Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What happened last time

I was cautious. I barely told anyone, even my family, and when I rubbed my belly, I said, "I hope I get to meet you."

Thus it was not entirely a surprise when, seven weeks pregnant and on a one-day trip to Los Angeles, I looked at the toilet paper after peeing and saw a tiny, miniscule amount of spotting.

The following day was my "viability check." This is the ultrasound they do at around 7 weeks to check the pregnancy -- is there a heartbeat, is it ectopic, etc. Even before the spotting, I was counting the hours before the appointment, as I knew that if you see a good heartbeat at that first visit, your risk of miscarriage drops from 25 percent to 5 percent. And when that day finally came, the office people gave me a big book about giving birth at the local hospital -- stopping once to swap out the first book they provided after realizing I was an elderly gravid -- before the ultrasound. Or in other words: before they knew if I was going to need it. Which, it seemed, I would not.

I will never forget how Dr. Unsympathetic squinched her face looking at the screen. The ultrasound revealed a week-smaller-than-expected embryo and a slow heartbeat. This, coupled with the spotting, was not good, but she was optimistic and sent me off for urine and blood tests and instructed me to return in a week. Only later would I learn, from reading my own medical records, that on this day she had recorded the phrase "possible embryo demise." Information that might have been useful if she had actually uttered it to me. (The good news, I suppose, was that I was pregnant and it was not ectopic.)

The following day, as I continued to spot, I called her and asked, how likely am I to miscarry? Her answer: 70 percent chance of a miscarriage. Hey, now that's information. Over the agonizing following week I barely held it together, shying away from children, painfully aware of my fading pregnancy symptoms, and petrified the increasing blood would begin flowing uncontrollably while at work. One week later, the follow-up ultrasound revealed what I already knew: the embryo was dead. We scheduled a D&C for the following day.

That night, I woke up with very strong cramps and knew the miscarriage was beginning. Over the next two hours I sat on the toilet, watching the products of my conception fall into the bowl. The bleeding was so heavy that I could barely leave the bathroom without making a complete mess. And though this experience was unpleasant, the fact that I was emotionally prepared for it made a tremendous difference. And since I knew I was going to the doctor the following morning, and since a close friend who had two miscarriages had told me what to watch for, I didn't worry too much as I sat there, cramping and reading magazines. All I can say is: thank god this did not happen at work, as it would have been absolutely horrifying.

The following day I brought my iPod to my appointment. When the D&C started, I pressed play on Coldplay's "Speed of Sound." Forty-five seconds later, it was over.

Note to medical staff everywhere: when a lesbian couple comes into the office with one partner pregnant, you can pretty much guess it's a wanted pregnancy. Therefore, when said pregnancy is miscarrying, it would be polite and decent to offer your condolences and express sympathy. A, "I'm sorry this is happening to you," would suffice. Instead, not a single person in that office ever offered emotional support to me; the closest was the one man in the office, a nurse midwife, who guided my partner over to me during the D&C and held my shoulder. He won the decency award that day, but unfortunately the competition was pretty pathetic.

After returning home, I spent the rest of the day lying on the couch. Friends brought me food. I was back at work the following day, ("what was wrong with you?" one boss asked. "A stomach bug," I lied -- I had decided a email reading, "I'll be out of the office Thursday having the remnants of my brief pregnancy sucked out of my uterus" might be uncalled for) and I was able to resume my normal activities immediately.

When I got pregnant last time, I asked Dr. Unsympathetic if I needed a blood test. She said it wasn't necessary, given that I was having pregnancy symptoms, had a positive pregnancy test, and missed my period. Yet those blood tests might have yielded information about how successful the pregnancy was destined to be. Certainly they would have been useful this time around, when I could have used them as a basis for comparison. (Pregnancies destined to miscarry seem to have lower HCG levels at first, and the rise seems to be slower. The general consensus is that last week's numbers are both high and rising nicely, so that's a comfort.)

This time, I've bid farewell to Dr. Unsympathetic (so long! don't let the door hit you on the way out!) and am hoping both for more empathy and, more importantly, better results when I go for my viability check (at my fertility doctor's office) on April 23. You can bet I'll be counting the hours again.

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