Nothing like a good mystery

We read together as the plot, and her waist, thicken.

Published February 21, 2001 8:22PM (EST)

The lamp is on. A half-full bottle of beer makes water rings on the bedside table. I am sitting up, back against two pillows. The book is propped on my thighs. She lies curled beside me, blanket pulled to her chin. She is chilled and a bit nauseated, but not sick. She has heard the story before; we both have. It hasn't even been a year since we finished reading it the first time. And even though we had hoped to read it again one day, we never thought it would be this soon. But here we are, going through the same ritual as before: Every Sunday night, before falling asleep, we read one chapter.

It is the best story we've ever read. It's a drama and a comedy and a mystery all rolled into one. It's about woman vs. herself, woman vs. woman and woman vs. nature. And man is in there a little bit, too. It's a true story -- boy, do we know it's true -- but so much of it seems like science fiction. There are zygotes and blastocysts and placentas and cytomegaloviruses. And the more words we learn, the more we realize that we don't know much.

Tonight we begin Chapter 9. The opening lines of each chapter of "Your Pregnancy Week by Week" are my favorites. I read aloud: "The crown-to-rump length of the embryo is 0.9 to 1.2 inches. This is close to the size of a medium green olive." Really?

Crown to rump is a curious measurement. Why not head to toe? But every week we learn the new crown-to-rump length. And every week, after learning it, I say, "Honey, what do you think my crown-to-rump length is?" And every week she ignores me. "It's not a rhetorical question," I say. Still no response. "I think it's about 35 inches," I declare. Nothing. So I read on.

Close to the size of a medium green olive. Another curious reference. Each week there's a new fruit or vegetable description of what we've helped to create. Just last week, it was a pinto bean. But by next week we'll be the proud parents of a small plum! And each week, unable to control myself, I refer to our baby as that new fruit or vegetable. Grinning, I ask my wife, "So how's little medium green olive doing?" Not grinning, she says, "She wishes she were in a martini." At least it's a response.

Reading further, we learn that our olive has arms and legs now. Hands and fingers are flexed, and meet over the heart. The feet are long enough to meet in front of the torso. The head is erect. Eyelids almost cover the eyes. Ears are well formed. And the baby now moves its body and limbs. Imagine that: At only nine weeks, our little bundle of joy, our 0.9-inch-crown-to-rump medium green olive, is moving her arms and legs. Unimaginable.

We both are quiet now. I turn off the lamp and scoot down beside her. The half-moon's light shines through the window. She is already asleep. The only sound I hear comes from the next room. He turns in his crib and gives a small whimper, and another. What do babies dream of? Then he is quiet, except for his breathing. I listen hard and can hear his breaths in time with hers. I think about having two babies -- about money, about a big enough house, about schools. I think about her teaching them to read, and me teaching them to shoot a basketball, and them showing us how to dance. I think about how much I love this story. Then I wonder how it ends.

By Mark Cloud

Mark Cloud is a staff attorney for the Georgia Court of Appeals. He lives in Atlanta.

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