Agony (Part 1)


Agony – Noun.
Extreme and generally prolonged pain; intense physical or mental suffering. The struggle preceding natural death.

It’s finally here. The day of our first ultrasound as first-time parents. The day when our doctor will tell me all my doubt was an utter waste of time and energy.

I dress in my oversize grey trousers to accommodate the pregnancy bloat and my new favorite navy sweater. It’s a dank and dreary December day in New England. Christmas is coming, and on its heels, a new year I’m excited to begin as a mom.

Our appointment is scheduled for 2 p.m. It’s the same appointment time we were given had our second IVF cycle not resulted in a positive.

Today we don’t need to have that conversation. Today we get to actually see our 7-week, 2-day-old baby growing inside me, and hear her heartbeat.

I go dizzy through my work day, because really, nothing else matters. I pass my very pregnant colleague in the halls, in the office kitchen, in the restroom. Like you I am counting the days.

The past couple of weeks have been marked by waiting and hoping and planning. After three rising hCG tests there was nothing more to do than let nature take its course. For a woman seeking IVF treatment who has become accustomed to knowing the blow by blow of each stage in the process this time is excruciating and confusing.

I excuse myself from my afternoon meeting and meet my husband at the doctor’s office. He kisses me in the parking lot and holds my hand as we walk inside.

There are no other waiting patients. Just us. A nurse greets us and shows us to the examining room. She asks me to undress from the waist down, cover myself with the modesty sheet and have a seat on the table. My husband settles into the chair next to me.

Our doctor knocks and enters abruptly in his quick-step style. He asks me to recite my last name and birthday, a required clinic ritual for every test and appointment. Then, in an effort ease the tension, he blurts, “Favorite color?”

“Blue,” I say automatically, barely registering the absurdity of the question.

“I can tell by your sweater,” he replies and we laugh awkwardly. Hardee-har-har. 

The doctor introduces us to a first-year resident who is assisting him. I know the clinic has a partnership with the local medical school and I appreciate the learning opportunities they offer students. It turns my stomach that it’s a young 20-something in her fertility prime who will be wielding the ultrasound wand.

I’ve had dozens of ultrasounds, some with an empty bladder, others with a full bladder. None have been this uncomfortable. Dr. Fertility Prime twists the wand to the left and I feel a jab of pain on the right. More twisting (her), more wincing (me). I squeeze my husband’s hand until his skin turns white.

“OK, that hurts,” I say, in the name of teaching and learning.

Our doctor takes over, quickly finding his way to my retroverted uterus. For the first time I can focus on the image on the black and white screen. A large circle of black surrounded by splinters of grey and white.

Suddenly, there is a tiny figure in the black circle. Our doctor zooms in and confirms a singleton pregnancy. He zooms in further and points to a blinking white cursor.

“That’s the heartbeat,” he says. My husband squeezes my hand. I’m in love all over again.

Our doctor starts taking measurements, his face stern and concentrating. I can feel my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. Something is wrong. 

Our doctor says the baby is measuring 6 weeks, 3 days. She’s small, about a week behind schedule. Finally, he removes the wand and the screen goes black.

“I’m very concerned,” he says, turning to look me in the eye. His face is sympathetic when he tells me to get dressed and meet him in his office to go over the results. He leaves with Dr. Fertility Prime in tow.

Pants-less, I look at my husband. “This is not good,” I say, holding back tears. “Not good at all.”

He tells me to stay positive, his common refrain when I panic. I’m too stunned to panic. Every hope, every dream I had for this new life is disintegrating. There’s something wrong with my baby and I can’t save her or protect her. No one can.

Back in his office, our doctor explains just how concerned he is about the outcome of our pregnancy. It’s a speech he gives with a 1,000-yard stare and he sticks to the script, never once using the word miscarriage, death or dying. But it’s clear the prognosis is grim.

My husband’s eyes are the color of salmon, rimmed with tears. I blurt out questions about our options and next steps, registering none of our doctor’s responses with any clarity. Dr. Fertility Prime is sitting in the corner of the room and I have the desire to rabbit-punch her in each of her ovaries. Pow, pow.

It’s possible our baby will live, the doctor says, but not likely. He describes the treatment options for miscarriage, or letting the pregnancy pass naturally. Before making any plans, he wants to do a second ultrasound in two weeks. With scheduling and the holidays, our appointment will be after Christmas on December 28.

Ho, ho, fucking ho.

I had let hope overcome doubt in my heart. But today doubt was victorious.



Joy – Noun.
A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

“I have great news,” the nurse said. “It’s positive.”

I felt a whoosh sweep though my body. My knees buckled.

“Are you sure?” I asked, my grip on the phone loosening.

“Yes, honey I’m sure,” she sang. “The numbers don’t lie.”

Dumbstruck, I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the words, not after month after month after month of negatives and maybe next time’s. Not after everything we’ve been through to get to here. How do most patients react? Squeal in delight? Tears of joy? I’m sure she’s heard it all.

“I’m sorry,” I said, apologizing for my delayed reaction. “I really wasn’t expecting good news.”

I could hear the smile in her voice as she laid out instructions to come back in two days for a follow-up blood test to make sure my HCG level was doubling. She encouraged me to call back if I thought of more questions after I’ve had time to process.

I floated back to my office in disbelief. I’m actually pregnant.

It didn’t matter that a stranger was informing me of this news, this miracle, that would change the course of my life.

I was beyond longing for how it’s “supposed” to happen. At home, in private, with my husband holding me in his arms. Silly grins plastered on our faces, sharing a secret that for now would be just ours.

It was an unseasonably warm Monday in November. Thanksgiving was that Thursday, and I was already making plans for the holidays and beyond.

We’ll make the announcement at Christmas. Something small, something thoughtful and meaningful. I’ll make copies of the first ultrasound photo and put them in each family member’s Christmas card. We’ll be together when they open them. We’ll share the moment of joy together. There will be hugs and happy tears celebrating hope, opportunity and new dreams.

Robbed of the private discovery with my husband I think of how I want to share the news with him. We’re both at work, and won’t be home together before 9 p.m. A text is out of the question. A phone call doesn’t seem quite right either. I want to see his eyes when I tell him, I want to be with him.

So I do what I believe is the next best thing. I leave a hand-written note tucked into the “I Love You” book I made for his birthday. Because one day, when our child is old enough and curious enough to ask about the day we found out she would be joining our family, I want it to be her favorite story.

“Again,” she’ll say after we’ve told her for the one hundredth time. “Tell it again.”

My husband gets home from work, his usual calm is now harried. He looks panicked.

“Really?” he says, interpreting the grin on my face. “I’ve been worried sick all day.”

I feel a little guilty for making him wait and point to the book where he finds and reads the note. I watch the panic leave his face and the smile start to curl. “Are you still worried?”

“No,” he says. “No, no, no. Not at all.”