It’s been quite some time since I posted anything here. “Why is that?” you don’t ask.
Well, it’s no secret that I’m a fervent critic of Facebook and its reduction of human interaction to an endless stream of subatomic banality, but I can hardly continue to revile the shibboleths and platitudes of the narcissists and voyeurs who populate it, if the reading fodder I dispense here is of equally dubious literary value.
Apart from anything else, who gives a flying fuck about what I did today or what I have to say about it? No-one; and that’s not even a bad thing.
And so, once again, dear non-reader, this entry is not for you, but for me: a sly ruse to circumvent my ailing memory and pass information to my future self, without the need to rely on my flabby grey matter as a temporal bridge.
I recently returned from the family’s annual jaunt to The Great Satan, where, as usual, I spent a significant amount of time immersed in a sociologically fascinating study of people (in)voluntarily engaged in carefully choreographed seasonal tribal ritual. In English-speaking countries — and also those where a simplified derivative is spoken — they call this period Christmas. It’s an exhausting experience, for both participants and casual observers alike.
Foreign cultures are by times invigorating and fatiguing and perhaps none more so than America, with its full frontal assault of the senses. A parody of other western cultures, it becomes a caricature of even itself around Yuletide. You can think of it as the world’s largest termite mound. Viewers of a nervous disposition are advised to exercise caution.
Anyway, before I succumb to the temptation to rant about the things about America that have raised my ire over the last few months — and lo, they are many! — let me nudge you forward to the present day, or, more accurately, last Friday.
First, the necessary background: Sarah’s pregnant again.
You may recall that her last pregnancy ended up looking like an outtake from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in our bathroom: all the gore, but none of the baby. A miscarriage, a cruel swindle: one of the many ways that life has of raising its middle finger and whispering under its breath, “Fuck you”.
Anyway, the wake of that little episode dragged on for months. To cut a long story short, although the embryo had died in April, Sarah wasn’t back to normal gynaecological health until the end of September, at which time her menstrual cycle normalised and she returned to fertility. Intense, er, goal-orientated activity then led to a new pregnancy in November. Good news, of course, but not without a certain amount of largely irrational anxiety.
That anxiety reached its climax last Friday, for that was the day of our first ultrasound appointment. You may recall that it was at this very appointment during the previous pregnancy that we learned that our baby was dead. It’s fair to say, therefore, that we biked over to the ultrasound practice with a certain amount of apprehension in our gut, which, the longer we were left to our own devices in the waiting-room as our appointment became steadily further removed from its scheduled time, turned into nail-biting anxiety.
Once ushered inside the room with the medical apparatus, we were eager to begin the proceedings. The sonographer was a sympathetic woman, and she wasted no time in smearing gel over Sarah’s belly and sliding the scanner around.
The horror of almost a year ago started to unfold in front of our eyes anew, as the sonographer failed to find any trace of an embryo with her external examination of Sarah’s belly.
“Fuck! Not this again! How is it possible? What’s damaged in there? Not another gory miscarriage! Not another period of months spent waiting for it to happen! It looks like we’ll only ever have two children, then. Fuck!”
A lot goes through your mind in those moments, the onset of panic.
When the sonographer informed Sarah that she needed to perform an internal examination to try to find the baby, Sarah surrendered to the moment and started wailing.
“Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me? You shouldn’t need to look internally at ten weeks! You should be able to see it. You should be able to see it, shouldn’t you? Shouldn’t you?”
This was exactly what had happened last time, when an internal examination confirmed that there was no living baby inside Sarah.
The sonographer was visibly concerned and no doubt also feeling some stress. She worked quickly to prepare the internal probe.
Up it went, with a grunt from Sarah. Delicacy is subjective when you’re that tense.
The sonographer twisted and turned the probe: nothing but shadows, a low resolution blur of black and white pixels. Hope fading fast, ebbing away like the blood of a fatally wounded stab victim.
Then, she angled the probe, turned a corner, crested a hill — How the fuck do I know? — and the unmistakeable form of a human embryo came into view.
“Sarah!” The hope in my voice was unmistakeable.
“Ian!” The caution in hers equally so.
Stunned by the absence of any trace of an embryo during the external examination, my emotional quest had unwittingly become one of seeing the image — any image — of an embryo on the screen. I had forgotten that any such embryo can still be either dead or alive.
But then… the pulsating pixels of a beating heart…
“Sarah! It’s alive! You’ve got a baby! It’s OK! You’ve done it!”
Cue Hollywood-style tears and sighs of relief, anguish and despair fading into shell-shocked quasi-acceptance of this complete reversal of fortune.
From dread to despair to relief to something approaching joy — no, definitely joy, but the acceptance of which was partially impeded by our jangled nerves and self-preserving scepticism — all in the space of a few minutes. The clichéd emotional rollercoaster had arrived at its destination. What a fucking ride!
The baby is entirely healthy and measured a gestational age of ten weeks and one day. Everything is as it should be. We left with the obligatory print-out of the scan.
Although profoundly content with the resolution, we stood outside, stunned and silent. We hugged instead of speaking.
At lunch, we were still unable to celebrate unreservedly. As we slowly ate our food, we mulled over the morning’s events, talking about and processing the emotions we had felt.
It’s now Sunday night and things have sunk in a little more. If it took a couple of days last time to adjust to the news of the loss of the embryo, it’s also taken a little while this time to accept the health of the new baby.
Within a few weeks, the chance of a miscarriage will significantly decrease and this episode will fade to become a dim memory. Which, as I said, is part of the reason for this entry: I never want to forget how I felt that Friday.
Both of my children mean the world to me, but I feel a bond with this new, growing baby that is unique, forged on the anvil of emotional and physical trauma that dominated much of our lives last year. We dealt with it quietly, in our own way, but it was not without its toll, a charge exacted most obviously in the implantation of fear, subtly passed from one pregnancy to the next, like a hereditary illness, by parents powerless to the inscrutable vagaries of nature. This child is very wanted.
Let the quest for a name begin.