The air tastes thick and hot, and the heat in my face prickles. The positive test wobbles in my grip and I break into a smile so wide it hurts my cheeks. Through the wall, I can hear the sound of kids playing. Roller skates in the living room. I won’t tell them yet. I know this is far from a sure thing. But for the moment, I allow myself to hope that this is a baby I will soon hold. That in nine months Andy and I will count to ten as a team, and meet her on my chest. That I will wipe away the birth mess from her hair, and bury my face in the ruffles of her neck. Then I catch sight of myself in the mirror. I am entirely too old for this.
They call this a “geriatric pregnancy.” While at age thirty-six I am considered only vaguely middle age, my eggs apparently spend their days eating tea cakes on floral couches. This one I like to imagine struggled down my fallopian tube on her zimmer, encountering on her journey a randy young buck who made her day.
The math this go-round is dodgy. While my chance of recurrent miscarriage is only about two percent, my overall risk hovers around thirty. That’s five to ten percent higher than my younger counterparts. The risk of complications is high. I am more likely to develop preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, to experience placenta previa, and to hemorrhage postpartum. It’s overwhelming, so, for now, I am choosing to focus only on surviving my next trip to the bathroom. Each visit is an investigation into the fortitude of this old uterus, a thorough examination of the evidence. And each night in the dark a sense of doom looms as I imagine myself awakening to the sticky mess that will indicate it has failed us.
We celebrate with friends and family. My friend jumps up from her lunch and squeezes me tight. “Oh my gosh!” she beams. “I am so happy for you!” I smile and squeeze her back, feeling like a liar. My doctor offers congratulations and then laughs when I tell her this. I puzzle at her optimism. I am finding it psychologically safer to expect disappointment.
The bloodwork looks decent. My HCG is doubling in adequate time, but my progesterone is right on the line, so I opt for supplementation. I then find myself dizzy and excessively fatigued and wonder if I might be bleeding to death internally. Google is unkind.
At my first appointment, I am asked to step on the scale. I look away and request that no one disclose the number. I tell myself it’s been a rough year. Then, with questionnaire complete, and blood pressure measured we are led into an exam room by an ultrasound tech.
Classical music from an overhead speaker has been carefully chosen to accompany the experience of either joy or loss. The warm October day that saw us here last I’d donned a batwing headband and a pair of smashing new keds, then cried while searching the screen for a tiny heart that wouldn’t beat. “I’m sorry.” the tech had offered. “There’s been no further growth.” My sister, who’d come for support, wiped away her own tears. I’d removed the headband.
That month there had been a skirmish between my body, hesitant to let go of it’s precious cargo, and my mind that had already made it’s peace. It all came to a head in an operating room where, feet in stirrups and choking on my own tears, the doctor’s voice had given way to dreams. I awoke empty, unprepared for the avalanche of depression and anxiety that was to come.
Today there is a flicker. One hundred five beats per minute. It’s little more than a wish, yet it’s enough for us to hang our hope on. Andy takes pictures and video wearing a silly grin, then kisses my cheek as I try to suppress tears. We emerge into the sunny day, glossy ultrasound picture pressed between the pages of a book. Andy grabs a sandwich at a nearby deli and I delight that the smell of it turns my stomach.
“It’s ham, turkey, pickles with a little stone ground mustard..”
“Well you don’t have to describe it!” I say, teasing.
I recline my seat and look out at the sky on the drive home. The euphoria is dizzying.
Since our initial visit, I have come to realize there is no single test that will bring me the peace I crave. Our miscarriage has shattered the illusion that a single reassuring ultrasound guarantees a positive outcome. Pregnancy is no longer a time of eager anticipation. Far from an opportunity to dress my adorable bump, it’s become a thing to traverse and perhaps survive. I cringe at the gender reveals arriving daily in my facebook feed. The whole spectacle seems frivolous and naive.
At eight weeks we confirm that the heartbeat has increased according to expectations. Then we stop at Whole Foods on the way home. I’m eager to share the news with the kids, so I’m sending Andy into the store for a celebratory cake.
He pauses before closing the door.
“What should I have them write on it? He asks.
I’m curled up in the front seat, eager to sneak in a car nap.
“Oh, you’ll come up with something.”
That night we present the kids with a chocolate cake festooned with pink sprinkles. In pretty cursive, it boasts “This is a Baby Cake.” I’m told this went over well with bakery staff. The little ones immediately begin to argue over whether it will be a girl or boy, and Huey wants to know if the baby can sleep in his bed. “He’ll sit next to me in the car!” says Cleo. Maeve pitches some ideas for baby names and the rest of us groan. “Gibbles!” offers Huey, and we all laugh. Despite fierce nausea and fatigue, I delight at their enthusiasm while I serve them up thick slices.
These days I’ve begun to allow joy to reside alongside the doubt and fear in my psyche. Remembering that in order to love this little creature, it will be necessary, once again, to open myself to inevitable pain. And I’ve surrendered. Despite my steeliest efforts, a piece of my heart now belongs to that persistent little flicker.