Author: Kate Lu

Perched on a hard chair, Vivian stared at a sharp-lined logo on the opposite wall: The Murphy Corporation Clinic for Genetic Testing. The blue of the font looked almost black in the otherwise all-white room. Vivian felt like a stain. She didn’t realize she was bouncing her leg until the chair began to squeak.

Her husband, Arthur, hadn’t wanted her to come alone. “But I have to know,” she told him that morning. She tried to smile as she added, “Save your time off for when the baby comes.” He knew how she worried—about incurable diseases, about physical anomalies, about the act of childbirth itself. For almost three months, she’d imagined her child as a swirling nebula of cells, not quite human, not quite a part of her. Not until it felt safe.

Now, Dr. Caldwell’s voice jerked her from her thoughts.

“Good morning, Mrs. Ly,” the obstetrician said, flipping through Vivian’s chart as he turned and led her down a long hallway. “How are you doing today?”

“Fine.” Her voice was a guitar string ready to snap.

He waved her into his office. “So, you’re here to discuss your first-trimester test results,” he said as he sat across from her.

She nodded, folding her hands so tightly her knuckles paled.

“I believe I told you when we took your routine testing samples that I didn’t expect any surprises. First pregnancy, no previous history of abnormal exams, conception within six months of trying, no family history of chronic disease—all that usually makes for a fairly predictable outcome. Of course, that doesn’t always rule out—”

“Surprises?” Vivian supplied around the knot in her throat.

He gave her a tight-lipped smile that bordered on a grimace. It was the kind of smile that papered over any ugly words that might follow.

“Exactly,” Dr. Caldwell said. “And what we found in your case is that your child will have an extremely serious peanut allergy.”

Static buzzed at the edges of Vivian’s brain. “Peanuts?” she said faintly.

“That’s right,” said Dr. Caldwell. “Sometimes, despite the parents’ genetics, there are spontaneous mutations in the fetus that cause unforeseeable issues. In your case, it’s a peanut allergy.”

“Peanuts,” she said again.

“And possibly tree nuts, although it’s still too early to tell.” He cleared his throat. “There are a few options here …”

Vivian’s mind slid sideways into a memory of her crushing shelled peanuts between her tiny, four-year-old hands while her father playfully scolded her for destroying the meat inside. She thought of the cost of Epi-Pens, the looming monster of anaphylactic shock, the emergency room bills she and Arthur could never hope to pay if anything went wrong.

“I want to terminate,” she blurted.

Dr. Caldwell, who was mid-sentence, stopped to stare at her.

“Please,” she added.

“If you’d like to talk it over with your husband—”

“No,” she said, pushing Arthur’s face out of her mind. “No, the sooner, the better.”

He nodded. “That’s the most common choice in these cases. So, if that’s what you’ve decided, then I’ll start getting the paperwork ready.”

Vivian sat back in her chair and let loose a long exhale as the tension left her body. The wondering was over. She and Arthur were still young. They still had plenty of time.