In this installment of Love, Recorded, Matt has gained sympathetic weight and Cathreen reacts to a birth video.
Cathreen’s birthday this year falls on a Sunday. The Sunday before is Easter, during which my family gathers in my grandmother’s basement like a group of teenagers. We overeat and talk awkwardly. Cathreen’s belly is a saving subject. After lunch, my two youngest cousins (4 and 6) go upstairs to hunt for plastic eggs. Cathreen goes up to watch. These customs are new to her: children squealing over a basket of eggs laid by a bunny that has something to do with Jesus.
I stay in the basement and eat. Since the start of pregnancy, I have gained 20 pounds. I watched an episode of House recently in which a man comes in with moobs (man boobs) and House says he’s too sympathetic to his pregnant wife. House is always saying people are too sympathetic, looking for comfort in each other, in God, in babies. He likes sex and drugs and rock and roll. Somehow this is not cliché.
I am starting to look pregnant myself, I complain. But do I exercise?
The circle of life. Or whatnot. When I first met Cathreen in Busan, I was eating nothing but frosted flakes. Everything was unfamiliar. I lost 20 pounds then. And that was when she was attracted to me. I tell her I will lose weight with her after the baby is born. Though five to eight pounds will come out of her and become a person, automatically. I think I am imagining this incorrectly.
On Cathreen’s birthday, we go out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants in Cambridge. The day before, Harvard threw a music festival full of student concerts. We went to as many as we could—each time a performance started, the baby would fall into a lull. At the restaurant, Eun Chong squirms happily. Especially after dessert. She has a sweet tooth.
“Eat a lot,” I say in Korean. We do.
During the week, Cathreen gets news from Korea. Her singer—this is how she refers to him—is being sued. Apparently, he was married and divorced years ago, in America, and now his ex-wife wants more money. No one knew he was ever married.
Cathreen’s singer’s CDs and memorabilia take up two shelves of a bookcase in our dining room. They are her most treasured possessions. She has a limited edition mp3 player that he put out for some anniversary, and though it is broken, she refuses to send it back to be fixed because it could be lost in the mail. Also, one of her superfan friends tried to have hers fixed, and the company wanted to replace it with a new, un-singer machine. Her friend is saving herself for marriage because she cannot imagine being unfaithful to their singer. She is 32.
This is front page news all across Korea. For a few days, Cathreen is in shock. I am jealous of this shock, though I have tried to learn not to compare myself with a music icon. Then she says she accepts the marriage. People change. His ex-wife must have been wonderful at some point, though now she is a bitch.
In a magazine in our doctor’s office, there was advice for what new fathers can do for new mothers. Number two, of three, was: Say, “Yes, honey.” Each time the situation with Cathreen’s singer changes, I hear all about it. His twentieth anniversary is next year, and she says good luck taking care of the baby while she is in Korea. You can see how all I do is say yes.
In our second childbirth class, we talk about fears. We talk about how fear increases tension, which increases pain, which increases fear. Ah, childbirth. I am afraid that Cathreen will not be able to get through it. We are planning on an epidural.
This week, we watch our first birth video. It is a composite of several women. As the women squint with pain, Cathreen grabs my arm. I am looking around at the other expectant mothers. They seem infinitely more prepared. Everything is fine for me until the baby emerges all in one swoop—there is no sheet covering the vagina, like on TV. It’s sudden and disproportionate, like a pop-up in a children’s book. You know it’s coming, but you can’t see how that flat surface can contain—and then there it is. The surface of the book has changed.
I am holding my breath as the baby comes out. Then I hear something next to me. Cathreen is gagging, her hand over her mouth. Later, she will tell me she threw up a little.
For homework, we are supposed to write down our fears and then confront them like tigers. We are supposed to see how we can help the situation, and then we will be able to do it. Except our fears are mortal. I realize this assignment was made for fears like, how can I be a good partner/parent? Less dramatic. Less deep.
The next weekend, we go to a wedding. The night before, we are invited out for drinks. When we show up, we find ourselves at a rehearsal dinner. We are in jeans, and have brought along a build-your-own-bear in a cardboard house. Eun Chong’s first teddy. We gave the bear a heartbeat, something that has me freaking out over the uncanny valley. We leave quickly, feeling inadequate.
My friend is getting married—it’s hard to make the adjustment in my head, for some reason. I have known her since before her relationship; maybe that is why. I wonder if people had to make the same adjustment with me. I wonder about the lines we cross, and what they mean to other people.
At the wedding, the couple dances a cute choreography. Cathreen is regretful; she says I surprised her at our wedding, with the first dance. We should have practiced. It is a wedding of two cultures, which reminds her of our coming together. She is tender with memory. It is a beautiful celebration. It is easy to be happy for them and also for those lines that connect us.
In the middle of the week, we are back at the hospital checking the progress of the baby. Our doctor is always saying Cathreen is so cute. At our last appointment, she said, “She’s adorable, I just want you to know that.” We will miss this woman after the birth. She seems genuinely happy that the PUPPP rash has cleared up and the nausea has gone away and the pain in Cathreen’s ribs has mostly dissipated. We listen to Eun Chong’s heartbeat. We get an ultrasound and her size is in the forty-fifth percentile. She is four pounds.
We are able to see the birthing rooms at last, in our third childbirth class, the rooms in which we will meet our daughter. The bed, Cathreen says, looks comfortable. I can see her want to lie down. Later we will go over pain options; we will see the epidural needle stick into a woman’s spine, and Cathreen will flush and grow dizzy and say she cannot get this shot and also cannot give birth naturally. But in the postpartum unit, we look out the window of the solarium at the Charles River and feel a sense of peace. If Grace, I say—that is what we’ve decided for now to call her—is born on Independence Day, her due date, then we can watch the fireworks greet her arrival from there.
—Photo Andy Hay/Flickr