Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Little Womb Mate

The first trimester of pregnancy is the hardest to get through.

Morning sickness – a misnomer if there ever was one – had arrived in earnest around week seven, and overnight, my favorite foods, like my homemade gluten-free crispy chicken or “banana bites” (banana slices topped with melted dark chocolate and peanut butter, then frozen) were suddenly unappealing. Even smelling ripe bananas in the cupboard made my stomach churn. Brushing my teeth made me feel like I was going to barf.

And yet, I spent an inordinate amount of time each day obsessing about, and shopping for, food.

Blueberry muffins, mango popsicles, Honeycrisp apples, tortilla chips, fish sticks, hamburgers – every day was a different craving, and whatever I’d craved the previous day now turned me off. With one exception: potatoes. I could consume potatoes in any form, all day, every day: baked potatoes, tater tots, waffle fries, crinkle fries, hashbrowns, sweet potato home fries…I could have sworn this baby was Irish based on my potato cravings alone.

I tried to obey the cravings in the hopes of assuaging the nausea, but after eating, I’d feel seasick, as if I were stranded on the deck of a small boat in the middle of the storm with no land in sight. I’d curl into the fetal position on the couch and try not to vomit.

“I feel like you’ve gone somewhere,” my husband said one night.

“I have,” I said. “The land of nausea.”

Because I had reduced the intensity of my exercise regimen due to the subchorionic hematoma, my body image was also tanking. I felt doughy and hated looking at myself in the mirror. My husband’s perception was different. He thought I was a “sexy mama.” I felt anything but. When I elaborated aloud about how gross I was, he replied, “I’m going to ignore you right now. It’s going to be hard to support you while ignoring you, but that’s what I’m going to do.”

Soon we made it to OB-1. No, not a Star Wars reference. That’s what Dr. Baby-Maker’s office called the first official prenatal appointment at eight weeks gestation. It was a huge milestone in pregnancy because the risk of miscarriage drops after that point.

The appointment was epic: a blood draw, a flu shot, a urine sample, an ultrasound, a long talk with the nurse, then a breast exam, pelvic exam, and pap smear. I was given a huge folder of reading materials – what to eat and not eat, safe and unsafe medications, warning signs to look out for and prenatal tests to consider. It was an overwhelming welcome to the Preggo club. All told, I was at the clinic for 90 minutes.

The best part was seeing the baby on the ultrasound. The sonographer called her a “gummy bear baby” because we could see her stubby little arms and legs. The baby seemed to be facing us and waving. There was also a cord visible, meaning the placenta would soon be up and running. She was measuring three days ahead of schedule and her heartbeat was a strong 174 BPM.

In the clinic’s bathroom, I noticed a tampon wrapper in the garbage. I was so grateful that I hadn’t bled in several days…a dry streak that ended that afternoon, when, while walking the dog, I felt a gush, as if I had just peed myself. I cut my route short and went home, where I discovered I had bled through my shorts. My hands shaking, my heart racing, I put a pad in my panties and called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office. A nurse told me that bleeding after an internal exam was not unusual and that I should call in the morning if it continued. There was nothing to do now but pray and wait and hope.

“I seriously don’t understand the ups and downs of all this,” I wrote in my journal. “I just made peace again with being pregnant and having a baby and living with the nausea. It would be especially cruel if the worst came to pass today, after seeing her cheerful shape on the ultrasound and getting the ‘Congratulations!’ from the nurse.”

By morning, the bleeding had eased and what was left of it had turned brown, indicating old blood. I called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office anyway to check in.

“You just had a scan yesterday,” a nurse reminded me curtly. “As long as you're tapering, you don't need to come in.”

I felt like I had garnered a rep at the clinic as “the girl who cried blood” and silently wished I had my own ultrasound machine at home (and the ability to read the scans myself) so I could check on the baby whenever I needed reassurance.

One night at dinner, my husband referred to the baby as “the little traveler.”

“She’s not a traveler! She’s staying put!” my eldest teen said.

“But she travels with your mom everywhere she goes,” my husband clarified.

“She’s more like my roommate,” I said. “No, my womb mate!”

My womb mate and I were attached at the hip…or something in that vicinity.

By Oct. 31, I was officially 12 weeks pregnant. Halloween brought another milestone in the pregnancy – my final progesterone shot. After injecting myself for the last time, I stuffed the syringe in my sharps container and threw all my medication paraphernalia away. It felt like a little victory – three long months of medication done.

“I didn’t know if we’d get this far. But we did,” I wrote in my journal. “I hope time just keeps passing and the baby keeps growing and persevering and that my body can do its (natural, supportive, life-sustaining) thing.”

Making it this far came with a new source of anxiety, however. Because I had sustained a pregnancy to the 12-week mark, my contract with West Coast IVF was now considered complete. We would not be eligible for any more embryos – which was fine so long as the pregnancy sustained itself and resulted in the birth of a live baby. But if, God forbid, I miscarried after this point, we would be out of chances to get pregnant.

At my 12-week prenatal appointment, the baby had grown enough to be seen with a regular ultrasound instead of a vaginal one. Her profile looked perfect and her little limbs were moving. Her heart rate was 154 BPM. 

Of course, the sonographer also saw the bleed in my womb, too. It was smaller than the previous ultrasound and appeared to be old blood, but it was still there.

Dr. Baby-Maker greeted me in an exam room with her usual sunshiney disposition. I felt like Eeyore in comparison.

“You’ve been here a million times but I haven’t seen you!” she said.

She didn’t seem concerned about the subchorionic hematoma – which, oddly, concerned me. This woman was never worried.

“It’s reassuring that it’s not growing,” she said about the bleed. “It’s not small, but it’s not huge, either.” 

She said I could return to more vigorous exercise but should continue abstaining from sex. At 16 weeks, I would have another ultrasound and she hoped the bleeding would be resolved by then.

I sent my husband and my teens the ultrasound picture as soon as I left the clinic.

“Whoa! That’s a baby!” my husband replied. Then he added: “I mean our baby! I mean two other people’s genetic material.”

“She’s huge!” my older teen said.

“She THICC,” my younger one chimed in.

I liked looking at the baby's picture and thinking about her being born, but I still didn’t know how to allow myself to feel the joy of pregnancy. I felt emotionally flat. I knew that numbing out wouldn’t stave off any heartbreak if the worst came to pass, but I didn’t know how to disregard my fear and have faith that it would all work out.

With each passing day, though, I felt more confident that this pregnancy was going to progress. I soon found myself saying, “When the baby comes” this and “When the baby comes” that. My husband and I started talking about nursery paint colors and other baby-related preparations.

“We may not have told anyone yet, but in our minds, this is happening,” I wrote in my journal. “She’s coming. And we will be ready.”

My depression had lifted. And in its wake, a whole new state of being overcame me, and took me (very pleasantly) by surprise...

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