My six-year-old daughter took it upon herself to annotate the ultrasound for my edification.
Sarah is 36. In the twisted world of pregnancy, 36 qualifies as geriatric. Most of us generally associate the word “geriatric” with broken hips, early bird dinners, and Florida, and I have delighted in making my wife the butt of many jokes involving Metamucil and mothballs. Her response was this.
She has made herself the butt of jokes too, like the other day when she was thirsty, as usual, and thought: Why dirty another glass? She spied a bunch of half-full glasses on the kitchen counter. “So, I grab one and gulp it down, only to realize that was the glass that once held the daffodils,” she recalls. “I drank dirty vase water.” The baby should have beautiful petals.
In this context, though, being “geriatric” means potential complications for the fetus. Things like miscarriages, chromosomal abnormalities, and Down’s syndrome. So I probably ought to quit joking about it, especially with Sarah, who, even after 10 years of marriage, still sort of scares the shit out of me.
As recently as the seventies, geriatric mothers who managed the impossible feat of giving birth were considered abnormal, and were even called “elderly”—a term I’m having a hard time imagining my wife accepting from me without breaking off her bloated foot in my ass. Now, a reported 20 percent of women have babies after 35, so you have undergo constant ultrasounds to make sure the fetus is healthy. It’s a legitimate concern, and one that kept us both awake, wondering if we were pushing our luck with our happy, healthy family, until our last ultrasound, when we got the all clear. Sighs of relief. High fives. Tears, even.
“Do you want to know the gender?” the ultrasound technician then asked.
Sarah told her that we did not, while I ground my teeth into a fine pulp, unwittingly undoing years of orthodontic work. The do-we-find-out conundrum was a sore subject. I had been leaning against it (just like the last two times), and Sarah, this time, was for it. Something about baby clothes, I don’t know. Then, just when she had brought me over to her side, she reversed course. “My favorite part of the delivery,” she said, “is when you tell me, ‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’”—which I had to admit was a pretty wonderful reason to wait. Mostly because it means I’ll know at least one goddamn thing on this earth before she does. Even if it’s only for a few seconds.
I spent the next 20 minutes in the ultrasound room with one hand over Sarah’s eyes and the other hand over my eyes while the technician poked around Sarah's belly. Periodically, I peeked to try and discern any kind of genetic clue on the screen. Not only did I fail—Is that a penis? An ear? A meatloaf?—but the technician caught me and lost all respect for me. I’m just glad she didn’t tell Sarah. You know how cranky those old folks can be.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jeff Ruby