I wasn’t meant to get pregnant. In fact, my IUD was specifically designed to prevent it. It's not that the idea of a third child was completely off the table. (Far from it.) It's just not something my husband and I have been prepared to take on just yet. With a pair of 2- and 3-year-old girls running around, a recent out-of-state move, and fluctuating finances, we'd decided to hold off on adding another child to the mix.
I was told that the likelihood of conceiving with an IUD was 1 percent. With odds like these, I gave my doctor the green light, never thinking twice about contraception. Nearly one year later, the nausea begins. I soon find myself tired for no good reason and intermittently queasy. I check the calendar, relieved by the fact that my period isn’t due for another day or two. Even still, my faintly swollen breasts have me rattled, so I pick up a home pregnancy test just to be sure.
And there it is, the little pink line that changes everything.
Some might call this fate. Destiny, even. Conceiving a child in such a backward way sure screams of divine intervention. Call it what you will -– divinity, God’s will, dumb luck –- either way, it definitely feels like something is going on behind the cosmic curtain.
With the pregnancy test still wet, I feel the presence of this new life quickly take hold. It can’t be much bigger than a poppy seed, but its existence is palpable. Standing in my mother’s bathroom, I swallow the fact that it is part of me now. My knee-jerk thoughts run away with themselves, each one colliding into the next at lightning speed. The obvious concerns, like finances and childcare, are among the first to materialize. Do we need a bigger place? Can we afford a second car? Are we going to go totally broke?
Not knowing what else to do, I call the obstetrician who put the IUD in. I haven’t seen her since we left New York last year. After taking it all in, she asks what I’m sure is a routine question on her part: “Is this a desired pregnancy?”
For the first time since seeing the positive pregnancy test, my mind finally goes quiet. All my worries, all my doubts; they all seem laughably small in the face of such a question. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, I want this child.”
And the truth is that I do. I can’t make sense of it, but am stricken with the realization that I don't have to. All that matters is that we’re having a baby, and I am happy.
Since I only recently moved to Florida and haven’t found a family doctor yet, my obstetrician advises me to go to the ER immediately. Apparently IUD pregnancies can be rife with complications. A tubal pregnancy is a major concern, as is miscarriage. Before long, I am in the emergency room having an ultrasound. It’s far too early to detect anything, but my blood work confirms that I am indeed pregnant.
The doctors are afraid to remove the IUD, as this may trigger a miscarriage. They explain that leaving it in poses the same threat. This kind of pregnancy is very rare, they tell me, and I get the impression that they aren’t quite sure how to go forward. It is determined that I am in no immediate danger and should visit an OB’s office in a few days to reassess things.
That night, I take a shower before bed. The familiar comfort of the warm water is a welcome relief after all the stress of the day. I digest all that’s happened as my hand comes to rest on my abdomen. With eyes closed, I summon a prayer for my third child.
Three days later, my husband and I are in a new OB’s office. As she finishes reading the ER report, she pulls up a seat beside me and makes us aware of what we’ve gotten ourselves into. If it’s an ectopic pregnancy (meaning that the baby is growing in one of my fallopian tubes instead of my uterus), it will have to be terminated as it can be life-threatening. There’s also a chance that the IUD itself is compromising the baby’s development. All my husband and I can do is nod that we understand.
It’s then that she turns on the ultrasound machine and begins the exam. And there it is on the screen: a black, oval-shaped smudge amidst a sea of gray.
“There it is,” my doctor says, touching the monitor with her forefinger. “There’s your baby.” She smiles as she says this, which immediately untangles the knot in my stomach. She confirms that it’s not a tubal pregnancy and that the IUD is nowhere near the gestational sac. (At some point after having it implanted, the device had shifted significantly downward. Apparently I’m among the handful of women whose bodies reject an IUD.)
She removes it in one swift motion and turns off the machine. While taking her gloves off, she tells us with a laugh about how her younger sister was conceived after her father had had a vasectomy. “Like my sister, your little one must be very determined to be here,” she says.
My doctor is a warm, upbeat woman who looks no older than a college freshman. She’s also 18 weeks pregnant herself, which makes me feel like she gets it. After filling my arms with prenatal vitamins, she tells me that I’m due around Thanksgiving. She cautions that I’m still at a slightly higher risk for a miscarriage, but she doesn’t think it’s likely. If it does happen, it’ll likely be within the coming days.
She reaches for my hand, leans in and says, “I think you’re gonna be fine.”
Once we’re out of the danger zone, my family is giddy with the news. Gathered around my mother’s kitchen table, we all share in the excitement. My sister calls me “Fertile Myrtle.” Daddy shakes my husband’s hand, slapping his back, “attaboy” style. We go around the table, contemplating baby names and whether the new little one will be the boy we’ve been waiting for.
Knowing this will be my last pregnancy (three feels just right), I revel in every moment. At six weeks, I start taking weekly photos of my barely there bump. I swear off coffee, feta cheese, and processed foods. I am a slave to Pinterest, creating secret boards for baby-announcement ideas and nursery themes. My husband runs out to the supermarket at odd hours to buy me avocados, which I crave constantly.
Just like I did when pregnant with my girls, I talk to the baby daily, telling it how loved it is. I walk around in a dreamy pregnancy fog and talk of nothing but prenatal yoga and hypnobirthing.
It isn’t until I’m nine weeks along that I start bleeding.
I’m with the girls at my parents’ house when I feel it: an unmistakably warm rush. I nearly trip over the dog while running to the bathroom, and that’s when I see it -– bright red, violent streaks soaking the fabric between my legs. Hands shaking, eyes welling, I am frozen. Like a child, my first instinct is to cry out for my mother.
Her presence in the bathroom with me automatically makes me feel safe. But when I look at her face, my heart begins the process of breaking. Her eyes are soft and she looks hesitant. Taking me in her arms, she whispers that it’s all right. This pregnancy isn’t meant to be, the baby is going back to God now, and that it’s all OK.
Back at the hospital, the bleeding slows and eventually stops all together. In a dark room, I lay on my back as the ultrasound technician squints and stares at the glowing screen. Exactly what she’s looking for, I don’t know. In an attempt to make small talk, she asks if this is my first child. I tell her it’s not, but it’s likely my last.
A few hours later, the attending physician explains that the baby is measuring smaller than normal and that they can’t detect a heartbeat. It may just be too early to pick up cardiac activity, but she doesn’t seem hopeful. I am advised to visit my OB’s office in a few days to follow up.
The next night, I dream of the baby. She is a girl, and all I can say again and again is that she’s fine. Only, no one in my dream believes me. Not my mother, not my husband. It’s as if everyone around me knows that something is terribly wrong except for me.
Because dreams are often nonsensical, I then find myself walking down the aisle of our local supermarket. The place is empty except for us, my baby and me. I’m singing some variation of a lullaby and holding her close, shopping list in hand. I am standing in a dim, vacant aisle when suddenly my best friend is there with me, telling me she’s sorry. I look down at the bundle in my arms, but nothing is there. Just a tangle of cloth, empty of life.
More OB visits, more appointments. It’s been several days, but things look no better. Struggling to look me in the eye, a new doctor apologizes and tells me that the pregnancy is not viable. They don’t know why, these things just happen. The IUD may have played a role, but maybe not.
A procedure is recommended that will clear it all away. It will erase every trace of the pregnancy, cleaning out “the products of conception.” This description makes my stomach turn, so I opt for pills that will make it happen without surgery. On my way out, I stop at the reception desk for my prescription. A well-meaning nurse stops to congratulate me on my pregnancy, and it is then that I allow the tears to come.
Before taking the pills, I scour the Internet for natural miscarriage remedies. I visit my local health food store, stocking up on red raspberry leaf tea and vitamin C. I make elixirs meant to expel it all from my body naturally, which feels counterintuitive. Some part of me still holds on to the hope that the baby is OK. Maybe it’s still just too early to see the heartbeat. Maybe our little one just needs more time. My husband begins to look at me in a way he never has –- with concern, with a tone of voice that’s meant to bring me back to the realm of reason.
When none of the natural remedies work, I succumb to modern medicine and take the pills. Two days later, I am still not bleeding.
On an online message board, I find a post from a woman who believes her body isn’t letting go of a failed pregnancy because she’s emotionally holding onto it. She advises meditation to help let go and release any emotional blockages. I can’t help but feel a tinge of recognition in this stranger’s story.
That night in the shower, I turn the water as hot it as goes. I sit in the ceramic tub and allow the stream to run down my shoulders. I am intensely certain that my baby and I are in this thing together, bound to one another by the magic of maternal instinct. I whisper to her that I’m sorry, that I love her. Then I ask her to please wait for me on the other side.
This is what surrender feels like. When you stop opposing the trajectory of your life. When, instead, you go limp and let it carry you wherever it wants to go.
It isn’t long before the bleeding starts. I recognize the pain, which isn’t all that different from early labor. Aching back. Pressure moving down. Weak legs. I leave the girls with my mother and devote myself fully to the process.
Soon enough, it emerges. It slips out quickly: a gray, veiny mass that looks like a deflated balloon. It is oval-shaped, tough and rubbery in my open palm. A red speck of blood as small as a freckle sits on top. The opposite end is an open flap, which I do not touch. I can’t bring myself to see what’s beneath it. Not sure of what to do, I let it go. Its weight pulls it under the water quickly, and then it is gone.
Just like that, it disappears. Expelled and discarded as if it were nothing when, in fact, it was everything.
Five months have passed and I am still healing. Perhaps I always will be, but things have certainly gotten easier. I no longer think about it every day or count on my fingers how far along I’d be in the pregnancy had I not lost it. I am continually surprised by how resilient we are, by the heart’s capacity for healing.
I soon learned to laugh again. To quit dwelling on all that had happened, on all that never would. We live, we fight, we make up, we make love. We meet deadlines and make appointments. Life moves forward.
Even still, my mind sometimes drifts to the baby we never had. Then I remind myself that she’s been reabsorbed back into the stars, into the stuff of dreams and faith and heartache. Is she waiting for me? I’ll never know, but I’d like to believe she is.