It is November and the rain has come again. My stomach has begun to bloat with a much-desired second child. The boxes of maternity clothes I wore while expecting my first have been dragged out of the dusty stacks in the garage. I’ve been feeling fairly well. Not as nauseated as with my first, when after every dinner I found myself in the bathroom. I’m proud to be starting to show. I love this part, where it becomes obvious that there’s a baby growing within me. I am a creature of comfort, and have been wearing a new pair of grey athletic pants with double pink stripes up the pant legs. When I go out, I look the part of “put-together-stay-at-home-mom,” but once at home I am quick to shed these classy garments, and cozy back into my comfy pants.
I’ve taken to eating fruit in the evenings, while my husband and I watch our television show. Canned peaches are the current favorite. Pears and pineapple have had their turn too. We have been talking about this baby for so long that we’ve already settled on names: Benjamin for a boy (of course I’ll call him Ben), and Sierrah for a girl (the ‘h’ just makes it look more balanced I think, more finished. And of course that way it will go with our first daughter’s name – Hannah, also with an ‘h’ on the end.)
My little Hannah... Our firstborn, first known, first loved. She is nearly two and full of life. Pink elastics gathering her corn silk hair into pigtails (“pretties” as she calls them.) She’s blue-eyed and wide-eyed and curious about everything. She never stops moving, our little toddler tornado. We’re open with her about what’s going on, as much as you can explain to someone so young, we’ve explained.
“A new baby is growing in mommy’s tummy,” we say. “You’ll be a big sister, just like Mommy is a big sister to Auntie Sissy.”
At night when we tuck her in, Hannah tells the new baby “nigh-night” and kisses my tummy through my tee shirt. I love that she’s as excited as I am, and I can’t wait for our gender ultrasound to determine whether she’s getting a brother or a sister.
At ten weeks I go in for my first OB appointment. The doctor says my uterus is a bit small for ten weeks and he doesn’t find a heartbeat with the Doppler. “It’s a bit on the early side to hear it anyway,” he reassures me. Still, he says we’ll do an ultrasound to see how far along I really am, “check my dates.” I go in a couple days later with my husband, excited to see our baby, and not at all concerned. I’m sure our little Benjamin or Sierrah is just a tad small and will catch up in time. In the waiting room I say to Jonathan, “If it’s twins we’ll find out today!” Both of our families have a history of twins. He grins and flashes me a double thumbs up gesture. I wait impatiently for the ultrasound technician to come get us from the waiting room. My bladder is full with the required water. Finally a man comes out with a clipboard and calls my name.
In the room the tech chats with us about our new baby, is this our first baby? “No, we have a two year-old daughter.” The tech has a couple of kids too, he says. As he moves the wand around on my gelled belly, he grows quiet. Finally he says, “Jennifer, I’m going to go get our radiologist, because something’s not right here.” He tells me I can go empty my bladder now. While I’m gone, I feel numb. I know when we conceived. I know I’m ten weeks along. What isn’t right? When I return to the ultrasound room the tech is gone, and Jonathan says to me gently, “I think we need to prepare ourselves that this may not be a good pregnancy.” I nod and feel a lump in my throat, but am still numb. What’s going on?
The tech returns with the radiologist, who wears a cell phone clipped to his belt like my dad. He introduces himself, shakes Jonathan’s hand, and pats my knee, then turns to looks at the ultrasound picture frozen on the computer screen. After what feels like forever, he turns back to us with compassion in his eyes. “I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this, but it’s always best to be honest,” he starts. He goes on to say that there are two sacs, but only one baby, and the baby has stopped growing and has no heartbeat. He tells us how sorry he is, and that they will need to send us over to see my OB doctor, just across the parking lot. “We’ll call over and tell him what’s happening.” I feel my chin start to quiver and I turn towards the wall, trying not to break down in front of these men I don’t know. If I can stay strong, I’ll be okay. I can cry in the car...just not here, not now.
We go across the parking lot to the medical offices, and I sit in the waiting room for less than sixty seconds, the tears streaming down my cheeks despite my best efforts to contain them, before the nurse comes to escort us back to a private exam room. The doctor comes in, a man I’ve known for years, “The nurse said you were in tears.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just in shock.”
The doctor explains to us that probably our baby had a chromosomal abnormality and was “incompatible with life.” He says that since my body has shown no signs of expelling the pregnancy (already we’ve stopped referring to it as a baby) we’ll need to schedule a D&C procedure for the next day, in order to prevent infection. I nod, and try not to come apart at the seams. Finally we’re allowed to leave, and the welcome privacy of the car brings more tears.
The rest of the day is spent on the phone with close friends and family. Since we didn’t expect any problems, they’ve all known for weeks that we’re expecting, all been excited for us. I call my best friend and tell her. She’s silent. When I say her name she lets out a sob and it’s then that I realize she’s crying. Other friends cry too. I go through the rest of the day trying to wrap my mind around what’s happening. Trying to stay strong and take care of Hannah. Friends call and invite us over for pizza and a movie – are we up for that? We go, knowing we’ll be sad and shocked wherever we are. We watch a comedy and it feels good to laugh, even though inside I still feel numb. Everything seems off-kilter.
We go home and put Hannah to bed. I make arrangements for my mom to come over and be at our house early in the morning so we can go to the hospital, without having to wake up Hannah. I get into bed and set my alarm clock for an hour I’m still usually sleeping.
When my alarm sounds, I immediately remember the events of yesterday, and pry myself from my safe bed and get into the shower. In just a few hours I’ll be back home and no longer pregnant. We’re going to the hospital to get the baby out, but we won’t be coming home with it. We’ll never get to hold it or know it. This is it.
I walk into the hospital, into the same waiting room I waited in yesterday for my ultrasound. Such a difference in my mood from then. My hands are damp with nervousness and I wipe them on the legs of my grey pants with the pink stripes. It is quiet and still. It’s still very early and the normal hustle and busyness of the hospital has not yet begun. Jonathan reaches for my clammy hand and holds it between his.
My doctor and a scrub nurse appear and take us back to pre-op. They ask me questions about my medical history – is this my first pregnancy? first miscarriage? first surgery? No, Yes, No. They get me changed into a gown, and get my IV started, which seems to take forever. I hate IVs. I ask if I can keep my wedding ring on and they decide I can, as long as I put surgical tape over it. I have to go in now -- in to a shiny, sterile, cold environment where my baby will be taken from me. I need to feel my husband’s presence. If I can’t have him with me, I at least want my ring. As they wheel me into the operating room, I finger my wedding ring with my thumb. I am glad to have it, but the tape over it is pulling on my skin and covering the smooth band. It feels medical and artificial, just like this whole day so far.
“Okay Jennifer, just relax and count back from 10 for me,” says the anesthesiologist. I close my eyes and try to think of a more comforting place while I count, “Ten…Nine…Eight…Seven…Six….”
I wake up in post op, hearing voices talking around me. They mention medications and one of them mentions my husband. I don’t open my eyes just yet. I swallow and know it is really over. My throat feels shredded from the tube. I can feel that I am bleeding and am cramping severely. I force my eyes open and ask for a sip of water. A nurse in scrubs brings a Dixie cup of water and holds a straw to my lips. I sip a bit of icy water and swallow hard again. They ask if I’m in pain. I tell them about the cramping. They say that is normal and that they will give me more pain medication in my IV. I thank them. Every cramp reminds me of what is different now. I am groggy and sore and emotional. My baby isn’t inside of me anymore. I feel a hand in mine, and I look to my left to see one of my best friends, who is an ER nurse. It’s her day off and I didn’t expect to see her, but here she is, dressed in scrubs and hospital ID tag clipped to her pocket. “Hey…” she says sympathetically, and squeezes my hand as a tear slips down her cheek. “How ya doin’?”
Soon I am a bit more alert and my nurse friend goes to get Jonathan from the waiting room. When they come back he looks serious. He asks how I’m doing and I shrug, “The cramps are pretty bad.” I know that’s not what he’s referring to, but he just smoothes my hair off my forehead and smiles sadly. When I can stand up without feeling like I will faint or vomit, they have me use the restroom. I am startled by the amount of blood and Jonathan steps out to get a pad from the nurse. When I try to stand up the room starts to go black and Jonathan steps closer to hold onto my arm. There is a little bench in the bathroom and he helps me sit down on it and tells me to put my head down. I wait like that until I can see the tile floor again with no stars, and then we go back out. They get me back in my clothes – those grey and pink maternity pants that I love and a tee shirt with a sweatshirt over top – and into a wheelchair, and someone pushes me out while Jonathan drives the car up to the sliding front doors of the hospital entrance.
On the way home we stop at the pharmacy, where Jonathan dashes in to fill my pain med prescription, just as we did on the way home with brand-new baby Hannah. We drive home to find my mom and our little blondie, not yet two years old. I’ve been gone only 5 hours, but I am altered – not pregnant any longer.