How did I never notice before? An ultrasound room has all the markings of a ceremonial space—a theater of mystery. The lighting is dim. You enter via ritual: undress, sit in this chair, clothe yourself in paper. The monitor is mounted so high on the wall that your eyes naturally go upward, as they would to a comet or reddening eclipse. You wait. And then you see things invisible to the human eye.
Throw in an attractive virgin and some hallucinatory vapors, and you’ve got yourself a perfect Greek oracle. But my sonographer’s name is Alison, she is dressed in cheerful scrubs, and she seems sober enough.
“This is number two?” she says.
My husband Rob sits in the corner behind me, with Charlie, our three-year-old, on his lap.
We haven’t told Charlie yet that come Halloween, he’ll be a big brother. It’s still early; spears of crocus have just begun to stab up from the earth. I said to Charlie, instead: “Today we’re going to see some special doctors called midwives. They’re going to take a picture of Mama’s belly and see if there’s a baby in there.”
Glee. He immediately lifted my shirt. “I want to see!” he said.
“We can’t see,” I said. “But later, we’ll see.”
Lights off. Blue gel. Alison moves the ultrasound wand and we watch the screen. “That dark circle is the pregnancy,” she said. “That’s the yolk sac.”
“Oh!” Charlie shouts. “It’s so cute!”
The picture zooms in and in. Alison clicks two points, makes a line. The room is full of humming. The monitor is a landscape of glyphs and sigils. A rounded cone holds a grainy cloud. In the cloud, a black hole. In the hole, a bright ring. A smudge of white.
“Your LMP was January 16?” she says.
“Should be eight weeks,” she says. “But you’re measuring six weeks, five days.”
Nine days’ difference. That’s a long way to be wrong. I begin to feel quiet inside.
She keeps clicking, changing views. I wait for her to say, See that flicker? That’s the heartbeat. But she doesn’t say it.
“I’m going to go get the doctor,” she says.
The doctor talks in accents and code. After some time, I begin to understand him. “I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. Come back next week and we’ll know for sure.”
“But you’re saying—by six weeks—there should have been a heartbeat.”
“By six weeks,” the doctor says, “Yes. Usually we find a heartbeat.”
As I get dressed to leave, Charlie says, “Is there a baby?”
“We don’t know, darlin’,” I say. “They told us to come back and they’ll check again.”
They schedule my appointment for nine days later. So here am I, now, in another theater of mystery.
Shopping malls give me a bad feeling, generally, the noise and gleam and bigness of them. Take me instead to a wood-walled room, or the wrecked expanse of a beach after a storm. “Thin places,” they’ve been called, and a few years ago Eric Weiner wrote beautifully of them in the New York Times:
They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever…. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick…. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún.
But I’ve had enough of the Infinite Whatever for one day.
After the ultrasound we take Charlie to the mall to play on the indoor playground, to tumble up and down a plastic ambulance. The Easter bunny is holding court in the center of the mall, so we go to The Children’s Place and outfit Charlie in gaudy plaid. He parades around in a toddler fedora, doffing it and announcing Howdy, man. I think he means Howdy, ma’am, but I don’t argue.
What could hurt us here? No depths at the mall, no thin places. It smells like glazed pretzels and Bahama Breeze candles and teenage cologne. I wait on line to pay, look around aimlessly. Just past the register: Newborns. Dresses like puffs of spun sugar. My eyes burn. I hand the clothes to Rob and walk away.
After tucking Charlie in that night, I sit on our living room couch and read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. There are five kinds of early miscarriage, but I cannot figure out which kind I might be having, if indeed I am having one. I don’t feel any different. Rob comes and sits next to me.
“I miss it,” he says.
Now I cry. We sit in silence for a long time. Us and the Infinite Whatever.
To be continued tomorrow.
Jen Hinst-White recently finished her first novel, Inklings, the story of an aspiring female tattooist in the early 1980s. Her writing has been published (or is forthcoming) in The Common, Big Fiction, Cactus Heart, HoldADoor.com and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her website is jenhinstwhite.com.