Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Back Up

Jane tried to adjust herself on the narrow gurney in the ultrasound room. She shifted to one side and then another in an awkward attempt for a few minutes of relief. A sharp kick from her unborn put to rest the notion of comfort.

Birth was no more than 8 weeks away. Jane was fairly certain they would be the longest of her life. Between the constant heartburn, having strangers rub her belly and the helpful reminders of “Holy cow, you’re as big as a house”, the charm of pregnancy had run its course.

The final step – aside from labour and delivery – was a decision about the name. It was a contentious issue made more difficult by Jane’s teenage career as a camp counselor. Every boy’s name came with baggage. The only boy name that Jane could remotely warm to was Paul, but her husband Tim wasn’t keen on using a name that just happened to be the same as her ex-boyfriend. Most conversations ran a similar course of suggestions and rejections followed by both hoping for a girl. 

But a girl would only ignite a much louder and more insistent problem. Jane’s mother, Patricia, had recently been consumed with the notion the baby should be named after her. She was convinced it was the perfect name no matter the gender. Out of the blue, she would lobby her position: “Patrick or Patricia. It’s just so perfect.” This was often followed by a look of sheer delight to convey how enamored she was with her own cleverness.

Patricia, or Trisha, as she insisted she be called, was a delight of a woman. She had the gift to make everything about her and could give lessons in guilt. For her entire life, Jane was made to believe that she was to blame for her mother’s inability to have other children with the often-repeated reminder, “It was such a difficult delivery.”

Jane found it extremely difficult to say no to her mother. Now, with the birth of the much-anticipated grandbaby approaching, the pressure was as acute as when the baby pressed on Jane’s bladder, but there was no hope of being relieved from the pressures of Patricia.

Jane’s husband Tim was a patient man. He had been caring through the vomit. He had ignored the mood swings. He worked hard to keep thoughtless or foolish comments to a minimum. But everyone has their limits. Trish was Tim’s limit.

In a na├»ve bid to avoid the final confrontation, Jane and Tim decided they would keep the baby’s gender a surprise. Through every ultrasound appointment they had promised not to ask. Each would give warning looks if the other looked like they would crack.

At this final ultrasound appointment, they were ready with their routine, but they didn’t know the room would be so quiet or the lights so low.  The technician said so little that had it not been for the occasional clicking of the mouse or the pressure of the paddle on Jane’s belly, they barely registered the her presence. Jane and Tim were lulled into as if in a dream, watching their baby on the monitor. When the technician finally spoke, the shock of her voice was almost as stunning as her words.

“She looks good. She’s in the right position. It’s just a matter of time.”

Jane and Tim stared at her slack jawed. Tim spoke first. “She?”

“Yup.” She smiled, gave some instructions that went unheard and said, “you’re good to go” as if she hadn’t just turned their world upside. She left the room and Jane and Tim in stunned silence.

On the drive home the excitement pushed its way through the shock. Jane and Tim bantered like teenagers in love offering silly and serious ideas for what they’d call their little girl. The giggles were interrupted by a call from Jane’s mother. Jane paled and her ease and laughter were whisked away. Even though Jane didn’t pick up the call, suddenly Patricia was right there in the car.

“You’re going to have to tell her. We are not naming this baby Patricia,” Tim said. Then he spat the name “Trish.”

“What about Patti,” Jane tried. Tim softened momentarily but held firm. Even Jane wasn’t buying what she was selling.

“No. Do not let her ruin this for us. You are the strongest most willful woman I know – other than your mother. Why is this even a point of discussion?”

Jane knew he was right. She resented her mother for encroaching on this moment and her own unending urge to please.

Later on that night Jane stared at the phone, wishing it had never been invented. When she did finally call her mother it was a nice conversation. They even shared excitement over the plans for the nursery. Jane felt her resolve decline. Her voice betrayed her weakness.  

“Is everything ok, dear? You sound a little off. Are you not feeling well?”

“No, no, I’m fine. The baby is fine. We had the ultrasound today. The baby is in the perfect position.” Jane hesitated. The conversation was going so well. Jane began to wrestle with the idea of revealing the baby was a girl. But then her mother started talking.

“You keep your legs crossed for another few weeks. You came early and we thought you wouldn’t live to see the light of day. Your grandmother said it was because I walked too much. Ridiculous woman.”

Grandma Betty. Jane’s love for that cantankerous old woman grew exponentially when she realized she was her way out of this drama.  If her mother was able to choose her own name, she couldn’t argue with Jane.

“Mom, why wasn’t I named after grandma?” She paused for a moment. It dawned on her that there were no other Janes in the family – not even a distant aunt. “Who am I named after?”

“No one. Your name was kind of a back up. We were going to name you Francesca. I’ve always loved that name.”

“A back up? My name was a back up?” An unpleasant clarity came to Jane. "Why didn't you use Francesca."

“Yes, dear. I told you. We thought you were going to die. I really didn’t want to bury that name.”

“What?” Jane was incredulous. “Are you saying you didn’t want to waste the name?!”

“I guess you could say that. It seemed such a shame. Anyway, speaking of names…” she was about to start her lobbying, but Jane cut her off.

“You know what, mom, you just gave me a great idea.” Rage was replaced resignation and a sudden relief. Jane smiled and lovingly rubbed her belly. “Patricia will be our back up.”