Writer’s note: I am writing this in week 21 of a healthy pregnancy, as my wife and I anticipate the June 2021 arrival of our baby boy. But, he is in fact our second pregnancy. This story is about our first.
April 28, 2020. This is the most stunning Saturday I’ve seen in months. The bold shades of blue in the sky. The subtle accenting white streaks and golden, almost-white sun. Maybe I’ve glossed over other days like this, only noticing this morning’s spectacle because I’m on the water. It’s ride number two with my newly purchased (used) kayak. The water is placid like a plate of glass. And I feel as calm as I’d dream to be.
I paddle out at a modest pace. Upon reaching mile three from the shore, I pivot to look behind me. The Coconut Grove Marina glistens with vessels and cerulean hues. I slow the kayak to a stop and tuck the paddle under the top-mounted bungie cord for safe keeping. I pull my Kindle out from my bag, flip it open, and click to Chapter 1. It’s a book I bought on what to expect when your wife is pregnant.
Four days ago, I found out I’m going to be a father.
Like most parents these days, my journey to this moment begins just outside of a bathroom door, rarely a place for celebration. I’m waiting outside the door for Jessi to finish using the facilities. She steps out and places a red Solo Cup on the countertop, then proceeds to unseal a pregnancy test to place inside the cup. A few seconds pass. She removes the pregnancy test and places it on a piece of paper towel back on the countertop.
I set the timer to three minutes, just as the instructions ask.
And suddenly, we’re quiet, save for the exchange of nervous glances. 90 seconds go by. We look down at the test. Two lines have appeared, one more faint than the other. Jessi looks at it, mouth slightly agape, then looks at me. We’ve gone 0-for-2 on pregnancy tests so far, but I know what it means — what it’s supposed to mean — just as she does.
But the only words that come out are “oh my God” and “seriously?” This isn’t faux shock; despite our efforts, neither of us totally believes this is real.
Fortunately, there are two tests in the box. One test could be wrong, we reason. Two? Definitely not two. She closes the bathroom door, and for a minute, I am alone.
I think of my father. How hard he must’ve prayed for a moment like this, and the lengths to which he and my mother went to be where I am now. I think of my friends who struggled mightily to get here. Years of misses. Fertility treatments. IVF. And I think of Jessi and I as parents. Like a flash, I see us at Bulla Gastrobar on our first date, getting engaged in the living room of our first apartment, then walking down the aisle to one another on our wedding day.
And now, waiting with these naïve, poignant hopes that sit within us, on either side of an unremarkable bathroom door.
The handle moves, and she steps back out. She sets the second test back inside the cup, then removes it. I reset the timer for another three minutes. But within 30 seconds, there’s no denying it — two lines. And statistics that all but guarantee it — she’s pregnant with our first child.
We cling to each other, repeating “oh my God.” And then we step back, taking stock in the unspoken multitudes in each other’s eyes. Jessi starts to cry.
Doctors visits look different during quarantine. When I take Jessi to her first OB-GYN appointment and ultrasound, I’m not allowed in the office, let alone the room. I kiss her and send her on her way as she puts on a face mask, as I watch her walk through the parking garage to the elevator. And I sit, waiting patiently in the car for a FaceTime call to come in.
About 15 minutes later, it does.
There’s already gel on her belly. The famous gray-scale screen shows itself on the monitor. Within seconds, I can see a cloudy, open space and a small, bean-sized cluster floating in its center, as the words “there’s your baby!” come off of the doctor’s lips like a hazy dream.
It may be bean-shaped, but it’s our bean.
The corners of my eyes are wet. I’m smiling hard enough that my jaw tightens, creating a small sensation of pain, so I force it shut. A small casualty of joy. The doctor draws out a line with the computer and takes some measurements and pictures. Just as quickly as I’ve gotten the good news, the phone clicks off. Jessi tells me she’ll talk to her doctor and come out as soon as she’s ready.
Nothing I have felt before matches this. I’m in awe, awake with wonder. But there’s fear — I wonder how suitable I am to be a dad. How this will immediately change the trajectory of our lives, from short term plans to our day-to-day lives. The sacrifices it’ll take.
It’s funny — having children was never a mandatory for me. On a bucket list of my lifetime ambitions, kids weren’t a must. But then I turned 30. My best friend gave birth to his first son and he and his wife named me Godfather. A year and a half later, I met Jessi. Call it a confluence of happy circumstance. Suddenly, I had seen magic in a child, and found home in the heart of my wife. And I couldn’t imagine a future without a child of our own to experience that magic with, in Jessi’s nurturing arms.
The elevator door opens, and Jessi emerges. But I can see within an instant that she’s not in the same mood she was when I’d hung up with her minutes ago.
She’s on the verge of tears, nearly running.
I push open the car door to meet her. “What’s going on, honey?”
Jessi explains that the doctor saw a slightly larger yolk sac on the ultrasound; the yolk sac provides nutrition to the fetus before the development of the placenta, which takes on the heavy lifting thereafter. A larger yolk sac, the doctor explained, indicates a higher risk of spontaneous abortion, or in layman’s terms, a sudden loss of pregnancy. A risk factor, not a guarantee, but something that we’d need to watch and take a look at again in two weeks.
The water is still serene. I put the book away after reaching the third chapter; it’s approaching content about the second trimester. I’m eager to learn, but I know there’s little sense in reading things I’m bound to forget before even mastering the things I do need to learn in the first trimester.
For now, it’s just me and total silence on this peaceful blue water. I’m the worst at enjoying moments in the moment. My mind wanders to places in the past and future, but rarely quiets itself for what is.
But I’m going to be a father now.
And having never experienced this before, I’m learning that nothing anchors you to the present quite like being reminded of your own insignificance. A baby is the key to new worlds.
My business, making more money, or taking a trip to some beautiful place — all are now distant thoughts.
There’s just me, the water, and the understanding of what I’ve long been told: That this moment is a miracle.
After two weeks of Googling the risk factors associated with an above average-sized yolk sac in early pregnancies, we’re back in the parking garage at the OB-GYN’s office. I know what we’re up against with today’s appointment. But for all my apprehensions, I’m very much the passenger on this ride. This is happening around me, but it’s not happening to me, inside my body. So, I’ve been the supportive, doting husband to the best of my ability.
Holding her hand, kissing her, hugging her. Assuring her repeatedly that no matter our outcome, that which has been ours will always be ours.
The shock and joy of the first positive pregnancy test(s); the pages of books we’ve read. The planning and imagining. At worst, this pure joy is and has been ours, and we’ve been able to get this far.
At best, it’s clear skies ahead. And I’m hopeful.
The parking attendant stops us as we enter the garage, flagging me down as I drive past him. I hit the brakes. He approaches the window, which I roll down a few inches. “We need to take your temperature before you go into the building, you can’t just drive by us,” he says, tension in his voice.
He’s clearly on edge from what I presume has been a series of interactions with skeptics of the parking attendant wielding a thermometer gun. We oblige, and Jessi’s temperature is taken. We’re already on pins and needles, but the temperature rings in the safe zone — all clear.
I kiss her as she steps out of the car and heads into the office, walking those steps to the elevator alone, again. I desperately want to be at her side, to comfort her. Maybe to comfort me. Moments like these are torturous, as agonizing minutes elapse, knowing that no matter the news on the other side of this test, our lives will change.
She arrives inside the office. FaceTime connects. But, her video stream to me isn’t working. I can see her, but she can’t see me. Like a one-way mirror.
My wife is alone in a moment no woman should be alone. It is her and her doctor, with only my voice through the speaker of her iPhone to assure her she’s being held and cared for.
In seconds, the same gray-scale screen comes into focus. The ultrasound. The doctor is talking to both of us as the fetus comes back into focus. I can’t see her, but I can hear her voice.
“Okay, unfortunately…” she begins, but I hear little else.
20 minutes later, I see the door to the parking garage open again. I jump out of the car and run up to Jessi. Her sobs arrive before she hits my arms, and she collapses against me.
We were parents-to-be for eight weeks, two days.
Our afternoon at home is expectedly somber. Beyond the obvious, there’s perhaps the less evident — a miscarriage doesn’t mean the pregnancy is over. The fetus is no longer at home in the uterus; a failed pregnancy must exit the body, like nature’s torturous eviction notice. Jessi’s doctor explained that there’s a surgical option to remove the fetus. There’s also an option involving medicine which expedites the cycling-out of the fetal tissue.
Each brings a failed pregnancy to a completion that burdens the woman with a final step that looks agony in the face, and then doubles down on it.
She opted for the medicine. The surgical option, normally a preferred method, would take at least a week or more to schedule because of COVID-19. So the final steps will be taken at home.
I look at my wife and ache for her. As if losing your growing seed isn’t painful enough, you must be an active participant in its final coup de grâce. I ache for those before her — women who include my mother — and those who may one day inherit this same misery.
I feel angry too, cursing any women’s clinic picketer if they could spend a minute in the shoes of the woman they scorn, blind to the plight of just how many might walk through these doors to an appointment they’d beg God to cancel.
Re-runs of Chicago PD take over our living room TV screen for the better part of the afternoon. There’s comfort in the familiarity of Hank Voight’s gruff voice. The day fades, but we’re cozy and we’re together. Around 3:00 p.m., there’s a notification on my phone from my Ring doorbell. Someone’s out front.
I open up the front door and see a deliveryman exiting through our front gate. He looks back and sees the puzzled look on my face. I look down on our front porch. There are three boxes of cookies there, and I wonder why we’d be receiving a package of sweets right now.
“It’s a gift,” the gentleman says from the gate.
I bend down to pick up the boxes and walk inside to tell Jessi; the receipt tape has a note on it. It’s from one of her best friends, with a note that a bakery employee transcribed for her, acknowledging that nothing can account for what we’re feeling, but that cookies never hurt.
I walk into the kitchen, staring down in a daze at the three boxes in my arms. I set them down on the counter, looking at the note once more, my hands holding on to a corner of the counter.
And I collapse on its edge, falling on my elbows, chest heaving, no longer able to hold back the tears.
Three hours later, I walk outside to take our dog, Chloe, for her last walk of the day. My thoughts are both hazy and clear at once. I think of the day I first saw the positive test results. The loosely framed plans for the months ahead. The pages of the book, the fear, the blind joy. And that peaceful, idyllic morning on the water, when the morning sky was at its brightest, and nothing else was of import than what I had in that moment.
I look up, approaching the same gate through which our deliveryman had come hours before. The sun-setting sky is a smooth, creamy mix of orange and pink. In fact, it’s perhaps the most stunning sunset I’ve seen in months. I call Jessi and ask her outside to see it for herself. She joins me at my side.
And for the second time in eight weeks, the simple beauty of a quiet sky is enough to render me quiet. Present, aware of all that is. A day’s beauty illuminated by its sunrise. And nightfall’s mysteries brought on by the glow of its same setting sun.