The technician squirted a blob of warm ice-blue gel on the end of her wand, which, like most of the equipment and furniture in the room, glared a sickly grey. She wore thin sterile gloves that swooshed and crackled like powdery plastic as she navigated the wand over my belly, grasping it as awkwardly as a kid wielding a gigantic marker. Michael held my hand.

The fuzzy black and white images on the monitor looked surreal: a ghost-baby appearing inside some magic mirror illuminating the darkened room. There he was, our son, a seemingly fully formed, 32-week skeleton-of-a-baby cradled in my 40-year old womb, a tiny diver in mid-tuck. The grainy window-wiper swath morphed amoeba-esque into a dark glittering mass like a moonless night sky. Then, my child reappeared, his limbs connecting points of light like stars in some strange constellation. I thought back to his eighteen-week sonogram, the one where his limbs moved like little waterlogged sticks in a pond. One leg kicked out then drifted back down to rest on the soft oyster of my uterus. There's my little pearl, I’d thought. Though Calvin moved very little during that sonogram, when he did his gestures had the eerie quality of a marionette. I remember thinking how odd he looked—practically fake—like one of those lazy cutout cardboard puppets fixed with loose grommet joints dancing on the end of a thin dowel.

I recall being mesmerized by my pregnant friends’ bellies, their babies visibly shifting under tight sweaters like aliens, little feet skating around, sometimes kicking with such vigor I feared they’d punch right through. Perhaps it’s just too early, I’d think, trying to justify why my baby didn’t do those things. My husband never once felt Calvin moving inside me; his subtle rolling always abated before Michael had time to lay his palm on my belly. At five months I was barely showing, could still wear my jeans, just unsnapped at the waist. I tried my best to deflect my friends’ comments about how small I was, though I couldn’t conceal my nervous blush. Did they know something I didn’t know? A few remarked as though they were somehow jealous of my small baby bump, which I thought was strange and perhaps some perverse product of society’s distorted image of beauty. I wondered if others were worried for me.

As the sonogram progressed I kept my eyes fixed on the peppery screen in a state of trance as though I were watching a poltergeist. Little did I know that Michael was eyeing the technician’s sober, wide-eyed gaze. She remained unusually silent throughout the entire exam, then quietly exited the room to show the films to the doctor.

A few minutes later in walked a somber form. She was tall and dressed in a full-length black knit dress and high-heeled boots with a stethoscope slung around her neck. Her hair stood short, gelled and spiky, thick black mascara caked her baggy eyes. She looked to me as if she’d stepped right out of a Tim Burton film. With no show of empathy, like some steely robot, she shared with us the grim news in a low, monotone voice, “Your baby’s brain’s lateral ventricles are enlarged. This is something you need to worry about. It could affect I.Q. Come back in four weeks.” I wanted to punch her, take her down and knock the wind out of her, make her struggle to breathe like she’d just done to me. But, frozen by the news, I couldn’t move, couldn’t conjure any words to pass my thickening throat. My heart imploded, went up in a puff of smoke. The fumes stung my sinuses and reddened my eyes, tears spilled into my lap as I hugged my gut with one hand, the other in Michael’s tight grasp. What now? I thought, what now?


  1. You got your "diagnosis" so early -- and that breaks my heart. Again, I'd add, as this post reminds me of Sophie's diagnosis -- the manner in which it was imparted, what was unleashed into the world.