One year ago I began my journey toward single motherhood.
Despite my age (nearly 42), it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t become pregnant right away. I chose a doctor and a donor and by the beginning of April I was ready for my first attempt via intrauterine insemination. Two weeks later I learned I was pregnant, and I was elated! The few people I had told were astonished I got pregnant so quickly, but I didn’t understand why. I assumed I would be pregnant because I wanted to be. Isn’t that the way it works?
Still, I knew it wasn’t a done deal and to get excited too early would be foolish. I would play it safe and wait until the amnio results before telling anyone but my closest friends and relatives. And so I waited.
In the meantime I had one test after another. Genetic testing, urine testing, blood testing- everything was perfect. And then I had the amnio, and all was still perfect. I was having a girl, and there were no signs of abnormalities. Finally I could drop my guard and proudly sport the enormous grin I had been suppressing for 4 months! I began looking at cribs and strollers. I started researching day care options for when I returned to work. I read about breast feeding and registered for childbirth classes. And on the day I reached 22 weeks, I finally buckled under pressure from friends and family and looked into baby registries.
And that was the last happy moment in my pregnancy, for the very same day I went in to have the full anatomy scan of my baby girl. The baby was curled up and sleeping, and the technician had some trouble measuring her. But the heartbeat was strong and if I had to come back another day when the baby was more active that was fine with me.
The doctor came in next and the first thing he said to me was, “Your baby’s not doing well at all.” The next several minutes were a blur. I thought he must have the wrong room. I was there for the body scan. My baby was fine; can’t you see it on the screen? He started talking about her lack of growth and blood in the brain, and how the blood was flowing backward through the umbilical cord in between heartbeats. And then he said the one word that left no doubt I was in real trouble: autopsy. I freaked out, silently though, since I couldn’t speak or even blink at that point. Autopsies are for dead people. He wanted to do an autopsy on my live fetus? I simply could not comprehend what he was saying. It was the worst moment of my life. A second opinion the next day confirmed it: the heart was no longer beating. The baby had passed away.
I blamed myself, naturally. No fewer than 3 doctors told me that these things sometimes happen, that they are anomalies, that nothing I did caused it, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. They said it was unlikely to happen again, and that women who have late-term pregnancy losses go on to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies all the time. I really needed to hear that. But why hadn’t I heard of this before? How common was it?
So rather than ask “Why?” or “Why me?” I ask, “Why don’t women talk about this?” Ever since this happened to me, it seems I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t know someone who had the same experience or who had a late-term loss herself. And most have had children since then. I’ve read books, blogs, magazines, and message boards – none have discussed the very real possibilities of inter-uterine demise. Why is this a taboo subject in our society? This isn’t some shameful secret that belongs locked in the attic. It’s very real and deserving of acknowledgment. As frightening as it is to think about losing a baby late in pregnancy, it’s even more frightening to experience it alone and unprepared. I want women to know this can happen and if it does that they are not alone, and they can become pregnant again and deliver a healthy baby.
Strangely, as my due date drew near I was not nearly as emotional as I expected. New Year’s Eve was the day I was supposed to meet my little one. I had two weeks off work during the holidays and refused to make plans with anyone, knowing I might fall apart and would want to grieve alone. Yet that hasn’t happened, and after much reflection I think I know why.
It took me a while to make sense of what happened but eventually I came to an understanding I could live with, one that has become a tremendous source of comfort to me. I believe there is a tiny being out there somewhere – a little ray of light- who is trying to make its way through the universe to me. It found me once but the timing wasn’t right. The reason is unimportant. What matters is that we belong to each other and I know that this same being will come to me again when the stars are aligned properly. So rather than thinking about the one baby I lost and waiting for another one to come along, I think about the one ray of light that came to me once and will return to me again when it’s absolutely ready to make its entrance into the world. And when it does I will love it that much more, because of the sacrifice it made to ensure that our life together began at the perfect moment.
As I sit here tonight on the cusp of the New Year, I will drink a toast to the ray of light who was wise enough to know our journey wasn’t quite over. And at midnight I will close the door on the past and drink a toast to the same ray of light who will come back to me in the very near future.
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