A Mother, Still

THE BALTIMORE SUN

My car is devoid of the telltale infant seat. Months ago it made a one-way trip to the Salvation Army. And the hooded kimonos and cotton onesies are intricately folded and packed away. Nothing so much as hints at my parenthood anymore; but I am a parent, in fact. At the end of the journal I started keeping when I suspected I was expecting is a folded piece of paper. There is the evidence that I am a mother: tiny inky smudges that are my firstborn's hand and foot prints.

;/ What follows are excerpts from that journal.FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 1990 I begin this journal -- propped as it is on my hip as I sprawl on the sofa -- in awe that you are only inches from it, safe and growing in my womb. Think of this as our first communication. I hope to share it with you someday -- maybe when you're a teen-ager and are convinced that I'm a monster and we'll never see eye to eye, or when you're feeling particularly low, like no one loves you.

I have suspected you for almost a week now. Early last Sunday, awoke with a queasy but wonderful feeling. As I lay next to your father and a new day dawned -- Father's Day, of all days! -- I knew I was privy to a delicious secret. I thought momentarily of creeping from the bed and rummaging for a piece of construction paper to fashion a first Father's Day card from you to him in order to announce your presence. But I decided to wait until medical tests confirmed what I already knew. However, later in the day when we were hiking, we spotted a doe with a fawn and watched as she alerted her baby and made tracks through the tall grass, her tail flashing behind her to show the way to safety. With that, I turned to your father and told him my suspicions about us maybe having a baby -- you! He smiled a little and hugged me and said that would be wonderful.

SUNDAY, JUNE 24 Already, I think of you and pray for you a hundred times a day. Although your father and I are most certainly "yours" for keeps, you are "ours" on loan only. I think of you as a precious gift with whom God is entrusting us. We will do our best. I promise.

MONDAY, JUNE 25 Blood test at noon. Rode the bike and lifted weights after work. Then visited my best friend, Eileen, and was surprised she didn't suspect anything when I declined a pina colada. I, the queen of junk food, feel that everything I put into my mouth should benefit you.

TUESDAY, JUNE 26

6 a.m.

The anticipation of a Christmas morning in June -- will I get mlong-awaited, most-hoped-for gift?

Midnight

As soon as I reached my desk at work, I called the doctor'office. A nurse confirmed what I already knew. Tonight, I bought a baby book and a curious little paperback entitled "14,000 Reasons to Be Happy." I am going to list you as Reason No. 1 and give it to your dad when I see him. He will be so thrilled. P.S. I just read that you are now about one-quarter of an inch long.

2 a.m.

I read "The New Baby Book" cover to cover. I can't sleep witthoughts of you.

MONDAY, JULY 23 My very-first-ever obstetrical exam. The doctor was tickled, but not more than me when he located your heartbeat. I couldn't help crying and interrupting the swish/swish/- pump/pump which sounds strong and bold for a two-month-old. As I lie in bed now, I want to assure you that no matter what you succeed or fail at, no matter what you look like or how fast you can run, no matter what grades you make or whether or not you have a date for the senior prom, no matter what profession you choose in life -- none of that matters in terms of my love for you. I already love you with all there is in me to love. It is boundless and unconditional -- and all because your heart's beating.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 22 Family and friends are already showering you with gifts. Even complete strangers are filled with joy at the news of you. Today I interviewed a nun who wants to open a home for mentally retarded adults. We talked about handicapped children and their families, and about painful ethical and moral decisions people must make and live with. Her opinion: If we say no to abortion, then we must rally to provide for those who are born with problems that necessitate high-tech and expensive long-term care. I revealed to her that my interest is perhaps keener than it might have otherwise been, as I am expecting. She burst out with a promise to pray for me as she hugged me. Her sheer elation at my news was uplifting.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 26 People in the newsroom know now. I'm not the least bit frantic anymore when co-workers spark the dreaded baby/career debate: "Well, what are you going to do once the baby comes?" My priorities have shifted from bylines and books to you.

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MONDAY, OCT. 1My Amish girlfriend Esther had the girl she was yearning for -- after five boys in a row. Lots of people think you're a girl, too. I dreamed you were. I tell anyone who asks my preference that I'll be happy as long as you're not a German shorthaired pointer. We have one of those.

MONDAY, OCT. 8 Big rain drops splash against the windowpane as I read in bed. I feel my stomach flutter and pull up my T-shirt. I watch you poke, kick at me from within, and I laugh and then cry. Be healthy. Be strong. Kick hard and keep on kicking.

TUESDAY, OCT. 23 Your father came home at noon to go to my doctor's appointment with me. He heard your heartbeat and heard the doctor tell me I am four pounds over the norm and two centimeters rounder in the belly than is standard. If the trend continues, an ultrasound will be ordered to assure you're due when we think you are.

THURSDAY, NOV. 8 USA Today ran my story about a friend who took her infant girl a four-day backpacking expedition. I'll use the check to get you a pair of hiking boots!

SUNDAY, NOV. 18 Off to Florida to visit your grandfather for Thanksgiving. The hour drive gives us time to discuss names again: Still no male contenders. I am increasingly uncomfortable about my size. I wonder how much bigger I can get, and all of a sudden! Your father marvels at my belly, which seems to grow exponentially every day. I feel increasing pressure under my ribs. Can it be your arm or leg? Or can you be twins? I'm really relaxing, wading in the Gulf as your father fishes for the big one, and sleeping in the sand as he laments the one that got away.

MONDAY, NOV. 26 The doctor doesn't even notice my tan lines. It's my weight gain that intrigues him; the nurse put me on the scale twice in disbelief. I am swollen and scared. He finds one heartbeat and gravely explains my unlikely size: It could mean twins, or a defect. He orders an ultrasound for the next day.

TUESDAY, NOV. 27 4:45 p.m.

As I sit awaiting the results of my test, another patient proudldisplays ultrasound images of her baby. Why, I wonder, was I not allowed to see or keep mine? I have absolutely no idea.

5:15 p.m.

After summoning me into a cubicle, a doctor talks at me for 1minutes about an abdominal wall defect and fluid around the brain and heart. Finally, I ask if he's trying to tell me something's wrong with my baby. He repeats a lot of what he has just said and adds something about the possibility of surgery immediately following birth to make repairs. For a second time, I refuse to hear most of it, however hard I try to listen. I attempt to fashion intelligent questions, stifling the urge to scream, "ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH MY BABY?" He gives me a pink Kleenex and I stare quietly at it while he writes a phone number which I must call to make arrangements for further testing. He is referring me to others, washing his hands of me. He doesn't handle high-risk pregnancies, a label ZTC which suddenly may as well be pasted across my protruding belly.

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28 I contemplate the various fates awaiting you and me. Long ago, I learned that death is not always the worst thing that can happen. I try to watch a talk show on television: A panel of young men explain why they elected to have cosmetic implants in their calf and pectoral muscles in their quest for the perfect body. I think of your body and pray for miracles. A friend calls. Sometimes, she says carefully, it's a miracle just to be able to cope during a time like this and someday, even, to be happy again. I cannot imagine that day. My joyfully naive pregnancy is over. All of sudden there are heart-rending decisions. Should I have amniocentesis; will it tell me pertinent chromosomal information; can it cause miscarriage or hurt the baby; do I request that all lifesaving measures be taken at birth, at any cost?

THURSDAY, NOV. 29 An ultra-sophisticated ultrasound confirms a severe abdominal wall defect. The doctor, a world class ultrasonographer, interprets his tests and then draws for your father and me a childish picture of a deformed baby. Its lungs are virtually non-existent; there is a massive amount of fluid around the heart which, despite being underdeveloped, continues to beat.

The doctor puts down his pen and looks me in the eye. He is astraightforward and unapologetic as he is certain that you are not compatible with life. Your father holds us tight as I shake and shake. The doctor sees us floundering, lost in the nightmare he has sketched and narrated for us. He takes charge by arranging tests for further confirmation of his findings.

FRIDAY, NOV. 30 The pressure on my spine as I lie on the examining table is enough to make me faint. So is the fact that your heartbeat is only 50 percent of what it had been the previous day. I realize you are dying as we watch on a video screen. Composed to that point, I begin to tremble and sob openly. The doctor, who just asked permission to continue with the echocardiogram, suddenly stops scanning my belly and announces he's done. "It's all over," he declares.

As your father gently wipes the ultrasound goo from mabdomen, I break down again. You are dead. The data the doctors have collected to support their ultimate management decision is unnecessary now. The remaining decisions are mine. I opt to be admitted immediately. I want it all over with as soon as possible. I don't want to see the baby or even know what it is. About that, I am adamant. I request an anesthesia that produces a twilight sleep for delivery and am told that it will be best if I am awake and aware. A room on the labor and delivery floor is readied.

A nurse who introduces herself as Mary gives me a gown, putme to bed, and starts an IV. Soon, they will begin administering pitocin, a labor-inducing drug. I announce to Mary that I most definitely do not want to see the baby or know its gender, much less name it or hold it as some have suggested. It's not that I don't love it. I do, I try to explain. I'm just so afraid . . . so terrified of seeing you with all your problems and so, so guilty. What if I, your own mother, should be repulsed.

A doctor arrives and addresses a host of issues, not the least owhich is naming the baby and holding it. He gently suggests it will help in my own healing process and that someday in the not so distant future, I will be glad I did. I say no, firmly and with conviction. He begins inducing labor.

SUNDAY, DEC. 2

Noon

I concentrate on bearing down and separating from myself thibaby which, lifeless for two entire days now, cannot cooperate in its own birth. I try to obey Mary's reminder to breathe, but involuntary coughs come with each intake of air. I explain that my lungs feel waterlogged, as if I had been swimming too hard and too long. I wonder if the sensation has anything to do with the prolonged labor or the huge build-up of amniotic fluid which is a result of the baby's defects. More likely, it is from having to swallow even more tears than I've cried this past week. Except for my coughing and the doctor's instructions about how and when to push, the room is silent. My husband's quiet reassurance that I am "doing great" is sincere and, strangely enough, not devoid of some anticipation. He can't -- or won't -- honor my fervent entreaties not to watch, not to look.

He sees our baby born. He sees the extent of the defects annever once even flinches. Neither repulsion nor horror enters his expression. His face is full of love and sadness.

He is proud of me. And I, of him. And both of us of our babywhose tiny, sick heart had beaten strong and regular until just two days ago, despite incredible odds and a multitude of problems.

Mary stands apart from us, holding a bundle wrapped in one othe warm, white terry towels with which she had covered me in hopes of helping me to stop quaking. I ask if it is my baby. She nods.

I want to know what it is. The doctor says "girl" as I accept thtiny being into the crook of my left arm.

Seeing you, holding you isn't terrifying at all. It serves to confirwhat I have known since Friday when I watched your heartbeat slow and then stop on the screen during the echocardiogram: You are dead. It confirms what I have known since I first suspected your life within me: You are the most precious little baby.

Your father wants to name you in memory of my mother, ReginMarie, who died eight years ago. I suggest we shorten it simply to Jean; at two pounds, two ounces, you're much too tiny for a long complicated name. Jean it is.

In the silent moments after your birth, I survey your features an ++ notice that your nose, which never took even one breath, is a tiny replica of my own. Your eyes -- are they blue, like mine? -- are so tightly closed, not risking a glimpse at this world, my world. Your mouth -- tight-lipped red -- will never taste of my milk or cry out to me. Your dark, matted hair, I do not smooth, nor do I count your fingers or toes before handing you back. Their inky smudges, I have on paper. I can keep them, take them out and touch them and be thankful that once, if only for a moment, I held the baby to whom they belonged.

MARY ALICE YAKUTCHIK is a free-lance writer who lives in Jarrettsille.

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