I always judge a place’s cleanliness by whether I straddle the toilet seat or sit down on it. It’s a subconscious thing. I could be in someone’s home, and without even thinking, my mind off in thoughts about yesterday’s train ride or tomorrow’s dinner, I’ll find myself standing over the toilet rather than sitting on it. And I’ll realize my subconscious mind made a value judgment about the place before I did. At the hospital where I had my nuchal translucency ultrasound yesterday, I found myself straddling.
When I arrived, there were two little children running around the waiting room.
“Little one. Little one. Sit. Now,” a woman kept saying to the young girl, thrusting forward a little pink stroller into which she wanted the little girl to sit. “Ahora!”
The little girl would look up at the woman and then go back to what she was doing. When I first arrived, what she was doing was sitting at the desk in the reception window, banging on the computer keyboard.
“The employees here are a little young,” I said to the receptionist.
“We get ‘em early,” she said.
The little girl was cute, with lots of tiny little pig tails, but I was relieved when they left. Minutes later, another woman, who was extremely pregnant, came in with two daughters, one dressed in pink and one dressed in blue, who sat on each side of me and talked to each other, making it impossible to read my book. I got up and moved to a seat across the room near the elevator, though I could still hear the blue girl chomping on her gum and talking.
The place felt a little shoddy. Low budget. Old. It was a little disheartening because this was my first visit to the hospital at which I will be delivering my child. I didn’t really pick the hospital. I picked the OB GYN, and this is where she delivers babies. I’d heard the hospital had good emergency care, which I liked, in case anything happened during child birth. I just wasn’t sure about everything else. The doors were worn and appeared to have claw marks on them. The elevators were so old, the buttons for each floor were about half an inch thick, like pegs, and had the floor numbers engraved on them like scrabble tiles.
After about half an hour, I was called into the examining room. I was seated on the examining table, but I told the nurse I had to use the restroom. As I walked across the room, I was nearly knocked over by a second nurse, who didn’t see me coming from behind the door. I half-expected her to apologize. Instead, she tapped the back of her thigh with her hand a couple of times. I looked at her blankly.
“Your pants,” she said.
I looked down at my new jeans and saw that stuck to my pants leg was the wide plastic sticker on which they print the pants’ size. I’d bought a size 34 waist so that I could grow into them. I didn’t necessarily need everyone to know that.
I was a little nervous about the procedure because I feared it involved needles –even though no one had mentioned that. I lay down on the examining table, and the nurse who alerted me to the plastic sticker on my pants began rubbing an ultrasound wand all around my stomach. She angled the monitor downward so I could get a better view.
“Look. It’s the feet,” the nurse said.
I could see little feet on the screen for a moment, and then they were gone. I laughed, knocking the ultrasound wand off my belly. The image disappeared. The nurse had to re-locate the fetus with the wand. She was pressing pretty hard. I didn’t care. I was mesmerized. Every now and again, the baby would bounce up in the air and then float back down, but it looked animated, a little disjointed, like that computerized dancing baby that made the rounds on the internet a couple of years ago.
“What is that?” I said, pointing to a little flickering white spot in the baby’s chest. “Is that the heart?”
I’d heard the heartbeat before, that rapid bum, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, as if it had just ran a mile and was out of breath. But this time I saw the little heart. It was pulsating quickly. I feared if it continued at that pace, it wouldn’t last the whole nine months.
“Yep, that’s the heart” she said and put on the volume. Bim, bam, bim, bam, bim, bam, bim, bam.
She continued to move the wand around my stomach, stopping every now and again to take a measurement of the neck fold or to measure the entire fetus.
“How does it look?” I asked.
“It looks good,” she said. “Dr. Gonzales is going to come in now.”
Dr. Gonzales had hairy knuckles like my father. I stared at them as he spoke. Soon he was moving the wand around my belly and taking measurements. After a few minutes, he, too, said everything looked good, but that he wouldn’t know for sure until after the blood work came back in several weeks. But he seemed pretty positive.
“So this means the baby doesn’t have Down’s syndrome?”
“It means the baby isn’t likely to have an extra chromosome,” he said. He explained that we all have 23 pair or a total of 46 chromosomes in each cell and that abnormalities occur when someone winds up with an extra one. Depending on what type of chromosome is in excess determines what type of abnormality the baby will have. If someone has three copies of chromosome 2 instead of two, for instance, the baby could develop myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease that affects the blood and bone marrow. Many chromosomal issues are so severe, the fetus usually aborts itself early on. Down’s syndrome is one of the less severe, he said, so the fetus can have it and still sustain itself.
I asked him if he could tell the fetus’ gender. He said he could. I told him not to tell me. Bruce and I had decided we didn’t want to know. Still, it was strange to be sitting next to someone who had such vital information that would change my life forever, and yet he wasn’t going to tell me.
“Do most people want to know?” I asked.
“Depends,” he said. “Sometimes, if it’s a first pregnancy, they don’t want to know. And then if it’s a second pregnancy, they want to know so they can plan better. And then if it’s their last pregnancy, they want to be surprised.”
“But you can tell?”
“Yes,” he said.
I looked at the monitor. The baby looked like a boy to me. A man, actually. I could see his profile — his eyes, his nose, his lips, his chin. I could see exactly what he looked like. And it wasn’t like anyone I know.