The office bathroom stall was dark, but not so dark that I couldn’t see the contrast of red on white. A single drop of blood, bright red and bubbly, stained my underwear. I remember thinking it was the brightest red I had ever seen. It was a mistake to run. I should have kept it to a brisk walk. Or better yet, I should have done something else on my lunch break.

The nurse on the other end of the line sounded distracted. “How much blood is there?”

Was she joking? Was there any good amount of blood for someone in my condition?

“Uh, a couple drops, but I’m not supposed to be bleeding, right?” I said.

She assured me that some spotting was normal, common even, but I should come in anyway, “just in case.”

My husband, who is always ten minutes early for everything—a behavior that usually annoyed me, but on this day was somehow soothing — met me in the doctor’s office waiting room. When the nurse called my name he squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine,” he said.

Everything was not fine. The ultrasound confirmed we had lost the baby. My first thought was, “This can’t be happening.” My second thought was, “What did I do?” Was it the run, the stress? Something else? Our son, Owen, had been so easy. No sooner were we home from our honeymoon than I was pregnant, and nine months later we were holding a healthy baby boy. But that was more than four years ago. Was I now too old?

When I became pregnant again a few months later, my doctor prescribed a daily dose of baby aspirin to protect against a rare blood-clotting disorder.

“Will it help?” I asked hopefully.

“Probably not, but it can’t hurt,” she said.

Determined to eliminate—or at least reduce—my anxiety, I stopped running on the treadmill and started doing yoga. I tried to cultivate a Zen-like attitude. Lots of women have miscarriages, I reasoned. I’m not special. It was all going well, until my ten-week ultrasound appointment. Lying on the table, my swollen belly covered in gel, the look on the sonographer’s face said it all.

I stopped doing yoga. I stopped doing anything that required a physical exertion greater than lifting a cup of green tea. There was no medical reason for my self-imposed bed rest; it just felt like the right thing to do. Besides that, I was depressed.

Seven months—they felt like years—after our second miscarriage, I was pregnant again. And again, I tried to remain calm while bracing myself for the worst.

My doctor had me take all the usual precautions. She also had me come in for weekly blood tests. When I was nine weeks along, one of those tests revealed my hormone levels were going in the wrong direction—and poof!—another pregnancy was gone.

We tried to avoid the subject of babies at family gatherings and dinner parties. This was no easy task. Whenever you have one child, people always wanted know when you planned on having another. Unsolicited advice was common. People liked to suggest alternative treatments they’d read about online like acupuncture or meditation. Although family and friends meant well, they often said things like “you can always try again” and “at least you have Owen.” My sister-in-law, who has four kids, suggested we get a puppy.

At 38, I was just one year away from my self-imposed second-pregnancy deadline. But after that third loss sunk in, the question quickly changed from “when do we try again?” to “do we try again?” Our odds of having a successful pregnancy did not exactly inspire confidence. My doctor gave us a fifty-fifty chance of carrying a baby to term. Although I was afraid of another loss, the thought of giving up on having another child was too depressing, too final. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. As it turned out, I didn’t have to.

One evening after dinner, my husband announced he wanted to stop trying. “Maybe God is trying to tell us something,” he said.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like maybe we should quit while we’re ahead,” he said.

I pretended not to hear him. That night, I dreamed I had a baby, a girl. She had almond-shaped eyes and a dimple on her left cheek. She looked healthy. In a hospital bed I cradled her in my arms and sang to her softly until a nurse came to take her away.

A year later, I fell pregnant again.

My husband, despite his earlier doubts, was overjoyed. I was more wary. We agreed not to tell anyone about this new pregnancy until I was at least five months along. When we finally did tell people, it was in hushed, measured tones, void of the excitement and anticipation that had so characterized our earlier annunciations. Although on the outside, I wore a brave face, inside, I was holding my breath. I held it through the hospital visits and the blood tests. I held it despite all the assurances my pregnancy was progressing normally. I even held it through the ultrasounds that showed ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes.

It wasn’t until I heard my daughter cry for the first time that I exhaled.

***
Gwendolyn Kelly Mortimer arrived via Cesarean section on June 25, 2014. She is a happy baby with bright, inquisitive eyes and a coy smile that’s all dimples and sweetness.

Although she has been a part of our lives for two years now, as cliché as it sounds, I am still amazed by her existence. I sometimes watch her as she sleeps, so peaceful, so unaware of the world around her and how hard we fought to bring her into it. I examine the dimple on her left cheek and think again about her chromosomes. If something were wrong we would surely have known by now. Besides that, she’s thriving. Yet it’s hard not to let my mind drift to all the things that could go wrong still. She is too precious, too delicate, and I’ve been conditioned to expect disappointment.

 

Editor’s note: If you are dealing with the loss of your baby, there are people to help. Check out your local hospital for a counselor, call a hotline or try this site

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