Are You Currently Pregnant?
I sat in the waiting room chair and read it again.
Are You Currently Pregnant?
What’s the definition of pregnant? I thought. Did the baby have to be alive? Was I still pregnant? And why did it matter right now? I was there to have my blood drawn.
Seven hours earlier, during a 12-week sonogram, a doctor had informed us that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. But the standard form born from America’s bureaucratic, medical womb was cooly oblivious to the facts: in less than 48-hours, I was scheduled to have the baby removed from my body.
Was I currently pregnant? I wondered.
I drew a question mark next to the “Yes” and “No” checkboxes.
I finished the forms and gave them back to the woman behind the counter. Written on a piece of paper next to her computer keyboard were the words: “A whore of a day.”
Earlier that day, I had met with a nurse at my doctor’s office. She sat down across from us and read questions from another medical form.
“When was the first day of your last period?” She had asked without looking up from the clipboard.
“April 29th.” I said.
She looked confused, certain I was mistaken. She stared at the form. I saw her eyes scan it, pen poised, as she worked out the math in her head. It’s as if she looked to the form to find out how one might proceed in this situation: “If patient answers A, proceed to question D.”
“Are you sure you didn’t have a period in May?” She finally asked.
“No. It was April.”
Her confused expression morphed into one of concern.
“I’m 3-months pregnant.” I said, relieving her. “But the fetus has perished. That’s why I’m here.” My voice trailed off.
Perished? I thought. I said the sentence again to myself. The fetus has perished? My thoughts had become a byproduct of a new and acute confusion. My response to this pregnancy sat somewhere between the profound attachment I had developed to the baby growing inside of me, and the manmade comfort I got from reminding myself that it was still a fetus, a sac of cells.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered looking away from the form.
We left for the hospital at 5:45 AM on Wednesday. It had been a terrible night. Our son was up every hour from midnight until the minute we left. On top of that, I had gone into labor. My husband and I stumbled out onto the sidewalk in a daze.
The drive into the city that morning was a typical one. Our driver sped through the city streets with little disregard for those around him. The city was just waking up. The usual neighborhood drunks littered McCarren Park’s many benches, as a few well-dressed people walked past them on their way to the subway.
I am lover of mornings but that one was hard to appreciate.
When we arrived at the hospital we headed up to the 10th floor. They checked me in and handed me a bag with a hospital gown.
“This is the same robe I wore when I had Emory.” I said to my husband.
We sat down and talked for a while about the little things, mundane things. We discussed our upcoming vacation to North Carolina and probably having to cancel it. In truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around three women at varying stages of their pregnancy.
“I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that right now.” I said.
“I understand.” He answered.
We talked about the procedure and how I might feel after it was all over.
A young doctor, probably a student, walked in clutching a clipboard. “I need to ask you a few questions.” She said sweetly.
“What is your current mood?”
I glanced over at my husband, judging by the look on his face he found it strange as well.
What is your current mood? I repeated it to myself.
Did she want me to dissect my level of sadness, a level I hadn’t known existed up until two days ago? Did she know why we were there?
“Sad?” I answered uncertain.
After she left the room, Toby and I talked about how inhuman much of the experience had been. The great number of unnecessary medical forms that had been given to me, the inappropriate questions involved, the fact that following protocol isn’t always a good thing. We made a few Kafkaesque comments and tried to laugh about it. Putting aside the gravity of our situation and our intense sorrow, the unfortunate events taking place around us could have been stopped had each person put aside the rigid, bureaucratic protocol for a minute and tried to be a little more human.
The whole experience was morbidly comical.
We sat in silence for a while.
“So, yes to the autopsy?” I finally asked.
Autopsy? I thought to myself. Where had this word come from? You autopsy a dead person, not a fetus. And the testing would have nothing to do with the fetus; they would be using the placenta.
“I mean, yes to genetic testing?”
“I guess so.” He said.
I nodded. “But no to gend…?” I was unable to finish the word. I deflated.
For 10 weeks, we had excitedly discussed whom I had been carrying. We pictured this person as a small child, toddling behind Emory. But we weren’t sure, and faced with the option of finding out made us both fall to pieces. The moment we give it a pronoun, whether it be “he” or “she”, the option of referring to it as a “sac of cells” or “just a fetus” is off the table forever. There’s no going back. There’s no undoing that knowledge. While a side of me knows that this fetus probably stopped developing because it was very sick, the larger part of me pictured dozens of holidays, and a hundred first stumbles and falls. I already pictured this person crying, keeping us up at night, endlessly pooping, farting, and laughing. Finding out its gender would take us further away from rationalizing its sudden absence and move us closer to seeing him or her as a living, breathing person (with a name we’d already brainstormed) that had died.
Neither one of us know what we’d do with that knowledge. I’m not sure we’ll ever know how process that information, which is why that file will likely remain closed forever.
“I just don’t think so.” Toby said. “Not now.”
We held each other and cried.
Just then a cheerful doctor came in to let me know that it was time to say goodbye. I kissed my husband.
“I love you.” I said.
“I love you too.”
I have had several operations over the years. When it came to anesthesia, every single one of them was conducted in the same manner. I was either sedated or put to sleep entirely in a pre-op area and later wheeled into the operating room. Most of the time I hadn’t ever actually seen the inside of the OR.
But this was different. I walked myself into the OR, wheeling a tall IV bag alongside of me the whole way. I said goodbye to my husband at the elevator bank, walked through a sea of surgeons in the “Patients Only Beyond This Point” section of the hospital, and personally climbed onto the operating table.
The room was really cold. I found it fitting. My doctor placed a blanket on top of me. I told her I didn’t much care about comfort. She placed one hand on my belly and the other one on my right shoulder, “You should be as comfortable as possible during all of this.” She whispered.
Her pager went off. She walked over to the phone that hung on the wall to my right.
“How far apart?”
“I bet she is….”
She listened some more.
“Ok, well, I am in the middle of something. I’ll be down there once I’m finished.”
My surgeon was about to remove an 11-week-old fetus from my uterus and then immediately head downstairs to deliver a healthy baby. I couldn’t breath. I began to sob. When I closed my eyes, graphic imagery streaked the inside of my head. When I opened them, I realized I wasn’t dreaming. Where would my fetus end up later that day? Would it be burned? Tossed out? Used for science? Was it a girl or a boy?
Was it a girl or a boy?
I hope to never know for sure, but I think that moment is what insanity must feel like.
I felt envy for the woman downstairs, the one in labor. Perhaps she was in the very same room that I had given birth to Emory in almost two years earlier. I cried harder.
“This is just a bump in the road, Michele. Everything will be OK in time. You will have a healthy baby. This is difficult, but I promise you, this is just a bump in the road. You will get through this. You will get through this.”
I collected myself. I felt strong again. I would get through this. I will.
“I hope so.” I said. “And I hope that someday you’ll deliver Emory’s little brother or sister.”
“I look forward to it.”
The anesthesiologist started the antibiotics and it sent a dull, painful ache up my left arm.
I noticed that at some point the song “Wonderwall” had come on a radio they had stashed in the corner.
Back beat, the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before but you never really had a doubt
I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.
“We’re going to start the twilight sleep now. When you feel sleepy, it’s OK to close your eyes.”
And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would like to say to you
But I don’t know how
I have a knack for thinking about every wrong thing at every wrong moment, which is why at that very moment, I began thinking the following: maybe I made a mistake, that as a mother, I had failed. Maybe this baby hadn’t died. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe they should check for a heartbeat again. Maybe it started up again.
Tears streamed down my cheeks.
And right before I closed my eyes and checked out of the room completely, my doctor put both of her hands to my face and looked directly into my eyes. “Do not cry, Michele. Please don’t cry. You’ll have bad dreams. Think about your son. Think about Emory.”
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You’re my wonderwall
I did. I made the tears stop. I thought about Emory. I thought about his beautiful and crazy blond, Einstein hair, and the fact that I call him Professor. I pictured his infectious smile, his laugh, and his bright blue eyes. And just as I closed my eyes, I pictured a little boy with him—another blue-eyed creature.
They are running through a sprinkler together, their pale legs are covered in wet grass and all around us smells of wet dirt and newness, like a thousand healthy roots among a million specks of soil.
It’s late spring. There is laughter.
I would like to thank everyone who has reached out to me over the last several days. You all have helped me as I work my way through this. I am forever grateful. You have no idea how much it means to me and how grateful we are to you as a family.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. From the bottom of my heavy heart, thank you.
One more thing: Mom it Down posts will resume next week. I need a week or two to process everything and haven’t felt much like baking. Murray will return next week as well. He’s currently a full time snugger.