The voice at the other end of the line carefully spelled out the ultrasound findings while my shaky hand wrote each letter. E-c-h-o-g-e-n-i-c f-o-c-i. A Google search sent me spiraling out of control inside my head.
That call like all calls of this kind is the match strike. The flame dances wildly on the black tip and if it’s not snuffed out, begins to crawl closer to the raw, vulnerable skin at the other end.
At 23 weeks I saw my girl’s face again. She looked just like her sister even then. She kicked and rolled and refused to cooperate with the technician. I smiled and laughed a nervous laugh while I prayed in the dark room.
I loved her already. I had already loved her for 23 weeks even though her very being was a surprise. I loved her. I felt desperate for her, for everyone, to know that.
“I know you want me to say we didn’t see anything. I know you want me to say that whatever they thought they saw is gone now. I can’t say that.” The doctor was matter of fact. Plain.
The flame drew nearer now and got stronger. I felt its heat on my fingers.
The maternal fetal medicine doctor led with worst case scenarios
“Have you been sick?”
“Do you have cats?”
“Is there any family history of chromosomal abnormalities?”
“Why did you miscarry in the past?”
I don’t know.
“How many times?”
My heart and my guts ached.
I wiped my cheeks but couldn’t keep up with the tears that came hard and fast. Suddenly, it felt like someone had syphoned the air from the room. I couldn’t breathe.
The doctor delivered her words in a tone teachers use with elementary students. I saw my husband sitting next to me, but I couldn’t feel his hand on my back. The doctor’s foot bounced. Maybe that’s what it does when she’s nervous, I thought. Her eyebrows arched in a way that said, “I wish I had better news.”
“We’ll just keep watching her. In the meantime let’s get as much information as we can.”
I refused an amnio. I refused it four times. Knowledge without power. Nothing would change.
I conceded to noninvasive tests and reluctantly extended my arm. I don’t usually look when I give blood, but I did this time. I watched the syrupy red color the tube, and I wondered what story it would tell. I wondered who would deliver the news. Would the doctor’s foot bounce? Would her eyebrows be her tell?
I sat in my driveway after the appointment and let the world move around me. Inside the house, my three littles chased each other, finished homework, searched the pantry for snacks. I stared out the window through my tears. The leaves on the trees were beginning to change. A few had already fallen. We’d be raking soon.
I thought of her face. I pressed my hand against her kicks. My chest heaved. I forced myself not to get hysterical.
In the days, weeks, months that followed, prayer became my breath.
I tried to remember a time when I loved ultrasounds. I couldn’t harness the thrill and anticipation. Now, every picture was another match strike threatening to ignite the life I knew, the life we all knew.
Had I been grateful enough? Did I savor who we were? No. Could I be the Mommy everyone needed me to be? …
My belly grew, and I waited. Time marched on. Everyone around me moved to the rhythm of their lives just as they always had. The leaves fell.
Genetic tests came back. Low risk.
Infection screenings came back. All negative.
I cried again.
Crying was easy. The tears were always there, waiting just behind my lids. This time, though, I let some unfamiliar relief settle into the cracks of my foundation. A calm descended until the next ultrasound when there would be something else or more of the same.
On December 23, high blood pressure sent me to Labor and Delivery. Preeclampsia kept me there. Somehow the calm that sustained me between appointments returned–divine intervention, magic.
And then she came. In two pushes, she came, the girl I had seen in the pictures came in a rush that snuffed out the flames that burned for five months. She rested on my chest–a picture of perfection.
The best case scenario.
And for the first time in five months, I exhaled.