I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. —Bene Gesserit litany against fear, Dune
I had three ultrasounds in this most recent pregnancy, at eight weeks, nine weeks, and 10 weeks. In my car, driving to each one, I recited the above passage from Frank Herbert’s classic 1960s sci-fi novel. And then, I would visualize myself sitting in the ultrasound room, tensely waiting for the doctor to speak as she searched and searched on the monitor. In my visualization, eventually she would turn to me and say the dreaded words, “I’m sorry; there’s no heartbeat.”
Each time in the car, and a couple of times between appointments, I forced myself to let this visualization play out, to imagine the shock and despair that would follow, to feel the world reeling again after the loss of another baby, the life draining out of me. And surprisingly, just like the litany says, this calmed my fear every time. Somehow, letting the moment unfold in my mind allowed me to feel a degree of control over the situation that quelled what would otherwise have been paralyzing anxiety.
Nonetheless, I was relieved when, at the first appointment, there was a heartbeat, though I wouldn’t say I was happy. And it was a strong heartbeat, at 162. The dating was a little off and the pregnancy was a few days younger than it should have been—7 weeks, 5 days, instead of 8 weeks, 3 days—but my OB did not seem concerned.
A week later was my first appointment at the MFM. I visualized the same no-heartbeat scenario, but again there was a heartbeat, even stronger this time, at 174. The dating was still off, but the MFM, Dr. H., did not seem concerned either. She also hooked me up with a new prenatal vitamin and extra folate to address my MTHFR mutation (inability to completely process folic acid to folate, needed to prevent blood clotting).
On Monday, April 25, my visualization came to pass. The day before, I had noticed a very small amount of spotting. It was so small that I was not overly concerned and decided to just monitor it; many women experience spotting with no harm to their pregnancies. Monday morning, there was again a small amount of spotting, so I called the OB and asked to come in to be checked, as spotting wasn’t something I had experienced with my other children.
Zack wasn’t with me when I found out Luke had died, so this time I waited in the OB’s parking lot for him to make the hourlong drive from his work. As I waited, for the third time, I went through the visualization exercise.
Inside, after what seemed an interminable wait, we made it back to the ultrasound room. When I finally got on the table and the OB (not my usual doctor) started the scan, there was a long pause while she searched and searched. It was then that I knew my worst fears had been realized, because it shouldn’t have taken her that long to see anything. And indeed, when she finally did speak, it was to say that she had brought up the color flow on the monitor and could only see my heartbeat. (Oddly, she chose to say that “the pregnancy had stopped growing,” which confused me enough that a few minutes later I had to confirm with her that the baby was dead.)
We were shuttled to the ultrasound specialists across the street to confirm the loss. The pregnancy, which should have been 10 weeks, 3 days, was dated at 9 weeks, 2 days. We then proceeded to the hospital outpatient wing for the D&C. What followed was a lot of waiting. We sat in the hospital waiting room for almost an hour, and the preop room for another hour.
Eventually, nurses came to draw blood, fill out paperwork, and start an IV. I was asked several of the same questions multiple times by different people—including why I was there, which felt like rubbing salt in the wound but apparently was just an effort to make sure I was consenting to the procedure. One of the times, I couldn’t get the words out, so the nurse answered for me, “For a missed abortion.” Ouch. (Side note: Women with a history of miscarriages are referred to clinically as “habitual aborters.”) I then had to wait another hour before being wheeled to the operating room, where the last thing I remember was an oxygen mask being lowered onto my face.
Coming out of anesthesia, it seems, is a bit like being drunk. Apparently I asked the doctor when I could exercise again, a question of which I have no memory. I remember at one point wailing, “My baby died” and “He was 37 weeks.” I must have asked one of the nurses if she had children, because I remember telling her, “Then I want you to know that you should appreciate what you have.” All of this took place with my eyes closed, and the people seemed very far away. At one point, someone announced that I was in the recovery room. Eventually the voices faded, and there was only one nurse remaining. I remember asking her, “Does anyone care about my loss?” To which she answered, “We all do.” Later she came to my side, grasped my arm, and said, “I want to tell you that I know how you feel.” I don’t remember what she said after that.
Today, 15 days later, I am still processing what happened. I’m all griefed out, and I don’t have any more space in my heart for the grief to come in and swallow me whole again. So, it comes in drips and drabs. I’m finishing up the spring semester and preparing for the first of two summer sessions to start in three weeks. I’m dusting off my resume and planning to secure some freelance editing work. I’m attending a climate change protest in D.C. I’m canning chickpeas and hoping to pick strawberries soon to can preserves. I’m watching Ken Burns’ miniseries on the national parks. And, here and there, I cry. In the car. In the middle of zumba. At Target, when I see the mom with her toddler and her newborn. When I see the pregnant lady who, frankly, looks like she has no business being pregnant. When people say, I’m here for you if I need it, but then never bother to actually reach out and just ask, How are you doing?
I never, ever, in a million years, thought this would be my life, especially after having Zoe at almost 40 weeks following a pregnancy with zero complications. But it is my life. So I’m slowly, against my will, figuring out how to live it.