“You have a strange look on your face,” I said.
He turned to me and smiled. “I was thinking about the first time I came here with you, the week after our first date. Do you remember that?”
I nodded. “I couldn’t believe you wanted to come here with me. It still seems surreal, even all these years later.”
“I would go anywhere with you.” He took my hand and brought it to his lips. “Though that afternoon contained the most stressful moments of my life—well, up until then, at least.”
We’d just started dating and had yet to be physically intimate, but when Edward found out I was being tested for STDs, he insisted on accompanying me to my appointment. A blushing, seventeen-year-old virgin, he held my hand as I owned a past to which he’d never be able to relate—or fully understand. He was so insistent that I not confront my past alone, it never occurred to me that he’d been nervous about doing so.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes. I felt like any chance I had with you was hinging on that afternoon, that I needed to prove to you that despite the age on my driver’s license, I wasn’t too young to be everything you needed.”
My mind conjured up an image of Edward in the early stages of our relationship—his innocence, his awkwardness, his earnest desire to please—and how desperate we both were to get to a point where age didn’t matter. In the context of where we were now, our eight-year age difference was once again an issue, though not in a way I’d ever thought it would be.
“Funny how that works. Now I’m perpetually terrified you’ll decide I’m too old.”
He looked at me confusedly.
“Advanced maternal age.” I made air quotes with my free hand.
“That’s an applicable medical term, not society passing judgment. It isn’t a big deal, but there are some additional risks we need to be aware of because we waited–”
“You mean because I made you wait.”
“No, I mean because we waited. If I knew you’d take such offense to it, I wouldn’t have brought it up. I just thought it would be better for you to hear it from me. I know how sensitive you are about this, and I didn’t want anything to mar this afternoon. I mean, you’re having our baby, and today it becomes official.”
Maybe for him. I didn’t need a doctor’s appointment to make my pregnancy official. The nausea and headaches I’d been experiencing were confirmation enough.
The nurse called my name, and after I gave her a urine sample, she led us to an exam room. She informed me that I was indeed pregnant (thank you, Captain Obvious) and proceeded to check my weight and blood pressure. I was then directed me to undress from the waist down and cover my lap with a paper sheet. I did as she said, got back onto the exam table and waited for the doctor.
Meanwhile, Edward was downright giddy, and he was trying to peek under the sheet.
“Did you bribe the nurse to make me take my pants off?” I smacked his hand away.
“Like I don’t get you naked all the time at home.”
“Yes, but at home we don’t have padded tables and stirrups. You could be harboring some kinky doctor fetishes that you’re too embarrassed to admit.”
“Right.” He laughed, and picked up a wand that was attached to what looked like an ultrasound machine. “Lean back, baby. I want to stick this inside you.”
“You’re such a perv. Only you would see something like that and assume it gets shoved up my pussy.”
“Um, Bella, I went to medical school, remember? I don’t need to make assumptions about what anything in this room is used for.”
I studied what he was holding. It was long and narrow, and he couldn’t be telling me the truth.
“I call bullshit.”
Before he could respond, the doctor breezed in. She went over the notes from the nurse, then said she wanted to do an ultrasound. Sure enough, Edward was right. That long, skinny wand did indeed go there but before Edward could say that he told me so, an image appeared on the screen.
It didn’t look like much of anything to me, but then again, I had no idea what I was looking for.
“Everything looks good,” she said. “You’re seven weeks along, just like you thought. The heartbeat’s strong.”
“The heartbeat?” I asked.
“That’s the little flicker,” Edward explained, squeezing my hand. His eyes were locked on the display, a huge smile on his face. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him look so happy.
When the ultrasound was finished, the doctor printed two images. She gave one to Edward and put the other in my file before firing questions at me. It seemed more than a little redundant, as they weren’t any different from the ones the nurse asked me less than half an hour ago.
“Is this your first pregnancy?” she asked.
Until that one.
I knew it was his own uncontrollable enthusiasm that compelled Edward to answer on my behalf. I didn’t hold it against him, even if it did make my admission much more uncomfortable than it needed to be.
I stared at my hands as I corrected him. “Actually, it’s my second.”
The doctor flipped through my chart. “When was your prior pregnancy?”
“Seventeen years ago.”
“Did your first pregnancy result in a live birth?”
“No. Is this relevant?” I didn’t care to discuss it, and was somewhat annoyed she couldn’t just get the necessary information from my file.
“I know it can be painful for you to discuss, but knowing your comprehensive medical history can make us better prepared to identify potential issues before they get out of control.”
“It should be in there. I’ve been coming to this practice for years; surely you have all that information.”
She continued to page through my file. “There’s no record of it. It will just take a few minutes to bring our information up to date.”
Had I really spent the first half of my twenties in that much denial?
Though it was strange to think I would have let that affect my honesty when relating something as crucial as my medical history, it wasn’t at all surprising—just really fucking inconvenient. Today was supposed to be happy.
“How far along were you when you miscarried?” she asked.
She nodded and scribbled. Her professional demeanor betrayed no emotion or judgment, so I focused on her rather than meet Edward’s gaze. After relating what seemed to be an insane amount of unnecessary information, she told us we were done for today, but she wanted to see me again in three weeks.
I avoided making eye contact with Edward as we made our way out to the car, but he wouldn’t let me get away with this for long. He followed me to the passenger side where rather than open my door, he trapped me between it and his body.
“Look at me, Bella.”
I folded my arms across my chest before meeting his gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was excited, and I just didn’t think.”
“Then why give me the silent treatment? You had to know it would make me feel like you were judging me.”
He sighed. “I didn’t say anything because I was terrified I’d fuck up again and say the wrong thing. If I did seem judgmental, it wasn’t at all intentional. Your reaction is valid, and I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”
The most annoying thing about being married to a psychiatrist was the constant textbook rhetoric.
“Can we have this conversation sans shrink talk and not in the parking lot of my OB?”
“Okay.” He stepped to the side and opened my door. “But just so you know, avoidance tactics won’t work.”
I snorted as I sat in the car. If there was one thing I’d learned in the past seven or so years we’d been living together, it was that there was no way out of uncomfortable conversations. Edward was convinced the long-term success of our relationship was dependent on meeting things head-on, rather than burying them. He was right, but that didn’t make doing this any easier. I spent the drive home flipping through the stack of pregnancy-related material while trying not to succumb to my overwhelming sense of dread. Deciding it was a lost cause, I dropped it on my lap. I flipped the pile over when I noticed the one titled Pregnancy After 35: What You Should Know was on top.
Edward picked up where we left off as soon as we were inside the house.
“Though I will never again presume to answer on your behalf at one of your prenatal appointments, all of this—the feelings, the memories, the fear—would have come up at some point regardless.”
“Could you at least let me take off my shoes? I mean, we’ve been home all of thirty seconds–”
“Actually, we’ve been home one minute and twelve seconds.”
It was just Edward being Edward—his brilliant mind had its own metronome and perpetually counted beats, giving him an almost eerie awareness of time. I realized that any pain from the conversation we were about to have would be fleeting; his love for me was not.
“If we don’t deal with this now, it’s going to get out of control,” he said in a much softer voice.
“Do you ever have moments where you think, ‘Holy mother of fuck, what have I done?’”
“Everyone does.” He sat down on the couch and pulled me onto his lap.
“I mean, we’re going to be have a baby. You and me. Doesn’t that make you nervous at all?”
“Of course I’m nervous. Parenting is a huge responsibility, but I’ve never questioned my ability to do it.”
“That’s the thing—I have. Once upon a time, I went to the bathroom and peed on a stick. When I found the courage to actually look at the thing, I saw there were two lines where I’d prayed there’d be only one. I pondered the enormity of what I was facing, and in a moment of desperation, I called my mother.”
Edward’s nod reminded me that I didn’t have to talk about it if I didn’t want to, that he remembered all too well the advice my mother gave me—that her biggest regret in life was having me at eighteen and the best thing I could do was get rid of the baby. As much as her words hurt me, they enabled me to make the decision I did without regret. In those days, I’d often wished I’d never been born. I believed wholeheartedly that this would have been better for all parties involved—myself included—so I made the choice that my mother should have. Since my ex-boyfriend wanted nothing to do with me, my best friend, Alice, drove me to the clinic and funded the procedure with her allowance.
“You are not your mother, Bella.”
“I know that.” But didn’t we all turn into our parents?
He cupped my face in his hands. “Do you?”
“I know I should have asked you this before I had my IUD removed, but do you really want to have a baby with someone who has a history of pondering motherhood and deciding she isn’t up to it?”
“Then. You weren’t up to it then. Everything is different now. You’re out of school, you’re financially secure, you have a husband who worships you. You’re not having a baby—we are.”
“You know that if I hadn’t…” I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud, so I just gave up. “I don’t regret it. Does that make me awful?”
“No. Just…honest. Regret is a useless sentiment; none of us have the power to change the past.”
He was right, and I knew it. Still, I felt like I needed to mourn—this time, as an adult aware of the consequences of her actions, not as a frightened little girl who believed life was a punishment.
“How can I make this better for you?” he asked.
“Just hold me.”
And he did. Though I cried hours into the night, not once did he loosen his embrace—that was the beauty of what we’d become. Everything I had was his and because he cherished it all, he took equal ownership of my love and my shame—the good with the bad—and would do so as long as he could breathe. It was a promise he made to me long before we exchanged rings. His unwavering acceptance of me rendered any verbal reassurance unnecessary.
I wasn’t in this alone.