The sense of dread that comes over me at the end of every cycle is suffocating, stifling. I don’t usually torture myself with taking home pregnancy tests (HPTs) early and squinting at ghost lines, hoping for the elusive proof positive that my body is producing the pregnancy hormone HCG. I wait for those rare occasions my period is late. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened before. Three pregnancies, no living children. And I’m pushing 40 years old at this point, and it’s very likely I’ll emerge from this 2.5 year battle with nothing to show for it. So yeah, it’s hard not to get discouraged.
My memories of my pregnancy with Molly are bittersweet. I was just so naive; it had never occurred to me that getting a positive pregnancy test (BFP, or big fat positive) did not mean that I would be bringing home a living baby approximately 36 weeks later. I was nervous, because I always am, but I was elated. I felt like carrying her made me special, blessed even. I got mixed reactions from my family when I told them at 12 weeks. My mom was nervous about my illness and expressed her reservations in no uncertain terms, and my dad was so proud and happy for me although it was very clear he was nervous talking about it–I think he was scared I’d just bust out and start talking about my cervix or something. My husband and I planned to move to a bigger apartment so that we would have another bedroom for baby. I was not prepared for my 12 week NT scan, in which baby would be screened for possible defects. We saw our baby swimming around inside me and I was elated. I had no idea the scan had gone bad.
They left us alone, the technician saying she needed to check with the doctor to make sure she had enough images. When she returned, she told told me a doctor was on her way from Tacoma to speak with us. And ever since that moment, my innocence has been shattered.
I learned new words. Cystic hygroma. Hydrops fetalis. Basically, my baby had a 10 mm fluid filled sac around most of her body, and fluid present in the abdominal and chest cavity that would restrict organ development. These are defects associated with chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome (trisomy 21) or Turner’s Syndrome. Unbelievably, they told me these problems may resolve on their own. This was false hope, and I think false hope is the cruelest thing ever.
It was ridiculous. I had already spent the last year making adjustments to my psychiatric medications so that I could have a healthy pregnancy. We had consulted with a genetic counselor even before I went off BCP, as I was also advanced maternal age (AMA). She had shown us pictures of chromosomes, talked about my risk factors due to my age (35 at the time) which seemed minimal. I had dozed off, thinking it would never apply to me.
I was supposed to have an amnio at 16 weeks. The scan showed the defects were worse, and that there were more of them. Our baby girl would never go to full term, or if she did, her lungs would not be developed enough for her to draw a single breath after childbirth. It was a fatal diagnosis. Wishing to spare her suffering, we opted to terminate at 18 weeks.
I can’t describe the depths of my grief. I had just begun to feel her moving inside me. I loved her more than I could ever express. They told me it was a fluke.
More than two years later and I have yet to find comfort. My attempts at conception have become robotic and habitual and I try not to think about it too much. Pregnancy terrifies me, but I can’t seem to stop trying. I want my innocence back. I want to see double lines on a pregnancy test and not immediately be overwhelmed with terror. I want a do-over. I want to stop expecting the worst.
So here I am and next month I turn 39. The only thought in my head is to keep going, even knowing that I will never feel again the way I felt when I got pregnant with Molly. And I mourn the loss of my innocence, the dismantling of my optimism that continued long past when they said I’d feel better…I mourn these things almost as hard as I mourn the loss of my daughter.
How did you get this way? Let me tell you…I have stories.