This is how it happened.
Q., E. and I were eating breakfast together.
“I hate ultrasound days,” I said to Q. “I like them after the fact, but I hate the morning of an ultrasound.”
“It’s worth it to see the baby,” said Q.
“Yes,” I agreed. “And it should be wiggling around now.”
“MY baby is wiggling around now!” proclaimed E., patting his belly.
“How are you?” asked the tech.
“Anxious,” I said. “I always get anxious before an ultrasound.
She smiled. “Relax! Take a deep breath.”
We chatted. I commented that it must be a quiet day if she could call our numbers as soon as we’d finished signing our names. She told me that there were four of them working that morning. Some mornings there were only two. She didn’t always start at 7:00 on Thursdays. Normally it was 9:00, but today one doctor was leaving early and another one was away, so they needed more staff.
Then she put in the ultrasound wand.
And she didn’t say anything.
I remembered her from my pregnancy with E. I remembered that she never said anything until she was finished scanning. I learned one week that our baby was still alive from Q. because he gave me a nod when he saw the heartbeat. She always chooses rooms that don’t have the extra monitor, so I couldn’t see what she was seeing.
But she still didn’t say anything.
Then she paused and looked at my chart. She let a breath come out between her teeth.
And right then, I knew.
She scanned some more.
Looked at my chart again.
Scanned some more.
Her face had a practiced expression on it, one that said, “I’m not supposed to let any emotion show while I do this, but this is very hard for me right now.”
And then her shoulders dropped, and she sighed, and she touched my knee and said, “I’m so sorry, honey.”
And I burst into tears. Huge wracking sobs, right there, lying on the table, because she’d given voice to what I’d feared above anything else, but never really truly believed could happen.
Not at ten weeks.
Not after three perfect ultrasounds.
I sat up.
She gave me a hug. Found me some Kleenex. Told me to get dressed and she’d put me right in a room and find my doctor right away.
“You won’t have to sit back out there,” she promised.
I sat in a room.
My doctor burst in once, seemed very confused to see me, asked how I was, and then vanished again without waiting for an answer.
He obviously didn’t know yet.
When he came back in a little while later, he opened my chart.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I can’t understand how this has happened.”
I burst into tears again.
He gave me a hug.
He sat there, looking at my chart, repeating over and over again, “I can’t believe it. There was nothing to indicate a problem. Everything was so perfect. I don’t understand.”
I know he sees bad news every day of the week, but I really believe this completely caught him off guard, that he was as shocked and bewildered as I was.
He suggested a D&C. “I would like to do some genetic testing,” he said, “to try and get some answers. I think there must have been something terribly terribly wrong. It’s the only thing I can think of that would explain this.”
He didn’t know if we would get the tissue we needed. He said it had probably happened not long after I was last in there.
I can read my chart upside down now.
The previous entry said 8w2d.
That morning’s entry just said GS and then a line drawn through where the baby’s measurements ought to have been.
There wasn’t a baby anymore.
I’d been walking around thinking I was pregnant when I wasn’t. Not anymore.
He stepped out so I could call Q.
My doctor was leaving on vacation that afternoon. He could do my D&C that day, but if I wanted to wait a day, it would be one of the other doctors.
Friday would have been easier. E. would have been at nursery school. Q. could have been there with me.
But if it was over, I needed it to be over and done with right then and there.
I called Q.
I told him the baby had died.
Then we had to discuss logistics.
And then Q. had to go back to wrangling E.
I had a couple of hours before they would need me over in the IVF suite.
I tried using one of the computers at the clinic but it was so antiquated I could barely get it to load pages, let alone be able to actually compose anything. Everyone has a smartphone or a tablet now, I guess, and just uses the wi-fi, so the clinic is letting their public use computers die a natural death.
I had to call Q. again to get him to log in to my work account to send a message to cancel my class on Friday. Then I sent a very vague text to a dear friend who was in town for a few days and with whom we were supposed to have dinner that night (“I bought some beer,” said Q. on Wednesday when he got home. “I figured we could say we were out of wine, but we had some beer. He likes beer, and you don’t, so it wouldn’t be an issue that you’re not drinking.”)
Then I gave up on the computers and left.
I wandered around the streets for a while.
I proved that in a big, anonymous city, you can cry in public (true ugly crying, not just the odd polite sniffle) and no one will bother you.
I drank some apple juice since I was no longer allowed to eat anything.
I found a liquor store and bought a Valentine’s Day present for Q. I was supposed to do that after the intralipid. It was still going to be Valentine’s Day tomorrow, even if we weren’t going to feel like celebrating.
I bought a stamp set for E.
Anything to keep me from thinking.
I went back to the IVF suite.
I had to tell them why I was there.
“Did he put in a luminaria?” asked the nurse.
“He didn’t mention it. He just told me to come over here.”
“He has to do that first. Go on back over to the other side and then come back once you’ve seen him.”
My doctor is busy enough that it was entirely believable that he could have forgotten this.
I went back across to the other side.
My doctor was on the phone.
I told his secretary I needed to clarify something with him.
Someone else was trying to ask him something as well.
In the chaos, I don’t think he realized it was me. He told the secretary to pull my chart and he’d see me.
That meant they put my chart where all the charts go after cycle monitoring, when you’re waiting to see the doctor.
There was no chart ahead of mine.
But my doctor vanished.
He does that, sometimes.
That was the worst part.
It was the time of day when couples were arriving for their nuchal translucency scans.
You can always tell that’s what they’re there for.
You never see men in that clinic unless it’s a procedure day or there’s a baby to be seen on an ultrasound.
It was too late in the morning for those couples to be there for procedures.
One of the other doctors came by.
He always says hello to me. He always remembers my name because of my last name.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. His eyes were sad. “I’ve only just heard. I’m so sorry.”
I burst into tears in front of all the happy couples with their stupid healthy twelve week fetuses.
I fought the tears back down.
Eventually my doctor reappeared. This is about the time of day that they lose him nearly every day. Q. and I have a theory he wanders out of the building to get a coffee and have some peace and quiet, which is fair enough but it’s a big part of why he always runs so late for procedures.
He flipped open my chart, and then looked at me, surprised.
I think he started to ask if I had changed my mind.
“They told me to come back over here,” I said. “They said you had to do something…”
By this point I had forgotten the name of what it was he was supposed to do (this morning I looked it up. It’s a rod that they insert to help open the cervix).
“You don’t need it,” he said. “You had a vaginal birth last time. You’re ok. You tell them I said you’re ok.”
I went back over to the IVF suite.
“He says I don’t need it because I had a vaginal birth,” I told the nurse, still not knowing what ‘it’ was.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “He usually always does it.”
One of the other doctors, the one who did the transfer that brought us E., was on hold on the phone. She glanced up. “No, if she had a vaginal birth, she’s ok. She doesn’t need it.”
Finally, over an hour after I had returned to the clinic, I got a cubicle, and I had somewhere where I could sit where no one would look at me.
I’ve changed my mind.
This was the worst part.
There were women in there doing intralipids.
One of them was four days ahead of me.
They were chatting and laughing with the nurses.
They were talking about graduation day.
That should have been me.
“I was supposed to do an intralipid today,” I said to the nurse when she came to put in my IV.
Her eyes were sad. “I know. I called you yesterday to give you the time.”
“You’re going to do another ultrasound to make sure, right?”
I couldn’t stop asking them this. In my head I couldn’t shake the insane idea that maybe, somehow, the ultrasound tech had fixed on the other sac, the one that had always been empty, and had somehow managed to miss our perfectly healthy baby.
I can read my chart upside down, you see.
I couldn’t understand how there could be a baby in there one week but then nothing the next.
I didn’t do anything.
I tried not to think, not to feel.
Sometimes it worked.
I called Q. again and changed the time he was going to pick me up (my doctor was unsurprisingly running late).
Right after I called him, they came to get me.
“You’re going to do another ultrasound, right?” I asked this nurse too. “You’re going to make sure before you do anything, right?”
“Of course we will, honey,” she said. “We’re going to look after you. We’re not going to leave you.”
They all felt bad that I was there by myself.
I felt bad that I was there by myself.
I am certain it was ripping Q. into pieces.
I still didn’t want to believe it.
Not even when they walked me into the OR and I lay down.
I couldn’t believe that this could have happened and I could have had no warning.
My symptoms had eased off, but they had done exactly that at exactly the same time with E’s pregnancy. I could only assume that all was well.
All was well.
Until it wasn’t.
It was conscious sedation.
The same as what they do for egg retrievals.
The last thing I remember is the nurse asking me if I was getting sleepy and me telling her that the ceiling was spinning a little.
The next thing I remember after that is waking up in the chair and checking the time on my phone. I hadn’t even put it away before I could hear Q. and E.’s voices coming down the hall.
I’d been asleep for an hour.
Nothing particularly conscious about that sedation.
It’s probably better that way.
The nurses said they sent away some tissue for testing.
I guess we have to wait and see if they learn anything.
They weren’t sure how long it would take.
E. gave me a hug.
Q. gave me a kiss.
We staggered home, just the three of us.
That morning, at breakfast, we thought we were four.