We had paid $25 to find out whether we were having a girl or a boy, at a “baby bump studio” near our apartment. The gender reveal was not covered by insurance, but we figured we could afford the reasonable sum to find out a few weeks early. It was our first child and I was 14 weeks along. I was nervous to be there, but mostly I was excited. Today would confirm that my intuition was right: we were having a girl.
Before entering the studio, though, my husband warned me. “You know, realistically, we have a 50-50 chance of having either a boy or a girl.”
I ignored his forewarning. “It has to be a girl,” I said. “Our families are full of girls.”
The ultrasound tech moved the wand over my belly. She had trouble finding a clear shot of the private parts at first because our baby was sleepy, so I drank some water and walked around. When I came back, the baby was moving enough and she had it almost figured out.
“I just need one more angle, then I’ll know for sure. But I have a strong idea of what your little one is,” she said. I could tell she was used to putting on a show for couples, the reveal was supposed to be this great surprise, a spectacle.
I thought about interrupting her, telling her I’d changed my mind. My husband’s forewarning resurfaced in my mind. I’d tell her that we could come back later, maybe next week. But before I could say anything, she was ready.
“You’re having a boy!” she cheered.
My husband’s mouth gaped open, and he grabbed me, cheering with her. “Can you believe it?” He kissed me and began crying. Happy, untainted, beautiful tears.
I began to cry with him, but my tears were different. I choked on them, as if I were panicking. They were tears of shock, tears of fear. The ultrasound tech must have noticed because she said in an uncomfortable, softer voice, “Little boys are great.”
“Of course,” I said. And I was honest when I said that. But I hadn’t mentally prepared for this news. I quickly slid off the bed and exited the room while my husband collected the ultrasound images.
As I waited for my husband in the hallway, I tried to catch my breath, but my mind and heart had cracked open. Still frames of my little brother, Gavin, erupted through me. I time-traveled — or rather plummeted — back nine years, to when I was a college sophomore. My parents had called me and told me that my only brother, at 4 months old, was dying. He had been diagnosed with one of the rarest diseases in the world, Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome (AGS). He was placed in hospice care and given a year to live.
I dropped out of college to be home with him, to have memories of him, in the short life he had been prescribed. At home I learned to love him in a way one can only love a dying baby — selflessly and fearlessly. Although he was suffering, it never detracted from his loveliness, with his perfect pouty lips, his thick pad of blond hair, and galaxy blue eyes. We were 19 years apart and there were two sisters between us. And because of our age difference, I felt very maternal toward him. Like I needed to protect him.
As my husband and I walked to the car, my mind moved to more disturbing scenes: my brother shaking in my mother’s arms, his lips a petroleum purple, sick, fragile from a disease that ate at his brain. Then there he was, ghostlike, lying limp in my father’s arms after a grand mal seizure.
Confused, my husband asked, “What’s wrong? You should be excited. This should be a happy moment.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I said, waving him off. I knew I was hurting both of us. I had ruined the moment, but I had to understand what was happening first before I could explain it to him.
The next image was of my mom and I pushing Gavin through Babies R Us. We were browsing the boys’ clothes section. My mom had picked up a onesie that had a bat and glove stitched to the front. She looked to Gavin and sniffled. “I’m sorry you’ll never get to play baseball.”
I placed my hand on her shoulder. Another woman, pushing a baby around the same age as Gavin, strolled passed us. She did a double look back at Gavin, who held his arms close to his chest like a dinosaur might. Gavin lacked muscle tone and core strength; each day it was dissolving. The stranger scrunched her face, giving Gavin a look that said, what’s wrong with you? I wanted to scream. Nothing and everything.
When my husband and I entered the car, I realized it wasn’t that I was unhappy that we were having a boy. I was afraid. Although Gavin survived hospice, and he is 9 now, the disease left him physically and mentally disabled, unable to talk or walk — a quadriplegic.
I looked to my darling husband, who waited patiently for me to come back. “I just never want our baby boy to reflect the life my brother didn’t get,” I said.
Because the truth was, I still grieved the life Gavin didn’t get. He was the only little boy I had known so closely. He was my frame into how little boys were. And although we loved Gavin and included him in everything from family vacations to inside jokes, I sometimes wished he could be on the Little League team, making friends and learning how to field a grounder.
My husband placed his hand on my thigh. And I realized what I had known all along. Although Gavin’s life wasn’t by any means normal, it was still a beautiful life, a rich life. I remembered back to his last birthday — I had gotten him a T-ball and a foam baseball bat. In his special walker, I helped him stand next to the T and swing at the ball, watching it stumble across the living room. I pictured his smile, open wide like a clam — proud at his accomplishment.
And instead of feeling fear, I felt peace. For the bond Gavin would have with his future nephew, for the lessons he would teach him, and for all the memories they would make together.
I rested my hands on my belly and exhaled, for the bright future of two boys — my baby and my brother.
Courtney Lund is a writer and professor living in Los Angeles. She is working on a memoir about her brother. She can be found on Twitter @CourtneyLundO
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