By Cat Voleur
Content Warnings: Medical, pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, reference to suicide, reference to abortion.
‘Is it supposed to look like that?’
My mother whips her head around to glare at me, obviously appalled by my lack of tact. This is another magical moment, apparently, that I am no doubt ruining for her.
If I believed in Christ, even a little, I might be tempted to thank him for the power of the obstetrician’s laugh, which is warm enough to cut through even Mother’s tension.
‘A lot of people struggle to see what’s going on the first time they get an ultrasound. It’s okay.’
Mother gives her the patented mother smile, which is made of nothing but condescending apologies. ‘She’s new to this.’
She forgets to mention that I am tired, also.
I’m very tired.
It sickens me, the way she feels she must be constantly apologizing for my very presence. Or explaining. Or making excuses for me. It is happening always, even here, even now, when the very friendly doctor is obviously fine with my question.
Though I do notice she hasn’t answered it yet, not in so many words.
I don’t blame her for getting distracted. Mother can be a lot to handle, especially if you don’t have experience doing so daily.
I want to tell her off, I really do. I want to shame her for how she’s always treating me. If I do it now in front of Miss Bubbly-Medical-Professional-With-The-Kind-Laugh, she might even reaffirm my one solid piece of ammunition in this war: stressing me out is bad for the baby.
I can’t, though.
This is one of those fantasies I always think about that I will never have the courage to act upon. Especially in my condition. Especially now that I have gotten an inside look into the horror of that condition.
Never mind that the stress is bad for me, too. I am just the mother. Who would care about that?
Being homeless would be worse for me, and my own mother knows this. She knows I dare not expose her in my current state, no matter how bloated and sore and frustrated I get. I can’t dare to do so because I am the unwed expectant mother with a belly full of bastard child. Now my schooling will amount to nothing, and my job won’t have me, and there is no father to speak of, and where would her poor little disgrace go if I humiliated her enough that she saw fit to turn me away?
I would go nowhere because I have nowhere to go, and we both know it.
So I suffer her withering looks and her pathological need to justify me, always, and I try to focus on the moving mass of my stomach. Squinting at the screen doesn’t seem to help. Nightmares lie there.
I try to look for a head or arm or tiny little genitalia – though honestly, I have no idea if it’s too early to see those things. It doesn’t feel early. It feels like I’ve been pregnant for about a year already. I hate that I’m the only one of the three women in the room right now who clearly isn’t seeing any kind of miracle on the monitor.
I feel uneasy hearing my heart race, and the oooohs and ahs, and knowing I don’t see whatever I’m supposed to see. I must be looking at something else. It definitely isn’t supposed to look like this.
‘We’ll just print out a picture of this for you, so you can take it home,’ Dr Joyce offers, like this is something that is going to help me somehow.
Mother glares at me, and so I put on my best fake smile. ‘Yes… that would be… lovely… thank you…’
She pulls the device away from me, and I thankfully pull my shirt down. Maybe that was too hasty? I didn’t wait for the residual goo to get wiped off; I was just so eager not to have my belly out any longer that I jumped the gun a bit.
Or did I?
Do they wipe the goo off?
That’s something I don’t ever remember seeing in the sitcoms or even the medical dramas. They just sort of skim over that part, the goo wiping. It makes me think maybe it’s not something that gets done, but the way the fabric of my shirt sticks to my swollen stomach makes me think that maybe it should?
Maybe those mom actresses are sticky all the time under their ultrasound-scene costumes. Maybe women, generally, are sticky all the time once the idea of motherhood begins impending for them. I know this has not been the cleanest stage in my own life.
I sweat. I drool. I seem to be leaking from every orifice I have lately.
If I am being a sticky freak or if I have made some sort of mothering faux pas, the doctor doesn’t mention it. She just wheels the machine away very naturally.
My mother is looking at me disapprovingly, but not any more so than usual.
‘Do you have any other questions?’
‘A few,’ I answer.
Mother rolls her eyes, and I am glad that at least I got to answer first. If I’d had to walk back one of her answers, I might never have gotten the chance – because to contradict her would take courage and a certain level of energy that I just don’t have these days.
‘What’s on your mind?’
‘I just noticed that I’m still feeling sick… a lot. Is that normal for this late in?’
‘Well, everyone experiences it differently. It’s not uncommon to have some nausea throughout. Are you still suffering morning sickness?’
I nod because I think I am. As far as I can tell. What I’m going through now is the same as I was experiencing when Mother told me not to panic, it was just morning sickness. It’s my best frame of reference, but because it does not feel right, I decide to clarify.
‘Yes… only… it’s more of an all-the-time sickness?’
‘Morning sickness is a bit of a misnomer, isn’t it?’ She chuckles. ‘I assure you, getting it at other times of the day is perfectly normal.’
‘Even if it’s all the time?’
Dr Joyce nods.
She keeps nodding. ‘Some women experience it all the way through to the end. Are you vomiting at all?’
‘No. It just feels like I’m going to after I eat… and sometimes when I’m not eating.’
It seems ridiculous to try and explain it out loud so that it sounds as bad as it feels. Maybe this is what I sound like all the time, and this is why Mother didn’t want me saying anything. She is rolling her eyes at me, but Dr Joyce gives me an empathetic look.
‘Does this happen regardless of what you eat?’
‘Oh, Judy has always been a picky eater,’ Mother chimes in. She just can’t help herself. No doubt she thinks she is contributing greatly to this conversation.
‘Well, Judy gets to be a picky eater while she’s growing life inside her.’
I could kiss Dr Joyce.
The newest love of my life turns to me once more. ‘Have you been having any specific cravings lately?’
‘Not really,’ I answer automatically, but then I pause. ‘I’ve been thinking about meat a lot, I guess.’
I do not tell her that I think about it only in my dreams and that it is raw there. I don’t tell her that it’s crawling with maggots or pulsating or how it sickens me. These are things I don’t want to say in front of Mother.
‘Many women crave meat during the third trimester, you’re in good company.’
It comforts me, oddly, to be put in this vague category of ‘many women.’ I should like to just be one of many, I think. It makes me feel better, even though it’s not doing much to address my literal concerns, which I cannot find the way to express properly.
Part of me is sure these are not normal things I’m experiencing.
‘I’m sure we’ve taken up enough of your time, doctor.’ My mother goes so far as to actually begin rising from her chair with this statement, so determined is she to push me out of the office. You would never suppose that she was the one who forced me out of bed and to this appointment that she arranged after months of badgering because she just couldn’t wait for me to come.
‘Please, take all the time you need.’
I seriously love this woman and her deity-like ability to make my mother take her seat again. I have never known anyone who could wield such power.
‘This can be a really stressful time, especially for younger, first-time mothers. And that goes doubly so for pregnancies that are… unplanned.’
Unwanted, she means.
Her smile is so genuine that you would never know from looking at her what her cadence gave away.
She knows that this is the last place in the world I want to be right now. Were there any other option available to me, short of taking my own life, I would not be here. Even that thought, the S-word thought, has crossed my mind.
I had never thought of myself as someone who would think such things, not until I saw that blue line. I don’t even know how seriously I considered it other than it was one of only two options, which made it worthy of considering.
Perhaps I never would have done such a thing, taken myself out to avoid the fate of motherhood. I find it just as likely, however, that lack of initiative is the only thing saving my ass right now. It is not that I’d rather be alive; it’s just that I don’t want to figure out how to achieve the alternative.
Maybe Mother is right. Maybe I really am a good-for-nothing.
‘So if you have any other questions…’ Dr Joyce prompts.
I realize I was zoning out again. That’s been getting more frequent, too.
‘Uhm. I don’t really know how to ask this…’
She laughs again. She is the only person I’ve ever met who can laugh so naturally and so often without it seeming patronizing or cruel. ‘Just ask,’ she says. ‘Believe me, I’ve heard weirder, no matter what you say.’
My mind flickers back to the screen and what I saw there. I wonder if she could explain that to me if I could ask about it, but there are plenty of other concerns all bubbling to the surface.
‘I feel fuzzy.’
‘Oh, not this again.’ Mother seems to melt in her exasperation. Her limbs flail in the most unladylike manner like she just suddenly lost all her bones.
‘Fuzzy?’ Dr Joyce asks, ignoring the outburst.
‘Like… sort of tingly?’ I wiggle my fingers stupidly, like this could somehow help to illustrate what I mean. ‘But softer? And it’s all the time…’
‘Is it a sort of pins and needles sensation?’ she asks.
‘Sort of…’ I consider carefully just how honest I feel like being here. It seems to me there is a fine line between having my questions answered and getting sent up to psych. ‘More like something is crawling on me?’
I don’t tell her the part where it feels like I am also the thing that is crawling on me. I don’t tell her that sometimes I feel like I’m inhabiting the invisible creatures crawling on my skin more than I’m inhabiting myself. My body has felt a foreign place these last many weeks.
Her smile melts like wax into a more serious expression that is not quite a frown.
Mother doesn’t miss the opportunity to jump in now that my strangeness is impacting the nice doctor. ‘I’ve been telling her, this is all normal stuff that all us mothers go through.’
‘It could be. But we want to be safe, don’t we?’
Mother looks as though she’s been slapped by the very implication that she has ever wanted to be anything other than safe. ‘Well, of course.’
‘Would you mind stepping out of the room for just a minute, Mrs Macadams?’
‘Just to be safe,’ Dr Joyce adds. ‘I’m going to run a couple additional tests.’
Mother, bewildered, moves out into the hall.
The door is shut behind her firmly before I find my voice again. ‘What sort of tests?’
‘Well, if there’s anything abnormal, the bloodwork should help us find it.’
‘Oh.’ I look down at the floor. For a second, I thought she’d look at the ultrasound again. I thought maybe she would test me for whatever parasites seem to be taking over.
My bloodwork has already been done.
‘But I wanted to speak with you alone for just a moment.’
‘Have you considered adoption?’
Adoption is not the word I hear at first.
The word I hear is a nasty, dirty desire of a word I know I can’t have. We are too late into this mess for the word I, wishfully, hear.
That daydream is crushed once again as it sinks in that she said adoption.
‘Mother wants me to keep it.’
‘And what do you want?’
I can feel the tears burning as they well in my eyes. It feels like I got hot sauce in them. It is like this every time I cry, like trying to push sand out through my tear ducts.
No one, not once, has asked me what I wanted throughout this whole thing.
I just want it gone.
I don’t say that out loud. I don’t know if I have the courage, even, to say it out loud. But I feel like she knows all the same.
‘Mother… Mother says that I’ll feel better… when it’s done. That I’ll learn to love them once they’re here.’
‘Some women do experience a slower bond with their children. It can work that way.’
The pressure in my chest is loosening by the minute – pressure I have just gotten so accustomed to, I don’t even think about it anymore.
I thought for sure that was just a lie Mother told me, that it was another one of her little platitudes to make me feel better. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing she could possibly know from experience, as there had never been a moment following my birth where she had properly bonded with me.
It’s hopeful to hear a doctor say that it’s possible. That even if I think the thing is a parasite now, I might get it out of me and learn to love it still.
Dr Joyce nods and chooses her words carefully. ‘But sometimes it doesn’t.’
That makes sense. It makes a lot of sense.
‘I’m not trying to scare you. I just want you to be prepared in case no one has told you. And I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t want to be a mother. Even if you just don’t feel ready for it right now, it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling.’
‘It… doesn’t feel okay,’ I admit.
Of course I don’t want to be a mother.
My body is rejecting the idea. I feel sick and shaky all the time. I dream up hellscapes, and I feel myself, my spirit, maybe even my soul shrinking up as it is all trapped in this flesh prison that no longer belongs to me. I am being eaten away into nothing, even as my stomach swells and bulges and leeches off of me.
I did not ask for this.
Even my thoughts, these disturbing images, they do not feel entirely my own.
‘But it is okay. And if you want, I can get in contact with you privately about your other options.’
‘It’s… It’s too late.’
‘It’s never too late.’
That’s not what I mean. And a part of me knows that she knows that it’s not what I mean. But she’s giving me an alternative that isn’t death, and she’s listening, and she’s comforting me instead of trying to silence me. That’s more than anyone has done for me since I’ve known I was pregnant. It’s likely more than anyone has done for me since the night I probably got pregnant to begin with, the night that I can’t remember.
I can’t express all the emotions swirling within me right now, so I just nod.
‘I’ll call you with that information, and we can set up a time for you to come in and go over everything, just the two of us, okay?’
‘Is the cell number in your file okay?’
‘And before we go back out there, is there anything you want to tell me?’
I love you?
My fever gets up to 103 some nights?
I can feel my bones grinding against one another?
I can only sleep during the day?
I look huge, but I’ve lost about twenty pounds since this all happened?
It burns when I pee?
There are times when I seem to be losing hours of the day?
These are all things that my mother says are normal, and they seem of little consequence right now. I’ve gotten all I wanted and more out of this visit.
‘I think I’ll be okay.’
Maybe I even believe that, a little.
‘Okay, well.’ She puts her warm smile back on as she walks me to the door.
Mother pounces on us the second it opens. ‘What’s wrong with her? Is she okay? Is the baby okay?’
A little glimpse behind the mask of constant security held up by this woman who says she knows everything and that it’s always fine.
‘We’ll know more when the blood tests come back, but there’s no reason to panic. We just want to be safe.’
Mother composes herself surprisingly well. ‘Of course. We want to be safe.’
‘And we’ll call right away as soon as we get those results back.’
She will call me, I know, even sooner.
And for the first time, I will have an option.
I know, realistically, that it will not be a real option. That even if I found a couple or an agency or a high bidder, or however it works, Mother would say no. But there is, at least, the illusion of a choice right now.
There is also the delicious weight of having a secret – the kind of weight that makes me feel that much lighter.
‘Oh, I almost forgot.’
Dr Joyce hands me the ultrasound photo of my baby. I am feeling so relieved by the appointment that I expect to look at it and see some sort of recognizable baby shape in the picture.
But still, it looks like nothing but a tangled mass of worms coiled within me.
Cat Voleur is the author of Revenge Arc, and a full-time horror journalist. You can find her talking about scary movies on Slasher Radio and This Horror Life wherever you get your podcasts. She lives with a small army of rescue felines who encourage her to create and consume morbid content. In her free time, you can most likely find her pursuing her passion for fictional languages.