The Fragile Vessel

In this installment of Love, Recorded: more pregnancy drama, this time with snow.

1.

Cathreen says the sickness is getting worse. She calls me at work to tell me she’s just thrown up. She calls me seven times in two days. First she calls to say she’s eaten. Then she calls back 15 minutes, or an hour, or two hours later.

I tell her to call the hospital. It takes three days of vomiting to convince her. On Saturday, the doctor says she needs to come into the ER and get hydrated. We know the ER. At first, Cathreen resists. The doctor says any longer than 24 hours is a must.

In the hospital, we are the last in the waiting room. We go through my wife’s medical history with people we remember but who do not remember us. This is our fourth ER visit. I wonder how many it takes before people know you.

A nurse with a scowl says she will see us in a minute. She comes back in and sticks Cathreen in the wrist. My wife is afraid of needles. The nurse says she better get used to it. The nurse says she better get the epidural. The nurse is a robotic stabber of arms.

Cathreen cries tears of rage and fear that the nurse mistakes as tears of pain. I know they are of rage because I saw the look Cathreen gave her; I know they are of fear because I know Cathreen is afraid of what else the nurse could do to her, because I am afraid of the same.

Another nurse pushes us into the hall and I get angry at her, instead. She has done nothing to us. The scowling robot nurse comes out and pretends to be nice, but we can see the machinery in her.

Cathreen gets three IV bags. They ask if she needs to go to the bathroom yet. She doesn’t. All of that fluid was missing from her body. None of it is waste.

They test her stomach with patriotic ice cream—Cathreen doesn’t like the blue. They test her stomach with water and she forces it down so that we can leave.

“I’m never coming back here,” Cathreen says. But the next day, she feels better.

♦◊♦

2.

The snow falls relentlessly. On day one of Snowpocalypse, I watch a Nissan Z try to make it up a gentle slope, fishtailing for five minutes with a line of cars behind it. This is what causes traffic: an idiot having a mid-life crisis.

Today is the day we find out whether we will have a little Matt or a little Cathreen. I sit at my desk pretending to do work but actually flexing nerves like muscle. As if all of this worry will later prepare me for the heavy lifting of fatherhood.

I call Cathreen to tell her she should leave early. A half hour before our appointment, she calls to say the taxi operator said it would be a half hour wait. “You were going to leave early,” I say, trying to keep the accusation out of my voice. A boy or a girl. She says she would have called a cab 15 minutes later otherwise.

I’m in a mood in the hospital. Cathreen points to a sign on the wall that says to expect delays. I just walked through the snow because the bus never came. I have an hour for lunch and it’s taken me a half hour to get there. Cathreen says she wants orange juice.

Finally we are let into the ultrasound room. Cathreen looks queasy. She’s brought along a plastic bag. She lies down on the padding and I sit next to the monitor, close enough to press my face to the screen.

We wait. Cathreen is worried that all her sickness has stunted the baby’s growth.

The ultrasound operator takes pictures of Cathreen’s womb, of the baby—“Here’s the foot,” she says—and then she asks if we want to know.

“All normal?” Cathreen asks.

“The baby looks very healthy,” the operator says.

We say we want to know.

“You’re going to have a daughter.”

I stare at the screen and see the little baby that finally looks like a baby squirming around in my wife’s stomach and then I start to cry. Cathreen asks something. When I stop crying, I start to cry again.

“How accurate?” I ask when I mostly have it together.

“If it were my ultrasound,” the operator says, “I wouldn’t buy anything for a boy.”

We’re going to have a daughter.

But then there’s also something else in all this emotion. I stare at the screen and say to myself, this is Rachel—the name we’ve picked—but she doesn’t seem like a Rachel. This is the weirdest thing. I am staring at a collection of little white dots, at sound, and those dots are not a Rachel. I look at Cathreen and take her hand.

When the operator steps out, I ask my wife about the name. And she’s felt it, too. Our baby is alive and well and still a mystery to us but also somehow known.

♦◊♦

3.

The next day, work is canceled. I clean the house and pack for a writing conference in D.C. that we agreed I could go to back when we first knew Cathreen was pregnant and we thought the morning sickness would be gone by now. I arrange for our landlords to clean the cats’ bathroom, since Cathreen is not allowed to touch it. I was supposed to drive her to my mother’s house in Connecticut, but the weather decided against that.

In the morning, when it is time to leave, Cathreen asks me not to go. I have been dreading the possibility of this happening—I know my wife and her moments of tenderness. I apologize to her, but I do want to go, and I am going, and then I am out the door and feeling guilty.

On my way to the airport, the bus is so slow I am afraid I will miss my flight. Cathreen calls and I can hear that she wants this; she isn’t hiding it well. She tells me my mother called to complain about the way I broke the news on Facebook. “It’s a girl!” I wrote. My mother is turning down congratulations.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’ll be back soon. You’ll sleep a while and then sleep again and I’ll be back.”

She doesn’t sound convinced.

To me, D.C. is a blur. Rude taxi drivers. People writing on body parts. I do a reading on Thursday night in a fit of beer-drowned anxiety. On Saturday, I do a signing for the chapbook I authored and people actually want me to sign it. I call Cathreen in between hangovers. I see old friends. I meet new people, writers I’ve admired from afar. Some of the writers don’t make it. There’s the flu. There’s the fact of being one writer among 7,000.

And then I am on my way home again, in a daze. Cathreen calls me to pick up McDonald’s for her just before my phone dies. I buy a 20-piece chicken nuggets and a Big Mac and fries and we pig out together, just the two of us and two cats clambering over our toes.

Cathreen says she got used to sleeping across the entire bed. She says the baby has been kicking like crazy. Then she puts my hand over her stomach, and something jumps against her skin—and I can feel my daughter, I can feel the foot of my daughter through the fragile vessel that is my wife.

—Photo by Peter Sheik/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.

Comments

  1. I wanted to comment and say that I know this pain. I went through this with my own daughter. I was so sick I was scared to eat anything and ended up losing weight. I had other complications that had me in the hospital a few times. I had to go to the ER for dehydration as well. Give your wife lots of hugs and both of you know that this won’t last forever. Soon you will have a little squirmy baby girl that will manage to wrap you around her little pinky with no effort at all. My daughter will be 3 in June, and I can say when it is all done with it will be totally worth it.

    hugs to both of you

    • Matthew Salesses says:

      Thanks, Gamermomma. That means a lot. I read your comment to my wife, and she and I both really appreciate your words and support. Cathreen seems to be turning the corner (now at the 20-week mark), so we’re praying the rest of the pregnancy will be as lovely as seems possible.

  2. Your last sentence is the most beautiful acknowledgment of what it means to be a mother that I can recall reading.

    I have three daughters. Each pregnancy was different. I never had morning sickness. Migraines, instead. Twenty-two years later, I can still smell perfume/smoke/fumes from MILES away. Blerg.

    I can remember how I felt on the home stretch. I wanted my body back. Not my figure: my body. I wanted to be the only one inhabiting it.

    I wish all women had the benefit of a partner like you beside her to just *be there*. Bless you both and congratulations! Best, M.

  3. Debbie Collier says:

    Matt, I so hope Cathreen has truly turned that corner. There is so much social pressure to enjoy a pregnancy and all its wonders. True, the wonders are there but sometimes hard to appreciate amid the discomfort and sickness. Your baby girl will know she was loved….from the very moment of conception and through all you and Cathreen have endured since. She is a lucky girl indeed!!

  4. I love how you love your fragile vessel(s), Matt.

Trackbacks

  1. […] can’t have another baby is: pregnancy. We remember the morning sickness, all day. We remember the ER visits. We remember the cold allergy (which never went away). We remember the PUPPP rash, the itch. We […]

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