I couldn’t decide whether or not to put on mascara.
I had never worn makeup until I was 27 years old, and even then, it was very little and very seldom. On a cold February morning, we were getting ready to drive to my first ultrasound for my fifth pregnancy. This was a milestone for us since I hadn’t even made it to my first prenatal appointment with either of my two miscarriages. They happened so quickly and efficiently at home with no need for medical intervention. If I had made it this far with no signs of miscarriage, I was safe.
So what if the ultrasound is good? It’ll be good, right? What if I cried happy tears and mascara ran down my face? I wasn’t good at happy tears, especially when they were the expected reaction, so I felt safe wearing the mascara given that scenario. And then the gut feeling: what if we got bad news? What if– while lying on my back on an exam table with my legs sprawled and an ultrasound probe, well, probing my cervix– I got bad news.
I would definitely cry. I wouldn’t believe what the doctor was telling me– no, not me. Not my baby. Not like this. I would no doubt deny the doctor’s diagnosis and be angry for myself for getting that excited for an ultrasound at a gestational age that so often gives misleading results. I’d roll my eyes and plan for a followup where I’d see my perfect baby, and it would all be a thing of the past. A forgotten memory. But I would still cry.
In an act of faith, I wore the mascara. Now I know why there are small mirrors hung on the walls in those exam rooms. It’s to make your face presentable before bravely entering the too-long, too-populated hallway on your way out of your respective exam room.
I couldn’t shake that gut feeling.
My husband, of course, reassured me everything would be fine, but this was unlike the anxiousness I felt while waiting to get called back for my first prenatal ultrasound with each of my rainbow baby boys. Finally, the kind medical assistant called us back, introduced herself, set up the ultrasound machine, and told us the ultrasound technologist would be in momentarily. While I was waiting, I noticed the estimated gestational age as noted on the machine was 11w5d based on my LMP. That was wrong. I was still breastfeeding, and I knew by the date of my positive home pregnancy test and the negative test 4 days before that 11w5d was about 3-4 weeks off.
The ultrasound tech entered the room after a very short wait and barely finished introducing herself before I lightheartedly informed her, “The date of my last menstrual period is wrong, so no funny faces when the baby is measuring smaller than you expect!”
Still, she made the funny face. There was a TV screen across the room that was linked to the ultrasound machine. I could see what she was seeing. I don’t remember what she said about it, honestly. I just remember that when she said, “The doctor will be right in to speak with you,” I knew it wasn’t good. My prenatal appointment was meant to be with a midwife…
Now I know why it was portrayed in movies that people receiving bad news tuned out their doctors and missed what they said. The doctor introduced herself, but her name left my memory before she sat down. I don’t remember the words she used to explain what she saw on my ultrasound images. What I did hear told me that I didn’t need to know anything else she was saying anyway.
There was nothing that followed, “One in four women experience miscarriage; it’s very common,” that I didn’t already know from years on the online infertility forums and my own two experiences. Actually, I already knew those first two statements as well, and to that, I say this: FOUR in four people die. That doesn’t make it any less sad or even unexpected when it does happen. Also, the death of Sally’s mother did not in any way comfort or prepare me for the death of my mother. Would you tell someone whose mother just died, “Four in four mothers die; it’s very common” in an effort to comfort them? I hope not.
She hadn’t read my chart.
It was blatantly, frustratingly obvious by her clever opening line. I immediately tuned her out because if she didn’t even know my history, then nothing she said would apply to my future. I do remember, “Oh, so you’ve been in a pattern of miscarriage, baby, miscarriage, baby.” Was this an attempt at empathy? “A pattern.” Like the ones we learn in Kindergarten? Red, blue, red, blue, red. Or the ones we learn during the poetry unit of high school English class? A B A B A. Was this next baby the “red”? The “A”? I really don’t understand the purpose behind pointing out this oh-so-neat pattern, but it really rubbed me the wrong way.
Finally, she finished her soliloquy, suggested I come back in two weeks for a followup ultrasound, and offered to cancel my midwife appointment.
Cancel my pregnancy care.
On what basis? I was pregnant. My husband’s sperm met my egg, implanted into my uterus, and told my body to produce human chorionic gonadotropin and that itchy, hormonal hand rash I only get when I’m pregnant. I was pregnant, and I had already driven over an hour with my entire family to get there. I was going to receive CARE. I advocated for myself and fought to keep my midwife appointment.
Anthony and I were ushered into a new exam room to wait for the midwife, during which time I broke down. Thanks again to the medical staff for those small mirrors. “I’m so sorry. I don’t want you to have to go through this again. I don’t want the boys to have to go through this. I’m so sorry,” I cried into my husband’s shoulder. He had done his part.
After years of male factor infertility, we had achieved our very first natural pregnancy, and MY body was about to blow it. I had historically put too much weight on Anthony to support me emotionally through miscarriage, and maybe I was about to blow that again too. I didn’t want to go there again. I didn’t want to put my family through this.
I’m so glad I advocated for myself.
The midwife was incredibly compassionate and helpful. She listened to my history and validated my feelings. She answered my questions and constructed a plan of care for each possible outcome of this pregnancy. She was a caring mix of realistic and hopeful, encouraging me to continue taking my prenatals and baby aspirin until we knew anything for sure.
Fully informed, fully supported, and fully prepared (as much as possible in this situation), we left the hospital just as pregnant but slightly less expectant as when we had arrived. We had been here twice before, but not like this. It was a whole new type of two-week wait: a 16-day wait for a viability scan, or, if you asked the OB, an indefinite wait to miscarry at home for a third time…