“Autumn, your lips are blue,” Mom says to me. “You’re going to alarm the technician when they arrive.”
We’re waiting for the ultrasound to begin. Mom has already grabbed a white towel and is running water on it.
“Claire, that’s to wipe the gel off her afterward,” Aunt Angelina says.
“You need to let me finish this first.” I hold up the precious candy packet that Finny bought me those few long months ago.
At first, I had planned on hoarding them forever, running my hands through them like a miser with gold coins. But one day, the craving hit me. My body was demanding the colored sugar powder. My body needed it for the baby; that’s what it was telling me. Perhaps it was the baby telling me it needed it. And even though I knew what Finny, the almost premed student, would have said (“The flaw in that theory is the lack of nutritional value, Autumn.”), I also knew that if he were alive, he would have been reading up on the topic, and he would have learned that what the mother eats can influence the flavor of the amniotic fluid in the womb. He would have to concede that maybe, on some level, my body was telling me to give the baby a treat.
Imagining that conversation made me cry, and as I wept and ate the candy powder, I went through and counted the rest of the packets. To affect the fluid, I’d probably need to eat a whole strip of the packets at a time, and I had enough to do that once a week.
That’s why it’s important that I finish this last blue packet before the technician comes; it’s my way of sharing Finny’s gift with our baby.
Mom advances with the wet cloth, and I flinch away from her.
“Hello! Hello!” A woman in scrubs bustles into the room.
“She doesn’t have heart failure. She was eating candy,” Mom says.
Angelina sighs and rubs her forehead.
“I’m done now!” I say, because I am and because I realize how childlike I look in this situation. I grab the cloth from Mom’s hand and wipe my mouth.
“We’ll need to get another towel for you later,” the technician says as she sits down with a grunt.
“Sorry,” I say. “I have these cravings.”
“It’s fine. There are more towels in the cupboard. My name is Jackie, and I’ll be the technician doing the main scan, and then your doctor will come and meet with you, go over any images if need be. Is this your first time?”
“Oh, I mean, of course?” I say, blushing.
“Oh honey. I’ve seen a few your age with their third on the way. Why don’t you go ahead and lie back—there you go. And pull your shirt up—perfect.” She turns to look at the screen in front of her and presses keys on the machine. “The way I see it, it doesn’t matter how old you are when you have your kids or how many you have, just as long as you can take care of them. Okay, to confirm a few things, you are Davis, Autumn R., born on nine-two-eight…”
After a few more questions and the cold spurt of bluish clear gel on my ever-expanding belly, Jackie looks at me and gives me a smile that is genuinely excited for me.
“Are you ready to see your baby?” she asks.
Mom and Aunt Angelina squeal harmoniously in the corner as I whisper, “I’m ready.”
The wand presses firmly into my bump. There’s a swirl of black and white on the screen, and then—
“There it is,” Jackie says. “Posing for the camera already. I should get this shot before they move. That’s the keepsake right there.” She mumbles to herself, and I hear the clack of the keyboard. I even hear The Mothers crying over my shoulder, but in another way, it’s all very distant.
Finny, I tell him. That’s our baby. I swallow the lump in my throat as if I were actually saying the words to him. We really did make a baby.
The leg—their leg, our baby’s leg—kicks, and I feel the flutter, the one I’ve been so unsure about all these weeks.
I’ve been feeling our baby move, Finny.
“I’ve saved that one to print. It’s time for me to start doing my job. I’m going to move over here and start taking some measurements of the head and brain…”
She alternates between ignoring me as she works and explaining what she’s doing. A few times, she points out the clearer images for me to see, like the gentle curve of the spine and the feet tucked together with all ten toes.
The Mothers are still crying a bit, but it’s mostly happy whispering now. I told them that I both wanted and didn’t want them here, because it’s always a moment you think you’re going to share with the father of your baby, but I also didn’t want to face it alone.
This situation is working. They’re here, and I feel supported, but I’m free to let myself feel how much I wish Finny was the one supporting me today.
“So did you tell me whether you wanted to know the sex and I forgot?” Jackie asks. “Or did I forget to ask you?”
“You didn’t ask,” I say. “But I still haven’t decided if I want to know.”
There has been a lingering controversy about this. Angelina believes in bonding with the child without considering their probable gender identity; Mom believes in planning for future photo shoots.
I don’t know what Finny would want.
He would tell me that whatever made me feel the most confident about becoming a mother would be the right thing for us, but when he said it, I would be able to tell that he was hoping I would choose one or the other.
I don’t know which it is.
It’s not that I would choose what I thought he wanted, but knowing what he would have wanted would have been something I considered, and I hate not knowing.
“You should probably look away now if you don’t want to know,” Jackie says, and I don’t actually have to look away at first, because tears are blurring my eyes.
I close them to stop them from spilling and ask, “Can you write it down for me? I’ll decide later.”
“Sure can,” Jackie says. “Do you want me to give the envelope to you or one of your family members?”
“I’ll take—” Mom starts to say as Angelina says, “I can hide—”
“Give it to me,” I tell Jackie. “Aunt Angelina, you’re not as good at hiding things as you think, and, Mom, we all know you would open it. I’m surprised you looked away when Jackie said to.”
“Angelina made me cover my eyes,” Mom grumbles.
“You mean I covered your eyes for you, Claire,” she says, but it’s their normal banter. The differences in their temperament have always been the linchpin of their friendship.
“So far, everything looks good. The baby has genitals that will remain TBA for now. But don’t be surprised when your doctor adjusts your due date after looking at my measurements,” Jackie adds, “probably a few days later than the previous estimation.”
Panic starts to creep in me.
“But I know, um, very specifically the exact, uh, date of the event of this baby’s conception. So if the baby looks too small—”
She turns to face me. “The baby isn’t too small. The baby is a fine size. But actual conception can take place a few minutes after the event, as you called it, or several days later. Based on the size of your baby, I’d say that conception happened more than two days after your event.”
“Oh,” I say. There’s a stillness in the room as I hear The Mothers take in this information with me.
“The next ten minutes might be pretty boring,” Jackie says. “I’m going to be going through your baby’s abdomen and making sure all the organs are there and growing nicely. It won’t look like much on the screen.”
“Okay.” I’m already gazing out and away, thinking about the time of conception being so different than I thought.
I had thought that this baby was what remained of our love story, but that isn’t the case at all. There was a bit of Finny still in me when he died, and it wasn’t until after he was gone, sometime as I was weeping and screaming, some moment when my soul was crying out for his, that Finny’s child started to form within me.
This baby isn’t what’s left over from our love story. This baby is our story’s continuation.
I feel that flutter within me and look back at the screen to see if I see movement, but what I see is a heart.
I’m surprised that I can recognize it, and perhaps I’m wrong, but it looks like the shape of a human heart in that way that isn’t much like the valentine. I turn my head to Jackie to tell her I can recognize this one when I see her slight frown.
It’s not a big frown. She isn’t hugely distressed, but it’s a frown of concentration, the sort a mechanic makes when someone is describing the sound an engine is making.
Behind me, I hear The Mothers discussing whether not knowing the gender means Mom gets to buy from the more expensive stores.
“They have better options in neutral,” she says.
“Is everything all right?” I ask Jackie, loud enough to be certain that The Mothers can hear. They fall silent.
“Yes,” Jackie says, still with her frown. “But I’m going to need to take extra pictures of your baby’s heart, and she’s moving around. I think that candy you were eating is hitting her now—”
“Why do you need to take extra pictures of the heart?” I ask.
Jackie stares at the machine before looking over at me. She opens her mouth.
“Did you say ‘she’?” Mom asks.
Jackie’s eyes widen as she glances from Mom to me.
“It’s okay,” I say. “You can answer both questions. Mine first though.”
“Your doctor has to be the one to explain it to you,” Jackie says. “I’m not qualified to go into the specifics with you, but I can tell you that she is probably going to be fine. And yes, it’s a girl. And she’s absolutely perfect, except for one little thing that will probably be just fine. Okay, Autumn?”
“Okay,” I say and nod to prove I’m all right, that she can get back to taking the pictures she needs to.
“Mom, Aunt An—” I start to say, but they’re already by my side. Mom takes my hand, and Angelina puts her hand on my shoulder, and we cry a bit and smile together some, because Finny and I are having a daughter, and she’s probably going to be fine.