By Carissa Kapcar
We broke it out into five steps. It was easier to process this way.
- Don’t miscarry,
- Deliver a living baby,
- Bring the baby home.
Five seemingly simple steps and one overriding mantra to keep ourselves focused on the now, “today we are pregnant and it’s going well.”
Now in the hospital, tiny fingers tighten around my index finger, and the tethers around my heart finally loosen. No longer connected via umbilical cord, this little grip continues the physical link from me to my baby, but also provides the power for my baby to fuel me in the form of healing the angst and stress that I’ve carried over the past 46 months.
I was pregnant four times in 46 months and never left the hospital with a baby.
We pull away from the hospital. Silence fills the vehicle interrupted only by the subtle clicking sound of the turn signal, visually announcing our presence to the many shoppers accessorized by their parcels hurriedly crossing the intersections of Streeterville as the waves of Lake Michigan and the blustery trademark of the Windy City announce the first week of November with fury. The passerby’s bury their chins into their collars. They have no way of knowing the warmth that is filling the interior of the minivan next to them. This is the minivan that with the space to seat seven has cruelly mocked me, the mother with just one child, shuttling duel-side-sliding doors and fourteen cupholders around the suburbs.
Three years ago, just a few days after my first pregnancy a masked surgeon had firmly taken my upper arms into her hands and locked eyes onto mine insisting, “you need to know that this is life-threatening. We have to operate immediately.” We had just learned that our newborn son had an intestinal malrotation and wanted to have him baptized prior to surgery. She was trying to help me understand that there wasn’t time.
We turn onto East Chicago Avenue. The sleek lines and square roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art force a contrast to the gothic spirals and gilded towers of Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Yet, the horizontal and the vertical work together to stand guard over the children on the playground. Old and new, tall and wide, there is room for both just as my own grief of the past and joy of today can co-exist.
After his surgery our son had spent a few weeks in the NICU where I would visit daily and pump in a room, separated from other nursing mothers by only a thin curtain and the sound of machines that adorned our nipples instead of suckling newborns. Although I couldn’t hold my baby, I’d still hopefully and eagerly wash my hands for a three-minute minimum before each visit. A few steady weeks of progress and he was discharged. There was no fanfare, no balloons. We obeyed the unspoken code of the NICU and quietly slipped out while saying a silent prayer for the other parents and their babies who remained.
The turn signal chimes again as we wait to make a soft right through the cement jersey wall which always makes me question the permissibility of this turn onto Lake Shore Drive. The road bends as the Ferris wheel from Navy Pier claims the last piece of skyline before the vastness of the lake hypnotizes the mind. Our son, now almost four, describes the Ferris wheel as a clock.
A successful surgery left only in its wake a scar that now stretches across my son’s stomach and life-threatening food allergies that have permeated our lives. Yet the threat was haunting enough to plague my second pregnancy with concern. Having just moved across the country, we plowed through nine months in a new place with new doctors, new jobs and new friends. We talked with pediatricians, OBGYNs and specialists all of who assured us that this new child was just fine. And my second baby was just fine until when at thirty-eight weeks into my second pregnancy I didn’t feel the baby move.
We cross the Chicago River and pass marinas to the left and Buckingham Fountain to the right. During summer, the marinas are bustling with boats and sails while the fountain’s water powerfully propels upwards of 25 feet. But with winter knocking, the marinas are empty and the fountain is still.
Our second child had been born still. When a doctor confirmed that there was no heartbeat we spent the next several hours preparing to do the most difficult thing of our lives and deliver a baby that we knew would come in silence. Silence and then a hushed whisper informing us “it’s a girl” was followed immediately not with a baby’s wail, but rather her mother’s wail. A day later, we had another lonely discharge from the hospital without the baby that we loved dearly.
We dart in and out of traffic and progress south. With my free hand I pat the soft fleece rising and falling with each breath and tuck it under the straps of the car seat. I physically need to be close and hold, to comfort and to be comforted.
After the delivery of our daughter, my body had gone through the physical recovery of having just had a baby yet my arms were empty. Lactating breasts and a contracting uterus were not nearly as painful as the phantom sensations of holding a baby. Slowly digging, fiercely forging, we scraped, clawed and fought our way up by shedding fifty pounds of pregnancy weight, talking with a grief counselor and regularly attending a support group. We searched, reached, researched….and screamed! We needed answers, but there were none to give. So after six months, we bravely tried to get pregnant again. A recurrent pregnancy loss specialist explained to us that my third pregnancy would not last. At just five weeks the growth wasn’t tracking.
In front of us the handsome columns of the Field Museum loom at the bend in the drive so that you can almost believe you’ll drive right into its halls of discovery. Our son calls this the Dinosaur Museum versus the Train Museum, which is further south.
It had been there, standing in the lobby of the Museum of Science and Industry, or as our son calls it, the Train Museum, that I answered a phone call and learned that I had started my fourth pregnancy. We fought hard for that pregnancy. There were months of waiting to recover from the miscarriage followed by unsuccessful conception attempts. White sticks at the bottom of a drawer with their sad single line, procedures, appointments, and even acupuncture all contributed to that significant phone call, which launched us on our terrifying journey.
I rest my head and see Soldier Field to the West appearing like a floating spaceship grounded by Roman columns. In the throws of fall football season this is the home to thousands of tailgaters. I smell meat on a grill. We’ve missed tailgating, holidays, weddings, laughter and dancing. There has been no fun, no light…only pragmatic and heavy. I bend down and take in the airy and milky newborn breath wafting above the car seat, both savoring the sweetness of it — and needing proof of it.
We had needed a lot of reassurance during the fourth pregnancy and made multiple unexpected trips to the hospital seeking it from doctors who compassionately gave it to us. I employed every last ounce of positive thinking and only put myself in happy situations. This impacted my choice of media, friendships and activities. We made ourselves purchase nursery decorations (I cried the entire way home feeling guilty and excited at the same time.) I’d socially isolate myself before ultrasounds as I steadied and repeated our mantra. Our doctors had a goal to deliver the baby before the prior point of loss. So, beginning at 30 weeks I had regular monitoring and at 37 weeks an amniocentesis to confirm lung maturity before the scheduled delivery. That night we were too nervous to be far away from the hospital so we splurged and stayed across the street at the W Hotel. We ordered Giordano’s pizza and superstitiously watched the same movie we had watched the night before our son was born, “Lost in Translation.” Over Bill Murray and deep dish we told ourselves it would be OK. The next morning we woke early and went to a Cathedral before walking to the hospital where our prayers from that day, and the many days before, were answered.
A green sign indicates that I-55 is approaching. After living here for two years, we finally understand that the marker is really referencing “The Stevenson.” We merge as the road widens, rises up and stretches out before us. My shoulders relax, I sit back in my seat and finally now the tears fall from my eyes.
Step 5. Today, we are taking our baby home.
Author’s Note: Occasionally, I make the drive from the hospital campus area in downtown Chicago to our home in the suburbs at various times throughout the year for appointments and meetings. Whenever I do so, it continues to feel special and reminds me of that sacred drive home with our newborn daughter. While I am not a native Chicagoan, my children were born here and are being raised here. It is for this reason that the area described in the piece will always be beloved space for me and has indeed become my sweet home, Chicago.
Carissa Kapcar is a happy, grateful, sometimes funny and often times tired mother of four (three living) shuttling a minivan around the Chicago area suburbs and clinging to just enough irreverence to stay sane. She writes regularly atwww.carissakapcar.com.