I keep feeling that others want my husband and I to have the “different pregnancy, different baby, different outcome” philosophy with this pregnancy. While I understand that mantra and try hold onto it, I have been here before. I truly believed that during my second pregnancy. I believed we would bring home a healthy baby in February 2018, and that is not how it turned out. Even with the answers we have gotten, two losses in a row make it much harder to believe it will be different this time.
This pregnancy is not separate from my first two pregnancies. They are all connected. The emotions of one pregnancy so deeply impact my experience of subsequent pregnancies.
This was so clear in my most recent doctor’s appointment. In my pregnancies after loss, I have hoped to feel relief after each appointment. During my second pregnancy, I felt relieved and hopeful after hearing a heartbeat. I would feel positive for about a week until the anxiety hit and I began to wait for reassurance at the next appointment.
So far this pregnancy, I have been okay between each appointment. I think the reality is that I have been avoiding thinking about the appointments until right before the visit. At my first two prenatal appointments, I was anxious, but I left feeling reassured that all was well for now. At my last appointment, though, I didn’t leave feeling the relief that I normally do.
In the waiting room I was feeling nervous, but the moment I heard the word “ultrasound,” I felt a panic rise inside me. The ultrasound tech then took us to the same room where Eric and I had learned that we had lost our first baby. This was the first time I had set foot in that room since November 2016, when I was still pregnant with Lentil, although he was already gone. There are only so many rooms, and it was bound to happen at some point. The memories of this room increased my panic. I quickly uttered what I have developed as my new routine during ultrasounds, telling the ultrasound tech that I have had two twenty-week losses and would appreciate if she would tell me as soon as she saw a heartbeat.
I stared at the ceiling until I received word from her that it was safe to look at the screen.
The ultrasound tech responded well to my anxiety, pointing out each part of the baby that she was taking pictures of. Listening to the baby’s heartbeat, as always, gave me some relief. Even so, the anxiety of the ultrasound and being in that room again stuck with me. My hands were still shaking 30 minutes later.
When the ultrasound was done, we moved to an exam room. I had already known that I would be meeting with our genetic counselor at this appointment as well. Given the rarity of the syndrome that I am a carrier for, the recency of the discovery of its connection to fetal issues, and the uniqueness of some of the specifics observed in Danny’s autopsy, the pathologist, genetic counselor, and MFMs had previously asked my permission to submit a case study about me to a medical journal. I understand the importance of research and sharing new discoveries. I value the science that got me to the place I am now in this pregnancy, and I am so grateful for the women whose genetic testing before me helped us get the answers that we received. I am hopeful that my case may help others as well.
At this appointment, I had asked if I could see the pictures from Danny’s autopsy that they wanted to submit to be published. My genetic counselor was clear with me that they would not publish anything that I was uncomfortable with. She explained what they were hoping to show with each picture. I knew before this meeting that I would likely approve these pictures, but I also knew that personally I needed to see exactly what I was approving of publishing. Eric and I have been very protective of the photos of our baby, as they are nearly all that we have of him. Publishing this study and including his pictures feels important. Eric feels prideful that Danny can have the potential to help others and that our pain and his existence can have meaning. For me, I know that the risk of my discomfort over having his pictures published is worth it if they help even one couple get an answer or avoid a subsequent loss.
As I left the appointment that day, I realized I didn’t feel the calm that normally comes over me after seeing the baby, hearing the heartbeat, and being told that everything is fine.
It is no wonder that I left this appointment with a mixture of sadness and anxiety. At the same appointment that I got confirmation that things are still progressing smoothly with my current pregnancy, I was reminded of the trauma of my first two pregnancies. In many ways I am feeling hopeful and have so much evidence to suggest that the outcome will be different this time. Despite the reassurance of the ultrasound, I walked back into a room that has traumatic memories associated with losing our first baby and then made decisions about publishing images of our second baby in a medical journal. These are reminders that pregnancy is not always safe and that it has not been safe for us.
While the evidence on the ultrasound and the experience of the doctors is telling me that I have reasons to believe this outcome will be different, these other aspects of my appointment were screaming, “Don’t let yourself feel safe! Don’t forget how awful it feels when it all gets taken away!” For these reasons I say that each of these pregnancies are connected. They do not exist in a vacuum. Each one feels more like a new chapter in the same book rather than a complete fresh start. While others may wish that we could wipe the slate clean and start anew, it is simply not the reality in which we live.