Every night for the last few weeks, Ellie and I have climbed into bed after working all day, ready to snuggle like we have for years. But that’s the only thing routine about our bedtime routine. We may read a book or we may lay in the dark while I sing her Angel from Montgomery by Bonnie Raitt or I may just put the TV on. Whatever she wants to do to wind down, I will comply with. But in these more recent weeks the routine, for once, has remained the same.
Softly and quietly, she settles onto my belly, pressing her ear near my navel. I know what her request will be now before she even asks.
To be honest, I was scared shitless. James and I had been trying for months, long before we had even thought about selling the farm and buying more land. And then things had happened so quickly with the farm sale and closing on the new land, by the time that I realized, now probably wasn’t a great time to have a baby, I was pregnant. And even though I was scared, I was excited. But mostly excited for Ellie.
We told Ellie immediately and she was as thrilled as I thought she would be. We don’t keep things from her and it was so important to us that we share this news with her too. My little farm girl, of course, curious and fascinated by all things anatomy, wanted to know everything. And so it began, thanks to YouTube, our nightly routine of watching videos of what her baby brother or sister’s development could be, as she laid with her head on my stomach. We covered everything from conception to 40 weeks pregnant. She’d watch the videos over and over again asking questions along the way. She was most recently looking forward to knowing that in a week or so, the baby would most likely be able to hear her voice and begin to know her. She learned all the proper terms for the body parts and the processes and she ate the information up. I wanted to include Ellie in every part of the pregnancy, so naturally I wanted her with me for my first ultrasound appointment. In anticipation she waited for the day, asking often when my belly would get really big like the mama pigs on our farm and asking how many sleeps before she could meet the baby.
She searched in silence, pushing and prodding and not saying a single word. I hadn’t wanted to come to the doctor in the first place, I truly cannot stand the doctors office. I told myself I was going to the doctor just to make sure there was only one heartbeat, twins would certainly push me over the edge. The sterile, cold environment, people always telling me I was gaining too much weight too fast, people making me hurry up and wait and wait and wait. I had no interest in going to the doctor, but I made the appointment and followed through just to be safe.
Aside from nightly cramping, that I thought was brought on from being so tired after working hard all day, I felt fine. Weeks prior, when I called the doctor about the cramping, they had told me that unless I was bleeding, I was probably fine. So at night I rested and made an effort to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
In fact, I I had been feeling so good lately and through the pregnancy, cramping aside, that probably for the first time in my adult life, as I filled out the questionnaire about depression, I confidently selected “NOT AT ALL” to the questions of how often I’ve felt helpless, hopeless or had thoughts of harming myself. As someone who has suffered from serious depression and anxiety throughout my life, I made a mental note to myself, confidently thinking, “Way to go, girl! You’re doing great!”
The ultrasound tech continued to stay silent, while Ellie recited the Three Little Pigs to me to occupy me from how uncomfortable I felt.
She quickly wrapped up and told me to get dressed and the doctor would go over things with me. She didn’t show me a single picture or give me any gentle explanation of what was happening. “Did you see a heartbeat? Was there even a baby in there?” Her response, “I’m not sure. The doctor will speak with you.” She walked out. Ellie asked, where the baby was and I told her I wasn’t sure. I felt ashamed for coming to the doctor, wondering if despite the positive pregnancy test, maybe I wasn’t even actually pregnant and it was all in my head. I dressed and we were ushered out of the room back to the waiting room. For 45 minutes we sat in the waiting room knowing nothing while my mind raced.
In that moment, in the uttering of the three syllables spoken, things crashed around me. My feelings drained from my body, I watched as the hope and joy emptied and spread over the cold, white tile floor. I felt my belly, I didn’t believe them. I looked up at the ceiling, stopping myself from screaming at them to do something about it, to fix it. The nurse practitioner’s voiced drowned on in the background and I looked at Ellie. I heard my heart shatter. I tried to get up and leave, but they wanted me to make a choice of how to proceed, I shut down. I didn’t know what to say to them. I couldn’t look anyone, except Ellie, in the eye. Ellie moved closer to me, my tears poured. I picked her up. “Ellie,” she looked at me with wide curious eyes, “mommy’s baby died. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” Stoically she responded, “yes.” “Do you have any questions for the doctor?” Again, “Yes.” She turned and faced the nurse practitioner. “How did the baby die?” The nurse practitioner tried to explain, it was obvious she never had to explain what “not viable” meant to a 4 year old. I interrupted and explained how sometimes babies just don’t grow how they should and the baby just wouldn’t have been healthy if he or she had survived.
Sometime during the tears, Ellie was given tissues and she wiped my face. She wiped them away and as more poured, she wiped again. I told her I was so very sorry. More than anything I wanted her to have a baby brother or baby sister. “It’s ok, Mom. I have Moose and my chickens and the pigs and Cowgirl and Cowboy. I don’t need a baby sister or baby brother. I have my big brother too.” She kept wiping my face.
The more proud she made me with her bravery, the more I cried. I cried in sadness of knowing what an amazing big sister she would be.
As I walked out of the room and back into the waiting room to leave, I saw all of the moms to be sitting, waiting, with big, pregnant bellies. The door opens and everyone’s eyes lift, hoping it’s the person that’s going to call their name next. But it was just me, a woman who had just found out her baby had been dead inside of her for weeks as she excitedly prepared. As quickly as I had pulled it together, I lost it again. Shouldn’t there be a secret exit for those of us whose mascara is running down their face, eyes swollen, sadly leaving? Instead, they put you on display. I hated doctors offices even more in that moment. It was obvious what had happened and minutes after finding out, everyone else in that waiting room knew too. I raced out, head down, tears running.