On paper, I was just over 12 weeks pregnant. Yet, I still didn’t feel pregnant. Emotionally, spiritually, and only briefly physically — when the 5ish weeks of nausea and exhaustion hit me. Otherwise, I felt oddly detached from the life growing inside of me.
Why was that?
I trust nature. Perhaps more now than ever before in my life. I’m not sure why I suddenly have this blind faith in what will be, will be. But I do. So much so that when the first ultrasound revealed a slower than normal heartbeat, I didn’t worry.
In fact, I remained steadfast in the belief that nature will show me the way. I was calm. What was meant to happen would and modern medicine or worrying couldn’t change that.
Yet, the doctor did act with precaution on my behalf. As he should — given his job is to make use of the tools at his disposal. So he did. He scheduled follow up ultrasounds exactly one week apart from that first slow heartbeat reading.
Each subsequent sonogram image showed strength.
The last one showed a healthy pregnancy. One glance at the black and white image and he simply said, “pristine”. A word that’s nice to hear when you’re laying on an examination table.
Saturday, January 2nd. When the no caller ID number repeatedly rang on my watch, I finally answered. It was Dr. Chow. My OBGYN. He was calling me on Saturday night…this could not be good.
We had been waiting on genetic testing results, which would also reveal the gender of the baby. In a moment of wishful thinking, I wondered if he was calling to let us know some happy news.
When he asked if I received his voice message or if my husband was with me, my gut told me otherwise. This wasn’t a good news call. I shouted for Phil over the booming voice of our toddler son, Brooks, who was commanding orders as he played the role of a courageous fireman.
With Brooks still in the fireman scenario play, we ushered him to a toy truck so that Phil could sit with me on the woven bench in our entryway. I knew I couldn’t take this call standing.
My heart started to beat faster, and my breath quickened. What was he going to tell us? Did our baby have Down syndrome? Something else?
For a brief moment, I imagined collapsing on the floor at whatever he was about to tell us. I don’t know why I had that thought, but I did. I think I was just filling the microseconds of space between what we didn’t know and might find out.
Dr. Chow was very level-headed. He jumped right into science-speak — explaining that the most common chromosome abnormalities seen in the genetic testing we had done were on chromosomes number 11, 13, and 21. An extra chromosome on 21 was the most common — Down syndrome. The other two were lethal. The good news was that we didn’t have any extra chromosomes on any of these three.
Instead, what he saw with my test was something he’d never seen in his career as an OBGYN. An overrepresentation of chromosome 22. A very rare abnormality. Not a trisomy, but an over-representation. He called specialists to inquire about it before calling me. They indicated it’s typical of miscarriage. Yet, to my knowledge — I hadn’t miscarried. Yet I also hadn’t checked for the baby’s heartbeat since December 8th.
He recommended I come in immediately for an ultrasound. At that point, we could determine if there was a heartbeat or noticeable physical abnormality.
I knew especially as I told him that I had been meaning to call him after seeing slight traces of blood throughout the last week. Something I’d attributed to new exercise I’d picked up since my nausea had subsided. Cross country skiing, Peleton, a few weights here and there. I thought maybe this was causing a little blood. I’d planned to call him on Monday.
Yet, he beat me to it.
We hung up the phone agreeing to meet in an hour or so, 6:15 PM at his office.
I felt immense gratitude for Dr. Chow. Here he was meeting me on a Saturday night so I wouldn’t have to wait until Monday to know what was going on.
I had miscarriage
I also felt weird about the call, and the upcoming ultrasound. Exactly what result did I hope for? A baby without a heartbeat or a baby with a serious and rare genetic disorder?
Both seemed like less than ideal outcomes. In fact, the miscarriage seemed like a better outcome. Phil and I both agreed on this. But, how could that be? We were thinking we’d find out the gender in a few days. Now the pending new news was dire.
As it turns out, it had already happened
Likely around December 20th, the heartbeat stopped and the spirit left the body. It was a short stay, but the body it had chosen wasn’t meant to grow to full strength. The soul left the body. The lifeless body remained in me until January 6th, when I had the pregnancy removed through a procedure I’ve learned is very common. A dilation and curettage, or D&C. I feel nothing. I feel like the soul hasn’t been there for a while. I just knew. It never felt with me.
It’s funny how life works. Grieving too. There’s no playbook. It’s why my reaction — mostly matter of fact and taking it as all part of nature’s plan is surprising me.
Shouldn’t I be doubled over in sadness? Crying uncontrollably? Much like the visual I had in the moments before Dr. Chow started talking on the phone?
But I didn’t cry on the floor. I am not overwhelmed with sadness. For that, I feel guilt.
I wonder if this soul left me to allow my soul room to breathe. Room to be. Space to see that it’s worthy of being too.
This pandemic. Heck, the first three-plus years of parenthood (including pregnancy) haven’t been a walk in the park.
I’ve gained so much from being a mom. Yet I’ve lost parts of me too. Parts I’m excited to get back, but that feel threatened by another child.
It all makes me wonder.
Was this meant to be?
Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom to two.
Maybe instead I’m meant to be a mom to one beautiful, rambunctious boy, and a mom to my own soul — to nourish what I need. Needs that sometimes come at the expense of being a mom to another being.
I sometimes dreaded the thought of a growing pregnancy. A few hours before this news I lamented about the limitations it placed on me. Here we are in a pandemic with nothing to do and the few outdoor options to me were at risk of being cut off as pregnancy progressed. Tubing. Skiing. Sledding. Not exactly bump-friendly activities.
Then I had a near panic attack the other night thinking about the sacrifice to come when the baby arrived — the sleepless nights, the isolation, the delay of all of the activities I wanted to do. The person I wanted to be — all of it felt like once again, it would be put on hold.
Maybe this thinking comes as a result of the all-or-nothing attitude I had towards infant care for Brooks. Breastfeeding for a year with absolutely no formula.
Constant research and application of what I learned for him to develop his brain, language, and motor skills. A very particular and well-researched approach to introducing food and homemade for every meal.
Even when we had a nanny — I was making the meals and planning the activities. I took too much on. Carried too much weight. I couldn’t let go.
I didn’t let help in.
The stakes felt too high.
If I messed up “x” then I’d be failing Brooks as a mother. I told myself that wasn’t true and intellectually know it not to be, but still relinquishing control has been hard.
Perhaps it’s my own complicated relationship with my mother at the root of this all-or-nothing approach to motherhood. Determined to be a different mom than my own I’m only realizing now that I was in many ways becoming who she was. A mom who chose the path of martyrdom and victimization.
Trapped in a perfection-seeking, controlling approach to parenting that leaves nobody feeling good or happy.
By the time the pandemic started, I already felt burned out. My body felt tired. My patience spent. Even after the infant stage, my body needed healing. After Brooks turned one I needed months of physical therapy for my pelvic floor and was prohibited from running, pilates, lifting, or really anything that I loved doing.
So much of my joy was cut off…again.
It was only in January of 2020 that I was permitted to start exercising in the way that I wanted to again. Exercise is my wine. I need it like many moms want a glass of the adult juice at the end of the day.
I felt tired of giving up what I loved for being a mom. It’s not Brooks’ fault, but man. This stuff was hard.
Burned out of parenting. Done with the isolation and all too familiar with the challenges that come from living and working in the same space as your spouse.
In a somewhat cruel twist, my husband Phil and I had even talked about wanting to get out of the house more in 2020.
We realized that the past five years of both working for ourselves and being prone to introverted tendencies had inadvertently cut us off from many friends and the outside world. Having a child had compounded that feeling for me.
I was ready to be out in the world more, and then COVID hit.
So we made a physical change. We moved to a new state. Left a multi-story, 45 stair, townhome by the beach in Southern California for a spacious home — with a lot fewer steps — in Minneapolis. More than anything we were moving close to my in-laws, who were eager to help lend a hand.
All of this change should help me feel less burned out, right?
Maybe. Enough that we proceeded with trying for another child, but not before we talked about what kind of parents we wanted to be.
Is good enough, enough?
We agreed that we didn’t have to aim to do everything so “perfect” or by the book with another baby. To just get ‘er done when it came to parenting. Good was good enough. Taking the easy way in a few areas, or every area — that was okay. This created a huge sigh of relief for me.
This relief was further reinforced when we sent Brooks to daycare. I saw what could be possible.
You mean some parents drop their infants off at daycare? They get their life back a couple of months after they are born? Is this a possibility for us?
Keep in mind I grew up in a home where daycare was shunned and parents who sent their children to daycare were outwardly judged. Again — I know this is not right, but it’s the example I witnessed in my own home. Those deep-seated beliefs are hard to break. I don’t judge anyone in their choice of childcare, but I judged myself.
I told myself that being mostly home with Brooks while managing a self-directed career was the only and best option.
I felt like a hero protecting and preventing my son from getting sick. Ear infections? What ear infections? Antibiotics? Never. We took the hard way in every way. Even a nanny wasn’t full-time, but part-time.
That way I wouldn’t be putting too much of Brooks’ development into someone else’s hands. I wouldn’t miss out, but I could still work too — on my own schedule. I strongly believe in the benefits of designing your life.
However, there’s a different level of stress and associated fatigue that comes from managing a self-directed, solo career where no paycheck was ever expected from just showing up. Sometimes I wished I could just show up.
Our set up wasn’t perfect, but it was what we decided. It’s what I wanted. To be part mom, part career-woman. Yet, reflecting back we both feel like we’ve overinvested in parental time with Brooks.
Like we’ve just pulled a couple of years’ worth of all-nighters in the quest to be the best parents. And I’m like, whoa. Can I get a break? Like an extended break?
Am I relieved?
But we got pregnant. And now we’re not and I feel like I have the break I’ve been wanting.
It’s as if this miscarriage is a gift to reflect and recalibrate my life and how I want to feel in it. Relief from a miscarriage? This is unexpected, but I’m embracing it.
I think I just want to wave the proverbial white flag and be a good parent. Or even an okay parent. But the best? That’s too hard. It’s too much pressure.
Of course, I know giving a baby formula or the best childcare doesn’t snap things back to the way they were. Nor does it make being a parent to an infant or toddler magically easy. It’s not that simple. We never get our lives back.
Parenting is an on-going sacrifice of different things at various stages.
And I don’t think we really want our lives back as they were — at least not fully. Our lives as parents morph into beautiful new things…mostly beautiful. But I’m feeling first hand the ill effects of trying to be a perfect mom, and it’s crushing my soul.
It’s why I feel like the loss of this soul has given me a new gift. A wake-up call to see that what I am is enough.
This loss is the catalyst to finally act in the way I know I can. To give me the grace to be whoever I want to be — another baby or not. To do things my way. Not the book way. Regardless of what the experts say. In spite of how it may look to anyone. I just want to do what’s best for our family, and me.
Maybe being a mom doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. I’m beginning to see that, but I haven’t yet lived it. If that’s what makes someone feel good, then great.
But for me, embodying this approach is not healthy. I know that. It’s likely taken more from my son than it’s given him, and the same goes for me.
For now, I’m going to let this loss of one soul continue to inspire introspection into my own. What a gift I’ve been given.