The Displaced Nation

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LIBBY’S LIFE #34 – Shadows on a screen

After a Christmas far away from her family, Libby is wondering if she is ready to face the new year without her loved ones. The foods she has been forced to abandon, that is.

Happy New Year!

A bit late, I know. It takes me a few days to get into the ‘Happy’ part. Until then, it’s just another month of winter, minus whatever food or beverage I’ve resolved to give up.

This year was different because I’d given up every nice food or beverage already, hijacked as I am by this alien growing in my midriff. Brie, prawns, coffee, every type of alcohol – you name it, and I have sacrificed it at the altar of pregnancy, although I’m thrilled to report that my taste for tea has unexpectedly returned. But give up chocolate for New Year? I think not. Not with Pinot Noir off the menu for another five months or more. Pass the Cadbury’s – lots of it, and now.

So, here we are in 2012, the year of our second child’s birth. I will be so happy to be rid of this bump. Have heard that babies get bigger the more you have of them, but I always imagined the increments would be more gentle. This one already has the proportions of a fully grown Oompa-Loompa. Still, twenty-two weeks down, eighteen to go, assuming this baby gets out of bed on time, unlike its brother who would have been happy to stay there until his peers were taking A-levels.

In a couple of hours, though, I will be able to stop calling it “it” or “this baby” because it will have a gender and proper name. (More on the dilemma of name choices later. I’m convinced it’s a girl, who is therefore going to be called Megan. Oliver is only contemplating a boy called Sam.) Oliver and I – obviously I, but we’re taking joint ownership of this pregnancy seriously – are going for our first ultrasound scan. I was supposed to go a few weeks ago, but what with Thanksgiving and Christmas and falling off ladders while decorating fir trees, I didn’t quite get round to it.

Such is the cavalier attitude of a second-time mum. Dr. Gallagher’s receptionist was horrified to find I’d only seen a doctor twice in half a pregnancy. I don’t know why. The baby is still there, isn’t it? It’s not as if I’ve put it down somewhere and forgotten it. Although I did that once with Jack when he was a few weeks old in his car seat. I went to Sainsbury’s cafe with Mum, put Jack on the floor next to the table, drank coffee, got up to clear the trays away, and…left.

But the important thing is I came back. The lady wiping the tables down was all set to ring social services, or so she said. Mum tipped her ten quid, and she shut up, but I always went to Morrison’s cafe after that, just in case she wanted another ten quid.

Oops. Time to leave for our appointment.

* * *

Tapping at a computer keyboard with her left hand and staring intently at the monitor’s mass of swirling, indecipherable grey shapes, the technician runs the gelled transducer over my bulging middle. She’s warmed the gel, so the pressure is not an unpleasant sensation, although the baby doesn’t agree and I feel a gentle kick of protest from within. It’s still very gentle, not much more than a flutter really, but it’s there all right.

The technician mutters to herself and types in numbers as she measures and remeasures the distance between various blobs.

“They’re very thorough over here, aren’t they?” I say in a low voice to Oliver, who is also concentrating on the picture on the screen. “I swear Jack’s ultrasound didn’t take this long.”

Oliver looks at me, a little cleft appearing between his eyebrows. “You’re right. It didn’t.” He clears his throat and raises his voice. “Is everything – you know, all right?” he asks.

The technician stops tapping the keyboard and moving the transducer. She smiles at Oliver and then briefly at me. She doesn’t look me in the eye.

“It looks…fine. So far,” she says carefully.

I don’t like her tone. She’s hiding something.

A couple of seconds later, she snatches up a handful of tissue paper, scrubs some gel off my abdomen, and covers me up with a sheet, which after two seconds feels cold on my skin, gooey from the residual gel.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes. I just need to speak with the doctor.” She pauses. “You say you’ve only had two checkups with your doctor so far in this pregnancy?”

I nod, not trusting myself to speak because of the lump of fear swelling inside my throat.

As she shuts the door behind her, I turn to Oliver and whisper, “What does she mean, she needs to speak with the doctor? Does that mean there’s something wrong?” Thoughts of my unknown sister, who survived only four hours, rush around my brain.

I’m willing Oliver to say something reassuring in his usual bluff way – “Don’t be silly, Libs, of course there’s nothing wrong! She said so!” – but he doesn’t.

He looks at me, then at the screen with the frozen picture of what I assume is a part our baby’s anatomy – a leg? A heart? Healthy? Not? – and says, “I don’t know.”

Neither do I. So much for a mother’s instinct.

And here’s the thing.

Despite all my brave declarations that nothing would change my feelings toward this child if it turned out to have a disability like my sister did, I find myself praying and bargaining with a god I don’t believe in.

Please let my baby be OK. Please let my baby be OK. I’ll be nice to Sandra. I’ll stop shouting at Fergus. I’ll even be nicer to Melissa if you let –

The door to the exam room opens and the technician walks back in, her white shoes making squelchy noises on the grey tiled floor. Behind her, in a white coat, is a tall, athletic man who looks as if he should be playing basketball rather than messing around with medical Photoshop. “Dr Holden,” his white coat says above the breast pocket, in blue italic embroidery.

The two medics go into a huddle in front of the computer monitor, checking numbers and flicking between images. I can’t make out what they are saying, let alone understand it.

I gaze at Oliver, then squeeze my eyes shut as he reaches for my hand and we lace fingers, as if by doing so we can weave a magic spell that will make everything all right, the same as everything was two hours ago.

“Mrs Patrick?”

I open my eyes in surprise. The doctor’s voice is high and reedy for someone of his build, and in another situation I would have laughed.

He looks from me to Oliver, and I see he understands what we’ve been thinking.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he says. “Really. Nothing is wrong.”

I close my eyes again, this time in relief, and feel two tears slide down either side of my face toward my ears.

“But all the same,” his voice goes on, “this news may take a little time to get used to.”

* * *

I collapse onto our sofa. “Tea,” I say in the weak quaver of someone demanding water in the Sahara.

Oliver, like the well brought up English husband he is, heads to the kitchen to turn on the kettle.

A perfunctory knock at the front door is followed by Maggie bursting into the house with Jack, who rushes at me for a hug.

Murmurs and a little cry of surprise from the kitchen as Oliver tells Maggie our news.

Maggie brings in my mug of tea and sits beside me on the sofa. With difficulty, I lift Jack off my lap and sit him on my other side.

“Darling,” says Maggie. “Oliver’s told me all about it. What a shock.”

I nod.

“But in a few days, it won’t be.”

I start to sob, because “shock” doesn’t begin to describe my feelings, and I try to double over – but my bump is in the way. No wonder.

“I could have coped with anything but this! Three thousand miles from my mother, and Oliver keeps going on business trips…and that bloody dog…”

“Shush,” says Maggie. “I’m here. You have me.”

I sniff.

“And on the bright side,” Maggie says softly, “your mother-in-law is not here.”

I sniff again, and this time it’s more like a snort of laughter.

“And it is a cause for celebration, of course,” she persists.

I fumble in my pocket for a tissue, wipe my eyes, and noisily blow my nose. “Yes.”

“A toast, then?” Maggie gestures at the wine rack.“Just one?”

I look longingly at the bottles of Pinot, but pick up my mug of tea instead.

“No. I feel as if I’ve cheated Fate once today. Wine might be pushing my luck.”

Besides, I’ve read about these American pregnant women who get labelled as child abusers just because they ordered half a Bud Lite in a bar.

Oliver comes in with mugs for Maggie and himself, and a sippy cup for Jack.

Maggie raises her mug. “A toast, then! To…do we have any names?”

I glance at Oliver and smirk. “Sam.”

He clicks his Batman mug against my Toy Story one. “And Megan.”

“Sam and Megan,” we chorus, and sip tea politely.

I sigh. Typhoo it might be, but Pinot it is not.

“Somebody pass me the Cadbury’s,” I say. “Lots of it, and now.”


Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #35: A big piranha in a small pond

Previous:LIBBY’S LIFE #33: Fairytale of New England

Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit

3 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #34 – Shadows on a screen

  1. Tony James Slater January 14, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Wow, beautifully written! That’ll be the next instalment then – painting the baby’s room half blue and half pink…

    • Kate Allison January 15, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      LOL, Tony, I’m not sure Oliver’s artistic talents extend that far – and what on earth would dear Melissa say to her newly-repaired spare bedroom being painted two-tone?

      I’m taking plot line requests from my Libby fan friends on FB at the moment, and I have next week’s agenda milling around. Doesn’t involve paint though. Mayonnaise and paraffin oil, maybe…

  2. Lynn K. Lees January 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Fantastic! Looks like she is going to have two Dragons on her hands lol! Looking forward to the next episode 🙂

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