In this installment of Love, Recorded, Matt is in love with pregnant bellies and Cathreen knows what she’s talking about.
My brother has been in Taiwan for a month. It’s his first trip to Asia. Cathreen wonders if he will be as drawn in as I was, will come home with an Asian fiancée, will disappear to Korea. “What does your mom thinking?” she says. Another adopted son reclaiming his homeland. My sister is in Florida, living with animals; she runs a zoo of dogs and parrots and flying squirrels out of her home.
I stare at my brother’s photos on Facebook. “He looks like he’s having so much fun,” I tell Cathreen. She gives me a knowing look, between winces. The pregnancy allows her only these short bursts of her old self. We talk about wanting to go back to Korea, or move elsewhere. I get restless, settling in one spot for so long. A friend of mine once advised to keep going east—actually, what he said was that the women keep getting more beautiful; I wonder if I took that advice to heart.
Cathreen’s belly is growing. I am in love with pregnant bellies, the smooth curve of them, the intimation of life. They say you can see the skin move with the baby in the later months. Cathreen’s belly, though, is covered in red dots, which, after she scratches them bloody, turn brown. The rash started around her breasts, but since the morning sickness faded—for one week of happiness—the rash has spread quickly, down the sides of her stomach, down to her legs, up to her neck, around her back. I remind Cathreen of how lucky I used to think she was, when I first met her.
Morning sickness for 20 weeks, four visits to the ER, one week of relief, then this. Cathreen spends all day Googling her symptoms. She spends most of the night awake, scratching, moaning occasionally, which wakes me up, as well. I wish I could say I’m sensitive to her wakefulness, but I’m probably more sensitive about my own. I tell her to stop scratching; I hold onto her hands. Sometimes she tells me to hold her, to stop her. A moment later, she begs me to let go.
We visit the dermatologist again—the antibiotic was useless. He says the rash looks like eczema. He says to use Vaseline four times a day. This is a prescription? We rub Vaseline everywhere. She takes shower after shower, then asks me to moisturize her back. She says she thinks it’s working. I watch the rash creep across her, turn bloody, turn brown, creep creep.
The cats don’t help. Bear scratches at his water dish in the night, waking Cathreen up, restarting the itch or at least the awareness of it. We don’t know why he does this. She thinks it’s because he didn’t get enough love from his mother. I think he’s washing his paws. He gets bits of litter in the water, which turn big and chalky, then he wants the bowl washed and refilled. Boise watches like an older brother. When he complains, Bear chases him across the room. Sometimes they lick each other, then start to bite, taking love-hate seriously.
We had Bear neutered as soon as the morning sickness lifted. The vet told Cathreen to keep the room dark and silent, let him rest, no problem for her—when the doctors tell her to relax, she asks me how she can relax any more than she already does—but when Bear got home, he jumped around as usual. We were waiting for the neutering to cure him, to take away all that testosterone, to tire him out. He seems unchanged, as if his balls were nothing to him. I envy his ability to master these limitations, or at least ignore them.
Our landlords are readying the house for the baby by sealing off the lead under an enamel coating—we’ve had to move all of our things out of the bedroom and office into the living room, and move the litter box from the bathroom to the kitchen. Bear is an aggressive burier. He kicks the litter all over the linoleum. It gets under our feet when we go to eat. Cathreen is still not allowed to clean the litter box. She’s too weak to help move. I move our things around and arrange them in a mess. She says the bed in the living room reminds her of her one-room, which is what Koreans call a studio. I remember that mess.
The cats are afraid of the worker who comes to paint over the lead. Or Boise is, at least. Boise hides on the far side of the furniture and doesn’t come out until I get home for dinner. He won’t eat near the back rooms, either—it’s like he thinks the man has taken them over. Bear lies in the man’s path on the hardwood. Cathreen is so tired when I get home that she passes out after a brief summary of the trouble the cats have caused. The worker keeps waking her up as soon as she falls sleep, to update her on his progress. I can see how frazzled she is; I worry that the baby sleeps better when she sleeps.
One night I come home and Cathreen pulls me in front of her computer. On her screen, are pictures of pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, PUPPP. This is what she thinks the rash may be. I can only hope it is not. For a moment, I’m afraid to look at her belly to compare. At our last doctor’s appointment, the doctor said it could be “something” but that it was probably too early. Cathreen thinks PUPPP, which women usually get in the last month, if they get it all, is what the doctor meant. PUPPP is extremely rare. And we are only in week 23.
But when we finally see the doctor again, it’s confirmed. A second, older Korean doctor comes in and takes a look. Cathreen has told me PUPPP is more common in Korea, affecting about one woman in 100. The chances of getting PUPPP this early, though, are about another one in 100, which means that our luck is one in 10,000.
Cathreen reminds me that the fortune teller said her fortune was inauspicious for babies. We thought that this meant it would be hard to have one, but maybe it meant that her body was not a good vessel. Her body and the baby seem to be fighting.
The doctor wants to put Cathreen on steroids and Benadryl. We are afraid of what will happen, but Cathreen says she can’t take the itch anymore. The second doctor says that for some women, the itch gets so bad that they have to induce early labor. He says the itch will likely only get worse. We take the prescription.
It is staggering how much bad luck we have had. “Good for your column,” Cathreen says. Over the weekend, we have brunch with a high school friend I haven’t seen in years; her baby turns away when we look at her. “It’s me,” Cathreen says. “She’s scared of me.” She is a beautiful little girl, this baby. It’s a wonder, we say to each other, that anyone ever has kids.
My brother comes home just before my birthday, and he and my parents come up to visit. They bring along a carful of groceries. They bring things for the baby. They bring the comfort of family.
I am surprised my brother has come home so soon. I suppose I also thought he would disappear. He gives me photos he took in Taiwan as a birthday present. One, he says, is from a painted village that was vandalized days after he took the photo. All of the paintings are now gone. He is going back, he says, as soon as he can. Then he will go to Korea.
We ask my parents if Cathreen can stay with them for a while when the de-leading moves to the living room. There is a chance that the process will stir lead dust into the air. The baby can’t be near it. My parents agree. I am sure they can see what a hard time we’ve had. I wonder what it looks like to them, who adopted three children.
I wonder about when their grandchild will be born, what will happen then, whether she will realize how much we have been through for her, whether she will be able to grasp how rare and momentous she is.
—Photo by Ekke/Flickr