“Probed” by Ellyn Gelman is the second place winner of our Fall Non-Fiction Contest.
I hit the snooze button on top of the digital clock. 6:30 AM. My husband, Dan, reached around my belly and pulled me up against him and we spooned in silence until the snooze alarm sounded. Married for ten years, together for fifteen, I knew every bit of his thirty-four-year old body as intimately as I knew my own. His morning erection pressed up against my backside, the sport scent deodorant he applied with exactly five swipes in each armpit every morning, the dark hair on his forearms that ended precisely where his hairless hands began. Even the smell of his breath after a night of snoring was familiar and oddly comforting.
“Do you want me to go with you today?” I felt his words in my hair just above my right ear lobe and a tiny feather from the quilt rose up and rode on the waves of his voice.
“No, I’ll be fine. It’s just an ultrasound,” I said as I slid out of bed and walked to the bathroom. “I’ll call you this afternoon when it’s over.”
“Let’s see what we have here.” The radiology technician flicks the light switch to darken the room. I think she’s told me her name but I can’t remember. Fresh cigarette smoke wafts from her as she types my age—thirty-four—date of last menses—no clue. The smell stirs a familiar craving in the part of my brain that refuses to forget nicotine, despite four years of abstinence and a solemn pact with God to never smoke again.
I shiver, naked from the waist down.
“Here we go,” the tech says as she inserts the transvaginal probe. The top of her head hovers between my legs, right above my bent knees that have been draped with a white sheet. The demarcation between her dark roots and bleached tufts reminds me of sea grass in late autumn.
It has been four weeks since our embryonic transfer. The probe ignores my tender, hyper-stimulated ovaries. Five weeks ago this same probe searched for the number of ovum (eggs) my ovaries had produced—the final tally was twenty. Today the probe’s high frequency sound waves search only for a fetal heartbeat.
I shift my gaze to the random pattern of pinholes, and short, gray, wavy lines on the white ceiling above me. Hormones have wreaked havoc on my emotions, and, without warning, my eyes fill with tears that cause the pattern on the dropped ceiling to become a watery distortion that looks like slow-moving sperm. Hot tears trail down my temples and puddle in my ears.
The pressure of the probe increases, as does my discomfort. I remind myself to breathe.
Dan and I are thirty-four years old and we have been mired in this world of infertile baby making for ten years. This is our second and last attempt to have another child. I cannot put my body through this again—hormone shots, needle-aspirated egg retrievals, embryo transfers (if we’re lucky), and the mind-numbing disappointment of a negative pregnancy test.
“Here it is,” said the technician.
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and lift myself onto my elbows to get a better look at the black and white monitor.
“How many embryos were transferred?”
“Five,” I said. I don’t tell her that three of the five embryos were identified as fair, two were considered good, or that the last time we tried IVF we transferred three embryos—one fair, two good—and none of them implanted. I don’t tell her that our first cycle of IVF resulted in only one fair embryo, and that he’s three years old now, and I especially don’t tell her that I feel greedy for wanting another child.
“I found a heartbeat,” she says.
Rapid-fire goose bumps tingle in my scalp and spread to my limbs like champagne bubbles. I hear the magnified watery heartbeats, and, when I spot the tiny pulse on the screen, I can’t help but laugh out loud. Elated, I begin to relax.
The tech discovers another heartbeat, separate from the one I had been looking at.
Oh my God—twins. This is so exciting. Dan should be here.
“I think there’s more,” she says.
“No, no more,” I said as the beats of my heart pound in my head.
She pulls out the probe and instructs me to empty my bladder, in order for a better look.
I wrap the white sheet around my waist and slide zombie-like off the table to the attached restroom. The fear I have managed to suppress begins to unfurl and spreads to my gut. I sit with elbows on knees, face in hands long after I’m empty. Maybe more? Does she mean three? Four? All five? What if there are five babies growing inside me? The tech knocks on the door and asks if I’m okay. I splash water on my face and dab it with a paper towel before I return to the table and assume the position.
There are three tiny hearts beating in my womb, each one given a generic obstetric code—A, B and C.
The relief that there are not five embryos diminishes the anxiety that there are three.
“So what are you going to do?” the tech says as she cleans and readies the probe for the next patient.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to keep all three?” She says that some patients with multiple embryos choose to selectively abort one or two. Her casual disregard irritates me.
“What I think,” I say, “is that I’m going to have triplets.” I pull on my elastic-waist pants and slide my feet into my shoes. Despite my use of the towel, I have no control over the excess lubricant that begins to leak from me and soak my white cotton underwear. Dan calls my underwear big ole cotton jobs. I try to remember if the gel was clear or if it had a color that will leave behind a stain. Without another word, I exit the room that reeks of organized science and out into a new domain of random chaos.
It is cold dark outside, and I wander around the parking lot until I locate my Honda Accord. I sit with the ignition key in my hand. It’s not that I don’t want three babies. I would love to have three more babies, just not all at once. I hit the steering wheel with the palm of my hand, and let loose a single desolate sob, “Triplets?” I’ll never take triplets to term. I had pre-eclampsia with my first baby and he had to be induced two and a half weeks early. I reach for a crumpled brown napkin I left behind on the passenger seat, and blow my nose.
Dan and I knew the risks when we decided to transfer all five embryos. How does one choose which embryo to transfer and which to leave behind? We knew that transferring all five embryos would increase our odds for another baby, one baby, and if we were really lucky, maybe twins. Four weeks ago, it felt right to transfer all five embryos. Today I feel selfish, a bit greedy.. It is almost six-thirty. I need to get home to my little boy and my mother who is looking after him. Dan is expecting me to call him at work with the results. I rest my forehead on the steering wheel but I can’t stop the tears. I guess the joke is on me, God…I prayed for babies and I got babies. I take a deep breath and call Dan on my recently installed car phone. He picks up on the fourth ring.
“Guess what?” I say, “We’re having triplets.”