Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: ultrasound scan

Week 22: Practicing Gratitude

When I was going through our miscarriage last Christmas, I remember thinking things like, “I hope all those women who are pregnant right now realize how much they have to be thankful for.”

Or

“I hope they know how easily things could have gone wrong for them.”

These thoughts came from a place of deep sadness and emptiness. I was mired in what had just happened. Unable to recognize anything good about my present. Unable to see the future or even a way forward.

But, let’s be honest, they also came from a place of envy. As Brene Brown writes in her wise book, Daring Greatly, envy is rooted in a fear of scarcity. It drove me to think,

Maybe I’ll never get pregnant again.

Maybe I’m destined now for a life of miscarriages.

Or just the ugly sentiment that,

I can’t stand the thought that happiness exists anywhere right now.

Because I have none of it.

I envied women whose pregnancies seemed to march on without any complications. Their lives seemed so full of good news and overflowing blessings.

I envied them even though I had once been one of them.

***

I had forgotten that I had been one of those women because I lost sight of all the things that I had in my life for which I should have been grateful.

But with time and space and a partner who helped me gain perspective, I was able to find my gratitude again.

My healthy daughter.

My marriage.

A job with a salary and benefits.

Enough money for our bills and even a bit beyond that.

My mother, still living 10 years after her last cancer diagnosis.

But now that this pregnancy is here, full of its own discomforts and changes in my daily life, I’ve felt that gratitude sinking into the background again.

It’s easy to forget the incredible truth of my present–that I am carrying another human being. That this life grows every day without my guidance or intervention.

Instead, I get frustrated with my weight gain, although it is completely within the normal range for pregnancy.

I get tired of waking up with sore hips and a popping spine, now that I’m sleeping on my side at night.

I get tired of answering the same questions about my pregnancy. Multiple times a day. (Because now that I have a bump, clearly, that must be the only thing that I want to talk about–fodder for another blog post, I’m sure.)

Stupid stuff. All so stupid.

***

Last Friday, I was scrolling through my WordPress Reader, following the pregnancy tag, which is one of my favorite ways of reaching out to potential new readers.

I came across a blog post that ripped my heart out.

It was written by a woman who has been struggling with infertility for quite some time. With much help, she conceived and gave birth to a healthy girl, who is now a toddler. She and her husband wanted to try again for another, using IVF again. She had been posting for several weeks about being excited that blood tests had revealed that her second child would be a girl. She wrote about North Dakota law’s strange decision that for legal matters, embryos were also fetuses, which made it difficult for her to donate her embryos to others.

She had been using a fetal doppler at home to check her baby’s heartbeat and give herself reassurance that everything was going well.

Then, at her 20-week ultrasound, came the diagnosis.

Her daughter had the worst neural tube defect. A terminal diagnosis.

Anencephaly.

Her baby had no brain.

No head above her chin.

No eyes. No nose.

Yes, this mother could hear a strong heartbeat because her daughter had a brain stem. Her daughter even had a strong, developing body.

But her daughter was “incompatible with life.”

anencephaly

Baby with anencephaly who has eyes and nose: http://www.cdc.gov

Three paths now lay before this mother:

1) travel to another state to stop her baby’s heartbeat and have a D&E (because North Dakota has decided that she cannot end her pregnancy in North Dakota. Thanks, state government.)

2) wait for her baby to die in utero, a 7% chance, or

3) give birth to her baby and watch her baby die within days of being born, a 100% chance.

She has decided to travel to another state to end the pregnancy, leaving her toddler at home with family for several days. She freely acknowledged that some parents would find healing and closure in choosing to go ahead with the birth.

But she also bravely admitted that giving birth was not the best decision for her and her family.

***

As I consider what this mother faces in the next few weeks, my gratitude comes forward.

Not a gratitude rooted in pity. As if I’m thinking, There, but for the grace of God, go I. But a gratitude that her story pushes me to remember just how easily things can go terribly wrong in a pregnancy.

One week, you’re carrying life. The next week, you’re carrying death.

One week, you’re comforted by your baby’s beating heart. The next week, you find out your baby is terminally deformed.

One week, your baby is alive, kicking in your womb. The next week, the placenta mysteriously detaches and your baby suffocates inside you.

One hour, you are in labor, ready to deliver your child. The next hour, your child is lifeless, asphyxiated by a compressed umbilical cord.

These are the risks and the dangers and the horrors that mothers experience around the world.

They are the potential costs of being the bearers of life.

This stuff happens.

It happens.

It can be easy to forget all of this. It’s easy to assume that all will go as planned. That the OB has it under control. That your body is wise and will know what to do. That as long as you follow all of the recommended guidelines, your child will be born alive and healthy.

But let’s be honest: That doesn’t always happen.

And this truth is important to know and acknowledge. I argue that it is even necessary for us to acknowledge. Because it helps those who face devastating news to feel less abnormal and persecuted. It helps those who are suffering see that they do not suffer alone. Many, many other parents have walked that lonely, grieving road before them.

A healthy, whole, live baby, resting in your arms is not a given. It is a kind of miracle.

So I’m grateful that until this moment, I have been spared devastating news. But that also doesn’t mean devastating news won’t come.

And this is where the hard work of gratitude comes into play.

I could choose to be paralyzed by all that could go wrong in this pregnancy. I could choose to let horrible after horrible scenario play out in my daydreams.

But I choose to be grateful in this moment. 

That right now, as I sit here typing, this baby is moving and kicking.

That I can still run 2 miles in the morning and feel better for it.

That I have access to enough nutrition, safety, and medical care to sustain this pregnancy.

That today, I am still pregnant, still sustaining this life.

Today, this moment, is what this child and I have together. And I’m grateful for it.

gratitude

 

Week 21: Streeetch

I forgot this feeling.

The feeling of a weight underneath my skin, pulling at my sides and stretching me forward.

It makes me do that “pregnant stance.” The one you see women doing, hand on the hip, rubbing the sides of their bellies.

Yeah, that.

pregnant-belly

It makes me sore.

I totally forgot about the soreness of being stretched like this. Last time, I swear I didn’t start feeling like this until I was about 7 1/2 months pregnant. But, like I’ve said in previous posts, everything is happening earlier this time.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that my daughter is also being stretched right now.

***

This Sunday, she began Sunday School.

Revise that: She tried to begin Sunday School.

Until now, her concept of church has been the thin path between the front doors and the wonder that is the nursery, full of wall-to-wall toys. Not one, but two dollhouses. A Lego table. Blocks, blocks, blocks. Books and puzzles. It’s a veritable playground of fun. We started taking her regularly to the church nursery when she was about 14 months old. After the first few weeks of newness, she began to love it. The church nursery entered the category of “familiar things” in her life, just like our home and daycare.

But this past Sunday, I think I overwhelmed her. I took her into the church sanctuary and introduced her to a new concept of church.

Singing. Listening.

Streeetch.

More singing. More listening.

Streeetch.

Prayers.

Streeetch.

The pastor called all the kids to the front of the church and I led her squirming, protesting body to the front of the church.

Streeetch.

She sat in my lap, pressed against my ribs. We listened to the pastor’s children’s message.

Then it was time for Sunday School.

Streeetch.

SNAP!

Let’s just say, we tried.

I managed to wrangle her squirming, protesting body down the stairs to where the other kids were gathered.

But she was just. Not. Going. In.

No amount of consoling or explaining helped.

It was just too much for one day.

We went back to service, took communion, and then I took her back to “home base.”

The church nursery.

She hugged the nursery workers and settled in with her favorite toys. We talked about how hard change and adjustment can be on kids.

But who am I kidding? It’s hard on me, too.

It hurts to see your kid stretched way beyond what they can handle. It hurts to see them curl into themselves to protect themselves from the uncertainty of the unfamiliar.

But that is part of our responsibility as parents. To reassure our kids that change is part of life. That the unfamiliar is scary because it’s new–but that doesn’t mean that the unfamiliar is bad.

“Sometimes, new things are scary,” I told her. “But when you do them again, they’re not new anymore. And you might even like them.”

She hugged me.

Streeetch.

***

Last Thursday morning, my husband and I watched the image of our next child take shape on the screen as the sonographer moved the wand across my belly.

20-week-ultrasound

It’s funny.

I don’t really remember much about my first pregnancy prior to 20 weeks. It was all a blur of nausea, indigestion, and fatigue. Most of what I remember happened from 20 weeks to 40 weeks.

Childbirth education classes. Hospital tour. Baby showers. Key conversations with my doctor. And all the weight gain and discomfort. It was a continual ramping up of events, week by week.

So I know that we have a long way to go.

We still have no idea how the second half of this pregnancy will go. And then there’s labor. Birth. And the hell that is recovery and the postpartum period.

But in the face of all this uncertainty, it helped to hear the sonographer’s words, “Everything looks great.”

So I, too, will work on adjusting. This pregnancy and birth will be entirely different, no matter how similar they may feel now.

This is a new life.

A new path.

Streeetch.

Week 20: The Answer is No.

No, we’re not finding out.

Why?

I love surprises.

That is all.

Underneath Miscarriage

IMG_20160103_134054

A Christmas card we received on the day we found out.

 

Death surrounds new life, but it largely goes unnoticed. It starts in a womb where the death, birth, and growth of cells happen every month. A tiny fertilized egg trusts its fate to this volatile environment. Sometimes, it works out. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

About one year ago, I wrote these words in one of the final chapters of my book, Becoming Mother.

I just recently lived to experience the pain of these words.

Truth be told, I had a miscarriage before I was pregnant with my daughter. But it happened immediately after I got a positive home pregnancy test. Just as quickly as the news came, it was taken away. It felt like a mistake. Oops! That wasn’t meant for you.

I was never able to really own that pregnancy.

But this miscarriage, this one that just happened, this one is all mine.

This pregnancy was different. Every pregnancy is different, they all say. But from the day of ovulation to the day this baby’s heart stopped, I felt that something was off. Although I’ve never been one to place much trust in intuition, my radar was on high alert this whole pregnancy.

On the day I ovulated, I felt like I had a war going on inside of me. My right ovary hurt, my right Fallopian tube ached, my uterus contracted and tugged in hot spasms. I had never felt anything quite like this, so my brain settled on the idea that I was miscarrying. Although… how could that be? I’m just now ovulating!

I came home from work, still in pain, still confused. By the next day, the pain was gone, but I was so bloated and swollen I had to wear loose fitting pants.

As timing would have it, my annual gynecological exam was the following week and my midwife told me that it had probably been a ruptured ovarian cyst, especially since the pain was now gone.

Okay, an ovarian cyst… Strike one. But maybe I can still get pregnant.

And I did.

After I got the positive pregnancy test, I calculated my expected due date: August 1, 2016.

Huh… That doesn’t sound right.

I re-entered the date of my last period. Same answer. Of course, it was the same answer, but it didn’t seem right. It didn’t feel right.

I gave the pregnancy test to my daughter and told her to give to my husband. I thought it would be cute. He was still in bed, still groggy. He rolled over, looked at it, and asked if there were two lines there. I said yes.

He seemed underwhelmed, so I asked him what was wrong.

“I’d just feel more comfortable about this if you hadn’t had so much pain when you were ovulating.”

Husband doubting the good news. Strike two.

At five weeks pregnant, I was reeling. I had lost my emotional footing. I was so irritable that I couldn’t stand myself. Absolutely everyone was pissing me off. A colleague belaboring a point. My husband leaving dishes in the sink. My daughter not wanting to get in her car seat. My students not doing the reading. Every time someone pissed me off, I had to talk myself through it. This is a stupid thing to be upset about. You’re only feeling this way because you’re pregnant. Calm down and don’t say something that you’ll regret later.

And then the foggy thinking. I was so much foggier than I remember being at the end of the third trimester with my daughter. One day, my brain switched over from knowing it was Tuesday to thinking it was Wednesday. I rushed to create a lesson plan for my Wednesday class in one hour when I had another day to do it. Only as I was about to walk to the class did I realize that it was really Tuesday.

At six weeks pregnant, the extreme fatigue started. No. Let’s be real. It was extreme exhaustion. Between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. every day, I was utterly useless. I had to work, sure, but I was completely checked out mentally. If I could leave work early, I did. Once I made it into our house, I immediately crashed on the sofa. Not enough energy to get upstairs.

This baby was kicking my ass. And I still wasn’t telling anyone about it, save my  mother.

Then at seven weeks pregnant, on the morning of Monday, December 14th, I was brushing my teeth and looking in the mirror. And I had a horrible thought.

I’m not pregnant anymore. 

I wasn’t reeling.

I wasn’t foggy.

That day, I was tired, but not nearly as exhausted as I had been.

Maybe I’m not pregnant anymore.

What a morbid thought! What the hell is the matter with you! Think positive. Maybe this is just going to be an easy pregnancy. 

That week, my digestion slowed to an absolute crawl. I started eating smaller meals more frequently, and I felt better. Then, the nausea started to kick in and I took comfort in it.

See? There. I told you.

At eight weeks and one day, I went in for the first ultrasound. For days, I had been prepping myself mentally for this.

But why?

I had never had an ultrasound where a doctor had given me bad news. They had always been exciting. I had always left with either good stats or pictures to show off.

Yet in my head, I went over the scenarios.

A baby in a Fallopian tube.

A dead baby.

A baby with no head.

A baby with no legs.

Two babies, both dead.

After each scenario, I would chide myself.

What the hell is the matter with you! What kind of mother are you to be thinking such morbid thoughts? You’re going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you’re not careful.

Imagining my child dead. Strike three.

***

In the days after I received the bad news that the baby had stopped growing at six weeks and six days (i.e. the day before I had my first thought that I was no longer pregnant), I felt the full gamut of emotions.

Anger.

Sadness.

Frustration.

I wanted to know where I had been when this baby’s heart stopped beating on Sunday, December 13th.

Was I in church? Had I been reciting the liturgy? Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord?

Was I singing “We Need a Little Christmas” to my daughter as we drove home from church?

Was I napping?

Was I doing a prenatal yoga video, my hand resting over my abdomen in shavasana pose?

I was so furious.

***

“How are you doing, baby girl?” my husband asked me on the day after we found out. The house was quiet. Our daughter in bed. Christmas Eve still a day away.

I shrugged.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“Pshhh… You’re not going to like what I have to say.”

“Just say it.”

“What am I thinking? I’m thinking, what a waste of time. What a waste of effort. We had this all planned out so that I’d have the longest maternity leave possible, given the holidays and the academic year. And now, it’s just all gone. All that coping with irritability and the fatigue and the nausea…  All of that time… My birthday, Thanksgiving, our anniversary, and now Christmas… all of it spent emotionally invested in this thing that didn’t go anywhere. That’s what I’m thinking.”

But I held back.

I didn’t tell him that I was also thinking, Let’s just get this over with so I can move on. Let’s cut this thing out of me so I can replace this empty hole with something living. Something more worth my time. Let’s just get on with this so that I can stop being so damned depressed and start feeling happy again. 

Doug leaned back in his chair, a frown on his face.

“It wasn’t a waste of time, Sweets. Don’t think that.”

I shook my head.

“It wasn’t a waste. We made something special. Yeah, it didn’t last very long, but it was something we made together. And I think that’s nice.”

His words cut me. And what I bled was the truth that had been too painful for me to admit.

I had loved this baby.

Yes, this six-week-six-day-old baby, which medical textbooks call a “fetus.”

I loved it.

Me. The pro-choice woman who had also been comfortable using the word “fetus” instead of “baby.”

I loved this baby.

All of my anger and frustration had been window dressing for the simple fact that I was sad to lose someone that I had loved.

And here I was, denying it. Because denial was easier than facing the truth. That I had lost someone that I had loved. That I could feel so strongly about this baby that I would never meet.

I would be the only person on this planet that would ever know this baby the way that I did. And here I was, calling it a waste of timeA waste of effort.

I was so ashamed.

***

I said my good-bye to this baby on Christmas Eve after a long, desperately needed workout. Sweating, lying on the floor in the back room of our house, I rested my hand over my abdomen and cried.

I don’t want you to think that I didn’t love you because you couldn’t live up to my expectations. Just because your heart stopped beating… it doesn’t mean I didn’t love you. You didn’t have to be perfect. You didn’t even need to be fully formed. I still loved you. It doesn’t help me to imagine that you might be better off dead if you had some chromosomal abnormality–because I know I would have loved you no matter what your problems were. I would have taken you in whatever form you came. 

Because that’s love.

Irrational.

Wholehearted.

All-in.

***

This miscarriage has brought gratitude into full view again. When we’re deep in pain, we’re suddenly able to look back and identify all those moments when we should have been feeling gratitude–but we chose to feel a thousand other emotions.

Like it or not, I’m re-learning the humility of waiting. Waiting to heal. Waiting to pick myself back up. Waiting to try again.

But perhaps the waiting will be good for the part of me that foolishly believed that I could just remove death and replace it with life, just like that. A switcheroo before I would have time to deal with the pain of this loss. In a Facebook world brimming with good news and happy times, loss has become even harder to deal with. “Happiness” becomes the new default setting, and everyone seems to be experiencing it. And so it’s easier these days for loss to feel abnormal.

But the truth is, the abnormal is often the normal that we just don’t talk about in polite company.

Perhaps I need to learn that again. Perhaps I need to remember my own words.

Motherhood does take away. But it also replaces. Sometimes our hands are empty and sometimes they are full. And accepting this truth helps me find contentment and joy.

About one year ago, I wrote these words.

But it was just recently that I was reminded of their power.

 

Waiting to Miscarry

Here we have the fetus…measuring at 6 weeks… 6 weeks, 6 days actually.

No cardiac activity.

White outline, dark figure. Too dark.

Head, legs, arms.

Motionless, floating, silent.

You should be at 8 weeks, 1 day…Normally, we’d see some cardiac activity by now… And it’s measuring so small… I just really think this isn’t going to be a good outcome.

A warm tear. Another. Another.

Tissues. More tissues.

These things happen in about 16% of known cases.

Hand on my shoulder. Kiss on my forehead.

Take the time that you need, Sweets.

Pants, then shoes, then laces.

Make an appointment for next week.

Yes, Tuesday’s fine. Anytime. It’s fine. Thank you.

Only one exit out, so back through the waiting room.

Pregnant women, hands on their bellies, their fingers slowly scrolling on their phones.

Tears in the hallway.

Tears in the elevator.

Tears in the parking garage.

Tears in the car.

Hands on the steering wheel.

Tissues.

More tissues.

All the tissues.

Out of tissues.

***

Who do I need to tell? What do I say?

When did I lose it? What was I doing? Where was I?

When will the bleeding start? When will this be over?

I can’t do this again.

But when can we try again?

I knew things weren’t going to be the same this time… but this?

Why?

Why?

Why?

***

A blurry drive home.

My body, now a tomb.

My mother’s car in the driveway.

Her hug.

This is so hard.

My daughter’s hug. Her smile.

Mama sad?

We play.

We eat dinner.

We visit a park lit with Christmas lights.

This is her Christmas now.

We walk the path with everyone else.

Christmas music plays.

It’s the most. Wonderful. Time.  Of the year.

My daughter’s laugh. Her high-five to Minnie Mouse.

Her wide, bright eyes.

Life.

Joy. Delight.

The drive home.

Storytime.

Mama, Row, Row Boat.

Singing.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.

Night-night.

A fire in the fireplace.

More tissues.

Dr. Pepper and bourbon.

Heavier and heavier.

Heavier still.

The fire burns, my husband drifts off.

My hand on his head.

Warm.

No more tears.

Numb.

Waiting for pain.

Craving pain.

Pain would complete me.

I am divided.

Half-alive, half-dead.

Partly grieving for what I’ve lost.

Partly grateful for what I still have.

***

My body, a tomb, but there will be no resurrection.

There will be no miracles, not even if I believe.

White outline, dark figure. Too dark.

It’s dark, dark everywhere.

The winter solstice has just passed.

The darkness slowly leaves. The light slowly returns.

I wait for it.

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