If anything was going to heal the turbulent years of our relationship, a baby was. Or perhaps this is what a woman seeks to believe when she finds herself fighting for her marriage. However banal it may seem, there was a certain truth to it. Because despite raging hormones with subsequent tearful outbursts, our marriage did go through what seemed like a renaissance at the time. The arguments stopped dead in their tracks and the myth of a blooming pregnancy seemed to hold firm.
Three months into my pregnancy we had our first scan. Carl was happy for the sex to remain a well-protected secret, but I was anxious to know. Thinking back, I suppose I wanted to plan for the perfect family in a world that had become increasingly unpredictable and hostile. It was a Thursday morning and we had both taken off from work to finally meet our new family member. The midwife applied gel to my stomach, which was still merely a hard bump, much the shape of a large pomegranate.
“This is going to be cold,” she warned me. She applied the gel and brought the transducer to my belly, slowly moving it around, allowing for the transmitted echoes to translate into image.
“It all looks good,” she shared in an upbeat, sing-songy voice. She smiled at us, the way I would imagine she would do to most couples, calming their nerves.
“Can you see if it’s a boy or girl?” I asked. “We are really eager to know.”
“Well, Justine is.” Carl amended, stroking my cheek in the process.
“You can’t always tell. You are now, according to the scan, twelve weeks and six days – so almost 13 weeks. So it’s with about eighty per cent accuracy I can tell you. Let me see…” She continued probing my stomach. “Here I think… Yes here, looks like you are having a boy. Congratulations!”
I looked at Carl and he at me. His eyes were radiant as he brought my hand he’d been holding to his lips.
We left the clinic sharing an intimate secret no one else was privy to. It was ours and ours alone, and somehow it fused us together forming a unity beyond our mortal souls. Carl became very protective of me. Although I had stopped smoking the moment my pregnancy had been confirmed, Carl insisted on quitting too. His interests took on new directions, most notably that of organic food and alcohol-free wines. His obsessions with our baby’s health went as far as banning me from my daily gym sessions, fearing the baby would get overheated from my vigilant exercising. As I saw my weight ballooning and was not overly happy with his restrictive measures, I turned to yoga. Once again we had reached an equilibrium, which seemed to remain unthreatened.
Despite Carl’s concerns about my ever-increasing workload, which I barely managed through delegation to a growing team, I decided to move offices to a grand suite of rooms on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. I’d been lucky: a friend of a friend who was the owner offered me a good rental contract for a five-year period. We moved in April, which Carl insisted on overseeing given the pregnancy, which was in its fifth month. I once again conceded, knowing that there were only four months until the onset of freedom. The offices were clean but needed redecoration. It was beyond our budget, so we furnished it with 70s-style vintage finds, giving it an edgy and arty look.
The move allowed me to get out of the house and away from Carl’s concerns, and as I entered the third trimester I was feeling positively energetic and blooming. The baby, which we had provisionally named David, although we wavered in our opinion to names such as Jonathan or Christopher, was due on August 29. Right after moving office, we turned our attention to the baby room. It was to be a dream in white, blue and green. After repainting the room and installing the last furniture — a baby cot, a cupboard, a chest of drawers and a cream sofa — we stood together like the proudest of parents-to-be, gazing upon our material creation. We both knew it was just weeks before we would live through a far greater experience, the birth of our much-longed-for son. We had entered the final stretch where the weeks could be counted on two hands.
It was an early morning that took over from a restless night. As the weeks had progressed, sleep came in clusters of three or four hours. I would feel our baby probing and kicking, keeping me awake – yet the very same movements would lull me back to sleep. This time was different, though, and although I had slept through most of the night, it was ridden with nightmares. I was happy to be awake, praying for the light to dispel the last bit of darkness that had plagued my nocturnal mind. I probed my belly, connecting with our baby son. But there was no response. I poked and pushed, my fingertips digging into my taught, oval midriff. As I continued, without any reaction, an overwhelming sense of dread came over me. I shook my husband, who sat up with a jolt.
“What’s going on? What’s the matter?” He looked disoriented and bewildered, staring at me with wide eyes.
“Something is wrong with our baby,” I cried, almost gasping for air as I uttered the words that were the worst fear of any parents to be.
“What’s wrong, honey? Tell me.” His eyes dashed from my face to my belly.
“I can’t feel him. He’s not kicking. Something is wrong, I know it.” I cried out, one of those howls that only death can instigate. My husband threw himself on his cell phone, and within moments, although it felt like ages, he was connected to an emergency operator. I cradled my belly and felt with my fingers inside of my panties for any signs. A trickle of blood connected with my fingertips, confirming something was desperately wrong.
We arrived at the maternity unit in under thirty minutes. Carl tried to soothe me, but it was a half-hearted attempt as I saw what can only be described as subliminal fear in his eyes. I lied down on the examination table while the female doctor asked me a number of routine questions. How far was I in the pregnancy? Had there been any complications previously? Was there any vaginal discharge or bleeding? I answered no to all of these except for the last before she explained to me the procedure and started by turning on the Doppler heart-rate monitor.
I had heard this many times before, always assured of the swishing sounds that it transmitted. At first there was a faint sound, which she explained was the movement of embryotic fluid. She tried to locate the heartbeat, but there was none. She called for a nurse asking for an ultrasound machine to be brought in. An uncomfortable silence filled the room, but I didn’t have the bravery to break it.
“What does this mean?” Carl finally asked. I could see little pearls of sweat forming at his hairline until one escaped, eventually clinging to the edge of an eyebrow.
“We don’t know yet. I need see the results of the ultrasound before I can say more.”
“But it doesn’t look good, does it?”
The doctor waited for a short moment before answering, “No, no it doesn’t.
I was glad for Carl to quit his inquiries when the ultrasound machine rolled in. The doctor told me to relax while she conducted the exam. She could turn away the screen if I didn’t want to see it, but I told her I wanted to. From this moment on Carl was to be excluded from a road exclusively travelled by women. His questions and opinions carried little weight, as I took centre stage to events that paradoxically were outside of my control.
“I am sorry Mrs Bertrand, but there is no sign of your baby’s heartbeat. We will do a final test measuring your hCG levels to determine a possible miscarriage.” She asked the nurse who was now on standby to prepare for a blood test, which would be sent to the lab for analysis straight away.
I was given a private room in the maternity ward, safely away from any confrontation of childbirth and its aftermath. They hooked me onto a drip and a nurse came to check for any foetal heart rate every other hour. But I knew in my heart my baby was lost, lying still and lifeless inside my broken womb.
The final results, and what seemed like a coup de grâce to our parental desires, came the following morning when a male obstetrician who I’d not encountered previously came in to inform us of the news we’d dreaded. The baby had died for unknown reasons and we would have to prepare ourselves for the birth. I looked away, gazing as far as I could into the Paris skyline that graced my view. And so I can hardly remember what was being said. Only that the birth was to take place the following day.
Although I was given the choice, I was told it would be better for my physical as well as mental wellbeing if I opted for a natural birth. Despite what my fears might have been previously when I’d insisted on a Caesarean, I gave way. Little else mattered and somehow I hoped the mental pain could be obliterated by that of the physical. They induced the labour around midday, breaking the water through a rupture to the amniotic sac, bringing with it a strand of our baby’s hair.
“Your baby has brown hair,” he said. Despite the sadness that I felt — the sadness we all felt — it gave us a glimmer of hope. In the end of it all a little gift would be born, straight into heaven.
At 2 PM I was ready to push, holding my thighs wide apart through the soaring pain that now had moved from my lower back down the birth canal and to the opening. It only took five pushes, and a little baby boy, clad in white mucus but perfectly complete, entered this world. What struck me the most was the silence. There were no rushing or hushing, no cheers of joy. And most poignant of all, there were no baby cries. I was cheated the cries I had eagerly anticipated for seven months. They placed our little son, who looked so small yet so perfect, on my chest. An overwhelming sense of love washed over me, so profound there are no words for it. I kept rocking our son, back and fourth, telling him I would never leave him, despite knowing I could not uphold such promise.
We decided to call our baby Emmanuel, not the name we’d previously agreed on. It seemed fitting as it meant God is with us — the only consolation we now hung on to. The next hours were spent in his company, as he laid fully dressed in clothes that seemed more fitting for a doll. The nurse took prints of his hands and feet, and a piece of the little hair he was born with was cut off for keepsake. We made a book from it, and now as I face the prospects of divorce, I wonder who will get to keep it.
We were allowed to keep Emmanuel for one night before saying our final goodbyes. I slept deeply that night. Finally at peace. The next morning I woke up early and instinctively turned to my son, who was now a purple grey. I took him to my chest, kissing his little blue lips. They were so cold to the touch. I recall thinking that whenever I would touch something cold again it would remind me of kissing my beautiful son. To this day it still does.
Emmanuel was buried five days later at the Grenelle cemetery. He was interred into the family mausoleum with the words “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever”.