Hearing the news that I’m pregnant again is like having cotton candy for the first time. Rick walks through the kitchen door with balloons for me. “Let’s call everyone!”
“Shouldn’t we wait?” We’re still early in the pregnancy. I sit down, holding my stomach. “I don’t feel very good.”
“That’s so exciting!” Rick kisses me, then prances out the back door shouting, “Love you!”
I inhale his joy, drag myself out of the chair, and make my way down the hall to our bedroom. How ridiculous, the term “morning sickness” is. For me, it’s all-day and night sickness, coupled with sheer exhaustion. I sink into my bed like an anchor thrown overboard. I’m having another baby, a sibling for Sara.
* * *
Sitting on a lime green couch reading Parenting magazine, I wait for my first exam since becoming pregnant. My unwelcome friend, nausea, is finally gone; I feel like myself again.
“Angel?” the nurse calls.
I follow her into the exam room, undress, and put the two-by-two sheet over my lap. It is always so damn cold in here. I look at the ultrasound machine next to me. I’m at ten weeks and can’t wait to see the first picture of my baby, to hear that beautifully strong heartbeat.
Thirty-fiveish, blond and blue-eyed, Dr. Ruby Weiner struts into the room. I am reminded of one of my favorite Barbie dolls.
“So, let’s see. You’re about ten weeks.” Dr. Weiner flashes me a businesslike smile and takes out the Doppler heart monitor. “Let’s take a look.” The tips of her narrow fingers are cold as she rubs gel on my stomach. She places the monitor on my lower abdomen and searches in slow, concentric circles. She lifts the monitor, then tries another area.
“Is something wrong?” I ask.
“Not necessarily.” She makes no eye contact, just focuses on the Doppler monitor and my belly. She finally offers that cordial smile. “I’m going to do an internal ultrasound.”
I put my feet in the stirrups and watch her turn on the ultrasound machine. I imagine myself in a surreal, comic-strip world where everything is flat and two-dimensional. In this alternate universe, the room is a vibrant shade of pink and Doctor Barbie is a plastic doll, all boobs and hair. She delivers the news in cheerful smiles and rhymes:
“Well, I see the gestational sac,
But it’s empty . . .woe is me.
This may feel like quite a smack;
You’ll need to have a D and C.”
Wherever I go, I see pregnant women: at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, at the gym, at Sara’s preschool. They are everywhere. Following me and tormenting me. It’s a conspiracy. I’m the only woman in all of Boulder, in all of Colorado, who isn’t pregnant.
“I was fine three years ago. Why is it different now?” I ask the fertility doctor.
“You never know,” Dr. Schooner tells me. “After forty, fertility drops significantly.”
“So, it will be harder to get pregnant?”
“Look, you failed the Clomid challenge test. As you age, your eggs age. Your body is working much too hard to produce them. Your egg quality is no longer good. If you get pregnant, which is doubtful, you’ll miscarry.” Dr. Schooner says this like a CEO reporting my company’s financial prospects.
“Don’t I have any good eggs? Not even one?”
“Not even one.”
Rotten eggs. I have rotten eggs. I walk down 13th Street, pass the Boulderado Hotel, and turn the corner toward the Book Cafe. I wonder if people are looking at me, if they know about my eggs.
I argue with Dr. Schooner in my head: there is always a way. I’ll simply make it happen. I’ll be like I was when I was fifteen — a figure skater training for the Olympics. So I have bad eggs. It’s a terrible fall, but it’s time to get up, dust off the ice, and try again. I know about effort. I’m good at self-discipline. I can do this, I tell myself.
It’s the height of spring in Boulder; thousands of multi-colored tulips line the Pearl Street Mall in every imaginable shade of pink, yellow, orange, and red, a magnificent palette of color. I breathe in the crisp air and feel the warm Rocky Mountain sun. A pregnant woman walks by. I’m now part of that club, one of the millions of women battling infertility, another woman who desperately wants to have a baby. Maybe it’s a longed-for first child, or maybe it’s her second or third. For one reason or another, we’ve all been deceived by our bodies, betrayed by our empty wombs.
As I prepare for my double axel, a shiver runs through my body. For this moment, I’m alone in the center of the ice. Round and round I go. I fall and lift myself up, ready to try again. There is no such thing as failure. I can do it. I will do it. Rounding the corner, I begin my preparation. I turn and jump into the air, only to fall once more. I try again and again: spinning, turning, flying, and jumping. I am at home in the cold, dank grayness. Determined, I build up speed, step forward onto my left leg, with my arms and right leg back, spring up into the air, and pull my arms and legs in. Spinning like a top, I land with precision on a thin blade of metal balanced perfectly on the ice.
It’s been a year since the miscarriage. The blood tests show that, so far, this pregnancy is good.
“This little flicker is the heartbeat,” Doctor Madison says, pointing to the image on the ultrasound monitor. “Everything looks just perfect.”
I see it. A tiny light, flashing on the screen.
The doctor takes out her wheel. “With a heartbeat, there’s only a five percent chance of miscarriage. When was your last period?”
Bordering fifty, Dr. Madison has warm, compassionate eyes and long gray hair that fit with her long flowery skirt and Birkenstocks. She turns the wheel to find the magic date.
“You’re due date is September 21st.”
Tears tumble out of Rick’s eyes. Sitting next to me, he embraces me and breathes easily again. “I was really scared.”
“We did it,” I whisper.
“No love, you did it. You said you’d do it and you did.”
Doctor Madison leads us out of the examination room and into the lobby. “I’ll see you two in a couple of weeks. Congratulations.”
Outside, Rick gives me that look he had when we got married, when his cheekbones seemed permanently raised. Then he kisses me goodbye and jumps on his bike. I climb into my white Explorer, close the door, and put my hand on my belly, feeling the life inside of me.
Three weeks later, Sara stands in the backyard with the babysitter as Rick and I get into the car. “Bye, mama. Bye, daddy.”
I wave to Sara as Rick pulls out of the driveway. I am silent as we head toward the highway. Finally, I can’t hold it in any longer. “Sara says I don’t have a baby in my tummy.”
“She’s been talking about having a baby brother or sister. I told her, you never know what might happen.”
“And, she said — well, you don’t have a baby in your tummy now, Mama.”
Rick looks over at me and puts his reassuring hand on my leg. Then, with a flash of hesitation, says, “Oh honey. I’m sure everything is fine.”
Every time I close my eyes, I see the ultrasound picture. The fetus, floating hopelessly, heartbeat silenced. It’s been two weeks since my second miscarriage. I can’t stop crying.
I sit in the playroom on the floor with Sara. She hands me her baby doll.
“Pretend Baby Hannah is my baby sister and you’re our mommy,” she says.
“Oh, honey. No. Why don’t you do it?” Still raw pain sears through me. Why did this happen again? I did everything right. I didn’t drink coffee. I took my vitamins and herbs.
“No, mama. You hold her.” Sara places Baby Hannah in my arms across my chest. “You nurse her.”
I look up and see myself in the mirror. My face twists as I dam the river of tears. I sit next to my four-year-old, rocking Sara’s baby sister in my arms.
A plate of scrambled eggs with sun-dried tomatoes, feta and spinach sits before me, but I can’t eat. My saliva tastes metallic. People at neighboring tables share stories over coffee. It’s like any Saturday morning at the Tea House, and we look like a regular family enjoying brunch together.
Suddenly cramps rack my body. Perspiration jumps from my pores. I ask Rick to get the car. “I need to go home. Now. Please.” He leaves and I ask for the check. Sara draws a Crayola masterpiece on the napkin, oblivious to the panic simmering in me.
“Let’s go, sweetie,” I pry from my lips. My eyes betray me — faces lose clarity. I stand, pick up my daughter’s coat, and lose consciousness.
I wake up on the cold floor in the Tea House, surrounded by strangers looking down at me. I am flat on my back with Sara lying over me, screaming, “Mama!”
“I’m okay, honey,” I tell her.
Am I okay?
“You fainted,” Rick says, as the paramedic checks me. Cramps roar inside me. Miscarriage number three. The man takes my pulse and puts an oxygen mask over my mouth. I am going to vomit. I hear them say my pulse is 30, blood pressure — 70 over 40. That’s not good, is it?
I try to stay calm, taking long, slow breaths. I watch the double doors of the ambulance close. I think of Rick and of sweet Sara; she doesn’t understand what is happening.
The man pokes my arms, over and over, then my feet. What is he doing?
“I can’t get a vein,” he says after an unbearably long time. “I’m going into the carotid artery.”
“I’m gonna be okay, right?” I ask through the oxygen mask.
“That’s what I’m working on,” he replies stoically as he connects the IV to the stint in my neck.
I tell him, “I’m cold.”
It’s colder in the rink than usual. My breath dances from my lips as I pad my ankles with foam and lace my skates. First my left. Then my right. It’s quiet. Three other skaters are carving figure-eights into the crystal ice. I take my place on the ice and stand with my arms out, finding my bearings. Like a mathematician, I measure my block of ice. Like an artist, I prepare my canvas before sketching with my steel blades. Like a Buddhist monk, I calm my body and center my mind. At fifteen, I am a girl who has found my calling. Nothing will stop me. I will not be defeated.
Rick sits by my hospital bed, holding my hand. My blood pressure and heart rate are stable, but I’ll never be the same. Eventually I will get up, dust myself off, and walk on, step-by-step. At forty-two, I have realized that I am not always in control. I have learned to lose sometimes, to let go.
Sara walks into my hospital room and stands next to her father. “Mama!” she cries. “Mama okay?”
“Mama’s just perfect, my angel.” I look into the faces of my husband and child. I know the balance this takes — the cold edge of metal on ice, the precarious takeoff, the difficult landing, and the delicate, hard-earned dance that follows.