Pregnancy sucked. I peed every five minutes. Vomited every hour. Had trouble falling asleep every night and woke up sore every morning.
I never missed my mother until the moments I retched over a toilet while a fetus wriggled around in my stomach. Never hated her for abandoning me until I realized how quickly the connection between mommy and daughter formed.
The other mothers I’d spoken to promised me that the cramps and discharge and nosebleeds paid off in the end, that as soon as I held that little girl in my arms, I would forget about the pain she put me through and focus on our future together.
I wasn’t so sure. Because of my ultrasound. The second one, from seven months back.
On that October day, I let a technician lather gel across my stomach and waited to see if my baby’s heartbeat sounded strong or if there were any unforeseen complications.
I kept my hopes high until the technician’s face paled. She called in another doctor, and another, and another.
Fed up, I finally asked, “What is it? If my baby is dead, just tell me. I can take it.”
“No…” the woman said, eyes darting between me and the screen. “No, your baby looks healthy. But there’s a strange… A glitch. The machine must be malfunctioning.”
They herded me into another room, lathered me up with more gel, and used a copy of the ultrasound machine for a second look.
All three doctors followed, and all three doctors shared glances as the same results appeared.
“What is it you see?” I asked. “Can I at least look?”
After mumbling amongst each other, the woman tilted the screen toward me, giving me a view of the grainy black and white image.
The baby looked like a solid, oval blob. No nose. No lips. No defined features.
The technician explained how sometimes the position of the baby makes it hard to see those features on the ultrasound, so everything should be fine. But… It was also hard for them to find the spine. Or an outline of the legs. Or the outline of any type of body.
But they could hear the heartbeat, so… it must be fine. Keep taking your supplements. Keep yourself hydrated. Schedule another appointment for next week just to be safe.
After I swapped my gown for my street clothes, ready to approach the front desk to pen in a new appointment, an elderly woman in a lab coat crossed my path. “I heard the others talking about your baby. I’ve seen this happen once before. How old are you?”
She nodded, like she had expected that answer, and pointed toward another room. “Let me look for the file. Meet me in my office.”
I drummed my nails against her desk as I waited, staring at the cork board across from me, plastered with pictures of parents in hospital beds holding newborns with thank you notes scribbled beneath.
I never saw a photograph of my mother. Never learned her name. And my father? I ran into him once at a gas station, I could tell it was him from the way he looked at me, like he had just seen a ghost, but he scampered off before I could ask my first of a million questions.
The elderly woman cleared her throat for my attention – I hadn’t even realized she had entered the room – as she sat down at her desk and rested an unopened folder in front of me.
“Right now, your baby has no defined features,” she said. “It looks like a lump of clay. Unmolded. Because it doesn’t have a face yet.”
“She should have a face by now though. It’s been nineteen weeks.”
Her thumbs played with the edge of the manila folder. “Do you believe in reincarnation?”
“Of course not. Too farfetched to me. But I guess it’s hard for me to believe in a God when I didn’t even have a mother to make me believe in Santa Claus.”
That was the truth. I never set foot in a temple or church. And the only time I dabbled with the supernatural was when my best friend dragged me to a psychic as part of her bachelorette party. I had asked the guy to read my palm, but the second our skin touched, he went on about how he could tell I was special, an old soul who had lived many lives. Total bullshit.
The woman in front of me waited a beat, licked her lips, before asking, “What about time travel? Time loops? Do you believe in those?”
Was that a fucking joke? I clasped her hand to thank her for her time, excused myself, and rose to get the hell out of there. I doubted she could help me. Maybe she had been a proper doctor twenty years back, but she had clearly gone senile since then.
As I stood up, she flopped opened up the envelop. The first thing I saw, paper clipped to the folder’s edge, was a photograph of a woman. She looked like my doppelgänger, like how I imagined my mother would have looked in all my girlhood fantasies.
“This was the only other case I’ve seen similar to yours,” the woman said. “I was in the room as she gave birth. The baby came out without a face, without a nose or eyes or lips. No legs or arms, either. Just a lump of skin with a heartbeat hidden inside.”
“Oh, God. Did it die? It must have died.”
“No. Right after the baby came out, the woman flat lined. The moment she passed – the exact moment of her death – the baby’s features formed. Ended up looking like any other little girl. That was twenty-two years ago. On April 18.”
“So what, you think, you think… What exactly? That she’s my mother?” I asked. “That this runs in the family?”
“I think that, by either a spiritual act or what I’ve heard others refer to as a glitch in the matrix, you’re going to give birth to yourself.”
She sounded like a lunatic. A goddamn psychopath.
Even so, I sunk back into my seat, considering the implications of her idea. She meant: I think you’re going to die on the operating table while giving birth to your daughter. I think you’re going to be reborn as your daughter. I think the reason you never had a mother is because you are your mother. Because her soul went into you and soon it will go into your daughter.
She meant: You are never going to meet your little girl.