My 38th birthday last Monday was one of my favorite birthdays so far. Drew took the day off work and arranged for Jackson’s babysitter to watch him until mid-afternoon. We had breakfast at a coffee shop around the corner and then rode our bikes down to Brighton Beach before eating lunch at my favorite ramen place in the neighborhood. It had been years since the two of us went for a bike ride together. It reminded us of when we were dating and I still lived in Chicago and we’d ride through neighborhood streets and along the lake front when Drew would come to visit. It reminded us of when things were simpler (even if we did live long-distance) and we were just starting to dream about what our future together could be like.
After our bike ride and lunch, we had about an hour to kill before we needed to pick up Jackson. I suggested going for a walk. Over the weekend, the weather had changed from hot and muggy to cool and clear. Fall was in the air, change was in the air — we were excited about both these things.
“Let’s go for a walk and look for something for the baby,” I suggested. I’d suspected I was pregnant for a week or so, but it was only confirmed with a home test a couple days earlier. It was still early and we didn’t plan to do anything major, like tell Jackson or move to a bigger apartment (between you and me, though, I may have already picked out several pairs of maternity jeans to buy. Those things are like the second best part of being pregnant), but buying something small just to commemorate the day and the occasion seemed appropriate. How often in life do you turn 38 and find out you’re pregnant at the same time?
We’d only decided to start trying for another baby a few weeks earlier and, just like with Jackson, I got pregnant right away. I knew it wasn’t really fair — not when so many people try and try to get pregnant and can’t. But I also knew that there’s enough sadness and hardship in life that, when you have an opportunity to celebrate something good and be happy, you should embrace it and be grateful.
So Drew and I went for a walk, stopping in a couple gift shops before we found just the thing. It was a round baby rattle with a giraffe pattern and cute little giraffe head that matched the giraffe blankie Jackson has slept with every day since he was born.
“It’s perfect,” Drew said as we paid for it and I slipped it into my purse. I had an idea that maybe Jackson could give it to the baby in 8 months when it was born, a gift from its big brother. That would be in May. The month we met. The month my mom was born. Maybe they’d even share the same birthday. Maybe the baby would be born on Mother’s Day!
Unfortunately, three days later, on Thursday morning, I started spotting. I was worried, of course, but remembered that something similar happened early in my pregnancy with Jackson (and I also remembered my mom saying something similar happened when she was just a few weeks pregnant with me). The next morning when the bleeding hadn’t stopped though, I was really concerned. I called my doctor and she told me to come in right away. I picked up Jackson from his second day at preschool and asked my friend to watch him while I made the hour-long trek to my ob-gyn on the upper east side. Before I left, I took another pregnancy test just to see. I’d feel OK if it was still a strong positive. But it wasn’t. After all the positive tests I’d taken a week earlier (about six, altogether!), this one didn’t even have a faint line.
At the doctor’s office, I peed in a cup and had blood drawn and talked to a nurse about my symptoms.
“How much bleeding?” She asked.
“Not much,” I said. “It’s like the little bit of spotting you get before you start your period.”
“Any pain or cramps?” she asked. “No,” I said, feeling a bit more hopeful. Maybe the test I’d taken at home had been wrong. It was a different brand from the others — one of the cheaper store brands. Maybe that made a difference.
Then the doctor came in and did a vaginal ultrasound.
“Based on the day of your last period,” she said, “you’re about five weeks and a few days pregnant. I should be able to see something at this point,” she said, gesturing to the screen. “But I don’t see anything.” She continued moving the wand and pressing on my abdomen for what felt like an eternity but what was probably just a couple minutes. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing it to end. Oh, please, just end. She took the wand out and asked me to sit up.
“You’re definitely pregnant,” she said gingerly, “but based on your symptoms and what I can see, my gut is that you’re having an early miscarriage, or what we call a “chemical pregnancy.”
I already knew what a chemical pregnancy was. I knew that, this early on, there was a risk the pregnancy wouldn’t “stick.” I knew that a big percentage of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and most of those miscarriages happen in the first few weeks after conception, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. But I knew I’d been pregnant; even if I’d only known for sure for a few days, I still knew. I also knew that there was nothing I did wrong or could have done differently to prevent this outcome (and the outcome now is that I am no longer pregnant). I knew that this didn’t mean we couldn’t try again. I knew that this didn’t have to be the end. I knew that I was unbelievably lucky to conceive so quickly and easily and that there was no reason to think I wouldn’t get pregnant again very soon. I knew all of this, but it was still…so sad and disappointing.
This wasn’t the story I wanted to share with you, but it’s one I know many of you have been through and, sadly, many of you might go through yourselves one day. Everyone’s experience is different, of course, and there’s no right way or wrong way to process this kind of thing. I was really, really sad on Friday, mostly because I was grieving the idea of something (personally, I don’t believe life begins at conception exactly, though I appreciate that many people do), but by Saturday I felt much better and now, a few days later, I feel emotionally and physically fine. Writing this helped a lot — writing always helps me process my feelings, much more than talking them to death. It also helps that this didn’t come on the heels of many months of trying and waiting and hoping, or after many weeks of being pregnant. It happened so quickly (though long enough for my hormones to go a little crazy), that I’d barely even wrapped my head around being pregnant, so the loss doesn’t feel as big as it could. It helps that I know I still have time, I know I can get pregnant (and easily, if my history is any indication). And I have lots of hope that this isn’t the end of the story, but just a short chapter in it.
Regardless, I don’t need to wait for something new to celebrate and be happy about and embrace because, sometimes, the hardships and sadness in life are the best reminders of the good that already exists. And, deserved or not, there’s a hell of a lot of good in mine.