Anyone who has been through a pregnancy can tell you that it is a wild ride of highs and lows. If you’ve been trying for a while, you are probably ecstatic to even see those two lines on the pregnancy test. But it’s not long before the anxieties come. You hope and pray that your baby is developing normally and that nothing bad happens to this fragile little thing you have given life to. Yet all of that is out of your hands now. All you can do is wait and stay as healthy as possible.
Tiffany was four months pregnant before we scheduled an ultrasound to find out the gender of our baby. She giggled as Dr. Strecker spread the jelly on the growing bump that was our child. But when the ultrasound pictures started coming through, Tiffany’s smile faded. Strecker looked a little unsettled, but he suggested that we try a new monitor before coming to any rash conclusions. Try as I might, I could not see the similarities between that oddly shaped thing on the screen, and a normal looking fetus. Admittedly, I have never seen a real fetus before, so I awaited his professional opinion.
I’ve been going to the same doctor since I was kid. I went to Dr. Strecker for my Pee Wee Football physicals when I was 10, and I went to him for my kidney stones when I was 22. So too had he seen my mom through the worst of her chemotherapy, sometimes stopping by the house with juiced organic fruits and vegetables. We had all become so close that he gave a few parting words at her funeral two years ago.
Even then, during my mother’s trials, he had never appeared as upset as he was now, winding us down the hall to a different room. He kept looking over his shoulder and assuring us these kinds of malfunctions happen all of the time. But I could tell by the way Tiffany held onto my arm that she wasn’t buying it either. Whatever was growing inside of her did not look normal.
Tiffany did not smile when Strecker started reapplying the gel. Posters of pregnant women, cut open into cartoon layers, hung on the wall of this room. There in the woman’s womb was a normally shaped fetus: an oversized peanut, connected by a single cord to the mother. And there, on the monitor, was our abomination.
“Is it downs?” Tiffany choked out.
“There is no way to tell for certain,” Dr. Strecker said, waving his hand dismissively. “The heartbeat seems normal, and that is usually the only indication at this point. You said that you are not a smoker, yes?”
“Yes… I mean no. I am not a smoker.”
“Have you taken any drugs, alcohol, etc? What about acetaminophen?”
“Nothing,” she sounded taken aback.
I rubbed her back, but she shrugged my hand away and sat up straight in the bed. The imager fell into her lap. The last screenshot of the thing inside of her clung to the monitor screen. I moved a little closer to look. It seemed like a cross between an iguana and a snake, curled up into a tiny ball. My insides started crawling.
“What is inside of me?” she asked.
Her voice was cracking, she was almost on the verge of tears. Unable to console her, all I could do was stare blankly at her ballooning womb. I feel guilty admitting this, but the thought of it disgusted me. I didn’t want to be near her abdomen. Even standing beside it made me a little nervous. Apparently she had read this on my face, in that way women are cunningly able to do.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she almost shrieked. “You made it too.”
Indeed I did. I knew this and yet I could do nothing to quell the sickness rising up in me. Dr. Strecker took a few blood samples before seeing us out of his offices. He assured us that it would all be sorted out, but his stern expression betrayed his assurances. Quietly we buckled in and started driving home. We had plans to stop by the store and buy female or male decorations for the room, depending on what we found the gender to be. Instead, I drove past the stores in silence, not needing to confer with her upon this change in plans.
The weeks that followed were long and difficult. We started fighting with each other over the most petty disagreements. Spilling crumbs onto the floor and not immediately sweeping them up soon led to an evaluation of my slovenly character as a whole. But I would be lying if I said that I was the only one on the receiving end. I was getting to the point where I demanded to be left alone in silence for days at a time.
After my fourth night in a row sleeping on the couch, safe from the temptation to argue, I grappled with the real issues eating away at me. I realized at last that I had buried inside of me the accusation that she must have been unfaithful. So stubborn was I at the time, I had sooner convinced myself of my wife’s infidelity than come to terms with what was growing inside of her.
It was my child. I repeated this to myself that night until I was finally able to march back into the room, wrap my arm around her sleeping form and kiss her cheek. Her skin was cold. I moved my hand up her abdomen and let it rest on the crest of her belly. Why was she so cold? Pondering this, I was startled to feel a movement from within. I have heard of babies kicking, but this felt different. It was more of a squirming sensation, like something moving its whole body in order to get comfortable.
“Alex?” she whispered.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just been nerves getting to me. It’s everything. I’m sorry I’ve been an idiot, we need to stick together to get through this.”
She took my hand into her own and laid her head back down. Her breathing grew heavy with sleep, but I could not drift off. I just lay there for the remainder of the night, listening to the moving sounds squirming inside of her belly.
Things were easier after our reconciliation, but the tension was still thick. Finally, we got a call from Dr. Strecker’s office saying that we needed to come in for an appointment first thing tomorrow. I had been laid off from work for several months now, so I agreed to go in tomorrow and see Strecker about the situation. Tiffany, however, would be stuck in meetings all day at work.
“Maybe we should just wait until we can both go in,” she said over her plate of spaghetti.
“The message sounded urgent. It’s better that I at least go to make sure we don’t need to do an emergency-” I stopped short.
Tiffany shot me a scolding look. We never talked about abortions anymore. When she was in college, she was impregnated by a rapist. I was the only person she ever told the story to besides the doctor who performed her abortion. She is a devout Catholic. She said she felt like she had betrayed God and her religion and she constantly prays for the soul of that lost child. I, not being of the Catholic faith, have tried in futility to console her.
She must have dismissed my blunder because she started picking at her meatballs again. I could see her hand shaking. I knew she was thinking about our growing child. I will never know how to reconcile the extreme feelings of love and frustration that those occasions elicited. All I wanted was for her to be okay again. I wanted it so badly, it infuriated me that I could not. It seems like the silliest thing to be enraged about… wanting to help someone so much that it drives you into anger.
The next day I kissed Tiffany goodbye and left for the doctor’s office. I had to set cruise control just to keep the nervous jerk in my foot from hitting the gas pedal. Upon entering I got that feeling like I had been here too often for anything good to come of the visit. Accustomed to a long wait, I picked up a magazine from the end table only to be immediately approached by Dr. Strecker. He bore that same exasperated expression as the day of the ultrasound. His face was just as blanched too.
“We got the blood results in,” he said in the lobby.
He put his hand to my back and ushered me quickly into a room and sat me on the bed. Taking the chair opposite me, he kept his clipboard tucked against his chest, like they were notes for a speech he had already thoroughly memorized.
“We have to abort,” his voice was grave. “Now.”
My heart dropped, but another part of me was relieved. I knew from the moment I saw the ultrasound pictures that it was an abomination. Still, Tiffany’s face last night was enough to cause me to shake my head in response. I was stuck. We were both stuck.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “She… her religion… it would kill her, Strecker.”
“If you don’t abort this thing immediately, then yes, Alex, it literally will kill your wife.”
I felt the blood drain from my head. My mouth hung limp as I sought for words, but before I could speak I felt my phone vibrating. It was a private number so I sent it to voicemail. With difficulty, I asked for a more elaborated explanation. If there was even the slightest chance that she could have this baby without damaging herself, then we would have to take it. It was not a matter of choice for me. I knew that this would be Tiffany’s only resolve.
“If I could explain more to you, then I would,” he began. Strecker made a cursory glance over his clipboard, but must have found nothing to avail him because he flung it onto the counter. He put his hands together and leaned on his knees, looking hard at me. “The child’s platelets are mutated in a way that I’ve never seen. We could run a DNA test and find out exactly what coding is mixed up, but it would be a waste of time and effort. I don’t need a genome map to tell you that this thing is hardly human and slowly killing your wife.”
I no longer felt like the father I wished to become. Getting weaker as I sat there, I almost felt like I was 10-years-old again. My pocket vibrated from another phone call. I pulled it out and stared at the strange number, feeling numb. If only to take my mind off what was in front of me, I answered it. The woman on the other end sounded frantic.
“Alex?” she asked.
I recognized her voice. It was Tiffany’s assistant.
“What’s going on, Bree?”
“Tiffany is going into labor.”
“No,” I felt a hole opening up beneath me. I was heavy, listless and sliding down into a void. “No, she’s only four months along that’s impossible.”
I heard Tiffany’s screams in the background. There were other voices shouting for paramedics and giving directions. It sounded like the whole office was in an uproar.
“Her water broke, but there is blood,” it sounded like she was on the verge of breaking into tears at any moment. “There’s… there’s a lot, Alex. There’s a lot of blood. She… I… She’s going to St. Jude’s downtown…” her voice broke off completely now.
That conversation is still burned into my memory to this day. I cried in a way that I never thought a man could. In my mind, she was already dead. At some point I let the phone slip and just bawled amidst trying to explain to Dr. Strecker what was happening. He calmed me as much as he could but I was insensible to the world.
I remember him leaving and coming back with two pills. I don’t remember taking them, but I must have because it wasn’t long before I started feeling dazed. My thoughts slowed and my mind dulled. I was able at last to explain to him what was happening. Taking me by the arm, he hurried me into his Nissan and started driving. I was nodding now, thinking he must have dosed me too high. I felt like a statue in the middle of a world that was flying a million miles per hour outside the windows of his car.
The universe slowed back down as he pulled into a parking lot. I followed him in, but had to wait in the cold room with everyone else as he slipped back through the doors. I guessed he was going to inform the doctors of what he had discovered. I hoped that he told them to save my wife at the expense of the baby if necessary. No. I hoped that he abort that baby outright, even if Tiffany did not seem like she was going to pull through.
Either way, the time I spent waiting was agonizing. I watched half a dozen people come petering out of the doors and into the arms of those who were waiting for them. I hated them at that moment. I hated every goddamn person who made it out of those doors okay because I was certain that my wife would not be one of them. The urge to cry clawed under my skin like a caged animal. Although every inch of me wanted to cry out, the inexplicable power of the medication held it in check.
Finally, Dr. Strecker came out, accompanied by two nurses. His face was red, his eyes moist. He looked directly at me and shook his head gravely. Not even the largest dose of anxiety medicine could hold back the sorrow that shook me to my core. She was gone. Tiffany was dead at the hands of our inexplicable child. I might have fallen down, or I might have tripped. Tiffany’s blue eyes hovered invisible behind the doors.
One of the nurses came forth with something swaddled in a little blue blanket. I saw a head poking out, a surprisingly human looking head. It had big round eyes, the same color as Tiffany’s. Still, I was overcome with a sense of fear and anger. All I could see was the serpentine image in the ultrasound, eating away at my wife’s insides until it tore out of her, leaving her body wasted like a host.
“Where life ends, life begins,” the nurse smiled at me. “It’s a girl.”
I looked at Dr. Strecker and he returned my icy gaze. I could not even imagine what I was supposed to be feeling then. I still don’t. All of the overwhelming emotions faintly stirring inside of me melted into the mess of medication. Strecker took me by the arm and came in close.
“Be careful,” he whispered.
And I was careful. For years I was careful of this little human-looking thing. But nothing ever happened. She smiled like a baby. She cooed and pooped and giggled and played. Slowly, my caution started to wane and I began doubting what even happened at the doctor’s office that day. The blood and the premature birth started feeling like some medical anomaly.
Still, every now and then, when I tuck her in, turn the lights off and kiss her forehead, I look down into those blue eyes. I see, if just for the slightest flicker of a moment, a flash of red in her pupils. Sometimes at the very edge of her smile, I see something twist in a kind of sinister sneer. Sometimes, when she is fast asleep, I get a knife from the kitchen and sit in the rocking chair by her bed, resting the blade on my knee. I listen to the inhuman grunting noises she makes in her sleep and I raise myself to hold the knife over her little body.
But I never can do it. She just opens her red-tinged eyes, looks up at me and smiles. She puts her little hand on mine and lowers the knife, like it’s natural.
“The time for that has passed,” she says sweetly. “You belong to me now, daddy.”