"There's the amniotic sac, but there's no baby."
Those words churn my dinner in my stomach and are keeping me awake at this hour of the night. There's no baby. There's no baby. There's no baby.
For 10 weeks (5 of those weeks, I was aware of my pregnant status), I took care of myself the way any expectant mother would. I turned down the alcohol, switched from Diet Coke to water, exercised, ate vegetables, and took the prenatal vitamin every morning, in hopes that all these measures would give us the best chance possible for a healthy, happy baby. Little did we know that the baby was either never there, or gone long before I even knew I was pregnant. The little person Luke was speaking to and kissing each morning before school was not the "raisin" or "seahorse" we thought she was. She wasn't there. She wasn't an inch long like we thought she was. She didn't have the arm and leg buds with tiny fingers like we thought she did. She never had the tail that we jokingly feared would never fall off. We never made it that far into the pregnancy, but we didn't know until Friday, September 12, 2008.
I felt my belly grow and my body change. I was ready to wear the maternity clothes. More than anything, I was ready to tell our family and friends the incredible news that God had chosen us to be parents. I was ready to tell school that my maternity leave would be beginning around April 13, 2009. I was ready to go to the doctor appointments and learn about our baby's latest developments. For as unready as I was on August 11th, I had sure made a drastic turn around and found myself in the "more than ready" category up until yesterday at 4:00.
Yesterday was to be the first day we met with the doctor. I was running a few minutes late for the appointment due to having to leave at 2:30 and be there by 3:30. However, Luke met me at the office and we walked in together. I was surprised and excited when the receptionist told me we would be having an ultrasound. An ultrasound! We would get to see and possibly hear our baby! We would have a picture to show our parents when we gave them the news.
We were brought back to the exam room, made small talk with the nurse, and we waited for Dr. Ertel to come in. I was instantly calmed by Dr. Ertel's youth and easy-going personality. I was excited that she would be the one seeing us through this incredible journey. We talked about the Colts and med school. Everything was normal.
Dr. Ertel explained that my lab results were normal, that I seemed healthy, and that she had no concerns. She performed the exam and then turned on the ultrasound machine. This was the moment we had been waiting for.
When the screen came on, she pointed out my uterus. It looked, to my untrained eye, empty, but I didn't want to say anything yet. Who can read those ultrasound things anyway? I knew any minute our little peanut would be on the screen, and all would be OK.
She moved the instrument around and around, searching. It was silent in the room, and at this point, I became worried. I looked at Dr. Ertel's face, and it said it all. I could tell something was wrong. After a few heavy moments of silence, she stopped moving the instrument and brought the screen closer so we could see what there wasn't to see...
She pointed out the amniotic sac. More specifically, she identified the empty amniotic sac. I am not an expert in ultrasound technology, I but I knew that I should be seeing something by now. Dr. Ertel was genuine and sympathetic as she told us, "This isn't going to be a normal pregnancy for you. I'm not seeing a baby."
I took a painful look at Luke, who was shocked and immediately asking questions as to why and how this could have happened. All I was thinking was that there was no way this was happening to us. The doctor termed this situation as a "missed abortion" miscarriage. Basically, it's a miscarriage that hasn't yet happened on its own. After looking it up on the Internet, I found that it is when the embryo has actually died, but the sac has remained and not been expelled by the body yet. She explained that this "expulsion process" could happen any day now, and she was surprised that my body had held onto the sac for 10 weeks since the embryo was gone a long time ago.
She left the room so we could have some time to ourselves. At this point, Luke and I found ourselves holding onto and holding up each other. I didn't want to completely lose control of my emotions with the nursing staff waiting right around the corner, so I tried to hold at least some of myself together as I put my Colts socks back on and moved from the exam table to the bench Luke was sitting on. I was no longer a patient. I was no longer an expectant mother.
When Dr. Ertel came back in, she had two documents. One was the cliched brochure about how to "deal" with your early pregnancy loss. The other document was describing the D & C procedure that Dr. Ertel wanted me to have done within the next week. D & C stands for dilation and curetting, which basically means that instead of waiting on my body to just miscarry the tissue and amniotic sac on its own, which can be a physically painful and emotionally distressing thing, the doctor would rather the D & C surgically take care of removing "what's left." My first thought when she explained what would be happening was, "kind of like an abortion." I guess it would be similar, but remember, there's no baby.
All the information was overwhelming, and I found myself just nodding and trying to smile and not make the doctor feel too horrible. I could tell she was feeling for us, but I also know that in her mind, she has seen this happen before, and she knows the science behind it all. We are not the first couple to experience this tragedy, and we won't be the last. All we can pray is that this will be our last.
The D & C will be scheduled for Friday. We could do it sooner, but I don't feel comfortable taking a day off during ISTEP testing. So, next week, I will walk into my classroom, throw away the desk planner that has my due date written on it, and pretend that nothing ever happened. I will administer the ISTEP test, and then Friday, I will go and officially "end" the pregnancy that really, in all reality, never began in the first place. I will return the pregnancy exercise video I bought and never opened, and I will send back the Old Navy clearance maternity clothes I ordered online. We will put away the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" book, and we won't be filling the prescription for prenatal vitamins. Maybe we will keep the Notre Dame onesie we bought for my parents to give the baby "next football season," and I would imagine that we will hang onto the crib we so hastily purchased one week after getting the positive result on the pregnancy test. At least we hadn't set it up yet, and it is safe in the attic.
Luke and I knew we had a tough night ahead of us. After all, our families were going to be uniting at our home today (Saturday) for the big reveal, and we just couldn't bear the thought of going on as planned. So, we made a painful and silent drive to Muncie, where we stopped at his parents house to make them aware of the third grandchild that they would never meet. When we walked in the door, they knew something was wrong, and Luke was able to verbalize to them what had happened. Though it was uncomfortable to reveal such an intensely personal trauma, we were comforted by their words and even their own tears.
I knew the more difficult visit would be to my own parents. I am not the most open with them about health issues, and I was nervous enough to tell them that I was pregnant in the first place. When we got to their house, my mom wasn't home yet, and my dad knew something was going on. The 10 minutes we waited for my mom were agonizing for all three of us. I knew my dad was expecting the worst. I also knew he would have never expected this. When my mom walked in, we shared with them the news. Again, their tears matched ours, and provided us with some emotional support.
For 5 weeks, we hadn't said a word to our families about the pregnancy. Now, all of a sudden, we are forced to talk about it in a way that we never anticipated. We are talking about it in the past tense.
I now find myself wide awake with an agonizing nausea that I know has nothing to do with pregnancy symptoms. Luke and I talked last night that we wished we could just unwind yesterday and start over. We expressed that we both felt empty...that we missed "her." We are both haunted by the images in our head of her. Throughout the last 5 weeks, Luke and I both had dreams that we were having a girl, and we claimed we had even seen her face.
I'm confused. We believe so much that God was responsible for this pregnancy in the first place. We accepted it not on our timing or planning, but we knew we had been chosen for a reason. But now, knowing that it's all over, how do we still believe that God had His hand in this, too? It's a tough pill to swallow.
Miscarriage to me was always something that happened to other people. It was the little chapter in the back of the pregnancy book. It was the brochure at the doctor's office that no one ever picked up. It happened to the moms who smoked or drank alcohol or did drugs during their pregnancies. It didn't happen to healthy, happy, cautious mothers who followed all the rules and "did everything right."
Where do we stand? Where do we go from here? We don't know at this point. We both agreed not to think about the future, and that we deserved to grieve for our baby in the manner she (or he) deserves. We lost our first child. That's what this will always mean to us. Even though the baby never made it to fetus status, we still loved her or him with all our hearts.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.