Image Embedded in Memory
It was August 24, 2015, at what should have been the completely routine mid-pregnancy ultrasound. Ger almost didn’t attend the appointment since we had done this before with two previous kids, but I insisted that “this is the big one!” And he should be there. I saw the image of my baby girl on the screen, and my eye immediately caught the estimated gestational age based on measurements: 16 weeks. That couldn’t be right, I thought, since I was over 19 weeks into pregnancy. The ultrasound tech was tight-lipped.
I could hardly process what that meant before the doctor came in and told me that the baby was measuring way too small, more than an error in due date. I clearly remember her words as I stared at the screen “It could mean that your baby might never grow or develop normally.” Immediate ordering of the amniocentesis to look for chromosomal issues. I sobbed for days. And from that date, began to detach from the pregnancy. I knew something was terribly wrong. I stopped planning for my baby to be born. I stopped talking to almost anyone other than Ger and a few who listened to my anguish. I never saw an image of my baby girl again. At my 21 week prenatal appointment, the OB smartly faced the ultrasound machine away from me after a nurse could not find a heartbeat. And Maternal Fetal Medicine turned off the overhead screen when they confirmed that she was gone.
That was exactly one year ago.
The next ultrasound image I saw was of my second baby girl at 9 weeks, with a nice, strong heartbeat. The OB told me that after 9 weeks and seeing a heartbeat, the chances of something happening were “really rare”, even with my high risk pregnancy. Then there was the 16 week ultrasound. The machine was faced toward me and I could see the outline of my baby as the OB tried to find the heartbeat. Several times he hit the button looking for the sound waves and found nothing. That was the last image I have: looking, and finding nothing. Maternal Fetal Medicine once again turned off the overhead screen when I had to have a second, confirmation ultrasound.
It is those ultrasound images that are burned into my memory. When they were both born, I could not look at them, though offers were made to me both times. I did not want that image, of a baby, sized 16 weeks both times. I knew I would never be able to erase it. I do not regret it. Because of proximity in being with me, Ger saw both of them born, and though he likely turned his head away, he has said he cannot forget what he saw. I do not envy him that for even one fraction of a second.
Ultrasound pictures are grainy, distorted. The only way I can tell the difference between the images of my two daughters is by the dates on the photos.
Writing this was slow and halting. I was not eager to recall the images that I readily (and unsuccessfully) try to suppress. Yet, in pulling the images to the forefront of my mind, they are as clear as they were the day that it happened. The rain is falling steadily this morning, and I thought “The world is crying” as I have so many times in the past year. I was so distracted by replaying the scenes of the ultrasound machines in my head that I missed the turn to my own subdivision after dropping Quentin off at school. There was a tightness and clamminess in my body and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had moved past the point where I would be smacked sideways by the images during the day. Now it is only the occasional nightmare, gripping me and waking me in a shaking, sweating state. Willfully replaying the scenes in my head is like asking for several restless nights. But I have committed myself to writing, and that includes the ugly parts. I cannot ignore what happened one year ago.
I receive a daily “inspiration” email from ProjectHappiness.org. Some days I read the prompt and think “Well that is interesting.” Other days I read it and think “I am not their target audience.” Today was the latter. Today’s prompt was “A year from now, you’ll be so glad you started today.” I cannot even comprehend a year from now. I could not comprehend this place a year ago.
One year ago since my world began to turn upside down. Where one day I was just another pregnant person, and the next day I fell apart and have been putting pieces back together ever since. Where I went from ultrasound images being rather uninteresting to being horrible and terrifying and the worst form of anxiety I could imagine. Some of my worst nightmares involve ultrasound machines or doctors looking, looking and not finding anything, be it another dead baby or a painfully empty womb.