At my first prenatal appointment, I see the baby for the first time. Just a vague form on the sonogram, a white blob of light in a sea of murky gray, it is still an embryo in the fishlike stage, with no hands or limbs, just a visibly beating heart.
The doctor uses a pregnancy wheel to calculate the due date: April 22nd. But later, when the embryo is big enough to measure, the date changes to April 12th. Already something of a miracle, this baby I conceived at 46 will be born almost exactly between my two older children’s birthdays.
But April 12th—that’s the day my mother gave birth to my little brother, the baby I couldn’t wait to meet and help take care of. The coincidence seems amazing to me, and I find myself thinking often of that baby, my brother, and that time so long ago.
* * *
I wonder how my mother felt when she discovered she was pregnant with my brother. She certainly had the glow that pregnant women have, and both she and my father seemed happy about the pregnancy, even though this baby, like my baby, had been a surprise, and her pregnancy, like mine, was high-risk. Her risk came not from age—she was only 34—but from the Rh factor, a blood incompatibility between mother and fetus that can harm a developing baby. If, as a child, I was aware of this risk, I did my best to ignore it. I felt as though a giant light was shining on me and my world, and I woke up each morning filled with excitement about the baby coming into our lives. I couldn’t wait to be a big sister, and I was hoping for a boy.
A certain wildness swirls through me in the early days of my pregnancy. Fear and anxiety threaten to overwhelm my feelings of hope and confidence. Am I crazy to be going through with this? When I tell my mother I’m pregnant, she reminds me that I am her third child, and “look how that turned out.” Like me, she considers the matching due date a positive omen.
I cling to this optimism. In those first weeks, with the onslaught of pregnancy hormones mixing with the shock of the pregnancy, I am a mess of conflicting emotions: questions about the health and viability of the fetus dampen the euphoria I feel about having been able to produce a life at an age when statistics say it is close to impossible.
My greatest fear is what I perceive to be my greatest risk—a chromosomal defect—even though statistically the risk for a miscarriage is considerably higher. My odds for carrying a baby with any kind of chromosomal problem are roughly 1 in 10, and for miscarriage, a frightening 1 in 2. Intuitively, I feel sure that everything will be okay, but I can’t help but be worried by such grim statistics.
In my 15th week, I go in for an amniocentesis, doing my best to lie still through the unbearably icky feeling of having a needle stuck into the most sacred of places, my womb. The doctor, normally friendly and relaxed, is now extremely serious, speaking in quiet, gentle tones as he performs the procedure, reminding us that even though the baby, a girl, looks perfect on the monitor, the results of the amnio could prove otherwise. Still, that voice inside me insists she is healthy.
Later that night, Kai and I wait together in a heavy, dreadful silence.
Our children sleep upstairs, oblivious to our anxiety. When the phone finally rings, I cannot answer it; the call is too important to risk a misunderstanding due to language. I watch my husband’s face closely as he listens to the doctor, and relief floods through me even before the smile has finished spreading across his face. The blood work, the doctor reports, has shown no chromosomal defects. Our baby is genetically perfect.