By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky
“Aunt Susan, are you still pregnant?” my four-and-a-half year-old niece, Elena, asks. Her clear, blue eyes reveal no understanding of the seriousness of her question. I wonder this every day. Am I still pregnant? Is the baby’s heart still beating? Will it beat tomorrow? Will I hold this baby, or only see its form floating on a cold, black ultrasound screen, the ghostly white figure preserved as still as a photo, like the baby we lost a few months before Elena was born?
I’m working as hard as I can to prepare not to have a baby. At least it seems that way. I wear baggy clothes, so people won’t guess. Overweight by more than just a few pounds, I just look fat. With my ample bust line, it will take at least another month before baby outpaces boobs, so I can still hide it. What if I lose this baby, too? I don’t want my grief to be that public, again.
We haven’t told anyone except family and very close friends. What am I waiting for? The magic moment when I can stop worrying? My doctor says the magical point is when I’m in her office for my six-week, post-delivery appointment, holding the baby. Will I hold this child? What if, I think?
Since the plus sign popped up on that seventh pregnancy test strip, I’ve kept a list of the few people we have told. That way, if something goes wrong, I’ll know whom to call. On the rare occasion I break protocol and tell someone, I add that name to my list. We weren’t planning to tell Rachel, our 10 ½ year-old, this soon, but her propensity for walking into the bathroom unannounced, and the heparin injections I have to give myself make it impossible to keep the secret any longer. Seeing your mother shooting her bulging tummy with a needle would be scary. Seeing my bruised belly, a patchwork of dark blue, violet, and light green blotches, would be even worse. I don’t want her to think I’m a junkie or a chemotherapy patient.
One morning, I shoot the heparin in my belly, but the precious, clear liquid, prescribed but not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy loss, seems to leak right back out. Panicked, I call the perinatologist. “The abdominal tissues are saturated. Use your upper thigh. Perfectly normal,” is the reply. I want this baby, so my thighs will be next to turn black and blue. I’d shoot the heparin in my face if it would help.
I’m tired of trying to hide it. I want to be happy, embrace the joy, really expect this child. But eight years of secondary infertility and two pregnancy losses—one late-term—have made me so careful, so guarded. I wonder if I’ll stop worrying in another couple of weeks, when I can hope to feel the baby move. To get some reassurance, I visit my patient-as-Job doctor’s office once a week to hear the heartbeat. I go in for monthly ultrasounds to check for growth retardation, a sign that things are going south, like last time. I shoot myself twice a day with the heparin, hoping it works.
The nurse, Sandy, checks the heartbeat each week before I see the doctor. This week, Sandy is on vacation, so I see someone new, an older woman. “So, how are we feeling?” she croons. “What do you want?”
I stare at her. What kind of question is that? My eyebrows knit together in puzzlement.
“Boy, or girl?” she asks, smiling.
I freeze. Who cares? Hasn’t she looked at my chart? “I just want a live baby,” I answer, gulping air to keep from choking up. I realize with a catch in my throat that this baby may kick and hiccup in utero sooner than I think. That’s when I’ll really believe that he or she might make it. Until then, in between weekly visits, I poke my bruised belly every so often, hoping to elicit some evidence that the baby is still alive, hoping for that kick to reassure me.
I know I need to go on with normal life as much as possible, in between heparin injections, doctor visits, and hours of worry. My doctor says it’s okay to go camping with my husband’s sister and her friends—as long as I take it easy, don’t lift over ten pounds, and keep up with the injections. “You need to stop worrying so much. It’ll be good for you and your family to get away,” she reassures me.
Squatting on the air mattress in our tent, trying to stabilize myself on the unsteady surface, I figure out how to give myself the shots. Kind of like starting an IV in a raft on the ocean. I have to get my husband to hold the flashlight at night, as it’s too much to handle. It works okay, but I finally ease up on my privacy issues the second day and go to the camp bathroom, using a stall just for the stability of the floor. The camping trip is a success, but I don’t stop worrying. I can’t.
At the next doctor appointment, it’s time for a urine sample. Something of a milestone to get this far in the pregnancy. I’m wearing an off-white, cotton knit maternity dress I wore when I was pregnant with Rachel, but not during the other pregnancies. A good-luck charm. I pick up the plastic cup after providing the sample and reach down to smooth the front of my dress. My clumsy gesture jostles the cup, spilling the contents down the middle of my dress. I panic. It’s July. I have no jacket or sweater I can artfully drape across the obvious stain. What will I do? I haven’t seen the doctor yet, so I have no choice but to walk back to the waiting room sporting a bright yellow stain down the front of my white dress! Fabulous. Then I recall my doctor’s comment that pregnant women are often clumsy with their growing girth. I am pregnant. Still pregnant. I’m so happy to be pregnant, still, this moment, that all I can do is laugh at my yellow badge of courage.
What stories I’ll have to tell this child, I hope. Will I? Living with a high-risk pregnancy is like being strapped to a train track at the Y in the track. Who knows which way the train will go?
Susan Vaughan Moshofsky is a mother, teacher, and writer who lives with her family of five in Portland. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, and Seattle’s Child.