Some Massive Gravity

Liza Butler

The big square pills or the small bullet pills make our old dog Sequoia thirsty. She laps up so much water I have to refill her bowl twice a day. I joke that she is doing much better than me—I am supposed to drink ten cups of water a day, but drinking makes the morning sickness worse, so I barely manage five. She’s drinking enough for both of us. But then she begins to leak in her sleep. I see a small dark patch on her bed at first, my sock-covered feet finding bigger patches by the couch where we both nap in the afternoon. I soak them up with an old towel, but the smell of the cleaning spray makes me gag. I tell Cameron, and he says he’ll take care of it, buy special enzyme cleaner that has no smell. All I can think is how this will get worse, how the whole house will reek of urine, how he’ll be away working for most of the summer, home only every second weekend at most, how I will be the one taking care of it. I focus on work, on the stack of books distracting me from my nausea, anything to avoid thinking about this ailing dog and this alien life taking over my body and brain. I want it all to stop. I want things back to the way they were before. It’s two more weeks until the screening that may or may not tell us if there is something wrong with the baby.
       Cameron does not worry about these tests. At least not the way I do. In my mind the baby already has cystic fibrosis. Or the space at the back of her neck is secretly swelling. Or a patch of her back has failed to close up, leaving the delicate tendril of her spinal cord open and exposed. I feel the massive weight of the US medical system bearing down on us as we try to care for this ill-formed baby. I do not ask will we love her? I ask will we be able to afford her? I remind myself that my Irish passport, my years of British residency, and my still-active National Insurance number mean something. We can trade our five acres of Sierra Foothill sunshine, this house we’ve shared for two years, for a tiny squat row house in the gloomy chill of an impending English winter and free health care. Cameron will do this, if we must, but he refuses to imagine it, refuses to watch as I mentally pack up our things and search online for cheap flights. In his imagination sits a whole and healthy baby on the smooth wood of the back porch he built during the weeks when she lay hidden inside me, before we even knew she existed.

At our first prenatal check-up, the nurse Helen wheels in a portable ultrasound machine. As I lie on my back, feet up in stirrups, she turns the screen toward us. The blurry image reminds me of my sister’s small black-and-white television, the indoor antenna. On rainy, windy nights, sequestered upstairs, we lay on our bellies peering into the static while downstairs our dad tutored pupils for the extra money we needed. Helen knows what to look for, points out a dark mass that uncurls into two masses—a head and a body, she says, not two babies—there is just the single embryo. She tells me I’m healthy and the baby is growing well. Three centimeters already with a little lentil heart thumping 160 beats per minute. On the monitor, all I see is dark squirming into light, a fuzziness that pulses with the beat—when the sound fills the room, the baby squiggles, dances. Helen laughs. Later she gives us a leaflet about early testing. After age thirty-five, she says, the risk of Down’s syndrome and other birth defects increases from one in a thousand to one in three hundred. I’m thirty-six. I will be thirty-seven when the baby comes. If it comes. I also hear there’s a one in five chance of miscarriage in this first trimester. We take the paper, tell her we’ll think it over.
       It never occurred to me there could be more than one baby, so my relief surprises me. Did I think she would see on the screen a trace of another, tinier embryo, not yet five weeks, poppy-seed heart too small to see, hiding behind this baby? Our ghost child, not old enough for a heartbeat, not old enough to even be called fetus, the name this one will earn at ten weeks, meaning little one. What are these ones, before they are little ones? Is there a littleness too small to name? Too small to matter? There is plenty of room right now for both; this new baby can slip and slide and squiggle freely. But as she grows, will there still be space? Will she have to offer a quarter ounce of flesh to this other? How great will the price be? A hare lip? Spina Bifida? Trisomy 18? Miscarriage?