REBECCA A. DEMAREST
At four weeks, I knew I was pregnant. At five weeks, the ultrasound technician could find no trace of the child in my womb and asked if I could be mistaken. But then the blood test proved I was pregnant and the tech was forced to think outside the uterus. Eventually we found him, attached to the muscle wall of my abdomen, over by my liver. It’s ectopic, Ms. Mason, they kept saying. Dangerous. It probably wouldn’t last. I’d miscarry in a few weeks. They might have tried to move the fetus, but it was too close to my vital organs. Besides, the chance of it adhering properly to my uterine wall was so small… Leave it, I told them.
I scheduled a c-section for March fifteenth because I didn’t want him to have to share his birthday with St. Patrick’s Day. Plus it was a Friday, so it would give me the entire weekend to start recovering. I planned to go back to work as soon as possible. I worked from home anyway, freelance writing, while my partner had a job in a financial building downtown. I’d wish I could have said husband, but he had this thing against marriage.
Six weeks, and I was starting to feel quite a bit of pain. They offered to remove it, even tried to tell me it was in my best interest to abort the pregnancy. Kill my baby, they meant. Kill the child I thought I’d never have because my partner didn’t want one. At seven weeks, you could see the heartbeat as a flutter on the screen. At eight weeks, my partner got a vasectomy, saying he wanted to make sure this never happened again. At nine weeks, I told them to stop asking me whether I wouldn’t prefer an abortion.
After that, the pregnancy seemed almost normal, except that I started to walk hunched over from the pain, favoring my right side where my baby was growing. Most prospective mothers guard their wombs; I guarded my side, wrapping my arms protectively around my ribcage, leading with my left side down grocery aisles and through crowds.
At week sixteen, we couldn’t hear the heartbeat. Transvaginally, topically, no ultrasound could pick it up; they couldn’t hear it with a stethoscope or telephone or glass cup placed on my side like a child’s string phone. I cried when they told me it had died. They weren’t sure when, but sometime since my last check-up two weeks ago, its heartbeat had stopped. They told me they would have to cut it out, since it was now too big for my body to reabsorb naturally. Wait, I begged them, just a little bit longer. I wouldn’t believe that this was truly the end.
I put the surgery off for a week, and then two. And I noticed little things, like how I was still gaining weight, and how I still felt like I was carrying life inside of me, heavy and expectant. I didn’t feel like it was dead.
Especially when it moved. At first I wasn’t sure, but then there it was again, a solid kick to the kidneys. I called for my not-husband, made him feel my stomach, feel my side, watched the sadness in his eyes turn into confusion. He could feel it too, I knew it: our little ectopic miracle. Not dead at all, still growing and thriving inside, against all the odds.
At week twenty-four, they still couldn’t find a heartbeat and they became quiet at the impression of a foot pressed against my skin. They couldn’t explain the fact that all their equipment said he was dead, yet I knew he was alive. I could tell because I was still craving, still glowing. To be sure, the cravings were changing. I found myself downing Tums as after-dinner mints, not for indigestion, but for the lovely chalky flavor of them. I couldn’t get enough dairy, milk fortified with extra calcium and vitamin D. I ate those chewable calcium supplements by the handful.
At week thirty, they asked if I had ever been diagnosed with pica as I snacked on whiteboard chalk. I asked them what that was and they said never mind, but I should probably stick to cheese sticks.
I could feel my baby growing heavier and I couldn’t really walk anymore. The bulge in my side had become so large I couldn’t sit in a chair with arms. I had to lie on my left side in bed; even my back was too painful. They insisted I stay in the hospital for the last six weeks of the pregnancy, until they were ready to cut the child out.
At week 34, I got out of bed to use the restroom, and I felt something tear inside me. The nurses ran in as I fell and they called for a crash cart, wheeling me to an operating room, sterile, white, out of focus.
At week thirty-four, they cut my baby out of me, shoving him at a nurse before they dove back into my abdomen, desperate to find the bleeding. When they stopped one gushing stream of blood, another appeared.
At week thirty-five, the little stone prince had lacerated my organs with all his kicking. Finally they closed me up and I demanded to see my son, my beautiful son, and at their nod the nurse brought him over, wrapped in a shroud of blue cotton. I pulled the fabric away from his face, waiting to hear him cry.
He was perfect. His skin was cooler than I expected, and hard. They were explaining how the body protects itself when it thinks a child is dead, how it calcifies the tissues to prevent damage to the mother. A lithopedion, they called him. I wasn’t listening. I was admiring the chalk white skin and the perfect little fingers and toes. He was heavy for being so small and I smiled up at them all.
I’ll name him Winston, I told them.
Rebecca A. Demarest earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in 2011 and has had pieces published in a few online journals, including Admit 2, Epiphany, and Terracotta Typewriter. She has a novel launching in March of 2014, excerpts of which can be found on her website.