As I write this, I’m 18w3d pregnant, which officially makes me More Pregnant Than I’ve Ever Been Before.
The last 1.5 weeks have not been easy. I felt OK emotionally leading up to the anniversary of the day we found out our daughter had died (September 11), but then was thrown for a loop by a repeat of some symptoms that had occurred at exactly the same gestational stage in our first pregnancy, just a few days before our daughter died. I won’t go into details, but think GI bug. They had told us the first time around that it was unlikely to be related, and I was tested for a bunch of different food-borne pathogens that can cause pregnancy loss and everything came back negative… but it was still just incredibly disconcerting to spend the anniversary of our daughter’s death having the same symptoms at the same gestational stage that I’d had the year before, and which preceded her death by less than a week. And by “disconcerting” I mean that it completely freaked out my husband and me.
I put in a teary phone call to MFM that day and wound up talking to a nurse who spoke to me like I was four years old: “You know, even though they’re in the same part of your body, your digestive system and your reproductive system aren’t actually connected…” and “You may not be aware of this, but one in five pregnancies doesn’t make it to term, and sometimes lightning strikes. That’s probably just what happened to you in your first pregnancy: bad luck!” Neither of which was helpful to me to hear at the time (also, I wish people would stop quoting the one-in-five statistic at women who’ve experienced second trimester losses — for us, the odds are about 1%, and half the time the problem is a non-chromosomal issue that makes future pregnancies more risky!). I thought I was getting better over the weekend, but when Monday brought a renewal of my GI symptoms I put in another panicked call to my local OB’s office and had a teary visit with the one doctor in the practice I’d never met before who checked me over (including making sure my cervix was closed) and then proceeded to bemusedly tell me I was probably fine and that I should really be trying to enjoy this pregnancy because you don’t get that many pregnancies in your life and it’s a wonderful and beautiful and miraculous thing. Which also was not something that was helpful to hear at that moment, even if I appreciate the sentiment (did she think it just hadn’t occurred to me before that I should try to enjoy this pregnancy?).
Anyway, fortunately I had just received a package in the mail the week before, containing a home handheld Doppler from a friend who had gone through infertility not too long ago. I had thought I wouldn’t use it, but being able to regularly check that our baby was still alive for the few days after my freak-out in which I was constantly convinced that he was dead really saved my sanity last week. Now I’m finally feeling like I’m past whatever disrupted my GI system, the baby has survived, and I’ve made it past the emotionally difficult anniversaries. Things are finally looking a little brighter.
I also had the experience this week of going back to visit the institution where I had earned my PhD to give a prize colloquium. It was the first time it was clear from other people’s reactions that I was visibly and obviously pregnant — perhaps because people there knew me well enough to know that I don’t normally have a giant belly, so they were more comfortable than total strangers about commenting on the fact that I was pregnant. Many people commented immediately, as soon as they saw me. With others, when it came up in conversation that I was pregnant (I’d mention that I was going to be on leave next semester), their surprise made it clear that they hadn’t noticed at all. It was funny — I’d have thought that the younger faculty with young kids at home would be the most attuned, and the older men the least attuned, but it absolutely didn’t work out that way. The old male scientists were often the first to notice and immediately comment! Maybe the ones with young kids are just too sleep-deprived to notice who’s pregnant and who’s not?
One experience that showed me that I’ve gained some equilibrium talking about our experiences with pregnancy loss was an awkward moment at the dinner after my colloquium. One of the nearly-retired male faculty asked me, “Wait, is this your first? For some reason I thought you had another…” and I was able to easily answer, “Well, that’s actually a complicated question. Last year I was pregnant, but the baby died at almost exactly this stage in the pregnancy.” I didn’t tear up at all — I was able to just be matter of fact about it. I didn’t feel that I could have answered any other way, especially since three of the eight people at the table (my PhD advisor and two of my closest collaborators) knew what had happened, so I just figured I’d put it all out there. I was sitting next to a senior woman who’d been a fantastic mentor to me during grad school, and she proceeded to tell me that in the process of having her three boys (the eldest of whom just went off to college this year), she had three miscarriages along the way. So we talked about it on our own for a while, and then the conversation moved on, and that was that. Not long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to have that conversation, but even on the day that I hit the same gestational stage that our daughter had died, I was OK with it.
And now… I’m just trying to look forward to experiencing new parts of pregnancy. From here on out it’s uncharted waters for me, and while that’s a bit scary, I’m primarily thankful that I’ve made it this far and I’m looking forward to the parts of pregnancy that I never got to experience the first time (my friends who have had normal, full-term uncomplicated pregnancies think I’m nuts and tell me it’ll be miserable, but I don’t care!). I already feel my son moving inside me more strongly than I felt my daughter, and I’m looking forward to feeling more distinct kicks and hiccups as he grows. I’m starting to love my growing belly again, and am actually looking forward to seeing it get bigger and bigger over the next few months.
I’m even feeling that maybe I’ll be able to start thinking about decorating the nursery and accumulating a few basic baby items sometime soon. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to do that — I know that if it doesn’t get done before the baby arrives that’s OK (infants don’t need much, after all) — but if I can bring myself to do it I think it’d be nice to have that normal nesting part of pregnancy, and might help me start to feel closer to my son. The room we’ve left empty in our house since we moved in last June has been a source of complicated feelings for me over the past year and a half, and part of me really wants to start to fill it and make it look like the home for our baby that we’ve always imagined it would be. After everything we’ve been through, I hold tightly to the thought that no matter what happens in this pregnancy we WILL be parents one way or another (probably through adoption if our son doesn’t make it), and creating that space would for me be an act of hope for our developing role as parents as much as it would be an act of love for this particular baby-to-be. I think maybe I can be OK with that.