First, the dream, at eight weeks pregnant:
It’s my birthday and there is some kind of crisis–a doctor masked in black trying to kill people, but friends organize a huge line of women knocking on the door bringing me gifts. I wake from the dream with an overwhelming sense of being loved. I don’t understand the dream, but I write it down anyway.
And the ultrasounds:
I. Seven weeks
Only because I’m spotting, the doctor sends me to have an ultrasound. I climb onto the table and shift my jeans down to my C-section scar, the line that says I have done this before. She squirts warm jelly on me and moves her wand to find the baby. “See the flashing there?” she says. “That’s the heartbeat. Looks good.” She measures it, pronounces it normal, and types “B-A-B-Y” on the screen. She prints me out a picture.
I tuck the picture into my planner. The picture makes the two pink lines on my stick into an actual baby. I am starting to believe in this pregnancy, and it feels good.
II. Eleven weeks
I’m back. More spotting, and no heartbeat. “No heartbeat at eleven weeks?” the technician says. “Don’t worry. That’s early enough they don’t always hear a heartbeat. We’ll find it.”
I tuck my jeans down. My belly hasn’t stretched out into the circle of a full baby yet. It’s jiggly and slack from three pregnancies. I’m looking forward to having it taut and round.
She finds my uterus and asks “How far along are you?” She is trying to be casual. I look on the monitor to see what she sees, the ultrasound’s dark and coded world of shadows. And there it is, a small circle in the middle of another. It should have winked at me, that shadow. Its heart should be the brightest light on the screen, flashing and alive.
The weight of the darkened circle hits me in my empty gut. I try to think of all the people I knew who had seen the same thing. Other women have been here before. Or maybe they found out a different way: not from losing the expected heartbeat, but from a sudden rush of blood. It could be worse. I could have woken up at three in the morning cramping, and felt all the life slip out from me. Is it worse to see death on the screen, or to be surprised by it in the night? Does it matter which one is worse? Both of them are real.
III. Post D&C
One more time, I’m staring at the screen. There is a long wedge where a baby ought to be growing, and a fuzzy line at the top, from my C-section scar. My hollow body. The technician is embarrassed that she didn’t notice me crying sooner. She hands me a box of tissues and I wipe the tears, and look at the wedge.
I wrote a poem called Ultrasound when I was pregnant with my youngest child. There’s a line that says “We both await release/ the pain and freedom of an empty womb.” I have had that line rolling in my heart ever since I saw my own empty womb. There is freedom in the emptiness: I’m free of nausea, free of heartburn, free to sleep through the night, free of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes and the need to rearrange my house and my life. But I have never understood, until now, how much the pain swallows up the freedom.
What dissipates the pain is the line of women bringing me gifts. Gifts of prayers, gifts of tears, gifts of understanding. Sometimes the gift of letting me talk, sometimes letting me not talk. When my friends remember their pain so that they can ease mine, that is a gift. When they mourn with me, whether or not they’ve been through this particular loss, that is a gift.
At my door and now in my soul, there is a line of merciful women, practicing the healer’s art.