Legs in the stirrups, butt scooted to the edge of the examining table, Evangeline stared at the giant mandala painted on the ceiling of Nella Hedley’s examination room. Gazing at the curving arcs of color, she could almost relax and forget what was happening on the other side of the drape.
“Yes, this feels like a pregnant cervix,” Dr. Hedley said. “Let’s see what we find on the ultrasound.”
Evangeline slid back on the padded table and Nella pulled the drape down to cover her pubic area and expose her abdomen. She rubbed the cool gel over her abdomen and her nurse wheeled over the ultrasound machine. For a minute or two Nella moved the wand around and peered at the grainy screen. “There! Do you see that?” She pointed to a tiny pulsing spot. “That’s a fetal heartbeat. Based on what I can see and what you’ve told me, I’m estimating you are between seven and eight weeks along.”
Evangeline stared at the tiny spot on the screen. “It has a heart already?”
Nella smiled. “Yes, a heart and a liver and a pancreas and an appendix. And the brain is developing and eyelids and the eye color is developing as well.”
John’s eyes flashed through Evangeline’s mind. They had been the first thing she’d noticed about him. The color and the way he looked at her.
“Well, it seems we have some things to talk about,” Nella said as she wiped the gel off Evangeline’s abdomen and covered her up. “Get dressed and come see me next door.”
Evangeline took a deep breath and sat up. She had taken a home pregnancy test three days earlier, but she hadn’t wanted to believe the results. She tried to convince herself that she’d done the test wrong, but her denial went down the drain with her next round of morning sickness. As she slid off the table and stood, her knees nearly buckled. She was carrying John’s baby.
Fifteen minutes later when Nella’s nurse knocked on the door to see if she was all right, Evangeline snapped out of her daze and started pulling on her clothes. Moving on autopilot, she walked down the hall and took a seat in Nella’s richly appointed office. The creamy moldings and fireplace were offset by charcoal brown wood furniture, deep red walls, patterned and textured carpet, upholstery and drapery in shades of crimson, red coral and ivory. Nella, a tiny woman with little wire-rimmed glasses and masses of golden dreadlocks piled on her head, sat behind her big black desk with her chin propped on her steepled hands. Watching Evangeline glide into the office as if she was a loaf of bread on a conveyer belt, she rose and went to steer her friend to the sofa.
Sitting next to Evangeline, Nella took her cold hand and rubbed it between her own. “What’s this bruise?” she said, glancing at Evangeline’s knuckles.
Evangeline was thankful her dark skin hid the blush creeping up her neck. “Oh…I was practicing boxing without gloves. It doesn’t really hurt anymore.”
Nella peered at her over the top of her glasses. She knew a half-truth when she heard it, but she wasn’t going to push just yet. “Well, the good news is you’re healthy, no fibroids, and in sterling shape. Your morning sickness is a normal response to the hormonal changes you’re undergoing. You also might find you’re sleeping more during the day, waking up more at night, perhaps a bit more sensitive?”
Evangeline nodded at each symptom. “How did this happen?” she said gazing at the doctor in bewilderment.
Nella chuckled. “Well…I think you’re a little old for this talk, but here goes...”
Evangeline gave her an exasperated look. “No, I mean we were being careful. I’m on the Pill. I don’t understand.”
“The Pill is not 100 percent effective. Sometimes a woman forgets to take it. Sometimes another medication interacts with the Pill, reducing its effectiveness. Have you been on any other medications?”
“No. Aside from a daily multivitamin and the occasional OTC for migraine, nothing.”
“What about grapefruit juice?”
“What?” Evangeline shuddered, remembering the ruby red grapefruit juice she’d been drinking most mornings after she discovered it at Nora’s wedding shower.
“Grapefruit juice can interfere with how your body metabolizes your oral contraceptive. Do you think that’s what happened here?”
“It must have been – that’s the only thing that’s really changed in the past few months.” Suddenly she started flashing through all of the times she and John had made love since Nora’s shower. No wonder she was knocked up.
Nella proceeded gently. “All right. So this wasn’t a planned pregnancy. As I said before, you are in good physical shape to deliver a healthy baby. But how do you feel about having a baby? Is this something you want to do right now?”
Without warning, Evangeline started sobbing. “Oh, Nella! I don’t know. I broke up with the father last week. If he knew, he’d want to get back together. But I can’t be with a man who doesn’t love me for a baby’s sake. And I know…I know how bad it sounds, but…but…I don’t want to be a black single mother. I know so many amazing women do it and I know it’s more the norm…but I want a husband before I become a mother. And that and that and that sounds so selfish. I could raise a child on my own, but I don’t think I want to. And would it be strange for someone like me to give a child up for adoption? Oh what am I going to do?”
Evangeline and Nella had become friends through the Philadelphia chapter of their sorority. Evangeline had been grateful Nella was able to squeeze her in on short notice; now, she was even more thankful she was talking to a doctor who understood how conflicted she felt about the prospect of having a child out of wedlock.
Nella put her arms around her friend and let her cry and stammer until she was still. She handed her several tissues and waited until she seemed a bit composed before speaking.
“I know how you’re feeling. Yes, times have changed, but I was raised the same way. But you need to sort and weigh you feelings. Are you more concerned about what people will think if you have a child on your own or are you worried about how you will raise a child alone?”
“I suppose both. My family would be disappointed, but I think they’d be there for me. I was so lucky to have both my parents growing up and I’d want that for my baby.”
“Would you feel differently if you and the father were together?”
Evangeline swallowed hard. “If he loved me and wanted to be with me, I would be so happy, I wouldn’t care if I had to get married in a maternity dress. And even, not being with him, there’s a part of me that wants to nurture this life. Because even though it didn’t work out, I loved him and I really believe he loved me when this child was conceived. Nella – what about alcohol? I’ve been drinking a bit more since the breakup.”
“How much do you normally drink?”
“I usually have a couple of drinks maybe three or four times a week. For the past week, I’ve had a couple of drinks every day. Have I hurt the baby?”
“Well, alcohol isn’t good for a developing fetus, but I’ve seen women who have drunk quite a bit more deliver babies that have turned out all right. You should stop drinking now – that won’t be a problem, will it?”
Evangeline shook her head no and wrapped her arms around her still flat abdomen.
“We have a bit of time, maybe a week or two. I want you to take a few days and give this serious thought. Believe me, I understand how you feel about not wanting to be a single parent. But at 33 you are entering that age where the fertility window is going to start to narrow. You need to talk to the father – be sure there’s no fixing things before you make a decision based on whether you’ll have his partnership. I think you will make a wonderful mother, whether you have this child or if you come to mother another one down the road.”
“Can I let you know after the Woman of the Year dinner?”
“That’s Friday? Yes, how about we make an appointment to talk again a week from today?”
“That would be great. My mother is coming to town and I want to talk this over with her.”
As Evangeline rose to leave, Nella pulled the taller woman down into a warm hug. “Sister friend, get into a quiet space and listen to your heart. The answer is inside you.”
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