Book Excerpt – Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

Book Excerpt

The worst place your water could break.

The Hollywood Bowl. During an especially quiet part of a classical concert, not Darth Vader’s theme from the “Star Wars Suite.” You’re in a center box seat, close enough to see the sweat on the cello player’s forehead, and the space is crowded tight with four people, so an inconspicuous exit will be impossible. Your husband notices the concrete floor of the box is suddenly slick and wet and whispers, “Did you spill your wine?” And you’d like to believe him—it could be wine, but you know it’s amniotic fluid. Vintage, nine months.

There are several problems with this scenario, one of them being you’re not drinking wine these days. Pregnancy requires Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, nothing alcoholic.

And two, it’s been weeks since your husband moved out of the house and into an apartment. So what would you be doing together at the Hollywood Bowl?

Another bad place for your water to break—a plane. Flying to the most remote spot on earth, over the ocean, four hours from any airport.

Or alone on a desert island. No doctors, no midwives. You always meant to watch the YouTube video that explains how “Anyone Can Deliver Their Own Baby.” Too late now.

At Grace’s house, sitting on her new Roche Bobois white leather sofa. “It cost more than a car,” she tells you. “The leather feels like butter.”

***

So the parking lot at the Trader Joe’s in Sherman Oaks isn’t the worst place; it’s not even top ten bad. Laurie is loading her bags in the trunk and thinking about how she caught the clerks winking at each other when they saw the crazy pregnant lady buying seven bags of dark-chocolate-covered pretzels. “The pretzels aren’t for me,” she told them. “I’m having a party. For my book club.”

Inside the car, she opens a pretzel bag—just to make sure they’re fresh—and feels something moist in her panties. Not a great rush of fluid, but the sensation is a shock all the same. The baby isn’t due for another week. At home, she goes to the bathroom, and when she looks in the toilet, the water is pink. She calls Dr. Liu and he tells her to head to the hospital.

Laurie’s mother is at home in Reno and still on crutches because of her broken knee—calling will only make her worry.

Grace is in Napa, annoyed at Laurie because she hasn’t been asked to be the birth coach. Grace is a wonderful person, Laurie’s best friend, but her alarmist personality (“Do you know the real probability of an asteroid striking the earth?”) is not the support Laurie needs in a delivery room.

Alan isn’t answering his phone. She could leave a message. Or not.

Laurie walks down the hall to the guest room. The door is closed so she knocks. She can hear the creak of the bed and Jack appears. His hair is messed up and he rubs at his eyes.

“I was studying,” he says. He fights a yawn. “I wasn’t asleep.” He yawns again.

Laurie considers. Maybe she should call Alan back and leave a message.

Instead she nods at Jack. “I think it’s time.”

***

On The Flintstones, pregnant Wilma tells Fred, “I’m ready,” and Fred gets so excited he hops in the car and drives off with Barney instead. Wilma remains calm, not worrying about how they haven’t invented Pitocin or epidurals yet. She’s a cavewoman; she probably has to butcher her own T-Rex if Fred wants steak for dinner. And she knows, even though he’s Fred, he’ll remember eventually and come back for her.

At the hospital, Fred paces and waits with Barney. He’s not allowed in the delivery room with Wilma.

Who’s going to be in the delivery room with Laurie? She closes her eyes.

Yabba dabba doo.

***

“Bring the notes for your final and I’ll quiz you between contractions,” Laurie tells Jack.

He frowns, his eyes wary. He’s changed his clothes, and he’s wearing a baseball cap—backward—to hide his bed hair.

“That’s a joke,” Laurie says.

Jack smiles, oh right, as if he knew that’s what she meant all along, and Laurie considers saying the word dilation just to watch his face go pale. But that would be cruel and things are crazy enough already, and this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be and goddamn it, Alan is her husband; he should be here instead of Jack, her houseguest, although that’s probably not the best way to explain her relationship to Jack, which is only insanely complicated and where the hell is Alan anyway? Jack takes a step closer and says, very gently, “Do you have everything?” Jack is sometimes surprisingly wise and perceptive for a twenty-one-year-old.

Everything except my husband. “I hope so,” Laurie says. She packed her birthing bag weeks ago and has only repacked it three times. She tries Alan’s cell again and leaves a message. “I’m on my way to the hospital.”

***

On the drive over the hill to Cedars-Sinai, she times the contractions. Every twenty minutes. Good, little chance of Jack having to pull over to the side of Coldwater Canyon so he can deliver the baby himself. The air conditioning in Jack’s car is broken, so the vent above her knees blows out arctic air and Jack reaches in the backseat for a blanket. “Sorry,” he says and she’s not sure if he’s sorry about the broken air conditioner or the fact the blanket is a tiger-stripe Snuggie, but it’s warm enough and keeps her knees from aching.

“Is there any music you want to hear?” Jack asks her.

“I have a labor mix on my iPod.”

Laurie plugs her iPod into Jack’s adaptor. Hits shuffle. Frank Sinatra begins to sing “I’ve Got the World on a String.”

Jack makes a face. “This is your labor mix?”

“What would you pick?”

Jack shrugs. “I don’t know. Something not as old-fashioned.”

“Old-fashioned? It’s Frank Sinatra. It’s classic. Some songs, some voices, never go out of style.”

“I guess. If you say so.” Jack doesn’t sound convinced.

Alan likes Frank Sinatra. Is that why she picked this song? She will try not to think about Alan. Sing to me, Frank. About rainbows, about how life is a wonderful thing.

Jack’s hands clutch at the steering wheel. Is he dreading what’s about to happen? None of us signed up for this, Jack. She leans against the headrest. It makes a snapping sound and pops back a few inches.

“Sorry. I keep meaning to fix that,” Jack says.

***

The admissions nurse is young, not much older than Jack. Her nameplate says “Constance” and Laurie thinks that’s a good sign, a name you’d like to see when you arrive at the hospital in labor. Nothing as upsetting as “Cruella” or “Maleficent.” Why is Laurie thinking about cartoon characters? Is it some symptom of early labor? They didn’t mention that in Lamaze.

Constance is smiling at Jack. “Your first?”

Jack’s mouth opens, but he doesn’t say anything.

Constance nods at Laurie. “First time fathers, you can always tell.”

“I think it’s my first,” Jack says finally. “But there could be more. Lots more.”

Laurie pats Jack on the arm. “TMI.”

Constance flips through Laurie’s file. “Super, you’ve already done your preregistration. You’d be surprised how many people put it off.” Another smile at Jack. “Do you know what you’re having?”

“I hope it’s a baby,” Jack says.

Constance laughs as if Jack’s on stage at the Comedy Store. Laurie clears her throat. Shouldn’t Constance be sending her off to a room?

Laurie hears a burst of music from Jack’s pocket, “Cry of the Black Birds,” from Jack’s current favorite metal band, Amon Amarth. “Cry of the Black Birds” is ringtone code for Jack’s parents. Jack pulls out his phone and moves away from the desk.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine,” Constance says to Laurie.

“I know, thank you.” Laurie hopes Jack is fine, but why are his parents calling? The timing is terrible; he’s worried enough about his final and now she’s in labor—she shouldn’t have made him come with her. When he’s off the phone, she’ll send him back to the house, insist his final is the most important thing in his life right now. She’ll be okay on her own. Alan will get her message and show up.

Unless he doesn’t. The contractions are coming closer together now, and she realizes she’d like to lie down.

Jack walks over to Laurie; he turns his cap forward. Then back again.

“Everything okay?” Laurie says.

“Not really. My parents are here. Here here. In L.A. On their way to the hospital.”

Laurie tries to take that in. “You told them?”

“My sister did. Blabbermouth.”

Laurie exhales. “Okay. So they know. But don’t worry about your parents. Or me. Think about your final. You need to study.”

“I can’t study now. I have to deal with this.” He points at Laurie’s stomach.

“This.” A tsunami-sized wave of guilt washes over Laurie. Her head feels fuzzy; the lights of the admissions desk are too bright. Like spotlights.

“I’m sorry,” Jack says. “I don’t mean to sound like an asshole.”

Constance leans over the desk, waving a form at Jack. “Mr. Gaines? I need your signature on this.”

Jack looks at Laurie, at Constance. “I’m not Mr. Gaines.”

The lights around Laurie multiply. She has to squint and her fuzzy head grows fuzzier.

“Will you call Alan?” she asks Jack. “Maybe he’ll pick up this time.” Why are the lights so hot? And why does Jack have two faces? With four eyes, two noses? Is this another sign? Will the baby be born like that? Everything is supposed to happen for a reason, that’s what people say. What people? Who would come up with a stupid saying like that?

“Laurie? You look kind of…” Two-headed Jack is moving toward her. And the admissions nurse, Cruella or Constance—Laurie can’t remember her name, but she has two heads as well—no, three heads, a hydra-headed nurse. That can’t be good. And she’s moving quickly from behind the desk and motioning at someone.

“Tell Alan we’ll name the baby Bamm-Bamm,” Laurie says to Jack before she passes out in his arms.

CONCEPTION

LAURIE

“Congratulations,” says Dr. Liu. “You’re pregnant.” Laurie notices Dr. Liu has dimples on either side of his mouth, and she hopes her baby will have dimples. But not Dr. Liu’s early male pattern baldness. Thank God Alan’s father has a full set of hair. Or is it Laurie’s father? Laurie frowns—damn, why did she sleep through most of high school biology? When she gets home, she’ll go on the Internet and research genetics. Unless the baby is born bald and stays bald. Does that ever happen? When will Dr. Liu tell her about all the things that can go wrong?

Dr. Liu taps her hand and gives her a reassuring doctor smile. “There’s nothing to worry about. Women have been giving birth for thousands of years.”

***

On her way home from the doctor’s office, Laurie stops at a Barnes and Noble and heads for the pregnancy/childbirth books. Just walking into the section makes her feel special, as if she’s got a secret. When she pulls out a pregnancy book, she considers showing it out to the first person she sees. “Yep,” she’ll say. “That’s me. Having a baby.” Instead, she flips through the book and glances at photos of pregnant women and infants. On one page, she sees a woman breastfeeding twins. Twins? She hasn’t considered the possibility of multiples.

One will be plenty the first time around. The starter baby. The second pregnancy, twins will be okay. Because by then she’ll be a pro. Unless maternal instinct kicks in the first time. Which it might; why wouldn’t it? Laurie has always wanted to have a baby.

Growing up in Reno as an only child, her cousins and other family members scattered in Florida and Chicago, she’d begged her parents for a sibling. When that didn’t happen, she invented a sibling of her own, an old G.I. Joe given to her by a friend who didn’t want any boy dolls. G.I. Joe became her confidante—she’d tell him everything. About fights with her mother over stupid things like her messy room or getting in trouble at school for talking too much. Worries about her father when he got sick with cancer that would eventually kill him when she was sixteen.

“I’m going to having a hundred babies, Joe,” she would tell him. “My house will be so filled with children I won’t be able to keep track of them all.”

Joe didn’t answer back, of course. He stared at her with his scarred G.I. Joe face and she wondered—how did he get that scar? What happened to the man who gave it to him? G.I. Joe probably killed him with his bare hands.

***

In the bookstore she looks down at her still-flat belly. What is her baby doing right now? Baby? More like a clump of cells. Is he/she able to think yet? Of course not. What is the definition of life? Is it something only sustainable outside a womb? Does a Sea-Monkey count as life? Laurie feels tears in her eyes. Is this what being pregnant is about—crying over Sea-Monkeys?

The Barnes and Noble has a small music section, so Laurie looks at classical CDs. She pulls out Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64.

The first movement is Allegro molto appassionato. She doesn’t know what allegro or molto mean. Her musical knowledge is limited to five years of piano lessons and occasional trips to concerts or ballets. Appassionato might be about passion. Like sex. Is that what Mendelssohn was thinking when he was writing his violin concerto?

She takes out her iPhone and goes to her Dictionary.com app and searches for allegro. “Cheerful, or brisk.” Molto means “very.” Passionate, very cheerful, very brisk. A little like sex with Alan when he’s preoccupied with work. Sometimes she sees a look in his eye as if he’s wondering why he left his BlackBerry in the kitchen.

The last movement is Allegro non troppo, Allegro molto vivace. Laurie rolls the words around in her mouth. What a great word, troppo. A potential baby name? Troppo means “too much, excessively.” Okay, she’ll buy the Mendelssohn CD and play it later—good for the baby’s growing brain.

Unless he/she can’t hear yet. It’s too confusing to refer to the baby as he/she. If she keeps doing that, the baby will be born with both male and female genitalia. She’ll think of the baby as he. Not that she’d prefer a boy. Either one will be fine, just not both.

***

Back at home, Laurie goes into the office/baby’s room and looks around. What color should they paint the walls? Is the room too small? Will it fit a crib, a changing table? Should they have bought a bigger house? She won’t worry about that now; instead, she opens one of her new books to a fertilization illustration. With her finger she tracks the journey of hearty sperm making their way through the tubes in search of a friendly egg.

The fertilized egg divides into two cells, then four, and continues dividing as it floats down the fallopian tube to the uterus, by which time there are roughly 30 cells. This cell bundle is called a morula—Latin for mulberry, which it resembles.

Laurie puts her hands on her stomach and imagines cells multiplying. Sees Troppo changing from zygote to morula to blastocyst, hundreds of cells creating an embryo.

“Yoo-hoo, Troppo. You can’t hear me yet,” she whispers to her baby-to-be. “But you will soon.”

***

When Alan comes home from work, Laurie surprises him with a bottle of champagne and a homemade chocolate cake—a “welcome baby” cake, she calls it. Alan kisses her and they eat cake before dinner and Laurie has one tiny (very tiny) sip of champagne to celebrate.

“Wow. Pretty overwhelming,” Alan says to Laurie.

Laurie nods. “I still can’t believe it. Do you think Dr. Liu was kidding? Maybe he’s not really a doctor; he’s just a guy who sneaks into an ob-gyn office and puts on a white lab coat.”

“And sees you naked?” Alan says. “I’ll have to kill him.”

Troppo will have a goofy sense of humor like Alan. He will be tall and handsome and blond and green-eyed like Alan, smart and kind and, except for too-light eyebrows, perfect genetic material.

“Why are you staring at me?” he asks.

“I’m hoping the baby looks like you.”

“Be as good-looking as me? There’s not enough room on the planet. I want him to look exactly like you. Only masculine. No offense. You know what I mean.”

She laughs, imagines Troppo split in half—half Alan, half Laurie, like someone in a circus sideshow. Will the baby be semi-neurotic and addicted to chocolate like Laurie? Set in his ways and almost OCD organized like Alan? Sometimes Alan refers to himself as “retro.” That explains why he still carries a BlackBerry and wears Brooks Brothers oxford shirts and deck shoes. Laurie can’t decide which decade Alan belongs in—the ’50s? A member of the establishment in the ’60s? On one of their early dates, he showed up wearing a light blue seersucker jacket.

“My grandfather had a jacket like that,” she told him, trying hard not to make a face.

“I’m fashionably unfashionable,” Alan said. And how could you not fall in love with a man crazy enough to own and wear a seersucker jacket? Even though after their wedding it mysteriously disappeared.

***

Alan finishes his champagne. “Pregnancy’s already made you prettier.”

“That pregnancy glow they talk about? Am I illuminating the room?” she says.

“I better get my sunglasses.” He pours himself another glass of champagne. “So now I guess we make a list.” Alan takes out his BlackBerry. “What do we do first?”

Laurie thinks. “Gather wood. Build a shelter. We’ve got that covered. Unless our house isn’t big enough.”

“Our house is fine. It’s a baby; they’re small. At least for a while.” Alan frowns. “I’m a newbie at this. I need instructions.”

“It’s like riding a bike,” Laurie says.

“You’re sure?”

“No, beats me. I’m a newbie too, remember?” She sits in his lap and leans her head against his shoulder. “But how hard can it be?”

***

They tell everyone. Laurie calls her mother in Reno, Alan calls his parents in Virginia. Grace takes Laurie out for lunch to celebrate. Laurie has been helping set up Grace’s new blog—Grace’s husband, Hal, works in commercial real estate, but he’s taking a sabbatical year to stay home with Emilie, their two-year-old daughter. Hal has given Grace workspace at his office in Van Nuys, a beautiful old building from the ’20s that was scheduled for demolition until a group of preservationists fought to save it. Grace worked in the print magazine business for years and is anxious to take a leap into cyberworld. Her blog will be a guide to finding unknown treasures (cheap day spas, unusual museums, etc.) in the San Fernando Valley. Grace wants to call it Valley Gems.

“Sounds like a jewelry store,” Laurie says. They are eating in a small Italian café on a busy street just off Van Nuys Boulevard near Hal’s office. The food is good, but Grace hasn’t decided if the restaurant will make it on the site. “Too much traffic,” Grace complains.

“But the pesto’s amazing,” Laurie says, winding linguine around her fork.

“Enjoy it now. Because once morning sickness kicks in, you’ll want to die. When I was pregnant with Emilie, I was sick for nine months.”

“I don’t believe you.” Laurie’s linguine is covered with olive oil, garlic, and basil. How could that ever taste bad?

“Remember your worst hangover in college? Sick like that. Puking, dry heaves. That ‘by the second trimester you’ll be fine’ thing? Total crap. Wait and see. Are you sure you don’t like Valley Gems?”

“Hate it.”

“You could work with me full time,” Grace says.

“Part time.” Since college, Laurie has worked in PR but was transitioned (about to be laid off) from her last job a year ago. Since then she’s done freelance travel writing, and she’s not ready for nine to five again, especially with a baby on the way.

“Hidden Valley,” Grace announces. “Better than Valley Gems?”

“Hidden Valley is a salad dressing.”

“I like Hidden Valley,” Grace says. “Because that’s what it’s about—places you might drive by every day, but you’ve never noticed them before. Like this restaurant. Which is great, except for the honking cars and exhaust fumes.”

Grace hands Laurie a gift bag wrapped with a gauzy ribbon. “It’s really more of a present for after the baby.” Laurie pulls out a pair of neon-colored margarita glasses.

“They’re cute, thanks,” Laurie says. “But how am I going to survive nine months without margaritas?”

“I’m not kidding about morning sickness. Even if it were medically safe to drink when you’re pregnant, you won’t want to. The thought of tequila will make you vomit.”

Laurie wipes the bottom of the bowl with her bread to get the last bits of pesto. She’s not worried. Grace exaggerates everything.

***

When morning sickness arrives, it’s not Grace’s violent vomiting dry heave scenario, but 24/7 nausea isn’t Laurie’s idea of a good time. One of her pregnancy books suggests eating saltine crackers as a possible solution.

At dinner, Alan presents her with crackers on a small plate. “Yum,” he says. Laurie wants to punch him. She had to leave the kitchen last night when he microwaved leftover pizza. The smell of sausage and cheese made her woozy, and she could hear the acid bubbling in her stomach.

She picks up a cracker. It looks gigantic, although not as gigantic as the torpedo-sized prenatal vitamins Dr. Liu wants her to take. “They’re not so bad,” Alan says.

“Then you try one.”

Alan shakes his head, as if taking a prenatal vitamin will make him grow breasts.

She is looking at the cracker in her palm.

“It smells,” she says to Alan.

“Crackers don’t smell.”

Troppo is starving. If she doesn’t eat this cracker, his brain won’t develop and he’ll never get into an Ivy League school.

She nibbles the corner. Her mouth feels full, as if it’s stuffed with paper.

“Maybe I could put a little margarine on it,” Alan says.

Laurie shakes her head. Margarine would push her over the edge. Half a cracker, she might be able to manage that. She’ll do it for Troppo.

She takes another bite, more aggressively this time. The cracker sits on her tongue like fingernail clippings. She takes a sip of water—even water tastes funny these days. In her mouth, the water turns the cracker to the consistency of spackle. She wills the muscles in her throat to do their job and the soggy, disgusting mess doesn’t exactly slide down her esophagus, but it lurches as it begins the long journey to Laurie’s roiling stomach.

“Good girl, only two thirds of the cracker to go,” says Alan.

***

Weeks pass, and on mornings when she doesn’t feel like throwing up, Laurie goes into Grace’s office. Grace tacks a pregnancy calendar above Laurie’s desk. “So you can mark off the days,” she says. When Laurie stays home, Grace emails her pregnancy tips and things to watch out for. For example, if seafood is polluted with mercury, it can harm a baby’s brain and nervous system. The coating on nonstick cookware might flake off and release toxic gasses.

As they’re planning the Hidden Valley format (“Blog, Facebook, eventually print,” is Grace’s master plan), Laurie asks about Grace’s pregnancy. “Emilie is a whoops baby,” Grace says. “We thought we’d wait another year to start a family, but… whoops.”

“So were you scared?” Laurie wants to know.

“It was surprise, but a bigger surprise at how happy we were. And now Hal wanting to take a year off to be home with her—I think that’s amazing. It’s so good for them, father/daughter bonding. Alan will make a great dad too.”

“Yeah.” Laurie came home from the office the other day to find Alan had gotten Thai takeout and a DVD of Dumbo. They watched Dumbo after dinner and both of them cried when Dumbo’s mother sings “Baby Mine” to her child while she’s locked up behind bars. Alan says he isn’t really crying—he has something in his eye. But Laurie doesn’t believe him.

“We planned Troppo, so it’s not a surprise,” Laurie says to Grace.

“And is it what you thought it would be?”

“I don’t love the nausea. But everything else… I don’t know. I expected joy, but this is a ridiculous amount of joy.” She laughs. “I sound insane.”

“You sound like a new mom.” Grace looks serious. “You’re not going outside on smoggy days, are you? Check the pollution levels first.”

***

Laurie talks to Troppo all the time. She’s standing in his bedroom and facing the doorframe. “This is where we’ll measure you on your birthday. Right here,” she tells him. She sees herself carefully drawing a line and printing the date. “Look how big you are, Troppo. How did you get so big?”

“Growing like a weed,” Alan will say, and Troppo will look up at his parents, grinning. The lines will grow higher and higher on the doorframe and one day—surprise!—he’ll be taller than Laurie.

Even though she calls him Troppo, the baby’s room has a unisex decor. They decided on yellow paint and a colorful alphabet trim on the wall just below the ceiling. A is for Alligator. B is for Bird. The Python wrapped around the letter P seems vaguely sinister—“To make sure the baby won’t grow up afraid of snakes,” Alan says.

“Really? Suppose the baby gets some terrible snake phobia?”

“Then we’ll buy real snakes. Isn’t that what you do with phobias? Confront them?”

“But maybe we don’t know how to have a baby,” Laurie says as she looks at the almost-assembled crib, the alphabet border, the freshly painted walls. Eight weeks pregnant and her maternal instinct confidence seems to come and go. “And it’s not like riding a bike. It’s like… building a particle accelerator. With Q-tips.”

“No going back. We’ve waited long enough.”

He’s not wrong, Laurie thinks. They’ve been married for almost five years. No children right away—Laurie’s job meant lots of travel and Alan traveled for his job too, including to help organize a new branch of his company, Palmer-Boone, in Sydney. Friends told them they should travel now, pre-children. They listened to the advice, took advantage of Laurie’s job, enjoyed river cruises down the Volga, glacier trips in Alaska. Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, courtesy of Palmer-Boone.

Alan, the ideal travel companion. They have fabulous adventures. And then one day, they looked at each other and that was it. Time for a baby.

Now they’re decorating a baby’s room and putting together a crib. Years from now, in this room, Laurie will tell fourteen-year-old Troppo to pick up his clothes and he’ll roll his eyes and say, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll get around to it, Mom.”

Mom. That’s who she is. Alan is right; there’s no going back.

***

“You’ll hear the heartbeat for the first time,” Grace tells her. “Alan should go with you, it’s very cool.” But Palmer-Boone is having a “power breakfast” to welcome visiting VIPs from Palmer-Boone Great Britain, so Laurie arrives solo at her doctor’s appointment.

Dr. Liu is in a good mood, very chatty, and Laurie wonders what it’s like for Mrs. Liu, thinking about her husband rubbing gel on women’s stomachs and looking in their vaginas all day.

“We should hear the heartbeat, right?” Laurie asks Dr. Liu as he slides the ultrasound paddle across her tummy.

“Who’s the doctor, you or me?” He’s grinning as he maneuvers the paddle. The machine makes a thunk thunk sound, slightly wet.

“I vote for you. I’d make a horrible doctor. And I look terrible in white,” says Laurie. Dr. Liu moves the paddle to another spot. Thunk thunk. How loud will the heartbeat be?

Dr. Liu frowns, taps the end of the paddle. “Let me try another one, this one’s acting a little funky.”

Of course ultrasound machines go funky. So it’s not unusual for Dr. Liu to leave the room to bring in another machine. It must happen all the time.

Only Laurie knows, deep down, not even deep down, she knows right there on the surface that Dr. Liu won’t find a heartbeat; it isn’t a broken ultrasound machine. Something has gone wrong; it’s bad news, the worst possible news.

And it is. A second machine confirms what Dr. Liu suspected—no heartbeat. A blighted ovum, Dr. Liu explains, his face serious. No dimples this time. The fertilized egg attached itself to the wall of the uterus and began to develop a placenta, but there is nothing inside. No embryo. No baby.

No Troppo.

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