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.


chocolate chip

Doubt – Noun.
A feeling of uncertainty.

Something is wrong.

It’s December 4, one week before my first ultrasound appointment. I’m nauseous morning, noon and night, my breasts are sore and my brain is foggy. The bloating has forced me to unearth my emergency fat pants from the back of the closet. Despite these symptoms, which the nurses assure me are all normal, something is not quite right.

I conscientiously log my symptoms, medicines and appointments in the Nurture app. Because our baby was conceived through IVF I know exactly how far along I am. I know July 28, 2018 is her due date. Each day the app tells me her size and what parts of her body are developing.

“Today she is the size of a chocolate chip,” I tell my husband, full of hope, excitement and disbelief. “Her eyes are forming, too.”

Fear and doubt are lurking in the back of my mind. Creeping in. Casting a shadow over my dream of starting a family.

The amount and detail of information available to me is like dark chocolate. I crave it. The desire to know and know more about the baby growing inside me is addictive. I can’t possibly consume new details about her growth fast enough. My imagination fills in the blanks: what color her eyes will be (blue), what color her hair will be (light brown), whether she’ll be short or tall (tall).

The app is not enough. I need to know more, I need reassurance that this teeny tiny girl who has the power to drain my energy is going to arrive in the middle of summer healthy and vivacious. I’m aware of the facts:

I’m 40 years old.

This puts me at risk for a range of complications.

I don’t know what I don’t know.

I research my symptoms and the possible complications. Not because I want to find something wrong, but because I want to be confident this pregnancy is on the right track. That my dream will come true.

In the midst of this obsession, I find my new favorite candy: the Miscarriage Odds Reassurer. “Knowing doesn’t have to be scary,” the site promises. I plug in the facts – how far along my pregnancy is, my age, number of previous miscarriages, number of previous pregnancies, height and weight – and click “Reassure me” to get my results.

“At 6 weeks, 2 days the probability of not miscarrying is 82.8 percent,” the site says.

The odds are in my favor.

I want to tell my mom she will finally be a grandmother, a role she was made for. Her living with Alzheimer’s makes that complicated. She will understand the situation with feeling, and factually in her own way, but I don’t want to upset her. And upsetting her is worse than my own uncertainty.

Instead, I gather up my feelings and load them in my heart. They are heavy, and I carry them everywhere.


Blueberry | Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Disbelief – Noun.
Inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real.

I have a secret. The kind I want to shout about and share with the world because it makes my heart sing.

I’m pregnant. 

The world has taken on a new glow. It’s rosy, and everything appears in shades of pink. Like pencil erasers, baby piglets and rose petals.

I’m really pregnant. 

Every night I listen to a Circle + Bloom meditation. It relaxes me, centers my focus and helps me sleep. So much so that I’m rarely able to listen all the way to the end before my eyes close.

I’m grateful. 

One meditation is a body scanning exercise. The narrator guides you through a moment of focus on each part of the body. At one point she says to focus on a color. I don’t choose the color, it chooses me: cotton candy pink. Sticky, fluffy and sweet. Like the cheeks of my future baby.

I’m so grateful. 

My dreams are shaded in pink, too. I’m convinced we’re having a girl. I will name her Valerie Marion after my mother and grandmother. She will be part of this legacy of strong women who come before her. They are survivors of loss, gracious and kind. They paved the way for her to join this world.

I’m eternally grateful. 

As the days go by I begin to feel pregnant. The morning sickness starts slowly at first on Thanksgiving morning. Two days later it’s an all-day, every day occurrence. I’m surviving on small meals every two hours, peanut butter crackers and ginger ale. Nausea is a sign of a healthy pregnancy, some say.

This is a gift.

My HCG levels continue to double normally. The countless blood tests, injections and ultrasounds – every single prick, poke and prod – that led to now were all worth it. The nurse schedules my first ultrasound for December 11 when our baby will be the size of a blueberry, exactly 7 weeks, 2 days old. My lucky numbers.

This is a sign.

I can look at other pregnant women now without envy and longing. I am one of you now. The spare room will become a nursery. I will fill it with books and leave room for her dreams and who she will one day become.

My own dream is coming true.