45: Welcome Home

45: Welcome Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Welcome Home

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.

~Walt Whitman

“How long have you been trying?” asked the fertility doctor, peering over his glasses.

Answering simultaneously, my husband said “one year” and I said “five years.”

I looked at him. “Where’ve you been? Maybe we’ve got more than a fertility problem.”

While I’ve always had an “I think I can” attitude, struggling to get pregnant month after month, year after year, was building a case for “I think I can’t.” This doctor had a plan.

“There are some his and her things we can do,” he said, “but because you’re thirty-eight years old, we should get started right away.” I was labeled an “elderly primigravida.”

“Is that Latin for old and headed toward a really primo grave?” I asked. He handed my husband a cup and told me to see the nurse to schedule a laparoscopic procedure. I marveled at how unsexy talking about sex is.

We ran through a variety of tests and performed laparoscopy to roto-rooter my “elderly primigravida” fallopian tubes. The doctor decided casual sex wasn’t cutting it for us. We needed a well-synchronized, scientifically assisted meeting of the his and her components to make a baby. Spin the sperm, find the best swimmers, net them, inject them and send them in search of a hopefully salmonella-free egg. I was having a hard time shaking that “elderly” label.

Two weeks passed. I bought a home pregnancy test and went to bed knowing my life could be completely changed in the morning. I awoke and quietly padded to the bathroom where I unwrapped the test stick from the foil wrapper. Three minutes passed at glacial speed. When it was time, I took a deep breath, squinted my eyes closed, then opened them. Two vertical lines. Yes, it was unmistakable. I was pregnant. I ran to wake my husband. Elated, we immediately called his mother. There was no holding onto this secret. She knew how desperately we wanted a baby and she was our only parent out of four still living. After screams and tears of joy, I quickly dressed and set off to the hospital where I worked.

My pregnancy began easily and my only symptoms were I was hungry and tired. I never missed a meal, a day of work, or my prenatal yoga class. I loved visiting my OB/GYN to hear the comforting hoof-like thumping of my baby’s heartbeat, but because of my age, my doctor ordered an amniocentesis and ultrasound. I wasn’t nervous, just eager to see and learn more about my baby.

The ultrasound proceeded in the normal way. I heard a lot of tapping on a keyboard establishing markers and measurements. Then another person was called in. There was a lot of muttering and I strained to hear what they were saying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. They stammered and hesitated, carefully choosing their words.

“We have concerns about the baby’s kidneys and spine.” They recalculated my trimester. More tapping on the keyboard. Then they performed the amnio portion of the test, inserting a long needle into my belly to suction fluid to test for genetic deformities. I felt queasy. The baby was moving a lot, but they mentioned other concerns about his size. A boy, I’m having a boy. I took that in momentarily, but I couldn’t shake the troubled look on their faces.

“Take it easy for the rest of the day. We’ll call you with results.”

The next day I felt good enough to walk around. It was December and I wanted to get a jumpstart on holiday shopping, so I went to the mall. I was moving slower than usual and began cramping. I went to the restroom and saw spotting. I lay down and called my doctor.

“Rest till the cramps stop. Then go home and stay resting. This is not uncommon after an amnio.”

Panic welled up. I drove home and spent the next day in bed. The spotting thankfully subsided. On Monday, I went to work and answered the call from my doctor.

“I have some difficult news; are you sitting down?” I stopped breathing. I was ill before he even spoke the words.

“Your baby has a rare genetic defect. It has Trisomy 19. These babies don’t usually come to term and if they do they don’t live long, perhaps days or months. They have multiple life-threatening problems, including heart, lung, brain, and spinal defects. I am so sorry.”

When I finally breathed it was a gasp, a mournful heaving sob. How could I lose this baby that I’d grown to love so fiercely? How could this be fair? I drove home in a blur of tears and despair. A few days later we visited the doctor, who confirmed our loss. He prepared me for the procedure to remove my baby and sent me home, explaining everything would be finalized the next day. Late that evening I began cramping heavily and called the doctor. A female physician whom I’d never met was on call.

“It’s possible you’ll deliver into the toilet,” she said casually.

I wailed at the cruelty of her words, clutching my belly and determined to make it to the hospital.

After the hospital procedure, I returned home and headed straight for my bed. Normally a buoyant early morning riser, the light of day now hurt my eyes. Though I forced myself into simple activities, even going out for breakfast and to my husband’s holiday office party, I retreated as quickly as I could to my bed and isolation.

My husband encouraged me to move on, but try as I might, my body knew it had given birth. I reluctantly returned to work with constant reminders of my loss. My breasts leaked milk unexpectedly at meetings and random moments. The only thing born was grief.

As the months passed, I knew if I wanted new life to come inside me I had to clear the psychic space of darkness and uncertainty. I had to let go of what I didn’t have to get what I wanted. What soul would want to hang around for nine months in that environment?

I remembered my yoga teacher sharing a story about a woman who had had four miscarriages before giving birth to a healthy girl. She’d worked with a practitioner whose real name was Faith Hope. The irony wasn’t lost on me. “Faith” guided me through a series of visualizations enabling me to stop perceiving my body as a failure. My jokes about my elderly state, though funny, were masks. I really feared I wasn’t good enough. I connected with my baby, Max, and allowed him to go peacefully.

My words and thoughts were powerful. I now chose words supporting my wholeness and my ability to conceive. My lightness returned and my thinking shifted to the “welcome home” I was creating. I focused on life and embraced the doctor’s assistance without the story that I was broken. Six months later I was staring at two vertical lines.

“Welcome home, Zoe,” I said, gently stroking my belly. Certain she was a girl, I called her Zoe, the Greek word for life. “Enjoy your stay.”

Zoe was born six months before my fortieth birthday.

~Tsgoyna Tanzman

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