A little nothing

Camille Anseaume

 

Mothers love telling the story of how they found out they were pregnant. It usually takes place in the toilet. The woman aims for the stick, whilst the man waits outside with nervous anticipation. For fear of being disappointed, she hands the still wet object over to her partner, who grabs it with both hands. Surely, he is in love.

The ensuing few seconds are the longest of their two lives together, until at last, with a shaky voice, he delivers the news.

It was almost the same for me.

And when he broke the silence, it was to say:

“We’re not keeping it”.

Both lines are there. They seem to be almost darkening their colour to make it clear they are for real. They look like quotation marks, not sure whether to smile or tease, straight in their boots, as stiff as our necks. We stare at them, awaiting a miracle, for one of them to leave or bend, for the colour to fade, or the result to change. But the colour only gets darker so in the end, he grabs his coat, and I’m the one bending down, back arched, hands on my head, forehead buried in the carpet.

“Wait. I’d like to keep it”

“Sorry?”

“The test. Don’t bin it, I’d like to keep it.”

“Right, ok, I thought you meant the baby for a second.”

“Maybe it’s got Down’s”

“What, the test?”

“No. The baby”

“Why would it have Down’s?”

“I don’t know. I just hope.”

“What?”

“If the baby had Down’s, we wouldn’t be able to keep it, would we?”

“Are you mad? We aren’t keeping the baby, even if it were to win the Nobel Prize by the age of 4”

“The age of 2…?”

He wasn’t in a funny mood, so he left.

 

I heard the door bang and the sound of his footsteps slowly vanishing. The familiar creaking of the first steps, the same one I used to hear when we had a date. It used to be a happy creaking, the signal that he would soon knock on my door and that I only had 4 seconds left to look busy. Anything but appearing to be waiting for him. How about washing up? I would wait a few seconds before opening the door, Marigold gloves on, and a distracted look about me. “Already here? Time flies. Sit down, I just need to finish something off”

On that day however, the creaking wasn’t a happy one. In fact it sounded like it was crying.

I decided to do the same and sat myself down on the floor. But nothing came out; no tears, no sound, only the feeling that I was about to suffocate, and that I was so very empty, when in actual fact, I had never been so full. I was full of emptiness in the midst of which swam the infinitesimally tiny.

I wake up with a sandy taste in my mouth.

The pregnancy test is still there, looking tiny and disappointed. It, who thought its purpose was to make people happy. The two bars have lost some of their attitude and are now looking pale and almost guilty.

 

We have no projects and no intention of having any. Our biggest commitment has been to agree to call each other at the end of the week. Admittedly, that was on a Tuesday.

We love each other mostly horizontally. And in the dark. It’s the only time when we aren’t scared, when we dare mix our breaths without worrying about what the other is thinking.

We have never used the term “we” and when we’ve had to refer to us as a couple or being in a relationship, we sign big quotation marks with our fingers to emphasise what a big word that is for such a small thing.

It’s much more than just sex, a lot less than love. It’s our arses caught in the middle. Enough to pretend to make babies, not have them.

 

Seeing as he only had to leave the room, I should have been able to just leave my body. If there’d been a door to do so I’d have slammed it too.

 

For the last few days, I had spent half my time feeling my breasts and the other admiring them in the mirror. They were bigger than ever; they were actually almost within the national average.

I thought I had put on some weight, but my clothes were telling me otherwise and so I had welcomed those changes with happiness and many a shopping trip to lingerie boutiques, whilst telling myself that Mother Nature was fabulous. Obviously, my head wasn’t.

Anyway, there was nothing to worry about. Only one condom incident and I had taken the morning after pill. Taken within 24 hours, it is 95% successful, and the 5% remaining, well, they are only for the others. Those who win the lottery, or alternatively, manage to twist their ankle while they’re sitting.

 

Until, one day, I didn’t fancy my beer, and that’s when I started wondering. It was rare enough to be worrying. In fact, I would say the chances of it ever happening were about 5%.

 

We had made love between 1 and 3 that night, we were very happy to see each other again. In the morning, I told him that I thought the condom may not have chosen the best day to let us down, and that maybe it should have had a quick word with my cycle.

I asked him to come with me to buy the morning after pill so he could ask for it himself. I hate buying loo roll at the supermarket, I’d rather have died than having to admit to the chemist that I’d had sexual intercourse. And recently at that.

We got there by 12ish. There was a long queue, and seeing as we were both in a rush we decided I would come back by myself later in the day. Little did we know…

Long after, I would still ask myself, what if it had been 11 or 2, and Monique, Brigitte and the others hadn’t popped out on their lunch break to get their special ointment from the chemist. What if we hadn’t been in a rush that day? What if, what if, what if…

I did go back there later in the afternoon and also bought shampoo, soap, cotton buds and a toothbrush, to show the chemist that whilst I occasionally make love, my personal hygiene, however, remains faultless.

I went home and swallowed the pill. It was 7 o’clock and 16 to 18 hours since a sperm had ventured up my fallopian tube, which was supposed, in turn and according to the leaflet, to become “inhospitable”.

Lack of comfort was clearly not an issue for that particular sperm.

I need to have a blood test done to confirm my pregnancy. The waiting room is full of women, some with heavy breasts, and some with damp eyes. All are waiting for the confirmation that they are indeed pregnant or that all is well in the best of uterus. The place is dripping with a mixture of happiness, anguish, fear and hope. There is an atmosphere of subdued excitement.

It’s one big support group, they exchange encouraging glances, holdg the door to each other, and offer their seats to the biggest ones. They over-arch their backs and give each other belly button winks. When their names are called out, they slowly get up to go and collect the results, which are handed to them in the mystery envelope. They have hardly left the building, than they are already opening it, their hands shaky and feverish. In waiting rooms, friendships are struck quickly and it’s not unusual to see women asking each other with polite nosiness, “Everything ok?”

I would love to be able to reply, with a huge smile on my face, “Yes, all is great, thank you. It’s an ectopic. How about you?”

 I can picture the unease in the eyes of the perfect mother-to-be, and then watching her back disappear into the distance, her still firm buttocks shaken by outbursts of outrage.

 

I notice a couple sitting next to me. She has bags under her eyes, giving away many sleepless nights. He has a protective and reassuring look about himself. He is wearing a black jacket, the one with the comforting smell of old leather and he is holding his wife’s hand. She is sitting with her back against the wall, whilst he is gently swaying back and forth, a little towards her, a little to the side, a little towards what awaits them both. I could hear out that they had had IVF and that this was their last chance. When their surname is called out, they get up as one, and walk over slowly, both painfully aware of the fact that the three steps that separate them for the envelope will close a chapter in their lives. They take the envelope and walk out slowly, holding it together, the way they would hold a child’s hands.

Then it’s my turn.

I am pregnant.

Roughly eight weeks.

As I walk out, I spot a big black jacket, and inside it, the face of a crying woman. He has closed his arms around her, covering her up with bits of leather, in an attempt to protect her from everything. He is stroking her hair and telling her that everything will be fine in the end, that they will find a way.

I feel like, in this particular order: throwing up, screaming, swapping envelopes, sleeping for a thousand years.

 

I receive a text from him whilst I am walking up the stairs:

“And?” It’s both too silly and too tempting not to, and so, for a few seconds, I allow the “and” a life of its own. I dress it, tart it up, give it the caring and well intentioned voice of a worried father who wants to make sure all is well. As I sink deeper and deeper into my cosy thought, the “and” changes, it becomes soft and warm, and I end up believing it so much that I can see something new peeping through; the sensation that I am bearing a treasure, the pride of holding the etching of a life, the soothing feeling that I am a worthy worry. His worthy worry.

When I resurface, the “and” has gone back to its former concern, which is primarily to know whether or not he will be able to sleep soundly.

And? And all is well so all is bad, seeing as all would be well if all was bad, if the pregnancy was a nervous one, or the test faulty, if the embryo wasn’t healthy, or already dead, if the placenta was broken or the ovaries out of order, and if yesterday had only been a bad dream.

Soon, he won’t be the only one to know, I need to tell to Lola. She knows everything about me and as long as she doesn’t know, it’s almost as if it isn’t real. As I dial her number, I suddenly realise that in a few seconds I am going to utter for the first time in my life, “I’m pregnant”.

Three words I have never spoken before, not even as a small girl playing with my dolls. Superstition maybe. But more importantly, to save the pleasure of putting those three words together.

 

I am sad for the little girl I used to be, who thought it would be wonderful.

 

And so I try to find alternative words, or a different way of phrasing it, I wish I could save them for a happier day, keep them shiny and clean for a lovely occasion.

 

Lola arrived a few minutes after I’d called. She sat herself next to me, so close to me our arms were touching, which in our way of not very tactile girlswas like a cuddle. She was looking at me and I was looking at my cup of coffee, which tasted salty.

We didn’t say a word to each other, instead we were both lost in our thoughts of how we weren’t really careless teenagers anymore, and nothing would ever be quite the same. At one stage I even said to her, tears running through my smile, “we did have fun though, didn’t we?” and she smiled back and put her arm even closer.

Despite my not very convincing refusals, she sent a few messages to sort out a “crisis meeting”. Her long fingers were running through the various phone numbers. Her hands were shaking, the way they always do when she is feeling surprised or emotional, but then she’s always feeling surprised or emotional, so it doesn’t really count. She arranged for the others to come over and asked me whether she should say why. We decided not to, not there and then, and in doing so, we knew we were slightly changing the game. We were holding back the news to give it more impact, the same way breaking news get a special announcement. We were saving it for later, when the candles would be lit and we would all have a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. In doing so, we were trying to give it some lightness, to soften the edges and make it sound almost like it were just another piece of news.

We were to meet al Lola’s and there would be Lola, Marie, charlotte and I. As always, like in the old days, prior to the two pink lines.

I even went to buy some humus, to let our girlie evenings believe that nothing had changed.

The lift in her hall is as small as the hall is spacious. As I hop in, I wonder if one day I will have to squeeze my tummy in to be able to fit into it. One thing is for sure, should that be the case, there will be no space for a daddy. It hits me like a brick; my life is a lift in a Parisian building.

 

Every second takes me further away from my previous life, I am desperately trying to hang on to it, to keep some continuity, so when I walk into Lola’s flat, I am hugely grateful that she lives in the same flat, with the same furniture. Even the entrance code by the porch hasn’t changed. I am in Heaven.

It’s almost as if she has purposefully kept it like it was, reconstructed my familiar surroundings with papier-mâché.

I’m going to have to come to terms with the fact that nothing has changed, apart maybe, from a tiny shift in the way my uterus works.

 

Which makes me think… what’s the plural of uterus again? I’m sure it’s something unusual, like utera, or was it uteri?

Actually, I’d rather not know.  I’m going to keep it as vague as I possibly can, won’t even grant it a plural, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, it won’t even exist.

 

When I get there, the girls kiss me as softly as they can, so that I don’t crumble and fall apart.

They’re not quite sure why, but they can tell I’m not well. True to tradition however, we have to get everything ready before we can start asking questions and so we are all franticly busying ourselves with the preparation of humus toasts and the setting of the table and the clinking of the glasses.

As I watch the scene, I suddenly realise that I am no longer a part of it, that I am not finding any of it amusing and don’t actually want the news to be staged anymore. I’d rather just spit it out there, right by the front door, I don’t want to play this game anymore, don’t want to dim the lights. I want some big neon lights that make your skin look pale, your eyes tired and the atmosphere freezing.

This staging is pointless, because despite their best efforts, I am lying to myself, we are lying to each other, things are now different, and in a few hours, it will be just me and my tumour going to sleep.

 

Ten minutes later, with a glass in one hand and a fag in the other, I am much better thank you.

Stupid hormones, can’t stand those mood swings.

I am THE A-lister of the moment, the mascot of the evening, all eyes are on me, I am the centre of their universe and they are hanging on my every word. It’s quite funny really, I am not used to this attention, we have been chatting for half an hour and I’ve not even asked them how they are.

The air is breathable again, very much so in fact. It sucks really. I found out a few hours ago that I am pregnant, my lover not in love has left me, but still, I have to admit that I am having a good time. I am so lucky to have them. Every single one of them is perfect.

Marie, grounded and pragmatic. Everything she says seems logical, easy and light-hearted. Only her red cheeks give away her concern for me. She tells me she’s hot, I know she’s thinking that the situation is about to get hot for me…

Lola, her shaky hands, her extreme empathy; I am the pregnant one yet she is feeling queasy. The way she always looks so intently and with complete emotional involvement to the person she is listening to, it’s funny how she sometimes puts her hand on her heart while she is listening, as if to shield it a little.

 

Charlotte, so graceful, it’s amazing how things become less dramatic when someone moves like they’re dancing. She seems to be shooing troubles away with her fingers, and carries herself in an unburstable bubble. I wish she could come closer to me and keep on moving the air away with her hands to make everything better.

The bubble popped, however, at 23.43 in the Parisian metro. I found out later, that she had burst into tears, worried to death about me and my situation. I wish I could have been there, to comfort her and shoo her worries with my large albatross wings.

 

It’s my first night with you. I’m about as comfortable as I would have felt, had I taken a total stranger back home to mine. The kind of guy you can’t really shake off. A little dull. But nice enough. Someone I wouldn’t have had the heart to say to, “right, I’ll see you around then” and with whom I would, as result, have to get close and personal with. Having to put you up is as natural as hopping into bed with someone you don’t really like anymore, but can’t turn your back to. I didn’t quite realise it during the day. In the dead of night, it’s all I can see. This forced intimacy.

Are you sure I can’t call you a cab?

 

The doctor has referred me for a scan to date the pregnancy. I was put through to the private consultant on the phone, who mistook my tears of sadness, for tears of joy. When I informed him that this had come somewhat out of the blue, he replied, “you lucky bean”.

I wondered whether to kill him, or just find another consultant but decided to hop on the bus and go meet him instead.

His surgery is situated in one of the leafier parts of Paris, and the plate on the door reads “Doctor M, Reproductive medicine and fertility problems”. Surely, I will be handed a gold medal for best uterus upon entering the building.

The place oozes chic and luxury, and bears the smell of a private surgery. The atmosphere is warm and the furniture comfortable. At least, nobody will be able to say I wasn’t taking this seriously: how many embryos get the luxury of a €110 appointment to discuss their death?

There are three other women in the waiting room with me, all casually flicking through issues of Parent magazine. I grab the latest Hello!, they must think me such a bad mother. They have no idea how bad.

Two hours later, and it’s my turn. The consultant from leafy Paris looks like a consultant from leafy Paris; he is in his forties, sporty, balding elegantly, and has hands both delicate and strong, hands you would trust to grab your baby when it comes out.

After he has asked me to sit myself down, I tell him everything: the incident with the condom, the morning after pill I took 16 hours later, then the tiredness, the funny feeling, the test, the two pink lines, the dad who wouldn’t be one, how incredibly lucky we are in this country today, being able to choose to be a mother, or not, the conundrum I find myself in, despite it all, one option which terrifies me, the other which makes me sick and vice versa.

After he has asked me a few questions, we proceed to the examination part, where he tells me to take my clothes off so he can perform a thorough scan, and informs me, as he switches the screen on, that I don’t have to watch.

I turn my head the other way so that I won’t see anything, and I hear the sound of a fast heartbeat. I’m assuming it’s mine, until he turns the sound off, uttering an “I’m sorry” and I understand it wasn’t.