We’re going to be good parents to Eun Chong. 2011 is going to be a whole lot of betterness.

The second trimester is only two days off. The early risk assessment is all normal.

Happy New Year.

♦◊♦

Matt Salesses made his Good Men Project magazine debut with “Ouch”. You can read it here. His Love, Recorded column has been popular ever since.

—Frederic Bisson photo/flickr


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About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

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