The following “story” which is my creation, recreates a personal experience. The nonfiction passages below that, relates back to that specific experience, which is real and more common for pregnant women in today’s medical world.
Ella can feel numbness moving into her legs. She’s been sitting in the garden for about ten minutes, feet tucked under her buttocks, gloved hands probing with the iron weed digger. Her angle is wrong. She shifts, the tingly sensation of flowing blood bringing back legs, feet.
The baby also shifts, a slight, quick wave of motion. Ella pounces on the tiny elm tree still rooted among the coreopsis. She leans another way, continues to work with the digger, her mind plotting what to do next: repot the small begonia that lies on the ground, its clay container broken by running squirrels; then deep-water the newly planted Spirea that might die in this drought.
The planting is a game of distraction, and the hot sunlight, the intense thrumming of crickets and cicadas. But she loses the game at least once an hour, sometimes every twenty minutes. The amniocentesis results are due today. Her portable phone is on the picnic table. David will be calling at lunch, talking about other things, waiting for her to break in, tell him, if she knows.
The baby moves again. Ella throws the digger to the ground, works with some effort to stand, her body no longer lithe, elegant. She’ll have Steve, who mows the lawn, dislodge the elm with a pitchfork.
Months of her life have been taken over by a fierce desire to bear and deliver another healthy child, a child to deny her aging or loss of touch with this growing world. She will do everything to keep this child, and yet living is in match step with exposing oneself to loss. “No matter what the results, Ella, with the choice you have made, there’s nothing we can do. You realize that,” the doctor had said.
Yes, she does, always certain she wants to get pregnant, know the health of the fetus. But that time is now. The moment close. And yes, the irony of testing.
She’s carrying this baby around inside her and it’s moving now, and no matter what the words are at the other end of the phone, it will still be moving around inside her. If the doctor calls and says, “Ella, you are carrying a Down Syndrome child,” the fetus won’t disappear, it won’t begin to shrink and slip away like a cloud losing moisture. The Downs Syndrome baby, the baby with neuro-tube defects, the anencephalic baby will still continue to grow inside of her.
Ella walks to the shed, hunts in its mustiness for the pitchfork. The grass is brittle beneath her tennis shoes, waves of air touching her like solid warm hands. She walks back, looking like a perfect balancing act, moving about her tasks as if every breath in the last few years has been stored up to get her to this point. Ella isn’t just pregnant. She is experiencing an amazing fulfillment of a wish.
The cicadas hum. The phone doesn’t buzz. She works at the elm seedling with the pitchfork.
“Mom…” Sarah comes around the corner, her hair springing away from the right side of her head where she has tied it with a big pink ribbon that matches her pink tank top and shorts. Ella reaches out to touch the top of her daughter’s head, the two strangely silent with each other.
Even before this pregnancy, Ella had crazy moments when she would look at her two young daughters, seeing them as her own flesh, slightly changed blueprints of herself. Touching them, her body would expand, become warm like the bodies of pregnant women. Her breasts would soften against Carrie’s chest, her abdomen balloon out to hold Sarah. The physicality of motherhood shouted at her. She needed that again, needed to make her body work again. She argued against this. Educated women do not succumb to thoughts of being “baby machines.” But Ella did succumb.
Sarah has sensed a distance in her mother all week. She knows she can use it to her advantage.
“I want to ride over to Lockwood’s and buy a pop.”
“There’s some in the house, better yet, I have fruit juice.”
“I’m kinda in the mood to ride my bike. Can I take a couple of dollars?”
“Okay. Take what you need, but watch the sugar. You know how you get.”
Sarah comes and puts her arms around her mother’s disappearing waist, buries her head in her chest—just for a moment. Ella had tried before to have this third child and then miscarried. And though she sometimes thinks about it now, it’s not as painful, this new pregnancy altering that sorrow, the pain, the hours of Ella being silent, wounded.
Waiting for the amnio results is better than what she has already been through. She is sure of this. She’s lived it, learned from it. Fear is a destructive force that can work against your joy and hope. Her doctor was firm: set fears aside. Statistics: only one fetus, out of one hundred conceived by women over the age of forty, would come into the world with Downs Syndrome. And Ella had already delivered two healthy children. The doctor also reminded her that anytime a woman conceives, there are chances that she could give birth to a child with some anomaly.
Her fertility is a gift, though modern medicine has played a part. And yes, she has walked down some dark passageways in her mind, but nothing will go wrong. She has set aside her fears. She will love this baby no matter the sex, the birthweight, the chromosomes. No matter any of it.
Back in the yard, Ella picks up the pitchfork, again works to loosen the elm sapling from her garden patch. If she is careful, and there are enough roots, she can replant it at the back fence.
And then, her phone rings.
P.S. Below is a passage by Ilana Lowy: from her Prenatal Diagnosis: the irresistible rise of the ‘visible fetus. Prenatal diagnosis was developed in the 1970s, a result of a partly contingent coming together of three medical innovations-amniocentesis, the study of human chromosomes and obstetrical ultrasound-with a social innovation, the decriminalization of abortion. Initially this diagnostic approach was proposed only to women at high risk of fetal malformations. Later, however, the supervision of the fetus was extended to all pregnant women. The latter step was strongly favored by professionals’ aspiration to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome…
Debates on such dilemmas are usually limited to professionals. The transformation of prenatal diagnosis into a routine medical technology was, to a great extent, an invisible revolution. Read more here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24440137/
Picture Credit: Golden Light, Colleen Taylor. Thanks to FINE ART AMERICA