Last week I went to my obstetrician for a routine pre-natal visit. (Summary of findings: baby is healthy, mommy is gaining entirely too much weight. You’re welcome for the update.) As usual, I was running late and did not have time for insignificant, time-sapping trivialities like “make-up” and “non-yoga pants.” As I rushed my already-waddling self through the late-Spring Tennessee heat and into the building, I had already begun to sweat. Thankfully a kind soul held the elevator for me even as the doors were closing, because I was already late and definitely was not feeling a 5-flight hike up the stairs.
As I caught my panting breath on the elevator, I couldn’t help noticing the woman standing next to me. She was tall, thin, and very attractive. I looked down at my swollen belly and suddenly could feel the extra padding on my hips and thighs. Her hair was about the same length as mine, but hers was perfectly styled in those loose curls I can never seem to master. I thought about my barely-brushed ponytail that I pretend is there because of my hurry, but really I wear it like that every day. Her polished, professional attire suggested she would be heading back to an office after this, and, based on her shoes, I imagine it is a pretty well-paying office. I tugged at my yoga pants that will never fit quite right while I’m pregnant and pulled my husband’s t-shirt down over my stomach. My feet were already swelling in my now-tight sandals. I wonder when I’ll be able to wear real clothes again? I thought. I started mentally counting the weeks until delivery, plus 6 weeks post-surgery until I’m cleared for physical activity, plus however long I will be nursing before I can start cutting calories, plus… how long did it take me to lose those first 20 lbs? Plus 40 more lbs… It was starting to feel like forever before I would be myself again…
My pity-party-train-of-thought was abruptly interrupted as the third passenger exited the elevator. Now it was just me and Beauty Queen for one more floor, and this enviously beautiful woman turned to me and smiled. “You look gorgeous,” she said sweetly.
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Thanks,” I replied, “I was just thinking how I feel like a whale.”
She smiled again. “No, you look beautiful. I’m not just saying that. Really, you just have that glow.”
I thanked her again as the doors opened to the 5th floor. Quietly we both walked down the hallway and, sure enough, through the same door to the OB-GYN. I took a seat by my husband, who, of course, was on time, while she went to the corner alone. She could have been there for routine care or any kind of visit, but after our conversation in the elevator and the heartfelt way she looked into my eyes when she spoke, suddenly I recognized her. Eleven months ago, that was me.
Last May I learned I was pregnant again, just 6 weeks after miscarrying my 4th child. A few days later I learned that my bloodwork indicated another miscarriage was impending, so I went to the doctor every other day for blood and urine samples until the loss was confirmed.
Every other day, I walked into that office and took my seat in a waiting room full of pregnant women. Every other day, I overheard whispered conversations with husbands about where they should put the crib and what color to paint the nursery. Every other day, I watched women drink that awful orange juice for the glucose tolerance test and complain about how long this would take. Every other day, I observed exasperated moms wrestle with bored toddlers while simultaneously soothing their fussy newborns. Every other day, I sat with expectant teen girls as they flipped through parenting magazines, not really reading the words, anxiety written across their young faces.
Every other day, I sat surrounded by babies while I waited for my own child to die.
There’s really not a way to explain the pain of that juxtaposition, feeling the weight of my broken womb sitting among the healthy ones. After a while the phlebotomist who drew my blood every other day stopped trying to make lighthearted conversation and would simply insert the needle into my familiar left vein while I looked the other way, eyes filled with tears. When she was done, we nodded to each other, and I walked wordlessly from the office to my car, where I could let out my emotions.
Being around pregnant women remained difficult for months following my 2nd miscarriage, which finally happened naturally at not-quite-9 weeks gestation. Like this mom said, “A single miscarriage felt like a fluke; a second consecutive miscarriage felt like the deepest blow and left me weary and wounded, both physically and emotionally.” When I did see expectant mothers, it was all I could do not to approach them with love and encouragement and just a tinge of jealousy, reassuring them that they are beautiful and so, so very blessed with that little life inside. (My husband informed me this was weird, so I held my tongue… usually.)
So to the beautiful woman on the elevator, I see you. You may be here at the doctor for another fertility consultation, because after months or years of trying, you just aren’t getting pregnant. You could be here for bloodwork – again – unsure if this time will be good news or bad. You could be consulting the doctor about whether a DNC is necessary. You might be here for that dreaded follow-up appointment – the one where you have to sit in the same place where your dreams were just crushed and see the words “non-maternity” on your chart, knowing hope is officially lost.
My friend, I have been there. I see you, and I feel your pain. My wounds are yet fresh, and your kind remarks and longing glances are not lost on this still-grieving mother’s heart.
Friend, I promise to joy in this pregnancy as much as possible. I promise to delight in each kick and surprise trip to the bathroom, knowing my active baby is a healthy one. I promise to breathe deeply and allow my body to do its thing (with a little help from the anti-clotting medications I take every day), accepting my current status as life-giving vessel, whatever toll that takes on the bathroom scale. I promise to remember that the gift in my womb is greater than the price my body will pay for it. And I will remember that this precious child has 3 others at home, anxious to hold him in their arms as well as mine, and that’s 4 times the heartburn, aching joints, sleepless nights, and endless love you may have experienced.
I will do this for you, because I have been there. I will not take this pregnancy for granted, because I know firsthand it is not. I will not compare myself to others any more than you wish to compare your toned, flat abdomen to my swollen and flabby and full one. Because I know you would give anything to trade places. My friend, I am sorry. I’m sorry for my pity-party in the elevator, and I am sorry for your wounded spirit. I won’t offer you blithe condolences that don’t really help, but I will assure you that you’re not alone.
You are not alone.