Are we ever ready for fatherhood? The 38th week of pregnancy. Love, Recorded.
Three days in a row, the baby’s movements decrease, until she is motionless for four hours, five hours, six hours at a time. I keep telling Cathreen that Eun Chong should be moving constantly now. Cathreen says it’s about patterns: the baby hiccups in the morning, moves at night. At other times, Eun Chong sleeps. This is a fight I do not want to win.
When we tell our doctor Cathreen hasn’t felt the baby move since she woke up, the doctor tries to hide her worry. I can’t see the face underneath her face, but it’s the trying that scares me. She says the baby, at this stage, can sleep for only three hours. She says we’re not exactly a low-risk pregnancy. In my head, I am listing: blood clots, ER visits, cartilage infection, PUPPP, cold urticaria. She says we should get an ultrasound today and then schedule appointments with her once a week, as well as further ultrasounds and non-stress tests.
We go down to the basement, since the maternity center ultrasounds are fully booked. It’s strange downstairs; upstairs, you can almost forget you’re in a hospital. Everyone is happy and thinking about life instead of death. The basement is in the business of disease—it seems designed to shuttle people out with a cure. That’s what it’s like: like we’re looking for a cure.
I pretend not to realize how many appointments we just made. But when I try to speak, I can’t. Cathreen talks in a steady stream: about her sisters’ babies, about her mom. One of her sisters never felt her baby move; that nephew turned out autistic. They are doing early intervention now. Before, a book was food to him; now he knows that the pictures are not edible. In the waiting room, time hangs over us like a cartoon piano. We have come during the lunch hour. It appears no one works during lunch. Even in a hospital.
At one, the cogs of the machine once more start working toward a cure. We try to talk Eun Chong into moving. We’re led into a dark room (seriously, what is it with basements?) and the ultrasound operator shakes Cathreen’s belly. I watch the white dots fade in and out. The ultrasound operator doesn’t seem to take any usual measurements. I recognize the heart beating. I can feel how afraid Cathreen is, now, like the whole room is pulsing with her fear. “Can you feel her?” I ask.
Then, after about ten minutes, the ultrasound operator smiles. She says the baby had 30 minutes to “pass the test,” and she’s already passed. I can’t figure out what this test was, but the relief is like hearing again after a temporary deafness. I can feel Cathreen let out her breath like a kick inside me.
On our way home, we are giddy. This is the adrenaline. Cathreen says Eun Chong heard us asking her to move. And indeed, after this she moves constantly. That day, and the next, and the next.
Over the weekend, we tell the story to our friends with
a 2-year-old. They have invited us to a barbecue. The little girl is afraid of us, though she’s seen us before. When we get into the car, she says, “Help me. Mom, help.”
Our presence tortures her. We sit silently. “Help,” she says. “Help.” I feel awful, and yet she is so cute, in saying this, that I also feel all warm inside, and then awful again that I enjoy making a baby cry.
The mother says her daughter will be fine soon. We have brought a book as a gift. The mother reads it in the car. On the cover is a duck in a pot. Suddenly, I am afraid we have given the girl a book about a duck being boiled alive.
I keep hearing that little “help” in my head, even after she stops. The girl looks at me like I have eaten her kitten.
The mother is right, though: when we get to the barbecue, the girl comes around. She dances to music from the TV, and I can see Cathreen imagining our future. There is a dog at the party, and when the dog begs for food, the girl holds her chips over her head. The dog stands on its back paws, and it looks like they’re dancing together.
We can’t get over the cuteness and the possible future cuteness.
I make Cathreen eat as much as possible, and at our next doctor’s appointment, the baby is seven pounds. Cathreen is worried that this is too big to push out of her. She calls her mother and sister, and they are afraid as well. They tell her to stop eating sugar. Seven pounds is the 52nd percentile, though. Almost exactly average.
For days, Cathreen has been having Braxton-Hicks contractions, on and off. On the phone, a doctor tells us her cervix is open. He can tell from what is coming out of it. My wife’s body is practicing. It takes a lot of practice. I have a conversation with my father about how much better laying eggs would be than live birth.
At first, the contractions make Cathreen cry with pain. She wakes me, the first night, five times. I time the contractions with my phone. They’re surprisingly close together. Two within 10 minutes. This is labor, I think. I’m awake. People keep asking if I’m ready, and I keep avoiding the answer—I say, fathers are never ready. Now the baby is coming. I think about what we need to do to get to the hospital. I think about holding the baby to my chest. Yet then the contractions stop.
This goes on for four days: crying and thinking labor. And after a while, something flips. We time the contractions, and when the time between them grows longer, we feel disappointed. Cathreen is 38 weeks pregnant. Both her sisters had their babies at 38 weeks. With each new pain, excitement flares. Cathreen’s face scrunches up, but she’s smiling.
We are ready now. I am ready. We are cleaning the house—the books call this nesting. One day, Cathreen asks me what she should wear in labor. I tell her whatever is comfortable. “It’s the first time we’re meeting,” she says. “I want Eun Chong to think her mom is pretty!”