I wasn’t broken. I knew that. I had a son. I had done this before.
But, the blood all over my bathroom didn’t lie.
Many people don’t enjoy the holidays, I especially don’t. I particularly don’t enjoy being forced to attend holiday parties. I especially was not going to enjoy this holiday party knowing I was having another miscarriage.
I think this one was three, or four? It was surely the second one around Christmas. I had miscarried last Christmas as well.
The blood came and went. I blamed this, the fourth or fifth miscarriage on a work-stress-diet. We would get pregnant again. It would be OK. My more than overactive toddler would have a friend, someone he could play with so that mommy could start doing non-mommy things again, like reading an entire sentence in a book without being asked to play Toy Story again, or showering daily.
We got pregnant again. After some careful calculation we determined this was indeed our fifth pregnancy. Four miscarriages, 1 live birth. I had to remember that to write it down on the intake form before seeing the geneticist at my 10th week pregnancy appointment. Why a geneticist? No one really told me why I needed to see one, just that I needed to see one. The first ultrasound at 7 weeks went well. There was a heartbeat, and it was strong, I was told. The baby looked as expected, like a sea horse. So I didn’t see a reason to see a geneticist. Maybe this was a new policy. Maybe it was just another specialist that our insurance could charge to.
I was greeted by a woman with heavy gold curls, dressed in a black cardigan and long skirt. She reminded me of one of those sister wives, or one of the daughters from that large Christian family that paraded their lives in reality television, the Duggars. How many children did they have? 18?
Her name was Katya. I had had a genetic screening with my son. It was a simple blood draw that came back and told us our risk factor for conditions such as cystic fibrosis. We weren’t carriers for any major illness, and when I proceeded to tell Katya that I was well aware of the blood test and I was prepared to take it she cut me off and pulled out an iPad and proceeded to talk to me about my risk. This was new.
I was 35. I had had my son at 33 and there was no risk then, but according to Katya 35 was different.
Women had children at 35 and over all of the time, but Katya didn’t seem to think so.
She proceeded to go through a PowerPoint presentation, first starting with a discussion about how the egg is fertilized when sperm has made contact. I thought this was a great biology primer for anyone not familiar with this information and when I tried to cut in again she started talking about chromosomes, and said this was very important. I knew where she was going at this point — chromosomal disorders. We have 22 pair of chromosomes and an XX or XY pair which determines your sex. I could have told her this. I could have even told her that I knew that down syndrome was present when there was an extra chromosome in the 21 pairing, making for a total of three instead of an even pair.
Again, I was very well aware of the risks, but she pressed, and pressed and pressed about the risk factors associated with age, and that I was of the age where down syndrome could be a very real reality. I didn’t want to sit through the presentation any further and told her that I was willing to take whatever test, that I was fine and happy and healthy and so was this baby.
I don’t think I even put my jacket on completely as I left there and went into the separate office for the blood test.
I was so angry. Angry that this woman insisted that there was already a complication with my pregnancy without having any test results yet. Baby number five was going to make it. Baby number five already had a name, Jude. Baby number five was already loved.
Katya called me when I was out on a walk to get lunch during work. I don’t remember much about the day before her call other than I felt really good right before she called. I even felt myself smiling when I saw she was calling. I was eager to get past this step and move on with the other milestone of this pregnancy. I answered the phone and Katya said she was calling with the results and asked if I were someplace quiet. I told her I was out on lunch and she could tell me the results. The baby had tested as likely having down syndrome, she said. I would need to come in for an ultrasound and possibly another procedure for confirmation, if I wanted confirmation. The confirmation exam was invasive, a chorionic villus sampling, or CVS to gather placental tissue to confirm trisomy 21, down syndrome. I heard her words but they didn’t register and after I asked her to repeat what she said I hung up on her.
I remember reaching my desk at work in a panic, crying so hard, and fighting to process it all. My boss rode with me in a cab to my house where he waited until my mother arrived.
I thought that if I did everything the right way then children would be easy, because children were easy, weren’t they? When I had my son at 33, I was one of the oldest first time mothers I knew. Most of the girls I knew from the neighborhood had their first kid in their late teens or early 20s. I waited, a long time. I waited to finish high school, finish college, travel. I thought I was doing the right thing, and in doing what I thought was the right thing I was failing at something I thought should be easy.
That week my husband and I visited Katya again. She went through the results of the blood test in detail, and at some point during her explanation she said “You will never carry a healthy pregnancy again.” Then, she escorted us to the ultrasound room where a doctor and a technician would perform the procedure, first an ultrasound and then a needle to puncture through the placenta. When the doctor scanned my stomach and looked at the screen she said -
“Did anyone tell you about this?”
No one had told us anything at our initial ultrasound other than the sea horse looked healthy and had a strong heartbeat.
The baby was showing signs of severe heart defects, the doctor said. Carrying the pregnancy to term would carry risks for me, and the baby likely would not make it to term.
I hated Katya, for a very long time. I still do. I blame her in many ways. I blame her for assuming I was broken because of my age. I feel that somehow she cursed me with her assumption, that she never even thought to assume that maybe there was nothing wrong with this baby. That maybe I should have just been allowed to take the blood test and then if something was present to tackle it then. Why did she assume from the moment she learned my age that this baby would come with challenges?
It felt like I was being blamed, blamed for waiting, for choosing to create an established life before bringing a new life into this world.
You will never carry a healthy pregnancy again.
We lost Jude when I was five months pregnant, on Valentine’s Day, his heart I assume. The night before we lost him I felt him move, and then I was broken again.
I wrote a letter of complaint to the antenatal center, to the hospital, to anyone who had anything to do with Katya. I told them how I felt she was cruel, how I felt she had already assumed there would be complications with my pregnancy. I asked how could she be charged with working with expectant mothers when she was so cruel. Nothing ever came from my complaints. Maybe they assumed I was distraught and seeking someone to blame, which I was, because I missed Jude.
I immediately sought expensive fertility tests by leading fertility doctors, and all of my tests came back clear — I was healthy. Then, I put my husband through an equal set of tests with the fertility doctors. He was healthy too! We were both healthy. We could carry a healthy pregnancy. We started fertility treatments to get pregnant but none of those treatments resulted in a pregnancy.
Maybe it was too much too soon. We were mourning another baby while trying to push to get pregnant with another one.
You will never carry a healthy pregnancy again.
When I found myself crying in the bathroom after another negative pregnancy test my husband said we should take a break, a break from the fertility doctors, treatments, and the over a dozen vitamins we took each day. When I asked him what we were supposed to do during this break he said have sex, and I asked him why? He said for fun. It had not even registered that all of the intimacy in having a baby had been taken from me by Katya as well.
It was that one time, for fun, that we got pregnant again. Pregnancy number 6. We didn’t see Katya for our genetic screening. We went to an entirely different hospital, and what’s horrible is I don’t even remember the geneticist’s name we saw, but what I remember is that when I told her everything in detail of what Katya had told me, of how Katya had made me feel, that she too started crying, with me. This geneticist told me I was not old. She told me that I was not broken. She told me that I was healthy. She told me this baby was a healthy baby.
And, he is.
He was born June 12th and I didn’t realize someone could really cry and scream and be so happy until he was placed on my chest. We kept this pregnancy quiet. We didn’t tell anyone until there was really no way not to tell anyone. There was no baby shower. There was no excitement around the delivery. He was a scheduled birth because up until the moment I heard him cry I didn’t think he was real.
When this past Christmas approached and I rocked a fat 6-month old baby to sleep in my arms I thought about Katya, about how much I still was angry with her, for her words, for assuming that my age, and maybe something about my life’s decisions had contributed to my suffering. I prepared a Christmas card for her that held a picture of my fat baby’s cheek being pinched by Santa Claus. In it I wrote:
“You told me two years ago I would never have a healthy baby again. Here is the healthy baby I had just months before turning 37.”
I created an email alert that would tell me when she received the card at her job, the hospital, and she did receive it. I included my name in the card because I wanted her to know that for two years I thought of her nearly daily, and how angry she made me, how I feel she took something away from me. Maybe she’ll be more careful with the news she shares with women like me. Maybe she’ll be more compassionate. Maybe she won’t change.
I can’t say that I still don’t cry sometimes thinking about Jude or those other children lost. I think about them a lot, but at least I can say that I no longer think about Katya.