By Cilla de Mander
Mary sat in the waiting room at her local health center. The test had been positive and she was there for her first check-up, at six weeks pregnant. It was the same clinic where she’d done the insemination, but this time her wife couldn’t come with her. It was a routine procedure and she wasn’t worried.
The midwife admitted her right on time and seemed genuinely happy for her. The clinic had all relevant information about her life and health from the earlier process of gestation so after the congratulations and checking how she was feeling, if the nausea had set in yet and was she feeling tired? They went straight to the physical part. She was weighed and asked to leave a urine sample and quite a lot of blood.
“All right then” said the Lena, the midwife, when the band-aid was in place and Mary had her sweater on again. “Keep in touch, let us know if anything is bothering you. If everything is okay with the tests we’ll get you another appointment around the twelfth week. If anything turns up I’ll call you.”
Mary collected her coat and bag and on her way out she called her wife Sophie and told her everything was fine.
Lena the midwife called a few days later. There were some problems with her blood work, could she come in again and leave a new sample? Anytime was okay, she could just swing by the lab during opening hours.
Without mentioning anything to Sophie Mary went before work the next morning, sternly telling herself not to worry. Nothing was wrong, they must have made some mistake in the lab. They never make mistakes, a small voice said in the back of her mind. But she shushed it and went about her day.
Then Lena called again. Could she and Sophie come for a meeting? They needed to discuss the result from the blood tests. Yes, they both had to come. Yes, it really was best if it could be done this week. So Sophie cancelled her planned trip to Copenhagen and two days later they were back in the waiting room at the clinic. Are they sure? Sophie wondered. They must have made a mistake in the lab. But then Mary told her about the phone call and the extra blood tests and there seemed to be nothing more to say. They waited in painful silence.
“I’m so so sorry” Lena the midwife said, taking Mary’s hand in both of her own and looking sorrowfully at them both. “The tests are conclusive. The foetus is not viable. There have to be an abortion.”
Mary pulled her hand loose and clasped her still flat stomach. She stared at Lena, unable to find words. Sophie broke the stricken silence. “How do you mean not viable? What’s wrong with it?” She spoke slowly and stiffly, pronouncing each word with excessive care.
“It has Y-type Chromosome Disorder.” Lena explained, with utmost regret in her voice. “I’m sorry this happened to you. There is a heightened risk with the insemination procedure, compared to in-vitro. It’s rare but it happens. We will have to terminate this pregnancy, and you’ll get any resources you want regarding grief counseling or any other kind of support. When you’re ready for another try, I’d recommend the in-vitro option. It’s a bit more involved, but it has fewer risks.”
Mary listened, but felt like she was behind a glass wall. She could hear them and see them, but felt distant, like she wasn’t there. The only real thing was the warmth she felt with her hands, the flat, strong feeling of her stomach. Where the small group of cells that had been meant to be her baby were hidden deep within. A small group of cells with YCD, Y-type Chromosome Disorder.
They had been recommended the in-vitro option from the beginning. But Mary had felt that it was unnecessarily complicated, even though they had been informed of the risks with insemination, where the embryo couldn’t be vetted before insertion. She had disregarded the risks, assumed it wouldn’t happen to them, that everything would turn out okay. And now everything was far from okay and there baby-to-be had YCD.
Sophie drove on the way home, with Mary a quiet passenger beside her. When they reached the driveway and stopped, Sophie took Mary’s hands in her own and looked at her, for the first time since they left the clinic. “It’s going to be alright, love. We’re going to get through this. We’ll have another baby, a healthy one, and everything will be okay. I promise you, my love.” Mary just looked at her in silence.
In the kitchen Sophie made tea while Mary sat listlessly at the table. Suddenly she said “I don’t want to go”. Sophie turned around and said “what, love?” with the teapot in hand. “I don’t want to go. Tomorrow, for the appointment. I don’t want the abortion. I want to keep our baby. I don’t care about the YCD.”
“Oh love!” Sophie exclaimed, put away the teapot and hugged her wife tight. They both started to cry and didn’t stop for a long time.
They didn’t talk about it after that. They had their tea and watched sitcoms the rest of the afternoon, cuddled on the sofa. For dinner they called for pizza and went back to the sofa. But that night, in bed, neither of them fell asleep. They lay there in the darkness, listening to each others fast breath, staring into infinity.
“You have to, you know” Sophie said, to the dark ceiling.
“Have to do what?”
“Have to have the abortion. You can’t have the baby, love, you just can’t.”
“But I don’t get it. I thought I did, but I don’t. Why can’t we just let the baby grow and deal with whatever comes? It can’t be that bad, can it? We can deal!”
Silence again. Sophie tried to talk, she started again and again, but the words wouldn’t come. She even thought that Mary might have fallen asleep, but then she moved and sighed, and Sophie took a deep breath and made herself say it.
“No love, we can’t deal. It’s not up to us. We won’t get to keep it. No one will force you to have the abortion, but they’ll take the baby. Social Services will take it away directly at birth. It doesn’t matter if we cope or not, it’s not up to us.”
“How do you know? It didn’t say in the brochures. It said babies with YCD aren’t ‘viable’…”
“There were this woman at my job. Not this one, the one I had before. She had an YCD baby and she refused the abortion. It was so damned tragic. Since it’s not viable the pregnancy doesn’t count. She couldn’t go on birth-leave, she had to work right up to the end of her pregnancy. With her big belly and all, labouring away like everybody else. It was bizarre. And she was so sad. And then… she was back at work the next week and they had taken the baby. She didn’t even get to hold it. She went on sick leave awhile later. I don’t know what happened to her afterwards.”
Sophie fell silent, the darkness around them suddenly suffocating. Mary sighed beside her.
“I guess… I guess we can try again. We’ll do an in-vitro fertilization and they’ll check for YCD. But you have to stay with me when they do it. Come with me tomorrow, and stay at home with me after”
“Of course love. Of course.”
They snuggled together, suddenly not so alone anymore.
“You know”, Sophie said “it will be for the best. I mean, the baby… it wouldn’t even be female.”