Ok. Don't panic. Everything's going to be fine. Of course it is.
Of course it is.
"If you could lift up your top, Mrs. Brandon?" The sonographer has a pleasant, professional air as she looks down at me. "I need to apply some jelly to your abdomen before we start the scan."
"Absolutely!" I say without moving a muscle. "The thing is, I'm just a teeny bit . . . nervous."
I'm lying on a bed at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, tense with anticipation. Any minute now, Luke and I will see our baby on the screen for the first time since it was just a teeny blob. I still can't quite believe it. In fact, I still haven't quite got over the fact that I'm pregnant. In nineteen weeks' time I, Becky Brandon, née Bloomwood . . . am going to be a mother. A mother!
Luke's my husband, by the way. We've been married for just over a year and this is a one hundred percent genuine honeymoon baby! We traveled loads on our honeymoon, but I've pretty much worked out that we conceived it when we were staying in this gorgeous resort in Sri Lanka, called Unawatuna, all orchids and bamboo trees and beautiful views.
Miss Unawatuna Orchid Bamboo-tree Brandon.
Hmm. I'm not sure what Mum would say.
"My wife had a slight accident in the early stages of pregnancy," Luke explains from his seat beside the bed. "So she's a little anxious."
He squeezes my hand supportively, and I squeeze back. In my pregnancy book, Nine Months of Your Life, it says you should include your partner in all aspects of your pregnancy, otherwise he can feel hurt and alienated. So I'm including Luke as much as I possibly can. Like, last night I included him in watching my new DVD, Toned Arms in Pregnancy. He suddenly remembered in the middle that he had to make a business call, and missed quite a lot--but the point is, he doesn't feel shut out.
"You had an accident?" The sonographer pauses in her tapping at the computer.
"I fell off this mountain when I was looking for my long-lost sister in a storm," I explain. "I didn't know I was pregnant at the time. And I think maybe I bashed the baby."
"I see." The sonographer looks at me kindly. She has graying brown hair tied back in a knot, with a pencil stuck into it. "Well, babies are resilient little things. Let's just have a look, shall we?"
Here it is. The moment I've been obsessing over for weeks. Gingerly I lift up my top and look down at my swelling stomach.
"If you could just push all your necklaces aside?" she adds. "That's quite a collection you have there!"
"They're special pendants." I loop them together with a jangle. "This one is an Aztec maternity symbol, and this is a gestation crystal . . . and this is a chiming ball to soothe the baby . . . and this is a birthing stone."
"A birthing stone?"
"You press it on a special spot on your palm, and it takes away the pain of labor," I explain. "It's been used since ancient Maori times."
"Mm-hmm." The sonographer raises an eyebrow and squeezes some transparent gloop on my stomach. Frowning slightly, she applies the ultrasound probe thing to my skin, and instantly a fuzzy black-and-white image appears on the screen.
I can't breathe.
That's our baby. Inside me. I dart a look at Luke, and he's gazing at the screen, transfixed.
"There are the four chambers of the heart. . . ." The sonographer is moving the probe around. "Now we're looking at the shoulders. . . ." She points to the screen and I squint obediently, even though, to be honest, I can't see any shoulders, only blurry curves.
"There's an arm . . . one hand . . ." Her voice trails off and she frowns.
There's silence in the little room. I feel a sudden grip of fear. That's why she's frowning. The baby's only got one hand. I knew it.
A wave of overpowering love and protectiveness rises up inside me. Tears are welling in my eyes. I don't care if our baby's only got one hand. I'll love it just as much. I'll love it more. Luke and I will take it anywhere in the world for the best treatment, and we'll fund research, and if anyone even dares give my baby a look--
"And the other hand . . ." The sonographer's voice interrupts my thoughts.
"Other hand?" I look up, choked. "It's got two hands?"
"Well . . . yes." The sonographer seems taken aback at my reaction. "Look, you can see them here." She points at the image, and to my amazement I can just about make out the little bony fingers. Ten of them.
"I'm sorry," I gulp, wiping my eyes with a tissue she hands me. "It's just such a relief."
"Everything seems absolutely fine as far as I can tell," she says reassuringly. "And don't worry, it's normal to be emotional in pregnancy. All those hormones swilling about."
Honestly. People keep talking about hormones. Like Luke last night, when I cried over that TV ad with the puppy. I'm not hormonal, I'm perfectly normal. It was just a very sad ad.
"Here you go." The sonographer taps at her keyboard again. A row of black-and-white scan pictures curls out of the printer, which she hands to me. I peer at the first one--and you can see the distinct outline of a head. It's got a little nose and a mouth and everything.
"So. I've done all the checks." She swivels round on her chair. "All I need to know now is whether you want to know the gender of the baby."
"No, thank you," Luke answers with a smile. "We've talked it through at great length, haven't we, Becky? And we both feel it would spoil the magic to find out."
"Very well." The sonographer smiles back. "If that's what you've decided, I won't say anything."
She "won't say anything"? That means she's already seen what the sex is. She could just tell us right now!
"We hadn't actually decided, had we?" I say. "Not for definite."
"Well . . . yes, we had, Becky." Luke seems taken aback. "Don't you remember, we talked about it for a whole evening and agreed we wanted it to be a surprise."
"Oh right, yes." I can't take my eyes off the blurry print of the baby. "But we could have our surprise now! It would be just as magical!"
OK, maybe that's not exactly true. But isn't he desperate to know?
"Is that really what you want?" As I look up I can see a streak of disappointment in Luke's face. "To find out now?"
"Well . . ." I hesitate. "Not if you don't want to."
The last thing I want is to upset Luke. He's been so sweet and loving to me since I've been pregnant. Recently I've had cravings for all sorts of odd combinations--like the other day I had this sudden weird desire for pineapple and a pink cardigan. And Luke drove me to the shops especially to get them.
He's about to say something, when his mobile phone starts ringing. He whips it out of his pocket and the sonographer puts up a hand.
"I'm sorry, but you can't use that in here."
"Right." Luke frowns as he sees the caller display. "It's Iain. I'd better call him back."
I don't need to ask which Iain. It'll be Iain Wheeler, the chief marketing honcho of the Arcodas Group. Luke has his own PR company, Brandon Communications, and Arcodas is Luke's big new client. It was a real coup when he won them and it's given a fantastic boost to the company--he's already hired more staff and is planning to open loads of new European offices on the back of it.
So it's all wonderful for Brandon Communications. But as usual, Luke's working himself into the ground. I've never seen him so at anyone's beck and call before. If Iain Wheeler calls, he always, always calls him back within five minutes, whether he's in another meeting, or he's having supper, or even if it's the middle of the night. He says it's the service industry and Arcodas is his mega-client, and that's what they're paying for.
All I can say is, if Iain Wheeler calls while I'm in labor, then that phone is going straight out the window.
"Is there a land line I can use nearby?" Luke is asking the sonographer. "Becky, you don't mind . . ."
"It's fine." I wave a hand.
"I'll show you," the sonographer says, getting up. "I'll be back in a moment, Mrs. Brandon."
The two of them disappear out the door, which closes with a heavy clunk.
I'm alone. The computer is still on. The ultrasound probe thing is resting next to the monitor.
I could just reach over and--
No. Don't be silly. I don't even know how to use an ultrasound. And besides, it would spoil the magical surprise. If Luke wants us to wait, then we'll wait.
I shift on the couch and examine my nails. I can wait for things. Of course I can. I can easily--
Oh God. No I can't. Not till December. And it's all right there in front of me . . . and nobody's about. . . .
I'll just have a teeny peek. Just really quickly. And I won't tell Luke. We'll still have the magical surprise at the birth--except it won't be quite so much of a surprise for me. Exactly.
Leaning right over, I manage to grab the ultrasound stick. I apply it to the gel on my stomach--and at once the blurry image reappears on the screen.
I did it! Now I just have to shift it slightly to get the crucial bit. . . . Frowning with concentration, I move the probe around on my abdomen, tilting it this way and that, craning my neck to see the screen. This is a lot easier than I thought! Maybe I should become a sonographer. I'm obviously a bit of a natural--
There's the head. Wow, it's huge! And that bit must be--
My hand freezes and I catch my breath. I've just spotted it. I've seen the sex of our baby!
It's a boy!
The image isn't quite as good as the sonographer's--but even so, it's unmistakable. Luke and I are going to have a son!
"Hello," I say aloud to the screen, my voice cracking slightly. "Hello, little boy!"
And now I can't stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. We're having a gorgeous baby boy! I can dress him up in cute overalls, and buy him a pedal car, and Luke can play cricket with him, and we can call him--
Oh my God. What are we going to call him?
I wonder if Luke would go for Birkin. Then I could get a Birkin to be his nappy bag.
Birkin Brandon. That's quite cool.
"Hi, little baby," I croon gently to the big round head on the screen. "Do you want to be called Birkin?"
"What are you doing?" The sonographer's voice makes me jump. She's standing at the door with Luke, looking appalled. "That's hospital equipment! You shouldn't be touching it!"
"I'm sorry," I say, wiping my eyes. "But I just had to have another quick look. Luke, I'm talking to our baby. It's just . . . amazing."
"Let me see!" Luke's eyes light up, and he hurries across the room, followed by the sonographer. "Where?"
I don't care if Luke sees it's a boy and the surprise is ruined. I have to share this precious moment with him.
"Look, there's the head!" I point. "Hello, darling!"
"Where's its face?" Luke sounds a bit perturbed.
"Dunno. Round the other side." I give a little wave. "It's Mummy and Daddy here! And we love you very--"
"Mrs. Brandon." The sonographer cuts me off. "You're talking to your bladder."
Well, how was I supposed to know it was my bladder? It looked just like a baby.
As we walk into the consultant obstetrician's room, I'm still feeling rather hot about the cheeks. The sonographer gave me this huge great lecture about how I could have done damage to myself or broken the machine, and we only managed to get away after Luke promised a big donation to the scanner appeal.
And, she said, since I hadn't been anywhere near the baby, it was very unlikely I'd seen the sex. Hmph.
But as I sit down opposite Dr. Braine, our obstetrician, I feel myself start to cheer up. He's such a reassuring man, Dr. Braine. He's in his sixties, with graying, well-groomed hair and a pinstripe suit and a faint aroma of old-fashioned aftershave. And he's delivered thousands of babies, including Luke! To be honest, I can't really imagine Luke's mother Elinor giving birth, but I guess it must have happened somehow. And as soon as we discovered I was pregnant, Luke said we had to find out if Dr. Braine was still practicing, because he was the best in the country.
"Dear boy." He shakes Luke's hand warmly. "How are you?"
"Very well indeed." Luke sits down beside me. "And how's David?"
Luke went to school with Dr. Braine's son and always asks after him when we meet.
There's silence as Dr. Braine considers the question. This is the only thing I find a tad annoying about him. He mulls over everything you say as though it's of the greatest importance, whereas you were actually just making some random remark to keep the conversation going. At our last appointment I asked where he had bought his tie, and he thought about it for five minutes, then phoned his wife to check, and it was all a total saga. And I didn't even like the stupid tie.
"David's very well," he says at last, nodding. "He sends his regards." There's another pause as he peruses the sheet from the sonographer. "Very good," he says eventually. "Everything's in order. How are you feeling, Rebecca?"
"Oh, I'm fine!" I say. "Happy that the baby's all right."
"You're still working full-time, I see." Dr. Braine glances at my form. "And that's not too demanding for you?"
Beside me, Luke gives a muffled snort. He's so rude.
"It's . . ." I try to think how to put it. "My job's not that demanding."
"Becky works for The Look," explains Luke. "You know, the new department store on Oxford Street?"
"Aah." Dr. Braine's face drops. "I see."
Every time I tell people what I do, they look away in embarrassment or change the subject or pretend they've never heard of The Look. Which is impossible, because all the newspapers have been talking about it for weeks. Yesterday the Daily World called it the "biggest retail disaster in British history."
The only plus about working for a failure of a shop is that it means I can take as much time off as I like for doctors' appointments and prenatal classes. And if I don't hurry back, no one even notices.
“I’m sure things will turn around soon,” he says encouragingly. “Now, did you have any other questions?”
I take a deep breath. “Actually, I did have one question, Dr. Braine.” I hesitate. “Now that the scan results are OK, would you say it’s safe to . . .you know. . .”
“Absolutely,” Dr. Braine nods understandingly. “A lot of couples abstain from intercourse in early pregnancy.”
“I didn’t mean sex!” I say in surprise. “I meant shopping.”
From the Hardcover edition.