Last Thursday, Mikhail and I went into San Francisco for a first-trimester screening test. It was an ultrasound that was to determine the risk of the baby having Downs syndrome, a fairly common genetic screening test for pregnant women. I was nearly 13 weeks, and by now it was pretty obvious that I was pregnant. If you knew me and hadn't seen me in a few weeks, you would probably guess. Strangers were commenting in the supermarket when I wore a tight-fitting top, or in the locker room at the Y when I went to swim laps.
For the past two months, I had been very sick. Morning-sickness, except for me it often lasted all day and was at its worst in the afternoon and evenings. I was also exhausted. I spent as much time as I could in bed, either sleeping or propped up on pillows reading and watching old episodes of Sex and the City. Household duties slipped; bills went unpaid. It was a rough first trimester, and very similar to my first trimester with Elan. In fact, I felt like the sickness was a little more manageable than it was with Elan, partly because I was strict with myself about eating every two to three hours whether I wanted to or not (generally not). It was a tough time. I tried to have a positive attitude, still get some exercise, and enjoy being with Elan. But most of all I just wanted to hibernate my way through it. Feeling like you have a never-ending case of the stomach flu for two months makes it difficult to enjoy life, and I felt like I was just gritting my teeth to get through it. I looked forward to life beyond week 12, when I thought the worst of my symptoms would probably start easing off and the bloom of pregnancy would be in full-force.
The upside of all this illness was, I thought, that the pregnancy seemed to be on track. At 9.5 weeks, I went to the midwife and she confirmed that thought. "You have almost no chance of miscarriage given how sick you've been," she said. And then she thought she heard the baby's heartbeat, very briefly, for a second in between my heartbeat pounding through the Doppler. I was reassured, though my anxiety before that was limited to the occasional "what if" moment that I believe every woman experiences in the tenuous time of the first trimester.
And so it was quite a shock when I laid down on the ultrasound table and the technician pressed down with the scope. "There's your bladder," she said. "Quite full." And then she moved the scope over. I looked at Mikhail and he looked at me. He mumbled something like "can't tell what we're looking at." I couldn't either, but I saw nothing that looked like a 13-week fetus. She needs to go lower, I thought. But then she started taking pictures, and I began to get the odd feeling of being outside my body. Watching this unbelievable thing happen to someone else.
"Here's what I'm seeing," she said, but my brain did not fully realize until she said the words "yolk sac." I don't know exactly what week the yolk sac is formed, but it's certainly nowhere near week 13. Further ultrasounds were done and the results confirmed by another doctor. My pregnancy had stopped progressing, and it was likely to have stopped many weeks ago.
Pregnancy math is a weird thing. At 13 weeks pregnant, I had actually been pregnant for 11 weeks. And I had known for 9 weeks. The first two weeks I had still felt pretty well. The last seven had been full of nausea, exhaustion, and a taste in my mouth like iron (a symptom which my mother remembers well from her two pregnancies and which I had with Elan as well).
The doctors at the ultrasound mentioned that the level of development they saw looked to be around 5-6 weeks. Meaning that it is possible that my pregnancy stopped developing right around the time that I began enduring two months of feeling miserable, misery made endurable only by the idea that it was leading to a baby.
Early miscarriages are incredibly common. The only thing that makes my situation unusual is the fact that I had been so sick, and had not had any cramping or spotting. It appeared that once my body went into pregnancy mode, the hormones were bound and determined to keep on trucking along, whether the development of an embryo was keeping pace or not.
Here is the odd thing: as I sit writing this post, several days after finding out, I still feel pregnant. I still look pregnant, with that trademark "torpedo" belly shape I had with Elan, my belly button already popped out. Every few hours I need to eat or else I get light-headed; I still have nausea coming and going (it has gotten better in the last week, which I attributed to reaching the end of the first trimester); I still have strong smell and food aversions; my breasts are swollen and tender. According to my hormones, I am pregnant. My mind knows what the blank space on the ultrasound screen means. My body does not.
I find myself in a most odd place, waiting for my body to catch up to what my mind already knows. And, though the grieving for lost expectations has begun, I know that until my body and mind are in agreement, I will not really be able to begin to process this experience. I am waiting for miscarriage, or for a D&C procedure scheduled on Wednesday, the first appointment I could get. Either way, it is not something to be looked forward to.
There are many worse things than early miscarriage. I know this, and I am grateful that nature took charge and made the decision that this combination was not meant to become a baby. But I am angry too. Why couldn't my body just have gotten the signal so many weeks ago and just stopped? I feel like my body has played a trick on me. Two months of illness... for what? Maybe someday I will be able to look at this experience through a lens of emotional and personal growth. But for now, here's what I have to say: it sucks.