Hi folks, this is Lin, the husband. I’m gonna talk a little about Ultrasound Day, and then Marc will be back to bring this story up to the present day.
In the summer, because of our strange work schedules, Marc & I usually only have Tuesday and Wednesday during the day to see each other. But the ultrasound appointment gave us a whole Sunday night and Monday together, and in the middle of it, we were going to finally see evidence of the embryo (or embryos) that The Numbers told us had been growing. It was like Christmas in July!
As we drove out of town toward Connecticut (on a route that we’re developing a commuter’s sense of navigating), the skies grew dark and ominous. Well, maybe not ominous, because, as I had to remind myself, the world’s weather systems know nothing of “foreshadowing.” Our optimism was hard-won, over the past year of false starts and setbacks, and we were keeping a pit bull’s grip on it. But before we even left the state, the traffic slowed to a frustrating crawl, as we realized that the flash flood pouring down around us had washed out an entire lane of the highway. Now our expectations dialed back from “Will there be 1 or 2?” to “Will we even get there on time?”
The drive through the downpour was uncharacteristically quiet. I was revisiting some anxieties that seem to stand up in the back of the class and wave their hands frantically whenever we approach a milestone in this process: “Is this really happening? What’s life with a baby gonna be like? Is this, in fact, a terrible idea?”
Fortunately, the “flash” in the flood’s name asserted itself, and the skies mellowed to a dreary humid gray. We arrived at the expansively-named Hospital of Central Connecticut with five minutes to spare. Jeanne was already there, and we met her among the Get Well cards and ceramic angels of the gift shop.
She looked great, apropos of nothing. I’d heard about this “maternal glow,” and while I wasn’t sure she had that, she seemed to have lost some weight and looked healthy (beneath the surface of nervous excitement). Having been to this facility before, she led us through the labyrinth of carpeted hallways and gently-swinging doors and hospital beige – and, honestly, if she hadn’t, we would still be looking for the exit to this day.
We let Jeanne take charge of the proceedings, as she was definitely the patient here, and we settled into the waiting room and our strange role as… what? Not husband, more than donor, not yet fathers. The clinic literature says “Intended Parents,” which makes me think of how men used to describe their fiancées: “My intended.” To me, it implies a lack of follow-through, and worse – waiting. So much waiting. But before long, we were invited into the room where Jeanne was in position, and we were introduced to the very kind and comfortable doctor (the daughter, it turns out, of the man who oversaw Jeanne’s previous surrogacy).
Now, after the blood test fiasco/series-of-unnecessary-panics, I had made sure to ask more questions about what we were looking for with this ultrasound, to regulate our expectations. The optimal scenario was a visible heartbeat (hard to imagine in something the size of a blueberry…), and obviously how many of the embryos implanted. I had looked at pictures of 6-7 week embryo development, to be prepared. (We’re talking “tadpole-stage” here; they’re gross, if you’ve never seen one, suspiciously like the creature in Alien.) But, remembering the surreal experience of watching the ultrasound of the implantation, I knew that we were totally dependent on the doctor’s explanation of what we were seeing.
So, with a quick intake of breath, in goes the “divining wand,” and video starts showing up on the monitor. It’s the usual security-cam, grainy black-and-white blobs and shapes. One of us was supposed to be recording this on his phone, but neither of us moved. We waited.
And there was silence. On the monitor, and in the room.
Then the doctor said, “I’m sorry guys, I don’t see anything.” In fact, I had been thinking the same thing. I didn’t see anything. She explained that there was an enlarged “yolk sack,” that she could see where one embryo had implanted, but it was no longer there. The enlarged yolk sack was an indication of what she called a “blighted embryo,” a false start, an embryo with chromosomal problems that the body, in its mute genius, rejected because it would not develop properly. She said again, “I’m really sorry.” And we did not look at each other.
Optimism comes naturally to Marc; it’s his default position. But it does not come naturally to me. As I have learned from the beauty of being with Marc, optimism can be its own reward, regardless of the outcome. But it did not feel that way at that moment. It felt like an “I told you so.”
I asked some more questions, because I realized that, once again, I didn’t know enough to process what was happening. Or maybe knowledge is, for me, a salve – I doubt anyone who knows me would argue with that. The long and short of it was, the pregnancy didn’t take and needed to be stopped. Jeanne’s body still thought it was pregnant, and the hormones she was injecting daily were contributing to that. Maybe her body could “pass” the failed pregnancy on its own, but that was risky and should probably be sped along. It is, after all, hard to fiddle with the dials of nature and then stop.
When we have since told this story to friends who have been through the IVF process, they have all said, “Once you have the baby, you won’t even remember this part.” And while I understand that this is an outcome of rolling the dice (“the most common type of first-trimester miscarriage,” we were told), I have to admit that it is hard to shake the memory of looking at that monitor, trying to make a constellation out of the disparate stars, and coming up short. The human mind is mercifully, brilliantly capable of looking into the night sky and seeing either patterns or a void, but never both at the same time. It is a sad night when it’s the latter, but there is always that chance, when you look over tomorrow’s edge. Eventually, it will become a pattern, it will become “the way it was supposed to be” -- we love narrative too much for it to be otherwise. But for now, it was emptiness.
We were sent out of the room first, and shared a long hug in the waiting room. I went to the restroom, feeling nauseous. When I came back, Marc was with Jeanne, who looked distraught. Marc later told me that she was on the brink of tears, that she said she felt so bad for us. I still can’t wrap my brain around what she’s doing for us, and to think that her sadness was for US, while it was HER body that was still deep in the process, is a testament to her incredible generosity.
We continued with our plan to go to a nearby diner for lunch, a metal-sided throwback in the heart of downtrodden New Britain, CT. The sky was still bruised and pouting; it felt right now, a soft drizzle falling. And the diner offered the much-needed greasy burgers and sandwiches, the limp fries and oily coffee. I think I had a salad, as if my diet mattered at this moment.
And we talked our way through it, the three of us. Jeanne at one point said, “Well, everything was going a little too well…” which is my kind of fatalistic thinking. But it started to build the story – as I later mentioned to Marc, at each turning point in this process, we’ve never gotten it right the first time. And, as sad as we all were, we found things to talk about, and we stumbled our way through what happens next. Strangely, I’ve never felt more at ease talking with Jeanne. We were clearly in this together. And so it goes: You put one foot in front of the other and, before you know it, you find yourself moving down the road.
Earlier in the week, we had decided that, after the appointment, we would go see The Dark Knight Rises. Maybe an odd choice, but there was an IMAX theater in the neighboring town, and I didn’t know when we would have enough time together to see it before the end of summer. But I was having second thoughts about going to a movie, or doing anything distracting. So Marc, at the wheel, drove us to the mall that housed the theater anyway, and we found ourselves wandering in a daze around Marshall’s. It made me realize that, really, this is what malls are for. They exist outside of time and experience, they are life’s Gift Shop, where you figure out what you’re going to do next.
We made a few phone calls, which was hard because it makes it real to tell someone. Marc found a great deal on jeans -- $8! – and we decided that maybe the movie was just the thing we needed. To “check out” for three hours, to be assaulted by light and sound, to witness the artful destruction of New York City (again). And I will say, it was strangely gratifying to watch people aggressively, passionately beat the shit out of each other, to save the world.
Afterward, back on the highway, we started to find our footing. We talked about how to proceed, how dedicated we still were to the process, what this new future would look like. We looked each other in the eyes and started to make plans. We vowed to do things differently next time, because vowing feels like control. And I felt all those silly anxieties about having a kid dying a quiet death in the back of my brain.
One of the things I said I needed was to include fewer people in the process, to not update nearly everyone we knew on the day-to-day ups and downs. I realized why conventional wisdom says to wait until after three months to share the good news. But our “coming out” about the pregnancy started when we decided to begin the process. Because, after all, it would be hard for us to suddenly say, “Guess what? We’re pregnant!” Or maybe it’s just difficult for us because we’re compulsive sharers. But, thinking about all the people I would now have to share the bad news with, I shuddered with the perpetual reliving that would follow.
Before the movie, I had a great conversation with my father, who was practical in a way that I needed. He said he would share the news with my mother, but later, as I was standing in the mall parking lot, she called anyway, because, as she said, “I just had to hear your voice.” (Which, I might add, may be the single greatest reason to call a person ever.) She's no stranger to prenatal disappointments, and when I told her about my plan to tell fewer people in the future, she, in her wisdom, said, “Oh, you can’t do that. You share your joys with your friends, and then you share your sorrows. That’s how that works.”
So, here they are, friends: the joys and the sorrows. And I’m sure there will be more of both before this is all over. But in the meantime… more waiting.