The ultrasound wand rolls across my belly, as it has now for four babies. One has made it into the world and we are hopeful this one will, too. My husband sits beside me, our daughter in the stroller between us. We are all watching the large screen up on the wall as it reveals the baby inside. Heart is pulsing. Limbs are moving. He or she is 12 weeks along and we are here to take measurements of that heart rate and those moving limbs as well as the nuchal fold behind the neck.
I am still cycling through all six doctors at the practice, but I like this one. Before we even began he asked, “Tell me what some of your concerns are.” I appreciate the acknowledgement that pregnancy is a vulnerable state and that that remains true even here at the close of my first trimester. I now know too many women who have lost too many babies in too many different ways to believe otherwise. His inquiry also respects the magnitude of this appointment, which will or won’t reveal a major milestone of health. So I told him first and foremost about the heart, our hope that it is whole. It is still too early to see four chambers, but we do see a baby growing on track, a normal nuchal fold, shoulders and knees, spine and ears. In 2D, he suspects our daughter is getting a little sister and in 3D a little brother.
After the exam, Ryan heads to his office, and our daughter stays with me for the blood draw. It’s said that ten percent of the DNA circulating in the mother’s blood belongs to the baby. And that DNA will be analyzed for chromosomal abnormalities. It is remarkable where medicine has gone in just the last few years this testing has been available, and surely where it will go a few more years from now. This cutting edge of science sometimes feels like the next frontier of my grief. Will there a come a day like that Grey’s Anatomy scene where cardiac surgeon Dr. Christina Yang is shown a room full of human hearts, each contained in an individual glass box, all 3D-printed in a lab? Could one of those hearts have saved my son three years ago? A part of me will always wonder how long he would have had to hang on to reach that medical reality. Five years? Ten? Not the one year that might have been all we had. That year has come and gone three times now.
It takes two weeks for the blood work to come back, and for most of that time I keep it together. The day the results are expected I call the doctor’s office. The results are in, I’m told, but a doctor has yet to sign off, so I will have to wait for a call back that afternoon. Does that mean the results are poor and the doctor needs time to prepare me? But it’s been the full two weeks. No news has been good news, right? I teeter on this high rope of pregnancy after loss and go to lunch with my mom to distract myself. I eat nearly the entire appetizer pretzel with queso. My morning sickness has been incessant this time and grease brings its only mild reprieve. Already I seem to know this child and what it needs.
My anxiety, however, only feeds the worry on my mom’s face and when I see it mirrored back, I panic all the more. I eat faster. I text my loyal crew of loss moms, all of us having found the same counselor and then one another after late-term pregnancy losses. One, a neonatologist, assures me how normal it is to need a doctor’s approval before giving out results of any kind.
She hasn’t practiced medicine since her second stillbirth, but she has meditated and become a certified yoga instructor and now also a mother to a breathing daughter. We have all tried to help one another back to the present moment when one of us panics along the way. She writes, “I would breathe into the expectation of normal as that is your current state. You have no evidence to the contrary.”
So I do my best to until my phone lights up again. I run outside to take the call and there standing in the parking lot of the strip mall, the nurse can now tell me that the results are all within normal range. My eyes go wet and I wish that my husband could hear this, but I am also filled with the honor of being able to bear this good news.
“Do you want to know the gender?” the nurse asks.
“It is a girl,” she says, as if confirming what we somehow knew all along.
“It is?” My voice lilts from the relief of health and now the joy of knowing even more about who this new person is.
“So go buy everything in pink,” she says.
It’s the kind of innocent advice that might trigger me on another day, but on this one, I want to all but run across the parking lot to Carter’s and do just that. I remember that first feeling of excitement when I found out I was pregnant this time, as my daughter sat there on the bed with the mauve heart stone of courage.
“OK!” I say.
After I call Ryan and bear the good news, my mom and I pick out a “Big Sister” T-shirt and a “Little Sister” onesie, those optimistic words written in matching bright pink across a deep navy blue, and the “I” in each sister dotted with an all-important heart.
Right now they hang in the closet in the room meant to become her nursery. We will soon move leftover boxes out and new furniture in. We will hang art on the walls. I have already gone through all the clothing our daughter has outgrown and refolded it for her little sister. This process of becoming is how it all feels… a baby already a girl, already a daughter and a sister and a granddaughter, yet still on her way. As it is too soon to see her heart, it is too soon to meet her. The closet doors are closed, but so much hope shines right inside. And we have no evidence to the contrary.