September 2017

The ultrasound

by Haley Williams

 

Where there’s life there’s hope.

So he probes for longer than he needs to be sure. He says nothing, knowing how hard we’ve fought for this moment, but I feel the mood changing. I keep looking at the screen willing it to prove her existence. But the picture remains still and in my heart I know I’m alone. I feel myself pale and I wonder how I’ll peel myself off this table. Reluctantly he turns off the machine and starts talking about miscarriage. It’s then that his voice starts to sound very far away and I can’t look at his face anymore.

My mind becomes sluggish as if I’ve been given a sedative. I look out the window searching for a question. The sky’s a dusty haze that seeps into every part of me. I can’t shift it. I want to ask about a due date but remember I’m not really pregnant. When people talk in absolutes they say you can’t be ‘sort-of’ pregnant – you either are or you aren’t.

But here I am sitting in my doctors office and he’s telling me I’m sort of pregnant, but I’m not having a baby.

I reject the box of tissues he pushes towards me and wonder why I’m not crying. What’s wrong with me? After two years of infertility and several months of fertility treatments this was supposed to be the end of the nightmare, not the beginning. I’ve just hit rock bottom but my mind won’t tell my body – perhaps for fear of what it might do.

He asks if I have any questions. 

“Could you be wrong?” I say in a voice that’s barely a whisper.
“I’m sorry I don’t think so...” His reply sounds caring and considerate but feels like a slap in the face for all its certainty.

Now he’s tapping on his keyboard and talking about D&C, medication to terminate or waiting it out. “It’s up to you,” he says, as he hands me a second ultrasound request form. “You can get a second opinion but I’m sure they’ll just confirm what I already know.”

His body language seems to indicate it’s time for me to leave but I feel like there’s something I need to know. Something else I could ask to make this all go away.

I leave not knowing what I’m supposed to do. The last words that register are “not viable, I’m sorry”. The receptionist offers her condolences when just twenty minutes ago she was congratulatory. I try to avoid looking at the five pregnant women on my way out because I know it might be all it takes to break. I open the door too forcefully and stumble out, expecting the pain to be lurking there. But the tears don’t come.

The heat outside is suffocating, which finally wakes me up. I reach for my mobile because I can’t carry this weight by myself anymore. As soon as I hear his voice, so expectantly hopeful, the tears clear the disbelief to make way for grief. He says he’ll come home but I tell him no because I don’t want to talk about it. It will make it all too real and this hope for our baby will vanish completely.

The zombie returns a week later. It stays with me right up until I’m pushed into theatre and the lights go out. A D&C is the antithesis of assisted conception, or so I thought. My mind tells me I can’t hope for a baby, but my body disagrees with morning sickness continuing mercilessly.  I cry once when my husband leaves me in the day surgery lounge because in his face is all the misery I’m trying so hard to push away.

I tell myself I’m lucky I found out early, that I had medical intervention to save me the physical pain of miscarriage, that I haven't lost a full-term baby.

But my heart won’t listen.

So I look at my daughter, whose name means Gift, and my heart feels a bit lighter and the world a bit fairer, because she’s reason enough to hope and to feel blessed.

A blighted ovum accounts for almost half of all early miscarriages. Often called the silent miscarriage, diagnosis is usually by ultrasound and comes as a shock because of the full range of pregnancy symptoms experienced- including morning sickness - and normal blood results. This is because the placenta keeps growing, releasing pregnancy hormones, long after the baby stops developing.

As such, the first scan can result in shock, despair and feelings of hopelessness. This is often heightened if conception was difficult, IVF was required or miscarriage is recurrent. A hurtful secondary shock is a lack of empathy for the loss. Although most people are sympathetic, some feel a baby didn’t really exist and therefore grief is unnecessary. But nothing could be further from the truth. The blighted ovum, in the mind of the mother, was a baby whose presence she’d already felt.

 

© Haley Williams

“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.

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* Gloria Steinem