From the moment I began to tell folks I was carrying a little person inside me, I've been dodging the question of gender/sex. And because I decided beforehand that I would not find out, I would seek out the most creative ways to sidestep the question. Well, does it that really matter? Or, I just want healthy baby. Or, I'm just happy I'll get a chance to experience being somebody's mother. Of course these platitudes were simply that. Platitudes. I was just being politically correct. As in, why the hell you want to know if it's a boy or girl? Are you trying to anticipate what color clothes to buy based on what lives between the kid's legs? I mean, my son might want to wear pink shirts with glitter all over it? Or my daughter may just live in overalls and play with dump trucks all day long? And what if the kid wants to live somewhere between the two? I wanted my child to have the room to be as fluid as he wants to be, as flip-flopping as she dared, and I made no bones about saying so. In my rants against gender-norms my politics were clear.
But deep down inside I had my own desires. I thought it would be easier for me, big, Amazon, lesbian, activist to raise a daughter. I imagined it would be easier for a girl to see how being a feminist would be a good thing. I kept telling myself it would be a good thing to raise a boy who could house feminist politics and still be proud of being male, but I know I was hoping against hope I would have a girl. It all seemed like such a puzzle, which I was fully committed to figuring out. My analytical brain was in full Rubik's Cube mode. If the kid is a girl, she would be like this and therefore I would need to approach the politics like this. If he is a boy, then he would be like that, so I would need to treat him like that. I bought the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter and read articles online about raising feminist sons. I had my formulae, my game plan. I felt prepared for anything.
Then at fourteen weeks I woke up from a nap with blood all over my inner thighs. By the time I made it to the bathroom rivers of red were coursing into the white porcelain toilet bowl. I felt like I was drowning. But I couldn't allow myself to go under. I needed to get through this in a practical way. I pushed the sorrow from out of my heart and yelled for my friend, Racquel, who I just happened to be visiting in Toronto that week. When she stepped into the frame of the doorway the look on her face said it all. We both knew what all this blood in the toilet meant. Baby was saying bye-bye.
"Think we should go to the hospital?" Racquel asked?
"Yes. Yes. We should go to the hospital," I agreed.
In my head I wondered what was the sense of going to the hospital now. I tried to remember what I had read about miscarriages; how long the process took, what were the signs -- I remembered it could take days to pass the fetus. I just wanted to crawl back into bed and wait out this terrible, terrible nightmare.
But Racquel face still wore a streak of hope so I quickly put on a pad and grabbed my handbag while she and Sandy (my friend who drove me from New York to Canada) got dressed.
At the hospital the nurse looked at me and said, "Fourteen weeks? There's really nothing we can do at fourteen weeks. The baby isn't yet viable, you know?"
I nodded, but I really had no idea what she was saying or how I was hearing it. I wanted them to do what they do on TV when a pregnant woman comes into the ER bleeding. I wanted them to use medical terms and shout instructions to each other while they wheeled me into some room here they would do something to save my dead baby. But they calmly led me into a cold examination room with gynecological equipment and told me to get undressed and wait for the doctor.
Half an hour later, someone came, took my vitals and told me to get naked from the waist down and put my feet in the stirrups.
"Yes, yes. There is some bleeding."
This one must be Einstein, I thought and smiled and nodded again.
"Fourteen weeks? Nothing we can do at fourteen weeks," he said.
"What about an ultrasound?" I asked.
"Yes, yes. Of course, we want to see what's going on with the little one."
Then he withdrew his speculum and left.
I had no idea what they would find with the ultrasound. I waited another hour, shivering in the freezing exam room. Nothing seemed urgent. Which seemed out-of-place in an emergency room. I was certain the baby was already gone. There was too much blood for me to hope. I wasn't close to any of my doctors, and I had no health insurance coverage for Canada. My naked lower half was covered in goose bumps and although my friends were just outside in the waiting room I felt completely alone. I didn't even realize I was crying until I heard myself sobbing. I wished I had someone to talk to, to say how I feel.
I looked at my barely distended belly and admitted that I really wanted my baby to be alive. Something told me I needed to vocalize that desire. Maybe if it could hear me say it, it might just stay.
I placed my hand on my lower abdomen and tried not to feel foolish as I began, "Ahm--I'm Staceyann. I'm your mother--well, I will be--well if you--I mean, that is if--"
I really didn't know what to say. Everything in my head sounded cliché. But I know if I did not speak I would go crazy in that quiet, sterile room flooded with fluorescent lights.
"Hey, Kiddo." I began again, "This is weird. Though I imagine it must be weirder for you. I just want to tell you -- to let you know that I really, really want you to stay with me. I know I've been kind of an automaton about the whole thing, just putting one foot in front the other, but just in case this is a cry for attention -- just in case you are still in there, and just need to hear me say it out loud, I so badly want to be your mother. So please, I am begging you -- no pressure -- but I promise to do my best to care for you, to give you space to be anything -- anyone you want to be. Just stay. Just stay. Just please don't slither out of me, just stay right here and keep on growing kidneys and ears and eyelashes and be my kid. If you could just do that I would be ever so grateful."
Suddenly I felt foolish for being so preoccupied with whether I was carrying a boy or a girl. In that moment I saw where my own desires were part and parcel of the same gender/sexuality construct I seemed so intent on deconstructing.
"Listen," I continued, "I don't care if you come with a vagina or a penis. I'm going to try to love you the same, treat you the same and give you the same space to be your own fabulous self. Just please, please, please, please stay here with me."
And then I made up the corniest song that sounded angst-filled and eighties--even to my ears and sang it softly to the child I hoped was listening inside my uterus. I didn't notice another half hour had passed until Racquel knocked on the door, worried and filled with questions. When I told her how long I had been in the room alone she got mad and went to find the doctor.
I was still humming the silly made-up song under my breath when the doctor arrived with the portable ultrasound machine. I didn't protest the cold gel he squirted onto my quivering stomach. The image was blurry, but I could make out the shape of a head and a torso and we all waited for what seemed like eons before the head started moving. By the time the doctor turned on the sound it was already apparent that the baby was alive and kicking. The rapid staccato of the tiny heartbeat gave us permission to exhale. My kid was alive. I was still bleeding oceans but my kid was alive and I was filled with gratitude and a sense of the greatest responsibility and pride.
Back in New York City high-resolution ultrasounds revealed I had a subchorionic hematoma (which is really a pool of blood formed between the membranes of the placenta and the uterus) and a low-lying placenta (placental location too close to the cervix.) Either or both of these could have been responsible for the bleeding. I was put on bed-rest until the bleeding stopped. And when it did at twenty weeks I thought I was in the clear.
But the day before I turned twenty-two weeks I turned over and there it was, bright red blood again. And it's funny how the night before I knew something was wrong. I had been up late talking to my friend, Kerry-Jo, on the phone. For some reason I was scared and worried and couldn't pinpoint any reason for it. Her advice was to talk to the baby. I didn't want to. Though I had done it before, it still felt weird to be talk to someone who wasn't really there. It was enough that my body was given over to this strange, alien purpose of reproduction. I didn't want to become one of those pregnant lunatics that bellowed into their distended stomachs at every crisis. So I ignored the increased kicking and kept my anxious thoughts to myself. But that morning when I saw the blood I began talking to my child right then.
I was on home turf in Brooklyn this time. So I wasn't as frightened. I calmly called my doctor who advised me to go straight to the hospital, to the labor and delivery ward.
This hospital visit was more like the ones I've seen on TV.
"Twenty-two weeks? Hmm. Okay. How are you feeling? Is there pain? Tightness? Hmm. Any known health issues? No? Okay, don't worry, we're gonna do everything we can for you and your baby."
Orders were shouted in terms I could not understand and I was brought to a bed and hooked up to two monitors that beeped dramatically. The baby's heartbeat was checked immediately and the sound was left on to fill the small room. I was covered with an impressive stack of blankets to stave off the cold. IVs were discussed and medication prescribed. The midwife on duty told me I was having premature contractions. The doctor said baby was fine but they wanted to observe me overnight.
That night, with the background of its heartbeat in the background, I struck up a conversation with my kid. And all through the night I reiterated that we were a team. And this time there was no hesitation. "Hey, Kiddo. Twenty-two weeks, less that halfway to go. Can you hang in there a few more weeks? I mean, just the lungs and some fine-tuning left. We've been through all this together, the vomiting, the first bleeding -- do you remember Toronto? All that blood! How scared I was? This time I am not so scared. We didn't have as much blood this time. I think we were meant to be, you and I. Seems like a good match, don't you think? Think you could just stay put for another two months, even? I know you are anxious to get out of there. Kinda small for a big personality like yours, huh? It's just better for you in there right now? It's pretty good real estate for New York City, you know; all your bills included; food, accommodations heat. It's a good deal."
I talked while they punctured my vein in preparation for the IV. I talked while they injected Brethine into me and I shook like a leaf, heart racing and legs jerking from the tremors they warned me was an expected side effect. And I talked between the little yellow Procardia pills they gave me at six-hour intervals. I talked and talked and talked about everything and nothing. And soon enough my uterus quieted and the body we shared finally found a rhythm safe enough for them to let us come home.
I'm back on bed-rest again. Strict bed-rest. I can pee and I can take a bath. I am dependent of the kindness of mostly strangers. (Most of the friends I thought would show up in droves haven't yet.) My team is largely made up of young mothers, and older women who have retired, and acquaintances with whom I had had no more than a conversation or two before I knocked myself up. There are some new faces, where after all they have done for me, I am forced to admit are fast becoming friends. They keep me fed and in clean clothes, and they provide transportation to and from the hospital and the doctor's office. I spend hours and hours alone in my too-large bed, tossing and turning and trying to find a comfortable position in which to lie. I get excited every time someone visits, and remain grateful for any kind of conversation.
I don't even get annoyed when they ask, "Do you know if it's a boy or girl?"
I simply wrinkle my nose and say, "Not so sure that's so important to me. Knock on wood, I'm just happy he or she seems to be listening, and maybe, just maybe planning to stay here with me."