The day has come. Ultrasound day. The wait has been intolerable.
My mind revisits my childbearing journey – the joy of my first child’s birth, miscarriage, stillbirth.
My first daughter is an absolute joy. Everything I imagined my daughter would be – a bright, bubbling, chattering character. My little monkey. Like all mothers, the minute I laid eyes on her and held her tiny hand in mine, I was hooked. Her birth story is one of joy, laughter and overwhelming love.
I have held on to the joy of my first daughter’s birth with increasing desperation – the laughter, the smiling faces, and my absolute awe of her. I hung on to those happy memories during the fatiguing pregnancy with her sister. Pregnancy is not a lot of fun sometimes and I was ready for it to be over, but not like this.
Nothing could have prepared me to hear those words the day before her due date: “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
My pregnancy books, devoured through both pregnancies, offered nothing. They catered for the smiling, happy, in awe pregnancies. There was no chapter on stillbirth.
Sometimes I allow myself to revisit that all too brief time I held my second daughter in my arms. That painful place I generally visit alone, but the anonymity of the written word helps. She was beautiful. Very much like her sister. Perfect fingers, perfect toes, sleeping peacefully as if ready to wake at any moment.
Putting her down in her cot, walking away from her and leaving the hospital without her was an agony I cannot put into words.
As is often the case with stillbirth, every test known to man failed to find a reason for it. Another unexplained death at full term. “Stillbirth is such a mystery,” they told me. As a mother, how do you begin to understand that? To comprehend that it could be so. Women have been giving birth forever. How can the doctors not know?
Those two birth stories sit like counterweights in my mind – the joy of one contrasted with the devastation of the other. The great pendulum of my consciousness swings, sometimes wildly, from one to the other.
So here I find myself – five years, four pregnancies and a stillbirth after we said, “Let’s have another.” No baby, only a beautiful girl who should be a big sister, a solitary grave and the crippling fear that it could all go wrong again.
But the story of the creation of our family can’t end like that. There has to be a happy ending. My writer’s mind will not let the story end that way.
They say time heals all wounds. The scar over my heart has healed somewhat. What a terrible journey it has been, healing has been hard work. Life was never the same after my chattering girl came into the world. Life was forever changed again when her sister was stillborn.
I have clutched on to a faint hope that ultimately all will be well, all the while acutely aware that it could be false hope. Do I even dare to hope?
Yet on with another pregnancy we go.
I’ve been visiting an obstetrician. A smiling, softly spoken middle-aged woman. She tries hard to reassure. She needs to with this one. Eyes wide open this time. I feel as failed by the doctors as I do by my own body. How do I trust any doctor when I know how little they know?
She assures me she will get me through another pregnancy. She runs some tests. She has found something. A new obstacle non-existent when my second daughter died. A new hurdle to jump. We talk about nine months of daily injections in the stomach. It doesn’t seem real, but I find myself nodding it away with a, “Yes of course I can do that.” I wish I didn’t have to. It sounds scary. I bet there is no chapter on this in the pregnancy book either.
So on to ultrasound day – will there be a heartbeat or is it already over? The tension is palpable.
“How many children do you have?” the sonographer asks.
A question I am used to answering dishonestly for my own sake more than anything else – only I know what a loaded question it is. But this time the story is told. She nods. “Try to relax”.
Not possible, I can hardly breathe. I don’t dare to look at the ultrasound monitor. She turns the monitor to me, pushing me to look. “Everything looks fine. There’s a good strong heartbeat.” I nod, detached, clinical.
I return to my car on autopilot. Then the storm clouds, which have threatened all day, roll in – tears of relief and grief, burst through. I haven’t cried like that in months. It really hurts to let hope back in.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem