It is 3:00 AM. The witching hour, people like to call it, where the moon peaks high above the ink black sky, the only things up in the dead of night the fearsome and wicked. Tonight my thoughts are among the wicked, wildly throwing my mind into a toxic fog: what if...? What if she stops moving tonight? What if she's in distress somehow? What if I'm not lying down the right way? What if she will end up like her big brother, gone with no warning—but earlier?
The hour passes, the moon sinking into the horizon, yet my thoughts persist, an ever-rampant cyclone devastating the careful composure of my daytime mind. I toss and turn in my bed, struggling to get into the right, textbook position. Lay on your right side, it will bring the baby oxygen and nutrients! The back is bad, it will pinch your nerves.
As sleep clings to the edges of my eyelids, struggling to pull me into its comfort, I find myself rolling onto my back, and panic strikes me—a coiled cobra. My poisonous thoughts linger in my veins as I pull myself again to my right side. And so on, so forth— rolling over, readjusting; ruminating; waiting; wondering. Expecting the worst.
But how else did I anticipate this pregnancy to be? After the worst has happened, a perfectly normal and healthy baby dying unexpectedly, the gaping loss in my heart judges any sort of hope as too naive; too fake. How could I blissfully think things will be okay this time around?
From the day of the positive pregnancy test, my mind switched gears. It switched from aspirations and baby planning to PTSD and sleepless nights. Endless hours of slumber are now lost to staring blankly at the ceiling, wondering if I should give into this new week's set of worries. As my panic progresses into an all-consuming whirlwind, I contemplate tossing myself into triage as the only way to anchor my feet to solid ground.
Last week, I spent each minute of the night fretting over preterm labor. Although my son did not die from this cause, the fear of it swallowed my mind, a bloated and unexpected weight that suffocated all other rational thoughts and logical conclusions. As I laid ready to sleep, the faintest leaking feeling ignited panic like a bomb in my brain.
Am I leaking amniotic fluid? Is this pre-term labor?
The panic was a familiar echo of the past three weeks. Each milestone I pass brings forth a new terror, a new possibility of a sudden and devastating ending. Lost in these waves of defeatism, my frantic calls to the doctor's office have been my only anchor.
I have a sharp pain in my cervix today. And pressure. Is this normal?
My doppler isn't working. The battery died. Can I come in to check the heartbeat?
And, underneath it all:
Is my baby okay? (A record on repeat) Is my baby alive? Is she dead?
Is it happening again?
Each time, everything ended up okay.
Yet even when I begin feel my panic is unfounded, the ghosts of the witching hour whisper within my ear: But it wasn't okay last time. You went in and thought it would be fine, but it wasn't. How could you just say it's going to be okay? How could you say the baby is fine right now?
As if possessed, the wraiths in my head whisk me off to the doctor's office—to poking, prodding, and my inevitable verge of near-tears—until I hear a heartbeat, see her thriving body on the ultrasound.
Comforted, I can be myself again for those few, calm moments— an expectant mother with a life outside of fretting over her baby's wellbeing. Until night comes again, and a new terror envelops me.
14 more weeks, I remind myself— a remedy to my heart's constant skipping, the ball of nerves that hold my breath, cause my teeth to grind, and tighten my throat.
As I awaken to each day, my thoughts remain on hold until I feel her swift, steady kicks. My morning is spent as a zombie—dressing myself with idle hands, moving through a stiff cloud of panic, my entire existence hyper-focused on my belly. Until she moves, I am on autopilot, my hands trembling even as I use my fetal doppler to reassure myself.
You know what they say, the ghosts in my head whisper, lingering stubbornly between my brain cells. You can't rely on a heartbeat to indicate health. You have to feel her move.
I can't breathe until she moves; sometimes later in the day, sometimes earlier than I expect. But when she does, it's as if my entire body and soul exhale, allowing me a few hours of reprieve.
This is what my pregnancy now entails: A vicious cycle that begins the next night. The fretting, the anxiety, the ball of nerves that tangle within me, the sheer dread of what-if. Then: the awaiting of her movements, the occasional doctor's visit in-between, the ensuing calm.
It is a carousel that I willingly participated in, after the death of my son. It is a new cycle of pregnancy that cannot be unwound—a delicate thread that is my daughter's life, winding its way in knots around my heart. The thread is more fragile than any mother could know before loss, constantly dangling and teetering on the edge of possibility, the possibility of it being torn apart without warning.
And I am tangled up until the end.
For those out there in the midst of trying to conceive or carry after loss: how are you feeling about the prospect of another pregnancy, another delivery?