I recall exactly zero details about how we came to know I was pregnant. I was still in a fog from having just become intimately acquainted with medical terms no person with access to the Internet should ever be in possession of, and while miraculously turning up pregnant should have cured my depression overnight, it didn’t, not exactly anyway. I was happy, or maybe relieved is more accurate, and I managed to forgive that bullshit fertility doctor who called me old when I am fresh and shiny as the morning dew, but I wasn’t over the moon. Edges were soft; a hazy sheen muted the good times.
We moved from California to Oregon when I was six weeks pregnant. It was a long drive with a 2-year-old, and we stopped a lot. We both specifically remembered how difficult public restrooms were for me when I was pregnant with Moses, so Randy was waiting with a towel and a hug at every bathroom I exited from San Francisco to Portland. But I was fine.
Portland’s climate was such a welcome reprieve from California’s heat. But it’s a dry heat, they say. So is a pizza oven, my dad always says, helpfully. It took a couple of weeks of heavy rain to wash away the haze, but with time our old selves emerged, and we were allowed to feel real joy. Randy proudly outfitted Moses in a T-shirt that said, “Big Brother, est. 2017,” and then sent him into the living room to reveal our news to my parents, who were visiting to help us unpack. It always takes my mom a couple of beats to process big news, like she is frozen in the millisecond between then and now, but then everything clicks and all of a sudden things get very, very loud. Even after four decades of being her child, I’m still regularly surprised by the volume. Randy unpacked his favorite “Man Behind the Bump” T-shirt, which he wore day and night, just waiting to shock one of our new neighbors into a double-take, as is his brand. I mostly tooled around in my Hillary T-shirt, size small, which fit fine.
I felt like I had already been pregnant for one hundred million years when we went to our first OB appointment for Moses at 11 weeks. He had completely consumed us, fully and totally, and for every second of those 11 weeks, we could think of nothing else. That tunnel vision was a direct result of the three speeds that characterized my entire first trimester with him: vomit, cry, sleep. But I was also just so, so deeply in love already, I couldn’t imagine wanting to think of anything else even if I wasn’t constantly puking my guts up. Meanwhile, Randy was racked with superstitious worry that something would go wrong. He didn’t breathe a word of the pregnancy to a single soul outside our family until we were well into my second trimester, and he refused to allow any baby accoutrements into our house; there would be no picking names and no painting the nursery. I remember feeling weepy, exhausted optimism as we walked into that appointment, while he was near panic.
This time was much different, of course. That’s what they all say. Every pregnancy is different.
On the elevator ride up to the university hospital women’s health center for my first OB appointment with Baby No. 2, I realized I had paid only a fraction of the attention to this pregnancy that I had paid to Moses. I had been so preoccupied by Trump’s election I hadn’t spent any time cataloging symptoms or following along on the app that tells you when your fetus is the size of blueberry. I worried about what I would say when the doctor asked me how I had been feeling, because I thought saying “I feel fine” was maybe not pregnant-sounding enough, so I spent the rest of the elevator ride and the long walk to the front desk trying to come up with some better answers in anticipation of her questions. I mean, I did have all that violent nausea the day after the election; in fact, I was more nauseous that day than I had ever been during my whole pregnancy with Moses. I couldn’t get out bed. I canceled meetings. I retched all day. But by the next day, the nausea had abated, and after that, it never returned.
We spent the first few minutes of our appointment chatting about our move to Oregon and how much we were loving it, despite the rain, which had been heavy that season. Especially heavy. Like, stormy, end of days, apocalyptically heavy. We had a fall full of flash flooding, downed trees, hail, and now, in this early part of our first winter in Portland, thundersnow.
I got undressed from the waist down and put my socked feet in the stirrups.
The next 48 hours are a blur dotted with flashes of clarity, but even the more lucid moments feel very foreign and far away, like they happened to someone else, or another version of me, but not me-me. I see Randy and me looking hopefully at the ultrasound screen while it stared back at us vacantly, a snowy transmission flickering with each probe of the wand attempting to turn sound waves into an image, but there was nothing. I feel the chill in the air as we walked across the street from the OB office to the high-resolution ultrasound center, where they weirdly, mercifully sent me to oncology imaging instead of having me sit in the perinatal waiting room with healthy pregnant people. I hear the doctor telling us a gestational sac had formed, but there was no fetal pole and no cardiac activity. I see myself squinting through tears while I type the most devastating words in an email to my boss – a trusted friend and confidante, a dad – about why I needed to cancel a business trip with him the next day, and I can barely read his response, his heartbreak palpable. I see me pacing nervously and feel the pressure in my chest as I waited for a call back from the family planning clinic to learn whether they could fit me in for a dilation and curettage the next day, the pressure building the closer it got to closing time, breathless at the thought of flailing for 12 more hours. I see myself sitting alone in a procedure room that smelled like antiseptic and sadness, waiting for the blessed anti-anxiety medicine to do its job. I hear me talking loosely and openly about how desired this pregnancy was, that there had been others long ago that ended in rooms just like this, but this one was going to complete our family, until it didn’t.
I don’t know why Randy took an actual photograph of the moment I emerged when it was all over because it’s maybe not something I would have thought we needed a record of, but in hindsight I’m glad he did. It is the clearest picture I have of an otherwise very out-of-focus time, and it helped shape my perspective on how to grieve something I hadn’t come to know or love yet, not really.
My firstborn was still a baby, full stop. And at that time, in that place, after a big move to a new home in a new state a world away from everything he’d ever known, my boy needed me. All of me. Wrapping him up in my arms that day gave me exactly the strength I needed to keep going, and I allowed myself to feel real gratitude for the unencumbered ability to give him what he needed when he needed it most. These are the silver linings we dig deep for when we can’t think of any other way through it. And it mostly worked. I compartmentalized those blurry days so they felt more like a bad dream than real life, and I then moved on, mothering and smothering my tender boy.
In the weeks after our miscarriage we got back to business as usual. We went back to work and school. We escaped to our local mountain for a mid-week bluebird day on skis. And with Hanukkah coinciding with Christmas, the holiday season in our new home was particularly magical and bright. We showered our boy with love and adoration and gifts and Santa-mystery and Hanukkah Harry-intrigue. We treasured the solace we found in each other – Randy and me most of all.
And then the very next month, I turned up pregnant…?