After multiple surgeries for endometriosis and long periods of pelvic pain that took years to diagnose and treat, we were finally ready to give parenthood a shot. I was 41 and had been told I’d need in vitro fertilization to conceive. The first two rounds had failed.
That was a shock — even with all the pelvic issues, no one had ever told me I couldn’t have a child. I’d had the baby dolls, the Cabbage Patch Kids. I’d grown up buoyed by a strong maternal line; the photos of “The Four Generations” — me, my mum, my grandma and my nanna — were a holiday tradition. It was this, the warm glow of the women who’d raised me, that made me want to be a mother, too.
For work reasons, we were spending the summer of 2017 in New York City, where we’d lived for nine years before moving six years ago to Miami. New York was full of medical experts and IVF clinics that could help us pursue our dream of parenthood. An added dividend: We were happy to skip out on some of Miami’s swampy, sweaty summer — and hurricane season.
After the first two IVF failures, we decided to give IVF one more go. We found the money. We did the medical prep. Our final round of IVF would begin with my next menstrual cycle. I was told to come to the clinic when my period arrived — but it didn’t come. This was odd, although I had spotting, I told a friend over lunch. No sign of my usual PMS migraine, though. My friend looked at me, eyes wide: “So. Maybe you’re pregnant?”
I laughed. I hadn’t been able to get pregnant naturally — thus the IVF. All the needles. All that money. I shrugged it off but bought a digital pregnancy test on my way home. I stared at the YES on the stick and laughed again. So much for IVF. We’d done it the old-fashioned way.
As I waited for my blood to be drawn at the clinic the next day, to confirm what the stick had told me, the song, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” came on the radio. Aha, I thought. Two days later, “My Girl” played as I sat in the lab. Hmmm!
Nature, though, is unpredictable. After a few days of tests, the fertility specialist warned me that I had low progesterone levels. Thus her comment as I sat there in my paper gown that this might not be a “good pregnancy.” The pregnancy might be chemical — one that could simply disappear within a few days — or perhaps an ectopic, where the embryo implants outside of the uterus, where it cannot survive.
“So, what do we do?” I asked the doctor. “Monitor,” she said, all businesslike. “Watch and wait.”
Not long after that, we went home to Miami and I began my pregnancy vigil. I napped and drank ginger beer for the nausea. I had an appointment with my new Miami obstetrician. Nothing had shown up on the sonogram screen yet, but he wasn’t concerned. My hCG levels, used to track early pregnancies, were going up, he said. So we waited.
Yes, I was googling “what does an ectopic feel like?” but we also couldn’t help, cautiously, with fingers crossed behind our backs, discuss baby names. I took note of baby products new moms posted on Instagram. I tried meditation and manifestation — a spiritual envisioning for a healthy pregnancy — and bone broth. Miami Beach had recently been declared Zika-free, but I wore long sleeves and pants outside and avoided walking on the beach — just in case — since the virus was associated with birth defects.
I was otherworldly tired, but I also felt calmer than I had in years. I burrowed into this tenuous, gentle groove of what could only be, I thought, the feeling of motherhood.
By this point, in August, hurricane season had swung into gear. The Atlantic and the Gulf roiled with depressions and lows and beautiful swirls that might or might not become tropical cyclones. Early in the forecast, you start out hopeful that a storm might dissipate or take a different path. You weigh the odds, you’re in denial. But when the meteorologists start projecting the “Cone of Uncertainty,” dread takes hold. You watch and you wait, feeling useless against the force of nature to do what it will.
I was officially seven weeks pregnant — aware of it for three. The embryo, according to the BabyMed.com calculator, was the size of a pomegranate seed. There had been none of the warning signs of an ectopic — no shoulder pain, no bleeding. I wondered if the fertility specialist could be wrong. The obstetrician was still smiling at me during checkups. I googled the cost of delivery and hospital costs. We watched and waited.
In the way that women know their bodies, I knew when I was woken by the pain at 3 a.m. I laid on the couch, sweat pouring down my back, trying to tell myself it was indigestion. There was no blood. But the pain was different. Insistent. I willed it to go away. I breathed the way I had learned to in meditation. But, I knew.
At 4 a.m., I woke my husband, and we went to the emergency room. I wondered why the triage nurse was staring at me. “Are you usually this pale?” I shook my head. I stumbled as I tried to stand up. Suddenly, I was on a gurney, and there were two doctors by my side, three nurses, five interns. They crowded around me, blocking my view of my husband, sitting behind them, ashen-faced. The activity intensified. I was given IV fluids and started to feel a little better. Briefly. The doctors ordered an ultrasound but the technician wouldn’t tell me what she saw during the scan. I shivered under layers of blankets. I knew.
I began to feel lightheaded. Then hot. Machines beeped and nurses flocked to my bed. They tried to find more veins to draw blood, then to give me blood. My blood pressure plummeted, I needed a transfusion. They hadn’t said it to me, but I knew that I was bleeding internally. The pregnancy was ectopic. It had ruptured my fallopian tube.
The chief of obstetrics arrived wearing a bow tie as I was wheeled down hallways toward the operating room. I felt sick, I told the orderly, who offered to slow down. “No!” said the doctor and the kind male nurse from the ER holding my hand. “Go! She has to get to the OR.”
ER. OR. Rupture. Rapture. Everything was a blur. The last thing I remember before the anesthesia kicked in was concerned faces rushing toward me — to do what? I was out.
When I woke up, I was no longer pregnant. It had been “dire” before I went under. But, at my follow-up appointment two weeks later, the kind OB chief put his hand on mine and said, “You were fine once I got in there and stopped the bleeding.”
I never asked what had happened when I was on the operating table. I recounted the moment to a few stricken friends as I recovered from the surgery, slowly, gingerly. I waited for an epiphany — or for life to go back to normal.
But when did I last feel normal? Seven (pomegranate seed) weeks earlier, when I was preparing for IVF? Was the calm I’d interpreted as maternal normal — or would normal mean remembering who I was before my fleeting journey into motherhood?
I was still stiff and bruised when a hurricane crept into the weather forecast. We monitored the cone and the spaghetti models and the floodwater calculators: Irma could send a seven-foot storm surge into our ground-floor apartment on Miami Beach. Suddenly we were rushing, consumed by the hurricane. We packed up our home, putting things we cherished the most on the highest shelves we had. My husband flew west for work; I fled to New York to stay at a friend’s apartment, my dog in tow and my favorite photo of the Four Generations tucked into my carry-on.
Then the storm turned and our home was spared. Life in Miami slowly resumed — we returned. The power came back on. The palm tree debris was hauled away. People went back to the beach. The city and all of us in it looked the same — sort of, kind of. We’d been scrubbed clean, but roughly.
I went back to work. I stopped looking at baby gear on Instagram. I waited for that moment when I’d feel normal again. But, like my period weeks earlier in New York, it didn’t come.
It can take weeks, months, even years to recover from the damage of a hurricane. Some towns — cities, islands, countries — are never the same. It took weeks for me to realize that you don’t go back to normal after the loss of an ectopic pregnancy, either. You can’t.
Somewhere along the way, you shed your skin and have become something else. You’re still you, but with something extra; a knowing, a shadow. An outline in the shape of you. You feel it hovering, like a cone of uncertainty superimposed over a map. It moves with you when you walk now. You’re not sure if or when the outline will fade. But you know it’s there. So, that is how you go forward — with the blurry you in lockstep. The you that was, for a pomegranate seed of time, a mother.
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