In this installment of ‘Love, Recorded,’ Cathreen is in pain. The baby is kicking—hard.
My mother says she and my father can come up from Connecticut if Cathreen isn’t feeling well. Cathreen is throwing up and crying. My mother asks what she can bring. Cathreen wants a bowl of clear green Jell-O and a bowl of Death by Chocolate. She says, “The baby wants.” My mother cleans the house with cleaning supplies she brought from home. My father sits on the couch looking sickly with some kind of lung problem. I vacuum. Cathreen tries to keep the cats from bothering my mother and breathes heavily.
She eats half of the container of Jell-O, a giant scoop of Death by Chocolate, one bite of a Turkish wrap. Later, she eats none of the leftovers. My mother thinks she has left plenty of food for Cathreen. I am the one who eats all of it.
I gain five pounds. Cathreen loses five pounds. The baby eats my wife’s body from the inside out.
Cathreen’s mother says it isn’t the baby that wants anything. She says it’s the hormones that want things. The hormones are full of hates and desires.
At the hospital, we walk in and the doctor starts speaking Korean. I’m lost—last time, she said she was Korean, too, but in English. Now she and my wife talk about things I’m sure are important because I don’t understand them. It’s like a scene out of Lost in Translation. They go on in those hard consonants for three minutes and then they translate a sentence. I wait for these sentences like Christmas presents. I feel like I should be writing thank you cards.
“Tell her about your rash,” I say. They talk for a while and the doctor says she’ll write a prescription.
“Tell her about your ribs,” I say. They talk for a while and the doctor says the pain could be from her cartilage.
“Tell her you don’t eat enough,” I say. They talk for a while and I get the feeling that Cathreen is complaining I stress her out by pushing her to eat.
“Is it better to throwing up or to not eating?” she asks, looking at me, then sticking out her proverbial tongue when the doctor says it’s better not to eat.
The doctor squeezes blue gel onto her ultrasound paddle and glides the contraption across Cathreen’s stomach. We wait for the heartbeat—we’ve been waiting all week. The doctor glides the contraption around some more. Cathreen looks at me. “Sometimes they hide,” the doctor says. A minute passes. I feel like I can see the doctor panicking, too, but maybe I’m projecting. A minute is a long time, and I’m not exaggerating it. “Eun Chong’s hiding?” Cathreen asks. “Sometimes they hide,” the doctor says again. I try to keep my mind clear. Then, at last, a faint sound.
“That’s Eun Chong?” Cathreen says with obvious relief. Just hiding. The doctor chases our baby around Cathreen’s womb.
Everything painful, everything ill about pregnancy, Cathreen seems to have. “Why me?” she asks. Sometimes she blames me for my sperm. I’m not sure what to tell her. This isn’t my fault. I don’t think. Sometimes I am wrong about what is my fault and what isn’t.
At a party a while back, a friend asked if I’d rather change places with her. I would. Yet not for entirely unselfish reasons. If I’m unhappy, I’m unhappy. If she’s unhappy, we’re both unhappy. But there’s also an element of jealousy, I’m just beginning to realize.
An anecdote about cats:
There is a toy that Boise used to like to play with: two feathers on a string attached to a stick, like bait on the end of a fishing rod. You whirl the feathers around and they spin and whistle like a bird. He hasn’t touched this toy in a while. When I play with him, he quickly gives up, or pretends to give up until I give up, then kicks the feathers while they’re down.
On Thursday, we find Bear dragging this toy around in his mouth. He is walking off with it proudly like a fresh kill, the stick trailing on its string behind him. When Cathreen takes hold to play properly and the feathers tug in his mouth, he goes crazy. He jumps at the line, the feathers pop into the air; he throws his body around and almost brains himself. All he cares about are those feathers. He scratches me on the leg leaping. Cathreen gets concerned for his safety. I get concerned for ours. We let him drag the feathers to his kill zone, where he sits over them, protective.
Then we hear Boise crying. A half hour later, Cathreen has to whirl the toy around for him in the other room, the door closed so Bear can’t see, because Boise won’t shut up about what he doesn’t have.
Am I like the cats? I am not. But here is what I am. At five in the morning, Cathreen wakes me to tell me the baby is kicking. She can feel it. She can feel the baby. Before what she felt was not the baby. Before what she felt was gas. Now the baby kicks and kicks. She laughs. I roll over, blink, and put my hand on her belly. Nothing. “Don’t pressing,” she says. “Just feeling.” She says pressing is hurting the baby. I can’t feel anything, I think, if I can’t press.
Later, when I am fully awake and aware of the amazingness that’s happened, I keep trying and failing for a connection. Her sickness, now, just seems another part of the babyness, something the two of them share. Sometimes she says that until the baby is born it is her baby. I never remind her that when she’s sick she blames me for my sperm.
A typical day is a day when Cathreen is in bed 23 hours and 50 minutes. If she gets up, she is sick. A few days ago, she wanted to go to the Korean grocery store, for some soup she was craving. I asked her if she was sure she could. I said it probably was a terrible idea. She got upset and said fine, we shouldn’t go then. I got upset and said fine, we would, if that’s what she wanted. On the way back, she doubled over in pain. We called the hospital. The doctor said to relax. Cathreen said how she could relax more than she already was.
When I come home from work today, she tells me she threw up until her throat bled. She is pale and thin and still losing weight. She says she threw up her nausea medicine, and do I think it’s OK if she takes a second pill?
I try to feed her something. Rice with water. She only drinks the water. She eats two orange popsicles before we run out of orange. “You have to eat something,” I say. “Think of Eun Chong.”
“You know what,” she says. “You understand we’re never having another baby, right. You understand?”
—photo by Ben Sutherland/flickr