One Breath at a Time

I’m shaking by the time the gynecologist comes into the room.

I know I’m pregnant — an over-the-counter test has proven as much — and I know that I’m not yet ready to be a mother. But I’m not in the emergency room because of these two facts.

I’m here because I’m in pain that I can’t even begin to explain, cramps that are shooting up the right side of my abdomen whenever I stand up or sit down or turn, or do anything else really. I’m also bleeding for the third time in as many weeks.

In the hours preceding the OB/GYN visit, I’ve had two blood tests, a pap smear, and an ultrasound. A nurse has come by and added yet another hole in my arm — an IV with saline in it. She didn’t know exactly who ordered it, but I have my suspicions.

It’s been less than thirty minutes since the ultrasound and several hours since the other tests. Whatever its results, I think to myself as we wait, they’re dire enough to spur the nurses into action.

So, I sit awkwardly in a silly patient’s chair, holding my husband’s hand for dear life, and I can’t stop shaking.

Then, the doctor walks in. She’s a no-nonsense lady with curly black hair pulled back in a thick ponytail and dark, sympathetic eyes. When she speaks, I hear the barest lilt of an accent I can’t place.

“Has anyone gone over your results with you?” she asks, and when I shake my head, she goes on. “You have an ectopic pregnancy in your right fallopian tube, and there’s a pear-sized cyst possibly attached to your left ovary.

“Of the two, the egg is a much more dangerous and precarious situation. The tubes are small and can rupture easily. If it does, consequences could be fatal. I strongly suggest that we do the surgery tonight to remove the pregnancy. I’ll also drain the cyst at the same time.”

And suddenly the world comes crashing around me. Maybe I’m not ready to be a mother, but in my head I’m going through the possibilities. I’ve never heard of an ectopic pregnancy before. What does it even mean that my egg has implanted itself somewhere other than my uterus? And how in the world did I end up with a cyst anywhere in there.

“Will you have to remove the ovary on the right side?” my husband asks, still in possession of the clear mind that’s abandoned me at the gates of panic.

“Odds are good that we’ll only have to remove the tube itself. We won’t know for sure until we get there, but we’ll do everything we can to save the ovary.”

“And the cyst?”

“We’ll drain it and leave it — and the left ovary and tube — alone. If we find anything to suggest that we should remove it, we’ll let you know before we proceed,” the doctor explains to us.

Then, she goes on to explain the risks of having surgery. I am shaking and I can’t stop and some back corner of my brain has steeled itself for the inevitable. I’m not leaving this hospital tonight without this procedure. I’ve spent weeks feeling giddy about the mere possibility of children, and now, there’s a very real chance that I may never have that option again.

My handwriting, when I sign the document that I’m of sane mind and ready to go through with the procedure, is barely legible. I drop the pen more than once in the course of spelling two words.

I’m in the operating staging area by the time my parents drive down to the hospital. Mom’s panicking and Dad looks fierce, protective. He keeps asking the nurses questions.

“Will my daughter be all right?Will she be able to have children? Will she be in pain? For how long? What about follow up appointments? How long will the surgery take?”

I don’t want to know the answers but there’s no place for me to hide, nowhere to run with monitors on my arms and an IV stuck in one. Three different people ask me the same questions — drugs, alcohol, medication, allergies — and I begin to wonder if I’m hallucinating.

Then the surgeon introduces himself and I’m wheeled away toward bright lights. “I love you,” I whisper to my husband as I let go of his hand.

“I’ll be right here when you come back,” he promises.

There’s an oxygen mask on my face as the world fades away into shades of green. I don’t even remember the darkness.

When I wake up, I’m sore and sick and nauseous, and no longer a mother. I had been a mother for six weeks and five days. The embryo inside of me had a heartbeat — 139 beats per minute. But it had chosen the wrong place to make its home, and I am not yet ready to be a mother.

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