After previously giving you a small glimpse into the nuance of pregnancy-after-loss that is anxiety, I wanted to share with you a longer snippet: the account I wrote of my first ultrasound with Sweet Teen, many months ago now. But still fresh in my mind. This is a way to share with you some of the very real anxieties mixed with joys. To give you a more long-winded version of one short experience, in a long series of appointments, milestones, and months of pregnancy.
This happened when our baby boy was only seven weeks old. I’ve held babies that age in the palm of my hand before.
And I call this, First Look:
Mommy, where are you going? I heard you say Grandmama was coming over today. Why? My little-big boy asks. I breathe deep, and kind of chuckle to myself seeing my husband leave the room—I wonder if he is standing in the next room listening in, or if he is avoiding hearing the conversation, or if he even heard the question in the first place. To me, all of a sudden my ears are ringing and my palms are getting a little sweaty. Another sigh, and I step close to my son. I kiss him on the head and I smile at him. Do you remember the special camera that gets put on Mommy’s tummy when there is a baby inside? The one that lets us see into the secret places where God does some of His most amazing work? And we get to take little peeks at our babies? My son’s eyes get big and he says, I love that machine Mommy! I love getting to see our babies! Do you get to go see our baby today? I smile at him, Yes honey, we get to see our baby. But remember—this is the first time seeing this baby, so we technically don’t know what is going on inside Mommy. Remember how sometimes, in the past, I have come home from appointments to tell you that God said yes, and other times God has said no? Well, we don’t know what God is doing, so we just get to keep praying for life and hoping for big miracles. He smiles at me, hugs my tummy tight, reassures me that he will be praying all day, and reminds me that God is good when He says yes and He is also good when He says no.
The faith of a child. I understand Jesus calling us to become like children in our faith.
My son preaches to me with his words and his eyes.
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in Your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Hours drag. Nerves bubble up.
I drink a big bottle of Perrier—I am supposed to drink over thirty ounces of water anyway, so it might as well be the good fizzy stuff that settles my topsy-turvy tummy.
My mother arrives just as I have braided my hair, put on a cozy sweater, and put on makeup. I avoid mascara, but take a leap of faith and go ahead with eyeshadow and eyeliner anyway. If I end up bawling my eyes out, it won’t be too bad that way, but at least I feel prettier with some sparkle above my nervous eyes—and if I am going to be a nervous wreck, I might as well be a pretty one.
I kiss my three little children goodbye. I remind my oldest that he can be praying, and that I am proud of him for being such a brave boy, such a faithful big brother. I promise to call him, even though my mother says she doesn’t want me to call. Before I walk out the door, my boy kisses me—then he draws a cross on my forehead with his right thumb, a faithful seriousness across his face and an empathetic glint in his eye. I know that deep in his soul, he is praying for me—and praying for his littlest sibling’s life. I feel the blessing of God as his thumb traces the cross above my brow and remember Who is bearing my burdens for me—even right now, even in this moment, even as I take the next step in a terrifying and unpredictable journey.
The drive feels long. It’s nearly thirty miles to begin with, but it feels longer. We don’t talk much, my husband and I—our nerves are edgy and prickly, neither of us quite wanting to voice our deepest fears. I feel like I am driving to the guillotine. The other shoe is about to drop. I don’t want to let go of these hopes and joys and dreams that have been building up in me. But the veracity of reality is about to look me in the face… and my skin gets covered in goosebumps because ignorance can be bliss, and knowledge fearsome.
My husband parks the car in the familiar parking lot. The hospital. The place where I have faced both life and death repeatedly. It’s a wonderful place—a horrific place. We pray. It is a simple prayer that my husband speaks, honest and vulnerable—not doubting or hopeful—simply requesting our Father to be with us, and begging His mercy upon the life we have not yet looked at with our eyes but know His eyes are always there.
Getting out of the car and walking into the hospital is painful—partly because of memories that are dancing in my head and partly because my bladder is close to exploding. The irony of asking pregnant women to overload their bladders with thirty-two ounces of water in the hour prior to an ultrasound is almost insane. I wiggle slightly back and forth while I check in, and I ask the receptionist, I’m not supposed to use the bathroom, right? She smiles knowingly and shakes her head. Okay, I say with a sigh and a forced grin, just thought it was worth asking. I guess it might be my way of communicating to her that I was more than ready for my appointment, and would appreciate being seen in a timely manner.
We sit down in the waiting area. A couple other people are waiting, too, reading magazines, looking at their feet. Elevator music fills the area. I squirm and rock side to side in my chair, willing my bladder to stop throbbing. A mere three minutes later, I hear a young woman speak my name. I look up—she is almost angelic—the sonography intern, telling me they are ready, and will take me back early so that I can go potty as soon as possible. Oh! I want to hug her. Waiting another twenty minutes until my actual appointment time would have been miserable on so many fronts—just having those minutes of bladder pain and painful memories avoided is such a gift, such a grace, such an act of mercy.
She takes us to the same room we were in for our last ultrasound—eleven months ago—with a baby who did not wiggle, whose heart did not flutter—a room where my husband’s head sank into his hands near his chest, and I laid on the paper covered table feeling like the weight of thirty-five rainclouds suddenly laid upon my chest and I tried my uttermost to hold back the storms of tears.
Oh God, I silently close my eyelids for a moment and pray, redemption. Oh God, please! Redeem this room, I beg You!
Unbuttoning my jeans, I lay my head back. Since an intern is performing the scan, she gets started right away while her supervisor asks me all the preliminary questions from a nearby computer desk. Keep breathing. Keep answering questions. Don’t look at the screen. When was my last period? How many times have I been pregnant? How many live births? Do I have a history of miscarriage? Yes, clearly, I say with a small snark under my breath. At almost this exact moment, Steven squeezes my hand—I see the heartbeat! My head jerks to the left and cranes upward to see the screen he is scrutinizing. What?! I almost shriek, unbelieving. The sonography intern verbally agrees with him, and for a brief second I see that miraculous flutter. But now my eyes are full of tears and I can’t see anything.
Steven’s smile is ear to ear. He keeps squeezing my hand. I think he just kissed it. I realize the intern is moving on to scan my ovaries and other lady parts but promises to come back to show us more of our baby in a minute. I also realize the supervisor has continued asking me questions but I am not paying attention. Medications? Oh, umm, yes I definitely take medications. I can tell you what they all are if you want—she types quickly and logs my pills and my injections—she looks over at me and smiles with this understanding, compassionate smile—she gets that this is a big deal, a big moment, a big day, a big lifetime.
I focus on breathing. I keep reminding myself that things are okay, don’t burst into tears. Things get more quiet when the questions stop, except for the click, click, click of the ultrasound machine and the intern taking various measurements of things. My brain starts going backwards in time, and I remember other babies, other ultrasounds. I start getting scared again and whisper to Steven, I don’t want this one to be like Heritage—I’m afraid this will be like Heritage. She outgrew her sac, and I am so scared that such a thing might happen again. Steven keeps grinning at me and squeezing my hand though—not only more calm of spirit in general, but also having a much clearer and more direct view of the computer screen—he seems unfaltering, unwavering, solid. I cling to that. I repeat Psalm 46 to myself and sing a version of Joshua 1:9 under my breath that my dad taught me just this week.
Behold, I have said unto thee
Be strong and bold,
Neither fear nor dread.
For the Lord thy God is with thee,
whether so ever thou goest.
(William Tyndale translation, 1549)
Finally, we get to focus on seeing our baby. I am so thankful the sonographers call it our baby! No cold medical terms here, but warm familial words. They comfort us with their encouraging tones and phrases that reassure us things look okay. The sacs measure the right size, and we can easily see that precious little heart fluttering away! My bladder is so full that half the computer screen seems to be filled with a big black bubble—it’s even squishing the baby’s gestational sac to the point that it makes it hard to measure the baby’s size! They squish and squash things around, but finally realize that the only thing that will allow us to properly see our little baby is to let my bladder shrink a bit. Go to the bathroom, and try to go only partway, they say. I make a joke about needing to practice my Kegels anyway. I eagerly find the bathroom and do my best. While I wash my hands, I look at myself in the mirror—I can even tell that I look weary and petrified, almost old. I purse my lips, pinch my cheeks, tell myself to brighten up because the sun sure is shining today.
I return to the room and lie down again. The paper on the table is crunchy, and I giggle to myself thinking about how my kids would love to color on that stuff. They return to scanning my belly but quickly stop, laughing that I need to go back to the bathroom and try again—this time, she says, pee for a solid ten seconds before stopping, okay? Chuckling, I run back to the bathroom and decide to go for a full eleven. Why not.
It is such an indescribable relief to be chuckling in the middle of an ultrasound appointment!! Levity is not lost on me even at this moment when the world feels so heavy on my shoulders.
Back on the table again, with the warm gel squirted on my belly again, this time with the senior sonographer doing the work—there’s my baby. Oh bliss. No longer hidden and squished by my overfilled bladder, I can see those details I had basically convinced myself that I would never again see. Not quite big enough to look like a gummy bear with arms and legs moving around independently, but we are schooled enough in the world of first trimester ultrasounds that we can determine the crown to rump area, we can see the yolk sac, we can even see the umbilical cord connecting up to the placenta in my uterus. Measuring someone so small is no wee feat, but repeated measurements show that this tiny person is measuring exactly, precisely where it ought to, right down to the day. I have been everything but textbook with pregnancy in the past, so to walk the line of expected or average is a foreign thing to me, in any capacity.
Look at that heartbeat! It is the most miraculous movement in the world to my eyes. Flutter, flutter, flutter. Consistent and strong. Perfect. I am humbled. I breathe a deep sigh.
For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.
Pictures print off the ultrasound machine printer, and we are given black and white and grey blobs that are evidence of what the Lord is doing in secret, proof of life, confirmation of this crazy roller coaster we have been riding in recent weeks. I wipe the jelly off of my skin, button my jeans, say thank you repeatedly and emphatically—and thrust my things into Steven’s arms so I can hit the bathroom one last time for the full and final relief that only an empty bladder paired with a calm heart can give.
We walk out through the waiting room—holding hands & gripping ultrasound pictures with grins on our faces—like so many others who have innocently made that walk, climbed these steps, left this building. It feels unbelievably surreal to leave with hope renewed and joy strengthened—now that it’s over, I am willing to admit it—I expected to see death in my womb rather than life. To be surprised with the gift of life and hope leaves me speechless, but I have a dozen people waiting on pins and needs to hear the news.
As usual, I call my father first—I can hear the nerves in his voice, and I tell him quickly and plainly, everything looks good—and He praises God, he asks for details about his youngest grandchild, and he tells me repeatedly of his love for me.
Then I call my children. My mother answers the phone and I ask for my oldest son. Hi Mommy, we’re playing checkers! How’s the baby? Heart of my heart, I am so glad to hear your voice and so desperately thankful that I get to tell you that this time God said yes! Well sweetie, I have a picture here to bring you of our healthy little baby, who looks really good and everything is okay—and we get to thank God for this kindness! He says something about being glad and how he can’t wait to see me but he has to get back to his game of checkers.
I speak to my younger son—Hi Mommy, I miss you! Are you coming home? I smile to myself, not even actually sure which of my younger children it is for a moment—yes, sweetie, we will be home soon. And the baby is alive and healthy, so I will bring you a picture, okay?
I ask to talk to my mother, the one who didn’t want to be called. I figure they told me hormone numbers and lab results when I had specifically told them I didn’t want to know so it’s payback time—and I speak to her, telling her that her seventeenth grandchild is alive, healthy, perfect. I hear the relief in her voice, she almost doesn’t know what to say. Perhaps she is as surprised as I am that we have good news today.
That’s enough phone calls for now. There will be more phone calls and emails to compose later. For right now, though, I just want to be driven around by my husband, hold his hand, smile at one another surreptitiously, stare at these pictures of my little child—the one I will dream of and long for in ways that only I can—as I snuggle my Sweet Teen in my womb and head off for a celebratory lettuce-wrapped cheeseburger.
And so for this moment, suddenly and surprisingly, all feels right and beautiful with the world.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with You.
Thank you for entering this part of my world with me. Thank you for letting me share my perspective, as I lend you my lenses to see the world as I see it through my own experiences and frame. God is good. And there is more yet to come.