I am prone to fear.
I’ve known this for a while. It’s a combination of a naturally cautious personality, an very active imagination and job training which starts with, “Well, the worst case scenario is. . .”
Perhaps fearful people should not get pregnant.
I see a fair amount of pregnant women in my job. And the vast majority of them are experiencing complications, especially in the first trimester. “Pregnant-vaginal bleeding” is one of the most common triage complaints I deal with. A good amount of those women are somewhere in the miscarriage process. I cannot count how many times I’ve told parents, “I’m so sorry, but there’s no heart beat.” Or “The pregnancy just hasn’t progressed since five weeks, even though by your dates you should be much farther along.” I’ve delivered tiny dead babies in the emergency department, miniature versions of what they would have been if they had just had a few more months to incubate. I’ve held hands and wiped tears and in general felt like a shit-bag because I’ve had to smash people’s dreams and hopes for their progeny. And I’ve done it again, and again, and again.
Not so surprisingly, it’s these stories I carried with me into my first trimester. Each trip to the bathroom felt like playing a miniature game of Russian roulette. Would this be the time I saw the tell-tale signs of trouble? Each abdominal pain was scrutinized. How was I know to the difference between round ligament pain and pain which indicated my body was rejecting my fetus? Was the nausea just normal pregnancy nausea, or indications that my pregnancy was abnormal and not able to be completed?
And so the fear grew.
The midwives were reassuring, as best they could be. But 15 minutes every four weeks in the office was far from enough to counteract the minute-by-minute metastasizing apprehension that I was experiencing.
At 18 weeks, on a day already clouded by grief and exhaustion from other causes, the midwife furrowed her brow and mentioned that I was measuring big and that the heartbeat wasn’t to her liking. I pressed her to reveal her concerns and she talked about a fibroid and uterine crowding and “. . .crowding the baby out.” She wanted an ultrasound, of course, but the next available was days away. So I sat in the parking lot and sobbed and sobbed, unsure of how I could possibly fear losing someone I’d never even met and how it could devastate me so drastically.
BH, never one to let schedules stand in his way, arranged for an ultrasound sooner and as I laid there on the table I wished I could pray, just so I could do something for my little Elver*. But prayer is foreign to me now, and so I clutched BH’s hand and bit my lip and mentally urged the tech to go faster and tell me everything would be okay.
And you know what. . . she did.
She couldn’t find any fibroid and the baby looked good, with a four-chambered heart and two kidneys and two legs and two arms and some fingers and toes and a tiny little nose.
The radiologist even came in and poked around as well, declaring at the end that everything was perfect. Right on schedule. Safe and sound.
Shaky sighs of relief and kisses abounded. The fear was quelled, at least temporarily.
But it keeps coming back. It changes from day to day, rising on some days and ebbing on others. There have been other frantic calls to the midwives, and even a trip to the hospital in the wee hours of the night to make sure everything was still okay. Sometimes I think Elver can sense when I’m nervous, and tries to reassure me through a special combination of karate-kick-and-somersault Morse code that she’s** just chilling out, biding her time.
Perhaps the worse thing now is knowing that nothing will ever make the fear go away, not completely. In the first trimester I feared a miscarriage. Now I worry about intra-uterine fetal demise and premature labor. After the birth neonatal sepsis, SIDS, congenital heart disease, freak accidents, car crashes and teen pregnancy will dominate my thoughts. This trepidation and panic will be with me for a lifetime.
When BH and I talked with our therapist about wanting to get pregnant, we discussed my proclivity towards worry. He sat back in his chair and said, “The universe is going to give you this soul to care for for some amount of time. You cannot control it. Enjoy the moments that you are given.”
So when the fear mounts to untenable levels, I try to remember this. Elver belongs to the universe and I simply get to take care of her for a portion of that.
Today I will enjoy her kicks and hiccups. Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring.
*Elver is our “fetus name.” It means baby eel. We do not plan on making that formal name post-delivery but who knows, it’s kind of grown on us.
**I don’t know if Elver is a boy or a girl. We use both pronouns pretty interchangeably.