1: Miracle at the Oscars

1: Miracle at the Oscars

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Miracle at the Oscars

Pregnancy is a process that invites you to surrender to the unseen force behind all life.

~Judy Ford

I sat in the limo next to my husband, Sebastian, nervously adjusting my navy blue sequined gown and staring out the tinted window. Hollywood Boulevard looked like a slow-moving river of limousines. Spectators pushed against the chain-link fences at the sidewalk edge. Some screamed for us to roll down the windows. Others held signs that said, “God hates you.” The crowds thickened as we neared the Kodak Theatre. Finally, the limo stopped, and the doors opened. “This is it,” Sebastian whispered. “We’re at the Oscars.”

It was the final event of a long awards season for Sebastian’s first documentary film, but for us it was the beginning of a season of miracles.

Walking down the red carpet was a miracle in itself. I grew up in Bulgaria under communist rule, five of us in a one-bedroom apartment that had no hot water or central heating. I was eighteen when, after the fall of communism, I watched my first Oscars. And here I was now, nearly twenty years later, walking into the Kodak Theatre, my family in Bulgaria gathered in front of the television hoping to catch a glimpse of me among the stars at the Academy Awards ceremony.

I remember when Sebastian, an author and war journalist, first told me that he wanted to bring a camera on his next trip to Afghanistan. He was going to make a documentary about the American soldiers in one of the remote outposts there. Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed international photojournalist, joined him a few months later. Their film, Restrepo, won the Grand Jury Prize for a documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and was now nominated for an Academy Award. The four of us — Tim, his girlfriend Idil, Sebastian, and I — flew out to Los Angeles for a week of parties and events that culminated with Oscars night.

The trip to Los Angeles was a much-needed distraction from our six-year battle with infertility. We had done countless intrauterine inseminations and six in-vitro cycles before finally resorting to using donor eggs. But that failed, too, just two months prior to the Oscars. It had been our last hope.

Restrepo didn’t win an Oscar, but we returned to New York with a far greater prize than the gold statuette of a bald man. A home pregnancy test two weeks later confirmed the miracle. After all of the treatments and invasive procedures, we had gotten pregnant naturally.

Miscarriages are common in the first trimester, and with our history, we didn’t want to get too excited. But as the weeks went by and the pregnancy progressed normally, I allowed myself to believe that perhaps it was finally happening for us. At seven weeks, we cried as we heard the baby’s heartbeat at our reproductive endocrinologist’s office. Everything looked good, and he released us into the care of an obstetrician. We sighed with relief. We even began indulging in speculation about the gender of the baby. If it were a boy, we joked, we would have to name him Oscar.

The Academy Awards ceremony was the final event of a three-year project that had begun with Sebastian and Tim embedding with the American soldiers in a remote outpost in Afghanistan. While we were in Los Angeles, going from one awards party to another, the Arab Spring was in full swing. Sebastian and Tim felt restless. Before we had even returned to New York, they’d begun formulating their plan to cover the civil war in Libya. As the time neared, I felt the familiar tug before Sebastian went to a war zone. But something was different this time. I was pregnant, and all I could think about was the life growing inside me. I felt so protective of it that I couldn’t possibly excite myself by putting up a fight, arguing that going to Libya was dangerous.

I didn’t have to. Sebastian decided to stay with me. He didn’t want to take chances either and jeopardize the prospect of finally becoming parents. We’d waited for a baby for so long and would do anything to protect it.

We were excited to go to our first appointment with the obstetrician. Finally, we had joined all other pregnant couples. “Now is the moment of truth,” the doctor said as he inserted the magic wand that would project a black-and-white image of the uterus onto the screen. Sebastian held my hand as we both looked expectantly at the ultrasound machine. The doctor kept adjusting the wand, trying different angles. “I’m not seeing the heartbeat,” he said finally.

I stared at the screen. Sebastian was crushing my hand in his. I kept staring at the little, dark blob that was to be our baby, as if by sheer will I could wake it up, and we’d suddenly see the flicker of a heartbeat. But the image remained brutally still.

It was the first sunny, warm day of the year. Sebastian and I walked silently from York Avenue to Central Park where we sat on a bench, gutted with grief. Around us, children ran, birds sang, and the forsythia bushes bloomed bright yellow. The heartless excitement of spring was around us.

A week after our visit to the obstetrician, I had a D&C procedure to remove the dead fetus. Back from the hospital, I crashed on the couch, looking forward to a long, dreamless sleep after the anesthesia. The phone rang. Sebastian answered it, listened for a moment, and hid his face in his hands.

Tim had been killed in Libya.

The days and weeks that followed were a blur. At Tim’s funeral, I cried inconsolably. Together with Tim, I was burying — if not a child — the promise of one. Tim’s girlfriend Idil sat in front of me. As I noted her heaving shoulders, pangs of guilt pushed through the mountain of grief inside me. Guilt that I was sitting next to my man, my hand sweating inside his, while Idil sat alone at the edge of the church pew.

I couldn’t know for sure, but had Sebastian gone to Libya with Tim, he would have been on the same street, in the blast radius of the same mortar that had killed Tim and another photojournalist, Chris Hondros.

What if I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I had?

Eight weeks after the miscarriage, the doctor called me with the results of the genetic report. The pregnancy had been doomed from the moment of conception because of a rare chromosomal abnormality.

I never conceived again. Not even with medical intervention. But that new life Sebastian and I had created in Los Angeles had lasted just long enough to protect my husband from losing his own.

~Daniela Petrova

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners