In this installment of Love, Recorded, Matt and Cathreen are in week 35 and ready to pop.
We are closing in on baby time. Our doctor says that if the PUPPP flares up again, we will have induce. At first, Cathreen wants to induce as soon as possible, as soon as the lungs are ready. But by the end of the week, she’s changed her mind. We will wait as long as we can; over the past few weeks, the steroids dose has gone from 30 to 40 mg. Our doctor says this is pretty much the max.
We are always in a war between nature and medicine. We fantasize about natural childbirth, but we know my wife’s body. We know she will want an epidural once her body starts squeezing another body out of its private parts. We are okay with drugs. (Though when I think this I also think of this scene from “Baby Mama.”)
I have a week of last classes. I teach my last flash fiction workshop on Monday. There is a natural flow to a class—of hope, then tiredness, then nostalgia. This last week, I am already nostalgic. There is an older man who always wants more sex and violence. I believe I will miss these interruptions, though I know I will not. A gap exists between our beliefs and what we know about our beliefs.
On Tuesday, we pick up a breast pump from a Korean mother of two. She says she used it only twice before giving up. Her first baby breastfed fine. The second was impossible. I am thinking, teeth, though I know babies don’t have any. There is much mystery to a woman’s milk. Though when we open the box, I see no difference between this machine and what I imagine is used on a cow.
I have started a fatherhood blog with another writer, and new father, Bryan Parys. Online, I can call the milker what it is. I don’t know those people, on Tumblr.
The Korean mother gives us two winter suits that look like little pink bear cub skins. She fills a Shaw’s bag with old clothes. We buy a Japanese ceramic pot from her, as well, and I lug these things back to work and store them under my desk, secrets.
A little while ago, the Harvard Gazette did a piece on me, and now everyone at work is asking about the baby. They’re connecting the dots from “breaking” my wife’s hand—this is what the Gazette writes, though I never broke it—to pregnancy.
In the middle of the night, Cathreen wakes up screaming. I try to calm her, but before I can say anything, she falls back asleep. I stay up, wondering what she saw. She doesn’t even know she was scared.
In our last childbirth class, the nurse shows us a video about how to make a baby stop crying. You swaddle it tightly, then turn it on its side, then jiggle it and shush loudly in its ear. Cathreen worries this shushing will damage the baby’s hearing. Later, online, she will find that it can inhibit language. In the class, I take mental note after mental note. I am hoping our baby is a sleeper, though look at our luck so far.
At the end, we corner our teacher and demand she tell us about Lamaze. She has said she doesn’t believe in breathing techniques; she hasn’t gone over them at all. Before we started this course, though, Lamaze was the one thing I knew about childbirth class. When my wife gets upset, she hyperventilates. I am thinking a baby coming out of her will not help calm her down. The nurse says “hee-hee-ho, hee-hee-ho.” We try to grasp the sounds.
As we prepare for childbirth, we are also preparing for leaving Boise and Bear alone during childbirth. Induction can take three days, labor another one or two. Cathreen buys a 20-lb feeder, a ceramic water fountain, a window perch. She says I will have to go back from the hospital to check on the cats. I keep imagining the baby sliding out of her while I am gone. This way, the cats can stay by themselves for a while; this way, our babies will not disturb our baby.
Bear has a habit of pawing his dish, after eating, like he’s covering a turd with litter. The vet says it’s because he didn’t get enough love from his mom. I can identify with early abandonment, but the sound of the bowl scraping over the floor in the morning wakes Cathreen. The new feeder, the new water fountain, are too heavy to shift. This is how we deal with our problems—we make them immovable.
Bear cries for a while, then he keeps eating, hoping the food will bury itself inside of him.
On Thursday, I have my final Korean class. We learn numbers, days of the week, the most basic stuff last. Though not one of us has a grasp on the basics. There are two different sets of numbers in Korean, one from the Chinese. It seems impossible to guess when to use which without knowing Mandarin. There is a whole other base beneath the base of Korean.
When I get home, Cathreen says I can memorize the days of the week with our baby. I will be at her level when she is just starting to speak. For a few weeks, perhaps, we will see eye-to-eye. But then she will go on to realize how stupid her daddy is.
We are in week 35. Thirty-six is considered “full-term.” We are trying to wait until 39, when the lungs should be completely completed. Our doctor still has us getting ultrasounds, because of the steroids. This week, we have our favorite ultrasound operator. I sit by the monitor and watch the baby’s belly—we’ve had enough ultrasounds now to identify the belly, the back, the head, the placenta. I can see the heart fluttering like a wing. Usually, an ultrasound is a quick measurement, a reassurance. This time, though, the image lingers. And lingers.
“I’m waiting for the baby to do a breathing exercise,” the ultrasound operator says. I look for lungs, but see nothing in Eun Chong’s chest but dots.
We wait. The air conditioner turns on and off. Songs go by on the radio. The ultrasound operator jiggles Cathreen’s belly to try to get the baby moving. Finally, she says she will get the doctor.
When she is gone, Cathreen nearly cries.
The doctor arrives with a midwife-in-training in tow. First the midwife has a go. Nothing. Then the doctor takes over. He says the weight is fine (49th percentile) and the size of the head is fine (eight centimeters). He jiggles Cathreen’s belly, too. He says the baby doesn’t need to breathe inside the womb, so what we’re waiting for is a clenching of muscle. We’re waiting for a practice breath, for an act of preparation.