The doctor pressed her fingertips beneath my navel then stood back.
“How far along did you say you are?” the doctor asked, a furrow of doubt creasing her brow as she glanced into a manila folder.
“12 weeks. I’m sure of it.” I responded with confidence.
I was sure because that spring I had seriously been shirking my “wifely duties,” and I don’t mean folding laundry. Preoccupied as I had been with my rambunctious 18 month old daughter and the final weeks of grad school, there had been just one single, solitary time in the spring where my husband and I had “known” each other in the Biblical sense of the word.
That one time had led us here, to the obstetrician and my second surprise pregnancy with this man – and yes, I did know how these things happen. Apparently he and I were that couple who could walk by one another in the kitchen and get knocked up though.
At first I was too busy to notice. A few weeks before, after finals were over and graduation attended, I started paying attention to my body again. With surprise, I noticed those telltale signs – blossoming bosoms, weird sensitivity to smells, psycho mood swings - that usually pointed to burgeoning pink or blue booties in my future. I grabbed a calendar. The fact that I hadn’t had my period in six weeks cemented the prognosis.
A little stick at the doctor’s office confirmed the news and we made an appointment to come back at 12 weeks for our first ultrasound, the one where we got to see the tiny bean and listen to the baby’s heartbeat racing through the air for the first time.
“Well, the baby is only measuring about 9 weeks right now," the doctor announced.
Now it was my turn to doubt. Surely she was wrong.
“Well, it’s been 12 weeks. Maybe this is just a petite baby!” I said, nervously trying to illicit a laugh. “Did you know my mom is here from Florida today for this?”
I didn’t want her to decide we weren’t going on with the ultrasound as planned.
After the initial shock of discovering we were expecting another unplanned baby, the fear quickly turned to joy. I’d always wanted two children, and I had wanted them to be born close together so they could be more connected as siblings than I had been with my brother. I was nearly seven when he was born and as a kid I’d always thought of him more like another pet than a sibling.
So, a new baby was a blessing, right? Hey, we were broke and shared one car, but we could live on love! A young family of four making their way in the tough ole’ world. It would be an adventure! (I was a lot more idealistic back in my 20’s.)
“Let’s get you in a gown and head down the hall then,” the doctor intoned brusquely, snapping the folder shut. I could tell something was bothering her, and that was bothering me, but she had walked out of the room.
Still excited, I bustled into the hallway where my family was waiting and grinned at my mother. My mom hadn’t been able to visit for any of the ultrasounds with my first child so as soon as we’d made this appointment I invited her up to Georgia for a visit. I knew she’d be thrilled to be in the room when we saw her next grandbaby for the first time, actually hearing the healthy gallop of the baby’s heartbeat filling the darkened room. It was such a joyous moment!
I kissed my husband and rubbed my daughter’s precious cheek before heading into the ultrasound room alone where I stood still in the cool, dim space for a moment breathing deeply. Why was the baby measuring small? This was really early to already be behind in the growth game.
Peeling off my jeans and shirt and slipping into the nubbly cotton of a well-worn hospital gown, I peered down at my belly with consternation. I wasn’t showing yet, but 12 weeks was still pretty early. I’d had the usual tiredness and some morning sickness but all in all it had been a pretty uneventful pregnancy so far. Was everything o.k. with this baby?
The doctor knocked discreetly and stepped into the room as I was situating myself on the table. My husband held my daughter so she could see her new sibling with the rest of us. Too little to really understand, she kept pointing at things in the room and asking “Baby? Baby?” as the doctor readied her instruments.
When the ultrasound tech came in the room, my doctor was standing at my feet, fiddling with dials. My mother on my right and husband on my left, chatting happily, I watched the tech squirt gel on the transducer and gently tug my gown aside.
The wand slid across my belly and gave me a chill. I listened expectantly.
With my daughter, the moment they laid the wand to my skin I could hear her, that tiny racehorse of a heartbeat pumping life through my growing baby, working hard to help her grow, to make her strong. It was the moment my pregnancy became real, that my child became real. It was the most promising sound I had ever heard.
Now, there was nothing. The ultrasound tech and my doctor locked eyes over my still body.
A look passed over my doctor’s face that sent fear through me so powerful my knees turned to jelly. Our eyes met. She knew that I knew that something was not right.
Determined, the ultrasound tech continued running the cool wand across my body as the quiet stretched out above me.
My mother and husband talked on, their chatter maddening to me, completely unaware of the drama unfolding inches beneath them. They were oblivious. Stop talking! How could they be so oblivious? I gritted my teeth. Couldn’t they just SHUT UP!
“Do you mind if we send your daughter outside with one of the nurses?” the doctor asked kindly. I nodded numbly and my husband passed my little girl to a nurse who quickly walked her out the door. She didn’t want my child to see her mother break down.
Time had slowed to a crawl. I looked at my family sadly and thought “They don’t know. They have no idea what is happening right now.”
I didn’t want them to know. I looked at my mother’s face, so hopeful, and at my husband, practically bouncing, moments from meeting his progeny, or so he thought.
'The news is going to crush them,' I thought. How could I be the cause of so much pain?
The clock ticked, the doctor played with dials and I took deep breaths, a small part of me still expecting the monitor to light up at any moment and confirm that the life within me was still viable. That my family’s hopes were still viable.
“Don’t panic, don’t panic. Keep it together for them.” My hopes were dimming but I knew that if I collapsed they would too. I had to be strong for them or it would be so much worse.
My doctor wiped the back of her hand across her forehead and turned, slowly snapping on the lamp beside her. That stilled my mother and husband and they looked up with surprise. The poor doctor. I wished desperately for her that she didn’t have to give us the news.
“I know, I already know,” I wanted to whisper to her, to help her with what she was about to say. It had to be so hard for her, nearly as hard as it would be to hear. I closed my eyes.
“Lisa, I’m so sorry. Your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
No silence had ever been more deafening.