At the ten-week mark in my pregnancy, I was lying on the living room couch, still recovering from putting my toddler son to bed. Suddenly, I felt a bubble and then wetness. Running to the bathroom, I saw blood. My breath faltered and then emerged in gasps.
“Chris, Chris, Chris, help, help,” I called to my husband, unable to get out other any words. After locating a pad and washing my shaking hands, I staggered from the bathroom. Chris came out of the kitchen where he had been whipping cream for hot chocolate.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his forehead wrinkling.
“Blood. I’m bleeding,” I said, forcing the words out of my throat.
“How much?” he said, his words heavy.
“I don’t know. Some, I guess,” I stuttered. “
You should call the doctor,” he said, nodding to himself.
“Yes, yes, I will.” At least it was something I could do.
Punching the numbers on my phone, I called the doctor’s office and then the emergency hotline. The overly-calm receptionist said the doctor would call me back in 15 minutes or less. I sat on the couch again, my chest rising and falling with shallow breaths. Chris sat next to me, his arm around me.
We had lived through the “in sickness or in health” part of our vows even before dating. In fact, our friendship deepened into love in eleventh grade when his lungs collapsed and I visited him in the hospital. Our senior year, I drove him to urgent care for stitches when he sliced his thumb open with a knife. In college, a kidney infection interrupted our first camping trip with a visit to the emergency room.
But this time it wasn’t just about us.
This entire pregnancy had been one long wait. In my previous pregnancy, I found out at ten weeks that the embryo had stopped developing at seven weeks. There were no signs, no bleeding or cramping. It just was a baby-to-be and then it wasn’t. All of my and Chris’s dreams for a second child just were – and then they weren’t. So from the moment I found out about my third pregnancy, I felt like I was holding my breath. My husband and I didn’t tell anyone except our immediate family. I counted down the days until my ob-gyn appointments, each a milestone.
So far, everything had been normal. But the 11th week was the big one. If we could hear the heartbeat at 11 weeks, we were past the danger zone. And now it was 10 weeks and I was bleeding. Responding to my call, the doctor said if it was heavy for a few hours or there were clots, to go to the hospital the next morning. Otherwise, we could wait the two days until the doctor’s office reopened on Monday.
“How heavy is enough? It seems pretty heavy. And I think I saw a clot,” I said to Chris.
“If you want to go, we should go.”
“If it continues, we’ll go in the morning.” While I couldn’t hold on until Monday, it felt like waiting the few hours until the next morning didn’t matter.
Somehow, I knew the visit would confirm my fears; hearing the bad news seemed like just a formality. In the morning, my husband, two-year-old son, and I went to the ER. From the check-in desk, they put us in the pediatric ward, where they had both the room and patience to tolerate an energetic toddler. With the curtain to our little room closed, the only thing we could do was watch the clock and wonder when the doctor was going to come. My son and I read Maurice Sendak’s fanciful In The Night Kitchen, the single book we brought. He climbed up on the hospital bed, where we snuggled, sang songs, and I tried to keep him away from the big, red, call button. My husband chased him around the room and made funny faces. We turned on the TV and had our minds numbed by SpongeBob SquarePants and Teen Titans Go! I calmed my fears by focusing on my existing child’s bright blue eyes and ready smile. After more than two hours, there was space in the sonogram technician’s schedule. She was a woman a little older than me, probably in her late 30s, with brown hair like mine. When she talked to me, her voice was soothing, but her impatience arose the multiple times the radiologist called her away.
Whenever she was out of the room, I looked at the ceiling and whispered. “Father, take care of me. Father, take care of me. Father, take care of me.” Finally returning, she squirted the warm gel onto my belly and readied the external sonogram. “Your baby is still there and moving,” she declared, moving the paddle across my abdomen. “Oh, thank God,” I said. Looking at the sonogram screen, I saw a vaguely person-shaped blob waving what could be a hand, or perhaps a foot. “Thank you,” I told the technician.
Unfortunately, those words weren’t the end of our stay. I was stuck in the sono room for another 45 minutes, lying by myself in the dark. But I clutched my new knowledge—that I was still pregnant with a viable child-to-be—like a teddy bear. I finally made my way back to the room where my husband and son were waiting. “It’s okay, the baby is okay,” I told Chris, hugging him tight. “I’m so glad,” he said, his voice trembling.
Relieved that my son would still be a big brother, I hugged him. “I love you so much,” I said, nuzzling his hair. He squeezed me back. But there was still the matter of the bleeding. To lessen the chances of it restarting, I was assigned to bed rest until my follow-up appointment. While I was technically doing something preventative, I felt more helpless than ever. I couldn’t pick up or play with my son, do the dishes, go to church, attend a friend’s birthday party or go to work. My actions were limited to reading or writing, watching TV, snugging with my son or reading him books, getting up to eat or go to the bathroom, and sleeping. The couch was a comfy prison.
My appointment two days later brought no more bed rest, but its own set of restrictions. No biking. No walking or standing more a little at a time. No intercourse. No lifting heavy objects, including my son. No putting him in his crib, changing him without help, picking him up when he’s dawdling, pushing him on the swings at the park. No doing any of the things that could stave off the waves of anxiety that threatened to drown me. Instead of shelter, there were only the waves, the fears of losing another baby-to-be crashing against my mind.
I knew I couldn’t survive going through this process again. If my body failed me a second time, my son would stay an only child. But the days went by and the pregnancy continued on. After another, albeit less severe, bleeding incident, I was constantly looking backwards in time, wondering if I walked too far or didn’t sit enough. Constant worry that I did something wrong scratched at my brain. After two-and-half months of second-guessing, the doctor lifted my restrictions. But even now, every odd pain causes my mind to twitch in fear.
As I contemplate seven more weeks of waiting, I breathe deep, lie on the couch, and wonder how parenthood could both be so fulfilling and disempowering at the same time.
Shannon Brescher Shea has been a writer for as long as she can remember and a mother rather more recently. She and her husband are trying to raise their toddler to be as awesome as they believe he already is. When she’s not at her day job as a science communicator for the federal government, she writes about parenting and growing up in the process herself at We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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