It was our sweet little secret. Our joy and delight. And we’d only shared it with our immediate families so they could pray with us through the tender time. We were debating about with whom to share our news after this first appointment and with whom we’d share the news when we were finally in the clear after the first trimester. When would we make it “facebook public”?
After three years of trying to get pregnant, of seeing fertility specialists, undergoing rigorous tests and being told we’d need “medical help” to get pregnant, we were so excited and surprised by this unexpected gift. We found out the weekend we moved into our new apartment. While surrounded by boxes and the chaos of moving, and with my younger sister also moving in with us, I walked over to the Duane Reade drugstore to buy a pregnancy test. I’d never done that before. I took that test while Mike was napping, and then held in my giggly news while he continued to nap and my sister shared her dilemma about her weekend plans. Meanwhile, I searched the internet for pregnancy due date calculators and to check the growth and development of our tiny little baby.
It was pouring on Friday. During a meeting break I ran out from our ministry office to one of the shops at Grand Central Station to buy rain boots. After our first prenatal appointment later that rainy day, my oldest sister planned to pick us up and drive us out to Montauk to meet up with the rest of my family. The next day Mike and I were to volunteer in the rain to give out water to the runners during my younger sister’s first half marathon. She ran her race, but we never made it out there.
Wearing my new polka-dotted rain boots, I suggested we take a taxi to the hospital for our appointment rather than taking the subway and then having to walk the four long blocks. But it was hard to hail a taxi in the rain, what with the traffic from the UN General Assembly being in session. Eventually we jumped on a bus to take us uptown. Our weekend bags were soaked, and it didn’t matter that we had umbrellas; we were soaked, too.
I called my doctor’s office from the bus to alert them to our delay, and we finally rushed into the waiting room about 15 minutes late. They handed me a pile of papers to fill out and as I struggled to balance the clipboard and papers with my wet bag, wallet, insurance card and dripping umbrella, the nurse told us we could go back to the examining room.
This was it. This was finally the day that Mike could see proof of all the changes I could feel happening in my body. For three weeks we held tightly to our happy secret, but I was the one who had just outgrown her current jeans and had to start living in a larger size (not maternity sized yet!). I was the one battling exhaustion, sometimes even taking two naps a day (a big deal for a gal who doesn’t nap!). My breasts were tender, I was waking up a few times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I was starting to deal with hormonal acne break outs. My body was changing. But today Mike would be able to see his baby, and see the heart beat.
Maybe I should’ve suspected something when my doctor didn’t turn the screen around on our ultrasound machine so Mike and I could see it. Instead she said, “Let me just take a look around.” But the words she was about to say to us were not even in my categories. It was just this week that my jeans didn’t fit!
But then she said she was sorry. She couldn’t find a heart beat. She didn’t have any doubts about it, but she wanted us to be confident so she sent us for a second opinion. We gathered our wet jackets, weekend bags, office bags, umbrellas and papers, then had some blood tests before going up to the seventh floor for the second opinion.
I sat, wet, cold and shaking with chattering teeth, for 45 minutes while we waited to be squeezed into someone’s schedule. The waiting room was full of pregnant women accompanied by their mothers, boyfriends or husbands. The air conditioner was on full blast to keep those over-heated women comfortable, but I was freezing in my wet dress (but my feet were dry thanks to my new boots).
I had to drink glass after glass of water for the next ultrasound while right in front of me two pregnant women shared a joyful reunion. The air was full of “I didn’t know you were pregnant!” and “How far along are you?” These friends hadn’t seen each other in months, but then they counted, out loud, “one, two, three” and lifted their shirts to show off their growing bellies. Their bellies full of promise. Their bellies pregnant with joy, and dreams and possibilities. I averted my eyes and cradled my belly with my baby who didn’t have a heart beat.
Fighting tears several times and yearning to get as far away from the room full of potential and hormones and beating hearts, I was glad when our ultrasound technician finally called us back to her room, which was easily four times the size of my doctor’s exam room. We had plenty of space for our wet weekend bags.
She told me to pull up my dress as I climbed onto her table. Mike sat in the chair by my head. We both looked at the monitor mounted near the ceiling. The gel she squeezed out on my water-filled belly was unexpectedly warm, a welcome relief after the frigid air from the waiting room. And that’s when we could finally see our baby. For the first time; the only time. On the screen. Our baby looked like any other baby I’d seen in ultrasound pictures at this early stage. But this technician agreed with our doctor about our baby’s heartbeat. It was missing.
All day long this woman looks into expectant women’s bellies and tells them happy news like their baby’s gender. But today she affirmed our doctor’s sad diagnosis of no heartbeat. We did another ultrasound, and then she left to call in the supervising doctor. He, too agreed with my doctor. That put us at three ultrasounds on two machines and three people with one voice confirming that our baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Devastating.
Mike and I clung to each other in that room, crying tears of sorrow, sadness, disappointment, heart break. They gave us some privacy, so we stood in that room of promise for everyone else; that room which held no promises for me. And I wept.
I later called my mom to share the wretched news, which meant two of my three sisters who were with her also knew. But my oldest sister had been stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike for hours (was that a Divine delay?) and had just crossed the George Washington Bridge. Mike texted asking her to pull over and call us. I didn’t want to share this news while she was driving. She suspected something was wrong (as did the rest of my family) when she didn’t get cheery text updates from us during the last few hours. Rather than coming across town to pick us up and then head out to Montauk, she drove to our neighborhood to wait for us. We hailed a cab and headed home.
Jennifer spent the weekend with us in New York City. On Sunday the rest of my family came over for a few hours. Mom then spent Sunday and Monday night with us.
The weekend was rough. I didn’t want Monday to come. I cried. I slept. I did laundry. I was in shock. In my belly I still had our child. But our child didn’t have a heartbeat. How strange. And on Monday my doctor took our child out of my belly. How wretched. It really was a horrible weekend. I didn’t want Monday to come.
But Monday did come. Waiting in the “Ambulatory Surgery” unit for a surgical room to open up so they could squeeze me in, wearing the drawstring surgery pants under the ubiquitous hospital gown that is open in the back, with the seer-sucker robe and anti-slip socks did not settle my nerves. Mike waited with me for hours in the chilly pre-surgery room, then walked with me as far as the hospital personnel would let him when they led me to surgery. He held me and whispered, “I love you,” before I pushed my IV pole into the elevator. As the doors closed, I couldn’t help but feel fear. And feel alone.
My sweet, kind, gentle husband wanted to be in the surgical room with me. He didn’t want me to be alone. But I couldn’t think of anything worse for him to have to endure. The hospital didn’t even give us this option, so he sat in a different waiting room until my doctor reported to him about the surgery and he was allowed to find me in recovery.
I was escorted to the surgical suite. I walked in. There were several people in the room wearing surgical masks. Two greeted me and asked questions: Do you have all of your teeth? Is there anything in your mouth that is removable? Do you have any allergies? Have you ever had a bad reaction to anesthesia? Have you had anything to eat or drink since midnight last night?
I don’t know why I thought this, but I remember thinking, “Don’t cry! Don’t cry!” But why? My world was falling apart. I was in a surgical room, and they were going to take my baby, my baby without a heart beat, from my belly. I could feel the tears burning the rim of my eyes. My chin was starting to quiver and now the nurse and anesthesiologist couldn’t understand my answers anymore. I stood next to the surgical table crying. I still had a kleenex in the pocket of my hospital-issued seer-sucker robe.
My doctor appeared. My doctor. I am so grateful for her. She shared the horrible news on Friday with such gentleness and compassion. She called me on Friday night to explain (again) our next steps and options. She called on Saturday night to answer any questions which may have come up. She had one of her interns call us on Monday morning while she was in surgery to answer questions and let us know it was time to come to the hospital.
The last thing I remember before the anesthesia lulled me into a peaceful, numb oblivion, was my doctor holding my hand and saying she that she hoped to see me under happier circumstances in labor and delivery. I clung to that little bit of hope as I slipped into my silent slumber and they removed my baby.
It’s three days later. My belly is empty. My breasts aren’t tender anymore. I don’t wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night anymore either. I have to lose the weight I had started to gain (story of my life). I’m still tired, though. But I don’t have the pain I expected, or the bleeding I anticipated. Instead, Mike and I both have pretty bad colds. We’re welcoming this opportunity to slow down: to grieve, mourn and rest.
I love the three floral bouquets we’ve received. I’m surprised at how meaningful they are to me. I’m thankful for the emails, voice mails and texts from friends who mourn with us; but I don’t want to talk on the phone or return any of those emails. I’m also thankful to the two friends who brought us dinner the last two nights: we’d eaten a lot of delivery from Jesus Taco over the weekend.
We have three retreats for the next three weekends, and after that a week of leadership development in Orlando. Mike and I are again giving leadership to the two-year national leader development program our organization holds for senior leaders. It’s one of my favorite jobs with the ministry.
The everyday groceries which my family brought are nearly gone. We need eggs and milk and cereal and fruit. The kitchen floor needs to be swept and mopped. Life moves forward. My heart is broken, but healing. I’m still sad, and I don’t want to give voice to this pain. But writing about it has felt good, honest. I’m hopeful that we’ll get pregnant again. For two people who were told that we have “unexplained infertility and will need medical assistance to get pregnant,” this baby was a clear sign and reminder that God is the author of life, with and without medical assistance. Perhaps He’ll enable us to get pregnant on our own again.
But for now, I’m taking it one hour at a time. I’m reading my Bible. I’m praying. I’m resting. I’m watching TV. And I’m writing, which is so good for my soul.
It’s still raining. But today, maybe I’ll put my rain boots on and go outside.