First Unborn.

Dear Son,

I’m not sure if I’ve done you the proper honor in remembering you the way you deserve.

It’s not theoretically hard to do.  I recall everything like it was yesterday.  It’s been emotionally hard to do.   Your memory is that soft spot on the peach… that if you poke too hard, you’ll realize is rotted all the way to the core.  A wound that never fully healed.   One that just keeps kind of aching every now and again to remind me I haven’t forgotten.

Full disclosure – I honestly am not sure who your father was.   It was a confusing time.  I’d discovered all that Jean was doing behind my back and we were on the outs.  I’d started “dating” (loosely used) at least one other person.   I was young and frivolous.  I didn’t use protection.  I trusted people at their word. Everyone looked nice and seemed honest.  And well, I’d made it THIS far w/o even a scare.  I thought I’d be fine.  The folly of youthful thinking. 

I remember… I thought it was a yeast infection.   Something wasn’t right down there.   And I was kind of used to having yeast infections pretty often by this point.  So I went to go check it out.   Some gyn my mom and dad recommended.   A Haitian doctor who practiced right off of Hillside Avenue.  So when you got off the LIE and took that long straight Highland Avenue road across, you’d come to this sharp drop off hill that would lead you down to Hillside Ave.   His practice was right in the middle of the decline in what looked like a house, but you got inside and it was a little waiting room and a bunch of little examination rooms built out of what would have normally been bedrooms and a living room and a dining room.   I registered and sat down and within minutes they called me in.   I sat in a little yellow examination room where he ran the typical physical, gave me a pap smear and then asked the nurse to come in and get some blood from me which she did with ease.  Then, a pee cup to end it all off and I could be on my way.   Doctor told me to get with some Monistat anti-itch cream until they knew what it was for sure (not sure if it was vaginitis or a yeast infection) and just spread it on the outer part.  Nothing inside.   Great.   I could have done that myself but figured… good to have been able to get my physical done and confirm that it was nothing life-threatening.

A few days later, I get the call to come back into the office.  This time, bring my parents.  I mean… why tho?  No explanation over the phone. I was 24… what’s the big deal?  Maybe I was still on my parent’s insurance but I highly doubt it.  In retrospect, I think it was the Haitian doctor overstepping his countryman ties and looking out for them more than for me.

Over the highway and down the hill my dad whisked us off to the doctor’s office.   Dropped me and mom and said he’d be back. This was his part of Queens.  Where all his comrades had migrated to because they did the due diligence of setting themselves up in a house with property for themselves and their families.   But my dad’s gambling wouldn’t allow us those kinds of luxuries… ever.  So mom waited in the waiting room while they got me back to the little yellow examination room.  The sun was beaming bright through the little square window in the upper right of the office.   A tiny white curtain with blue and yellow painted flower pattern swayed gently while the doctor went over his notes.   “Well.   You’re pregnant,” Doctor stated while taking a seat. Silence.   “I’m sorry, what did you say?” I responded incredulously.    In his thickened Haitian Accent, “Yeah, from the looks of it, about 5 weeks now.”  I stared at the little curtain waving.  In my brain, the squee of the “signal off” tone from when a TV station went offline for the night rang in my ears.  And the questions started to flow in.  How?  Who?  WHAT???  When?  What I’m I going to do?   The last question made repeat appearances in my brain.   I sometimes blame it for why you didn’t make it through.  Because I wasn’t sure from the first minute what I wanted to do.  I’d considered “getting it taken care of”.  Because of all the reasons that make sense at 24.   I was too young.  Just starting my life.  Didn’t have enough money.  Didn’t have a real relationship with the father.  Still living with my parents.  I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t want to be a single mom.  This was the wrong order… I was supposed to marry first.   These and more statements swirled around my brain for hours at a time for the next 3 or 4 weeks.   I resurfaced from the little room with brochures and some packets of prenatal vitamins and I told my mom.  She went silent on me the way she did when there was just something too heavy to deal with.  Something that made me age too much for her to handle in that moment because all she still saw was her baby girl.  I had asked to get a full battery of the STD blood panel done.  I knew what I knew – and I wanted to be as safe and as informed as I could be.    Back then, AIDS was something so lofty.  So deadly.  Folks still thought it was possible to contract through a kiss or handshake.  This must be what the nurse must have believed because I never saw someone shake so much.  She stuck me 5 times before she could find a vein.   Guess she was scared to get my blood on her in the case that I was infected.

I remember… I called Jean because I didn’t know what else to do and told him.   I don’t recall being completely forthwith and saying, “dunno if it’s yours.”  I think I just announced that I was and he assumed what felt comfortable to him and I left it at that.   Of course it changed to tenor of what we were currently going through.   He wanted to be there for me.  I needed someone to lean on.   So he started being in my life more.  Taking more time for me.  Forgetting a little bit more about all the hurts we’d both admitted to one another on his birthday just a few months ago.

I remember… standing in my bedroom and looking at the curtains on my window.  Just studying them for a few moments like I’d never seen them before.   Golden curtain rod suspended on an “apple green” wall (which my mom painted for me after I’d crossed into AKA).  Blue and green floral print on some cheap chintz… and for no reason at all, in that moment it struck me.   You’re a boy.   I just got a feeling that overwhelmed me…  You’re a little boy in there, huh?  I touched my stomach.  Still not sure what to do… but feeling more and more like, I was going to get used to this and like it.

I remember… descending the back stairs of the apartment building on my way to work one day and at the bottom of the stairs, I bumped into my ex, Lu.  The one who’d left me.   Said he found someone better.  Said I wasn’t marriage material.  Said he was going to stick to his own and it would be better.   He lived in the neighborhood.  Bumping into him was inevitable.   He started making idle chatter.  “Hey Vic… how are you? How’s your family?  You’re looking well… how’s everything?”.  And uncontrollably I blurted out, “I’m pregnant.”  And he froze for few seconds.  It was literally the only thing I’d said in our discourse up to that point.  He eeked out a weak, “Congratulations” and gave an equally weak hug like he was afraid to touch me.  In the distant reaches of my recollection, I believe he was asking me something about planning or readiness… but I floated away off to the train. Literally and figuratively.  Just walked away, contented.  He was the first non-family (not including Jean) person I’d said it aloud to.   I remember believing then that is what made it really real.  I was, in fact, having a baby.  This was before I knew about the 3-month rule. One that I’d never forget after this experience.

I remember… we’d spent weeks planning Bertie’s bridal/baby shower – my line sisters and I.  This was the Friday that it was happening and she was sitting there, full-bellied, glowing, weave shinin’ and her baby-daddy-husband/father-to-be sitting right next to her just enjoying the excitement of being surrounded by all of her college friends. We’d done it up big. A room at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, courtesy of Shonette who hooked us up. Catering. Gifts galore. This is what i could look forward to soon… Jean and I just made up our minds that week that we would keep it. We’d been back and forth on it… the pros, the cons… we’d argued ad nauseum. Finally, one night laying on my twin bed, staring at my window… holding me and caressing my arm… he quietly asked me to marry him and raise a family with him. It was beautiful, peaceful and perfect. I finally felt like he wanted that future with me and only me. I was so excited I felt I could burst.  I wanted to make a huge announcement. But I held off. This was Bertie’s night. I wanted her to feel like a star tonight. I’d have my chance. After much food and merriment were had, the question was up …who’s going to stay the night? We had this glorious hotel room, might as well make the most of it till it was time to check out. I volunteered to stay. I had to run around the city in the morning anyhow and I needed to try to clean up as much as I could before departing.

I remember… staying behind and sleeping a peaceful sleep.   Nice big clean bed.  Perfect temperature control. Rudely awakened in the morning by the hotel phone. “Miss Cantave?” “Yes?” I groggily responded. “This is Dr. Phillppes’ office” they replied. Silence. “What… ummm… how’d you get this number?” “Miss Cantave… it’s imperative that you come see Dr. Phillippe today… immediately.” “Oh.  Well… of course… what’s this in regards to?” I stuttered.  All the while, my heart racing… blood pumping… I can hear it in my ears. Stay calm, Victoria, I thought,  maybe this is what it’s like when you’re pregnant… all these new developments happening minute by minute.  I’d never been to the doctor’s office so many times nor had so many blood tests or pee tests.  Literally every other week.  I called Jean to come get me and we raced out to the doctor’s office.  Walking through the door we were instantly recognized and given immediate entry into the examination room.   We sat there and the physician’s assistant then told me in no uncertain terms that what was currently living inside of me now… was actively dying.  Holding up a chart of my numbers she pointed, “See this number… this was it last week… this is the number this week… it’s decreasing.  It is supposed to be doubling as the weeks go on. I’m sorry.  You have a choice…. your body can expel it naturally… or you can go take care of it. We can recommend a facility.”   Cold.  I was carrying something that was dying. When just a few hours ago… it made me feel so alive. But they said it so matter of factly…. maybe I shouldn’t be upset.  We walked out into the holding room and waited for our referral papers. All at once the tears came gushing forwards.  A nurse came out with as much compassion as she could muster and handed me a box of tissues. I felt a heavy weight sunken at the pit of my stomach. All the changes I’d witnessed in awe… my change in eating and sleeping… the LOSS of weight (because of my lack of appetite)… My heightened sense of everything… all for nothing.

I remember… I’d seen an advertisement for this facility in the paper.  It was an abortion clinic.  They put fancy wording around it trying to put people at ease while making such a difficult decision.  But I was only here because my body had made that decision.  I sat with a wristband on and they addressed me by the number scribbled on it. I stared at it as I could still hear the chants of the protesters outside who insisted on telling me all the things my tiny fetus is capable of doing at this point in its underdeveloped life.   They wouldn’t let Jean in with me past a certain point. I reluctantly let go of his hand. Consultation after consultation that day… I tried to explain… “I’m not here because I don’t want it. I don’t have a choice.  I am miscarrying this baby,” I explained deliberately every time.  My explanation was met with apathy. They opened the folder with my case file in it.  I caught a glimpse of the sonogram Dr. Phillippe’s office had taken weeks ago when the first confirmed my pregnancy.  All I wanted to do was stare at it, but the folder was closed quickly and I was ushered through the assembly line… get undressed, including your underwear. put these footies and gown on. Put your valuables in this locker. Come sit here and wait.

I remember… NUMBER A5938B? Follow me.  This was the operation room.  I had never been in one before.  It didn’t look like the ones on TV.  Not quite as brightly well lit.  Wood paneling on the walls.  3 figures in their scrubs moving about the room routinely.  They hoisted me into a chair that turned my top half upside down and had my nether regions high in the air. and feet strapped down, legs opened wide. “Can you tell me what is happening now,” I asked. No answer.  “I don’t understand… can you please explain what you’re about to do to me?” No answer. “Please… can you tell me what is in that?” I pointed to the syringe in the technician’s hand. I admit I question my recollection here.  Maybe I didn’t actually say anything in that moment. Maybe in my memory, I pleaded for answers. But in actuality, I may have sat quietly as he injected this ice into my veins. I felt it creep all the way up my arm and i got so scared. “Please… what’s happening to me?” I know I said aloud.  The freezing crawled up over my shoulder, up my neck and across the left side of my face then… darkness.

I remember … recovery for me was met with the familiar awakening to cramps. I’d not felt those in a long while. And laying in the equivalent of an adult diaper soaked with my own blood… I looked to my left and right and saw other young women coming to in their own time. The recovery nurses shuffled about giving us tea and crackers and once we were awake and aware enough to sit up, they huddled us together in a circle and let us self-medicate. First with a round of painkillers. then with a dose of shared experience at the facility today. Some of the other women managed to laugh. recounting how last time they did this, blah blah blah. I slowly came to the realization that I was the only one in this group that didn’t WANT to lose my child that or any day.  All these women made their minds up for the reasons they thought were best. In that moment, I couldn’t think of one reason that I would have willingly been there.  They gave me discharge papers and made me pay special attention to a little tag that said RH Factor.   They’d given me something called Rhogam because I was A Negative blood type and it seems that my blood type is the kind that might see any other kind of blood type introduced into my system as a pathogen to be destroyed.   Only now I was beginning to understand what might have happened to make my numbers go in reverse.  Answers were extremely hard to come by.  But the questions never truly stopped.

I never thought to name you.  I’ve only mentioned you in passing over the last 18 years.    Eighteen years. You would have been a man this year.   In college maybe?   Studying to follow your dream…  Looking towards your future. I often think about everyone you would have met.  All the people who would have grown to love you and support you and your dreams.  And how you would have been Mommy’s little boy.   I never stopped thinking about you.  I watched something on TV tonight that made me remember all over again.   I just want you to know I never forgot.   I still pray for you and I hope your spirit is soaring.





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