Every release of blood was pulling you away. Picturing crimson seeping through my underwear, wicking through my cotton jumper and onto the taxi's black seat, I jammed my thighs together and tightened down there, as if clenching could stop the flow. Hold you in. We bumped along I-94 making our way to Midway Airport. My forehead ached. I examined the worm of yellowed foam that pushed through a crack in the black vinyl, and thought about how I would leave a stain.

            It was in 1997, on a brilliant fall afternoon, when I pushed out of Illinois Masonic's revolving door and hailed a taxi. Before the doctor sent us home, he pointed to a box of maxi pads, warned there might be spotting. Now, on my way to the airport, I felt a passage of liquid surge between my legs. Shifting to one side, lifting my right flank a little, I hoped to feel just a slight cool, a signifier that there wasn't much moisture on the pad, but there was wet and chill.

            I hadn't wanted to undergo prenatal diagnostic testing. At thirty-seven, my obstetrician had stamped my chart “Advanced Maternal Age,” and your dad, already feeling pushed to his limits by his role as father to two- and one-year-old girls, worried about adding any baby to the mix, let alone one with genetic abnormalities. Desperate for another child, I knew that most likely you were my last chance at another baby. Invasive prenatal tests carried a small risk of miscarriage; why would I risk losing you, my last hope? But your dad was so worried, I acquiesced. Chorionic villus sampling, a relatively new test in 1997, could be performed as early as the middle of the ninth week of pregnancy, seven weeks earlier than an amnio. Test results would be in before the end of the first trimester, before ultrasound revealed your slender fingers and ghostly, veined eyelids. One doctor in Chicago performed chorionic villus sampling more than anyone else in the U.S., so while your dad stayed home to watch your sisters, you and I flew to Chicago for the day to have the test. I wanted the best doctor. I was determined to keep you safe.

            The taxi pulled up to Departures, and I started to weep, knowing that as I got up I'd feel under me the wet pool of blood. Hold on, hold on, I muttered to you. Willing the cells in my body to freeze, I begged you Don't leave. The back of my hand wiped tears as I said to the driver, “Can you ask if they'll bring me a wheelchair? I had a medical procedure. I'm not feeling well.” As the driver arranged for the chair, I opened the taxi door and, holding my legs together, slowly rotated, swinging my feet towards the curb. My jumper twisted beneath me, stuck to the vinyl like oatmeal. A pencil of liquid pulsed from between my legs, unstoppable, like lava.

            Sobbing all through the flight back, I blamed myself; this was what I deserved for agreeing to  the test. Your dad was at home paging the doctor. “There is nothing to be done. Bring her to my office tomorrow morning,” she said. Back home, a fresh pad between my legs, I inhaled shallowly, so my ribs wouldn't move.

            In the morning Dr. Westphal squirted cool, clear goo over my still-flat belly, turned on her portable ultrasound machine and held the wand like a scepter.


            As she ran the wand over me, back and forth, I waited for her to say you were gone.


            If she never said those words I could still believe you were safe, that you were waiting for the flood to pass, huddled like a bat in a corner of my womb.

            A nurse opened the door, then closed it again, wordlessly.

            Heels clicked down the hall.

            The doctor pressed the wand over my lower parts. Psychedelic shapes of gray snaked over the screen. Tears thudded softly on the stiff white paper of the exam table. As soon as Dr. Westphal said I'm sorry, Susan, you would be vanquished, but if time locked I could stay suspended in the unknowing, the possibility of you still inside. Then, through the white noise pulsed concentrated static, and those staticky pulses swished rhythmically. She said, “There's the heartbeat.”



Susan is a student in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Butler University, and a reader for Booth: A Journal.

This story is based on an experience I had when pregnant with my son. It has long held fascination that the advances in prenatal diagnostic testing are a double-edged sword -- they provide valuable information, but also place pregnant women into situations in which they are forced to make complicated and difficult decisions. Another scenario holds wonder: a person can be aware of a potentially life-altering event, but not know its outcome. There is a kind of magical thinking that can occur, a wish to remain ignorant of the aftermath so that time can be frozen, pre-incident, and potential tragedy thus averted. This reminds me of stories about military officers who report to homes of fallen soldiers only to find that the soldiers' mothers refuse to open their doors. Similarly, in Nine-and-a-Half Weeks, 1997, the mother fears the diagnostic test to which she subjected her fetus has caused its demise, and fantasizes that if she can remain ignorant of the doctor's verdict, she can hold onto the possibility that her baby is still alive.



Copyright 2009