Baby Limbo

“Mmm, I love gin and tonics! They’re a great summer drink, so refreshing!"


Tighe and I were sitting at happy hour with a couple we had just met. They have a son going into kindergarten and we were matched as their buddy family. We were supposed to show them the ropes as kindergarten parents. We were debating whether to order food, and I had paused to comment on Liz’s **names changed** drink that had just arrived to the table. And I do love gin and tonics. They’re so light and snappy.


“But you’re drinking water.” So Alex had noticed. And it sounded like a question.


It’s true, I was. But I wasn’t sure how much information to tell them. I mean, I was supposed to be telling them about school supplies, carpool procedures, and playground rules, not about my reproductive…situation.


A few days before we were supposed to leave for our annual 4th of July trip back East, I took a pregnancy test.


“It’s positive!” I said, emerging from the bathroom after a few minutes of anxious puttering in the kitchen.


“Can we just agree,” Tighe was sprawled on an armchair watching golf, his hands were scratching his forehead, then forcefully digging his fingers through his hair, “that this is the last one?”


“Yes, of course. Four is plenty! I’ll have my tubes tied after this one.”


Easy peasy.


And of course, doing the math, it looked like the due date would be in… February.




It was perfect. Too perfect.


I’m not good with secrets, and this was one I was not going to try hard to keep. Soon, more people found out than I was able to keep track of. Nate told his swim teacher. He announced it to his karate class. He told a stranger at the airport. Why not?


Yes, it’s customary to wait until 12 weeks, until everything has been confirmed healthy by healthcare professionals, and having had a miscarriage once before, perhaps I should have known better.


That miscarriage, ten years ago now, felt like an obligatory right of passage into childbearing.  It was an unplanned pregnancy—Tighe and I were married at the time, but not ready to become parents yet. We still had so much growing up and bonding to do, so many mistakes to make, so much fun to have. So it was almost a relief when I started bleeding a few days after finding out I was pregnant. Still painful and bloody and scary, but the prospect of having a baby when we were so young and so broke was scarier. We hadn’t told anyone yet, so after two ER visits and a follow-up with my obstetrician, it was all over.


Fast-forward more than ten years and the news of my latest pregnancy just continued to spread. When we arrived in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Saylorsburg, we charged Nate and Sam with announcing it to our parents and siblings.


“Tess is going to be a big sister!” they shouted again and again, in unison, so many times that they almost started to lose their enthusiasm.


We hugged and high-fived and celebrated and told everyone to mark their calendars for mid-February. I happily passed by the beer cooler and munched on smoked ribs and cherry tart instead.


I repeated the same story with a joyful smirk again and again, “Tighe was about to get a vasectomy, but I said, ‘give it one more month’ and now I’m pregnant. I win!”


I was triumphant. Too triumphant.


And then, Monday morning, after we arrived back in Kansas City, I started to bleed. Not a lot of blood, but just enough to plummet my mood from exhausted euphoria to dreading trepidation.


Immediately my mind went elsewhere, I was no longer present. I went through the motions of getting everyone breakfast, forcing pleasantries with our cleaning lady as I scrambled to escape.


I called the doctor and she asked me to come in the next day. The bleeding had stopped, but they wanted to be careful.


Tighe met me at the doctor and together we sat in the darkened ultrasound room. The ultrasound tech was quiet. Too quiet.  There was no friendly banter, no cheerful “There’s baby!”


I was uncomfortable. And nervous. I had been nervous all morning, but I wasn’t sure why.


After a few minutes of silence, she spoke. She explained that she was seeing a gestational sac, but it didn’t seem to contain a baby.


“I’m going to have to have you go pee so I can see a little bit better, and then we’ll try again.”


Every time. Every time, they tell me to make sure I come with a full bladder so that they can see my uterus better, and every time I overdo it to the point that all they can see is my very full bladder.


When I came back into the room, she told me she’d try a transvaginal ultrasound, which is just what it sounds like.

“It’ll feel like a tampon,” she explained.


It didn’t feel like a tampon. It felt like a cold, angry probe full of bad news.


“Still nothing.” The ultrasound tech was quickly becoming my new worst enemy.


A few minutes later, we were sitting with the doctor. Tighe never stays for the doctor part. Usually, he’s content to see the baby and hear the heartbeat and he darts back to work so we can pay for all the heartbeats. And the health insurance. But today he stayed. He wanted answers, too.


The doctor explained that a gestational sac usually results from a chromosomal abnormality. For some reason, the sac forms but doesn’t follow through with a baby. It’s considered a “failed pregnancy.”


“There’s a chance,” she went on, “that you’re just earlier in the baby’s gestation than we thought. Your cycle shows you should be about 7 weeks, but the sac is measuring smaller than that. Still, though, at 19 millimeters, we can usually see a baby and find a heartbeat. Do you have any questions?”


Well, of course I did. But I was having trouble articulating them. Originally my only question was whether it’d be safe to visit my parents in Florida around Christmastime or whether Zika is projected to be a threat again.


Suddenly, I had all kinds of questions, but the words weren’t rising to my brain, let alone my lips.


She told me to come back in a few weeks and we can look again. By that time, it should be impossible not to see a baby. If there is one.


“In the meantime, act like you’re pregnant. Keep taking your prenatal vitamins and don’t go binge drinking. If you start bleeding and cramping, odds are you’re miscarrying…”


She went on about how to keep track of blood loss and symptoms related to excessive blood loss.


Our limbo began. I went home and watched Wimbledon. At least, I think I was watching Wimbledon. I definitely remember a ball of some sort moving across the screen. Could have been the World Cup. My brain was racing to other places, I was not present.


I was Googling “empty gestational sac” and hopping down every internet rabbit hole I came across.


For three days, I poured over message boards and Web MD and all kinds of other reputable and not so reputable sites. I concluded that, based on the science, the numbers, the statistics, I am likely having a miscarriage.


My heart sank.


But then, I found just enough anecdotal evidence to give me hope—women who went back for a second ultrasound and discovered a healthy baby and a strong heartbeat. Not a lot, but a few.


“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”


For about ten days, I experienced the worst first trimester nausea I’ve ever had. Every food was repulsive to me. Tighe’s brother, Patrick, ate a nectarine too close to me one morning, and I had to restrain my left arm so I wouldn’t punch him in the face.


And I love Patrick. Aside from this one terrible produce decision, I’d never want to hurt him. Unless maybe we were playing golf. I suspect he’s better than I am.


I had bought all the ingredients for a paleo-friendly, gluten-free potato salad, and then suddenly just the sight of those raw potatoes made me want to hurl.


Someone mentioned ordering pizza one night and I had to leave the room.


I have four zucchinis sitting on the kitchen counter next to the bananas that are somehow going to have to magically morph themselves into chocolate chip zucchini bread because I’m not doing it. The thought of chopping that zucchini is…ugh. Feel free to come grab them if you find yourself in our neighborhood.


Instead I’ve been eating scrambled eggs and cold mango slices and watermelon and Greek salads from Panera and very bland pork chops. Tighe keeps requesting wings, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.


In recent days, the nausea has eased, though I still feel it in the morning and evening. We went for ice cream last night and every bite was torture.


I know that a miscarriage isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it sure seems like it at the time. It’s not cancer. It’s not a sudden fatal car crash. I’m not losing a newborn or an older child that I’ve bonded with.


With my other three full-term pregnancies, there were issues, too. With Nate, I failed my first glucose test. So I had to re-test. Which felt like the worst thing in the world.


With Sam, I had a UTI at 24 weeks, which I interpreted as pre-term labor. Terrifying!


With Tess, her 20-week ultrasound showed big feet and a marker that sometimes corresponds with Down’s Syndrome, but they ruled that out in a few agonizing days. Then, at about 36 weeks, I had low amniotic fluids. Which meant I had to chug Gatorade all day long.


Meanwhile, I still have twelve days until I go back to the doctor. So our limbo continues. I keep trying to plan and prepare, but we’re still left with so many questions.


Will I start bleeding and cramping tomorrow when I’m helping with Vacation Bible School?

Or will it happen at the party we’re supposed to go to Saturday night?


Or at tennis lessons on Monday morning?


Will the pain be worse this time?


Will I need to call Tighe to come home from work?


Each passing day that I don’t bleed gives me hope that yes, maybe this is a healthy pregnancy and there’s a little Miracle Baby in there.


Which means that I’ll head to my ultrasound on the 31st full of anxious nerves.


If they find Miracle Baby, I’ll hug the ultrasound tech! And kiss her! On the lips! And then I’ll dance down the hall to meet with my doctor, pausing at the scale, of course, for the required weigh-in—a number I won’t even care about! I’ll probably name the baby after my doctor and she’ll end up being a doctor, too! Or some sort of altruistic miracle worker who also happens to make boatloads of money and she’ll build us an in-law suite above her garage. And Tighe and I will grow old in that in-law suite, holding hands and sipping coffee—we don’t even drink coffee—in our rocking chairs on the balcony. A balcony that overlooks the garden where we’ll watch our grandchildren grow up!


Or maybe… maybe they won’t find that Miracle Baby on that next ultrasound. Because she never existed. Which means what? That we’re grieving the idea of a baby? I’m confused.


But I need to prepare for that too. I’ll have to come home and explain it all to Nate and Sam, who may or may not look up from their cartoons when I speak. And then Tighe and I will have to decide all over again whether we’re done having kids or should we try for one more? Should we just be grateful for the three very healthy children we have and get a puppy? Or do we push our luck?


Feel free to weigh in. And grab those zucchini if you want them. Until then, we’re in limbo. Prayers, please!