The Printed Baby
Still, caution remains important. The use of fetal ultrasound solely to create keepsakes isn’t recommended. —The Mayo Clinic
We printed her after we lost her. We printed her before we lost her, also. Two weeks before. Maybe a little more. Back when she would become something more, before the printings were all that she would be. Maybe a long time before. Look at me. I pretend like I don’t remember the exact chronology. Sometimes I don’t remember the chronology.
knowyourbaby.com says this week your baby is the size of a lemon. This week an avocado, a peach, a cactus fruit. This week. We first printed her, week eighteen, three dimensional print, plastic, like icing, oozing out of the machine to mimic her arms and legs and body, when she was the size of a sweet potato, eighteen weeks. We had just found out it was a her. I remember laughing. Don’t breathe the fumes, pregnant lady. Don’t hurt her, pregnant lady. Now we have printed her three times. Week eight, size of a cranberry bean. Week eighteen, size of a sweet potato. Week twenty, size of an artichoke, one for each ultrasound.
Jake did it without asking. Jake did the second printing without asking. Without talking to me about it, I don’t know, sometime after she was only a printing, one printing, nothing more in my body. She was only a printing, week eighteen, size of a sweet potato and then he did the second printing, week eight, size of a cranberry bean, without asking. I came home and, as always, knew, as I knew all day and night, that she was, printed, smooth and cool and impervious, week eighteen, size of a sweet potato, living in the house, one arm forever raised towards her mouth. I touched the door of the room we had started to decorate for her. I don’t believe I entered. Maybe I entered and thought about crooning animal noises. I found Jake down with the 3D printer and he turned and held her out, eight weeks, size of a cranberry bean. Before she was a she. Arms and legs all the same size.
“Kumquat,” he said.
“Cranberry bean,” I said.
She lives now in smooth, cool perfection. It would be hard to harm her. Things like germs or a great personal loss would change nothing.
Lives, in such cases, is a political word. I don’t want to be political. I give money to Planned Parenthood. I have t-shirts and bumper stickers that support choice and I don’t want to debate if she ever lived, what is lived. She existed. She exists now.
Size of a cranberry bean, eight weeks, she exists, arms and legs the same size. She is a lump of head and a lump of body. A toy bear but the word toy. I don’t like it.
Size of a sweet potato, eighteen weeks, and size of an artichoke, twenty weeks, she is spindly old man legs and arms and mostly a head and she seems to want to bend but then, if you touch her, is hard. She is an alien from a 1950’s B-movie. She is her first trip to the zoo. She is nothing. She is all the years of school photos. She has gone wrong.
This smooth baby does not betray what was inside the wet and lost baby. The flaw. The little wrongness that made her incapable of going on. Unviable.
I don’t know what a cranberry bean is, week eight. I know it is very small because Jake printed her to scale and we have her now, cranberry bean, eight weeks. Perhaps she is not actually the size of a cranberry bean, but the size of a kumquat, week ten. “That website is really reaching for fruits to compare embryos to,” Jake said the week of the kumquat, when she still was, before we printed her, before she was only a printing, we took to calling her, it, Kumquat. Because the word is vague and friendly and foreign sounding.
“Sing to me,” I ask him. “Sing to me.” I do not want him to speak and I do not want silence. What use is silence? He turns on music and I wonder if he could possibly think that pressing the button feels the same as singing.
I did not know that the artichoke is considered larger than the sweet potato.
My mother has her bronzed baby shoes. My grandmother has a pair of shoes, bronzed, that a baby never wore. When I was in high school, I found them in a box in her attic.
“Are these Daniel’s?” I asked, assuming they were my uncle’s.
“Sarah’s,” Grandma said, a name I could not attach to any family member.
I mumbled, “Oh,” embarrassed at my poor ancestral knowledge.
“Who’s Sarah?” I asked my mom later.
“A sister,” she said. Her eyes slid sideways, away from mine.
I had not yet had sex but, years before and maybe until I graduated junior high, I had, as children do, stuffed a pillow up my shirt, “I’m pregnant.” And countless dolls. I had, playing in my room, birthed countless dolls. And stuffed animals.
We were so careful. We did not call her “baby.” I did not think of her as “baby” until she was only a printing. Fetus. Always fetus, like the name of a disease, a Roman ruler. Latin and medical. Certainly not round and clean.
The printings. Where do they go? Where do they belong? In her room. Sometimes out on the couch with us. Once at the dinner table. I look at the printing, ears and knuckles, the color of spoiled butter, and tired breaks down the carefully maintained linguistic walls and I think, “Baby.”
The first thing we printed was more parts for the printer. What delight to own a machine that could make itself. “We live in a sci-fi novel! A machine that can make itself,” we giggled. “Let’s make ourselves,” we said and took off our clothes and made an embryo inside me while the machine slowly layered plastic to make a machine. Now I catch myself wondering why the machine won’t turn on and make more parts of the baby. All the inside parts. Fix the design. Find the glitch. Or print new parts for the parts of me that made a broken baby.
She would not have lived if she had not died inside me. Ethically I would have supported me in my own decision to end the pregnancy at any time. But we wanted a kid, the poop and the first time she hated us and the bike riding and loving a kitten too rough. She was the next step. Correct. We embraced our biological drives.
“Well, honey,” says my mom and the thought, “It was not meant to be,” comes into my mind and I want to take a hammer to the head of our printed baby.
At the hospital they said, “No fetal heartbeat.” Confirmation that she had stopped being. “I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. There is nothing we can do. You have some options for expelling the tissue.” And a 3D ultrasound to take home.
Sometimes, after she was, before she was a printing, before she was only something unquestionable, sometimes we found knowyourbaby.com’s fruit or vegetable of the week at the grocery store. The peach. The lime. The brussel sprout. The blueberry. We bought a pound. Two pounds. “Feed the fetus,” we said, and gobbled all the produce up. Now, always, the grocery store is full of sweet potatoes. They keep well. They grow them in Chile when you can’t grow them here. They are not seasonal. I want to run from them. I want to buy them all so no one else can have them. I want to bury them, each one. I want to eat them all raw. Sometimes, though, I don’t care about sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes will never be anything but sweet potatoes. I can’t remember what months are artichoke season, when they will suddenly be featured in the produce section, spiky leaves reaching up, up, a baby on its back, hard, molded hands to the air.
The flaw could be in us. Between us. In us coming together to make a thing. We also chose a poor paint color for the living room. Too green. When I was a child I made two excellent pillows in home ec class. My mother still has them on her couch. Jake and I tried to construct a throw pillow and, together, we could not sew a right angle. Often when we walk we fall out of rhythm with each other and one of us must do a skip-step so that our feet can hit the ground at the same time again. I think of his preferred patterns on stoneware as completely wrong. I have all of this language. DNA. Genetic. Predisposed. Hereditary. I understand these words enough to use them as an explanation of things I do not want to define with more basic language. A defense.
We printed her the third time, week twenty, size of an artichoke, at some point. See how I pretend not to know exactly when we did the last printing. Nonchalant. Less invested. Here is when we did the third printing: at the moment Jake turned around from the machine and had her, eight weeks, size of a cranberry bean, before she was a her, legs and arms the same size, had her freshly printed in his hand. I touched her, eight weeks, size of a cranberry bean. Smooth. Tiny. Something you might lose down the back of the sofa. The fingers webbed and useless out in the thin air. Something not made to live in our house unless placed on a shelf and dusted annually. Now there on Jake’s warm hand. Always warmer than mine. And her upstairs, week eighteen, size of a sweet potato, arm bent towards her mouth.
“Do it. Do the other one,” I said.
“I don’t know if we should.”
“It just seems…”
“I didn’t choose about that,” I pointed to the baby, size of a cranberry bean, in his hand. I picked it up, gentle, two fingers. I didn’t like making the pinching motion, how you pick up small, unimportant things. I considered swallowing her but that felt obvious. Kissing her felt insincere. And screaming. I could not bathe her in tears and I looked at Jake, wild that he would see how I couldn’t cry, wild that my lack of demonstration would undermine the seeming intensity of my want to print her again, week twenty, size of an artichoke. I had not, previously, considered him much in the grief because we had not differed in our grief.
“I did not get to make a choice about this and you do not make a choice about the last one. Print the last one.”
“In that one she is dead.”
“Most of what I know about you is dead. Because it is not here anymore. It is over. I want everything of her.”
I spat on her, size of a cranberry bean, and cleaned her gently with my shirt.
“Try again,” says my mom over the phone.
I say nothing.
I sit on the floor. My upper back leans against the side of our bed. My lower back leans against nothing. My knees are raised and, week eighteen, size of a sweet potato, she lays on the carpet and against my hip.
After she was and before she was a printing, Jake made me a set of jewelry with the machine—rings, bracelet, tiara. A thing to squeeze the toothpaste tube flat and empty, which I said was passive aggressive because he likes to squeeze from the bottom and I don’t care and often forget and squeeze in the middle. He did some sculpture pieces and was putting together a show. And all the babies for our friends. Sure, we said, send us your ultrasounds. We’ll make you a baby. Ship them around the country. You never know when you are making not a memory but the memory.
I found Jake at the changing table that had arrived days before the abdominal pain started. I stood and he dressed her, eighteen weeks size of a sweet potato, in a onesie, snap at the neck, three down below. She did not cry. She was the plastic doll on whom I learned cpr. She was our printed baby.
“More like a papaya,” I said.
“Big for her age,” he said.
I laughed because it seemed really funny.
She had a few strands of hair, bumps strings of plastic raised along her head.
“How long do we do this?” he said.
“Do what?” I said.
“How long do we do this?”
“Sing,” I said.
“No,” he said. “Not with you here.”
“We do it until we don’t.”
“Go into the living room and I’ll sing.”
So I went and sat on the couch and his voice, “are you sleeping, are you sleeping,” came, muffled, into the room.
Mom sends recipes to us every week. She has done this my entire life and when Jake and I married he began to get them also. One week, after we had only the printings and carried them, secrets, from room to room and told no one about our printed baby, she sent a recipe for artichoke dip. When it came into our inboxes, our phones chiming message alerts together, Jake looked and laughed and I looked and laughed. I did not feel that it was funny but I knew it should have been so I laughed. Week twenty, sized for an excellent dip.
If you go to the reduced version of the Oxford English Dictionary that is available on my phone and look up “give birth” you find this definition: “Bear a child or young.” I can’t help but enjoy the easy and profound ache of things like definitions.
I chose for them to give me a pill and I bled and bled and eventually, size of an artichoke, she slid out. We did not see her. We chose not to see her, blooded and not alive flesh.
“Did you get the recipe for the dip,” says mom.
“Yes,” I say.
“Did you try it?”
“To bear” Carry. Display. Have as a physical mark or feature. Be called by (a name or title). Conduct oneself in a particular manner. Support. Take responsibility for. Be able to accept or stand up to. Endure. Produce. Turn and proceed in a specific direction. Give birth to (a child).
I bring her, week twenty, size of an artichoke, to Jake. The printings, she, have not found a place. In the morning and when I come home I seek them and carry them to new places. Jake finds them and carries them to new places. Both of us cats carrying kittens by the scruff, seeking a safe den.
“Sing to her.”
“Why?” I ask.
“It’s the wrong one.”
“The fetal heartbeat.”
I know that these words, fetal heartbeat, that build a fence with blunt, distant, medical syllables are Jake being kind, gentle.
“Sing. Please,” I say.
“I think we should try again. I mean. Statistically…”
And I am in the baby’s room, half a forest painted on the wall, the babies, cold and smooth, gathered in my arms.
“Storage?” I ask. “Do we store her? She will not biodegrade.”
Jake says nothing.
“I am not ready to have a different have,” I say.
“Alright,” says Jake, and I think he will take all the babies from me and lay them quiet somewhere. Instead he turns and leaves me alone in the room and I know that I hoped that he would take them and that, if he had taken them I would have cried in rage at his action.
In the night I go into the changing table and, eighteen weeks, size of a sweet potato, I unsnap the onesie. I take her out and whisper a repentance. I touch her and she has not become warm and she does not cry tears. In the darkness I had already found her the size of a cranberry bean, size of an artichoke, in a chair, on a Kleenex in a bowl, elsewhere in the house, and she has not become flesh. I gather her together. I cuddle the hard, fixed baby to my chest. It is silly to imagine the changeling returned to her family and I imagine it every night. I think that maybe, the next time I open the door she will be remolded, remade. Perhaps a shoe. Perhaps a great giant stalk of plastic through the roof.