This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Since it’s been so hot out, I started the car and air conditioning before putting the kids in the car.
We’re less than a month from the Fourth of July, which just so happens to be my favorite holiday. A friend of mine is pregnant with her second baby and while wrangling her toddler, her belly, and her diaper bag the other day, realized a backpack diaper bag was going to be a necessity when her little girl arrives this fall. To my friends, I’ve been referring to the procedure, the uterine ablation, as “The Boiling.” It involves circulating hot saline within the uterine cavity to destroy the endometrial lining, which often lessens hemorrhagic periods, or makes them disappear altogether, but there are no guarantees, and considering my history of fibroids, the procedure is less likely to be successful.
When I was thirty-five weeks pregnant with Ian, my OB noted that he was measuring small and that my amniotic fluid was low.
As it turned out, part of the pre-op involved getting a pregnancy test, just to make sure we didn’t unwittingly cause a miscarriage. The Friday before the procedure, I walked myself into the Kaiser lab and extended my left arm, resting it on a vinyl platform.
Outside, the sycamore trees that line our street fan their leaves over me, and the sunlight filters through a blanket of haze. Author’s Note: “False Positive” is a companion piece to a recently-published essay about the loss of my daughter when I was twenty-three weeks pregnant. Genevieve Thurtle is a writer and teacher who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. It was on a sailing trip in Spain that I found out that I was “embarazada.” My husband and I had taken the trip, our first significant vacation away from the kids, under the auspices of work (as professors, we were checking out potential study abroad programs). I remained that way – in shock – for the first several weeks of my pregnancy, asking myself if I really wanted to go through with it.
As the weeks went by, I started to experience little flickers of excitement, often followed by huge pulses of worry and regret.
Throughout my pregnancy, as I oscillated between excitement and fear, I could not fully admit my dread, that I would not be able to mother this child with unconditional love and attention. And there was this, the question that kept me up at night: could I really find it within myself to be in love with my husband all over again, when it seemed so much easier to leave? There must be some gray area between obligation and love, a space for the choices we make out of both. And when I feel the now familiar twinge of regret, I look at Vela’s tiny eyelashes and remind myself to focus on the small steps on this shared and unpredictable path of joy. Rebecca Vidra lives with her husband and three daughters in the oak-sourwood forest of North Carolina, where Vela (named after the Spanish word for “sail”) just celebrated her first birthday..
I looked out the window at the orange glow of urban pollution against platter-sized flakes of snow that made up a muffled peaceful hush drifting upwards like specters.
On television that night John Lennon was being over-remembered on the anniversary of his shooting. I suddenly understood what it would have felt like to give up a child for adoption when adoption was secret and mothers too young.
We drove slowly from upstate New York to the city hospital on the flooded roads that were looking delta-like. As panic at the thought of the alternative rose like bile within me, I tried to steady myself.
He looked into the rear view mirror and placed his fingers on his eyebrows and moved them around.
At the hospital my husband and I stood outside in the early spring wind blows dampness around imagining the promise in existence everywhere. I understood that the scene was both beautiful and harsh and that these two things could easily be fused. Without all that is absent – what is taken from us – we do not know the truth about what is present. At 41 weeks pregnant, my auto-generated, pregnancy week-by-week email seemed certain this could only mean that I had neglected to click the link declaring my son’s arrival. My body was supposed to be doing something and it wasn’t and everyone was watching and there was nothing I could do about it. Of course, it’s a fitting parental lesson that actual children—as opposed to the theoretical ones we imagine before they’re born—have a way of derailing our most carefully constructed ideas about the world. A friend joked that I should drink heavily so the baby would think that my womb was no longer a hospitable environment. Nine days and I couldn’t sleep after my fourth or fifth night of contractions—who’s counting? Another check-up with the midwives… On the drive to their office, I fought with my husband over nothing. After a very quick check, the technician turned the ultrasound machine off and said, “You’re headed over to the hospital.
The hard-core midwife was furious that the technician told me what was going to happen to my baby.
The baby was fine, the midwife counseled, but he was feeling pretty happy in there, not ready for birth quite yet. The next morning, the new midwife on duty came into my hospital room, “Ready to meet this baby?” with a big smile. The midwife instructed the nurses to administer the pitocin at lower doses than what they are used to doing, and to step it up on a slower schedule. Birth is like that—so many things at once, so that the stories you tell later, what you say and what you leave out, are always inadequate. And in the end, it was just me, and my baby boy, and we went home to begin to get to know each other. He was big and healthy, and there were no physical signs that his body wasn’t ready to be born.
On the day that would have ended week 42, when even the midwives would have advised induction, he finally opened his eyes.
Author’s Note: My son is four and a half now and still sometimes seems like he wants to be on the inside. The stories I told myself and the ones my friends told me had this in common: they imposed order on a process beyond our control.
I didn’t know what to think of any of these stories, these tropes of magical thinking, including my own. One day, after nearly a year of trying and failing, after having spent thousands of dollars on frozen sperm and monthly inseminations, I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store. Now that I’m the parent of two young boys, there’s a mind game I like to play with myself sometimes.
The longer I tried and failed to conceive, the more I saw that there were plenty of people around me who wanted children and would never have them. At 32 weeks pregnant, I board a Chicago-bound plane from New York, teary eyed and wary about leaving my husband and traveling this late in my pregnancy. Cars honk and buses screech in the background as I walk home from work, but her voice still comes through stronger than the last time we spoke.
June 1 is my due date, and soon these words become her standard reply every time I ask how she is feeling. Forgetting things while pregnant may be a common issue that many women come across and is often referred to as ‘pregnancy brain’ or ‘baby brain’.
For some, one of the causes could be the surge of fluctuating pregnancy hormones that bring about changes to both body and brain. Some experts have also suggested that these cognitive slip-ups may also be a coping mechanism for mothers to adjust to a major life change and some also suggest that short term memory loss may be a result of being more focussed on imminent arrival of a new baby and spending more time thinking about the changes that will take place or how to take care of a new baby.
Another reason for lack of concentration or not being able to think clearly could be a result of depression. I definitely experienced this in my first two pregnancies and this one actually seems to be worse. Guess what, ladies -- research is proving what we already knew: That pregnancy turns your brain to mush. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, a woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth. When I was about 13 weeks pregnant with Nia (now 22 months), I showed up for my six-month dental checkup right on time. I was working for the international marketing division of our company when I was pregnant with Susan.
I get angry with myself for a moment, but then a ball of red and yellow goo flops onto the metal mesh, out of Egg Number One, and everything else is forgotten. There are other places to see, we can’t spend our only day in the museum watching chicks hatch.
The awesomeness of that choice has resonated with me forever; before I was even old enough to have children, I remember wondering, “how do you know how many to have?” This incident gave me at least one answer. Her work has appeared in parenting and children’s magazines, as well as other types of publications, in many countries, and her short fiction has won First Prize from the National Writer’s Association. The morning sky is golden with an unusual light, strangely honeyed by the ash and smoke of a days-long fire, which is still blazing a hundred miles northeast of us. And my uterus has always played the wild card, which is why I’ve come to resent it, as much as one can resent an organ.
I had complained about the test when the nurse told me to get it done a few days before the procedure.
I let the lab tech, a young Filipina woman tie off my arm with a blue latex band, and made a ball with my fist so when she tapped the thin skin of my inner arm a vein raised to the surface. She pressed a wad of cotton into the punctured skin, and with her other hand, wrapped purple adhesive gauze around my entire arm to secure it. That maybe I was pregnant and miscarried, and the test’s still picking up the hormone, or maybe I’m pregnant now.
The air smells like a distant campfire, but I know better, and think briefly about the wildfire blazing a hundred miles north of us.
He has his driver’s license now, and the world we inhabit with her is becoming a mirage to him, attenuating before his eyes as the world beyond us grows more real. It’s mid-program, and at first I have no idea what the show’s guests are talking about, but it soon becomes clear. Yu will call with the results, will tell me I’m not pregnant, that the first test was wrong.
Nine years have passed since then, but I find myself still writing about her, and in the process, exploring how a parent’s imagination works mightily to re-create a lost child, a child she never got to know. I viewed it as our last chance to renew our commitment by choice, not just because of the economic or logistical constraints of marriage. I searched the web for stories by women like me – middle-aged and facing an unplanned and, honestly, unwanted pregnancy.
I started a list of things I was not looking forward to – preschool birthday parties, pumping at work – and started a much smaller list of potential baby names. For months, I felt as if I were bracing for a big wave that I knew was going to knock me over hard.
The midwife did not arrive in time, leaving me to birth my baby with the help of my husband and doula. And it was at that moment, watching her arrive into this world, that I knew I could do this all over again. I don’t have the same energy for decorating a nursery, or chronicling her every move on a blog, or endlessly searching for the best preschool. What I remember most vividly about my son’s (still)birth is playing with the edges of things – discovering all sorts of peripheral realities where death meets birth.
I did what I could to stay present even as I left behind the life I had been leading until that point.
There is nothing significant within it except that I understood something abstract without being told. Had I stayed with the OB practice I started my pregnancy with, there’s a decent chance my baby would have been two days old, having arrived by way of induction sometime conveniently before 5:00 pm last Friday. Something beyond the unwieldy way you move and the way all clothing looks ridiculous by the end. After waiting an hour for anything else to happen, I cried to my husband, “I can’t be pregnant anymore.” He told me we’d talk in the morning and rolled over to sleep. Decisions that I knew weren’t right for me, even as I wondered if the OB practice I fled in early pregnancy might have an opening on Monday at 9:00 am.
That evening, I managed a quarter of a glass of the cold white wine I’ve been craving for months before heading off to bed, unable to even muster hope for a sleepless, eventful night.
Has every pregnant woman in the history of the world gotten through that awful last month of pregnancy by thinking the baby will come early? It took bravery and faith to believe that the baby was going to be okay and that I was going to make it to the end of the pregnancy with sound body and mind, with a healthy, happy baby. This baby is coming out today.” It took a moment to realize that she saying that something was wrong. It was not hers to make that decision and everyone felt terrible that her words set off such panic. I knew it was a product of modern medicine that we knew exactly how many days I had been pregnant, but it’s hard to resist the belief that the baby should be out when the calendar says so But none of that meant that I could calm down, sitting there in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors. My extreme anxiety, she said, may even interfere with the natural process of labor starting on its own, inhibiting the oxytocin release needed for labor. They did a few things to ready my body— stripped the membranes and inserted a medication to ripen the cervix—and then we waited it out overnight in the hospital.
I couldn’t help but think that maybe, in some intangible way, he hadn’t been ready for the world yet.
Still, he seemed like an inside baby, as if he had not yet decided to leave the darkness of my body.
She blogs at Crazy Like A Mom and can also be found on Facebook, and when she’s really crazy, on Twitter. When my children are hugging each other on the couch or running ahead of me on a dirt road, I take a snapshot in my mind and offer it to my earlier self, the me of nine years ago.
Some of them had never found the partner they were looking for, or they found that partner too late.
She takes the snapshot from my hand and reminds me of how badly I wanted the life I have now. We stare out at the waters together, and she places her wrinkled hand on my burgeoning belly.
My husband and I are going the traditional route and not finding out the gender of our baby.
It’s just like Nonny to come up with a clever way of expressing her desire without being too emotional. This usually involves forgetting things such as appointments, where you left your keys, or what you were about to say or do. Another factor could be that the number of brain cells of the expectant mother actually decreases during the third trimester, which can lead to difficulties with memory. Many women may find it difficult to sleep a full eight hours, especially in the late stages of pregnancy.
This theory would suggest that rather than being cognitively impaired, mothers-to-be are just using more of their brain power to think about their child, rather than everyday tasks or what they need to buy at the store.
This is another common aspect of pregnancy for some mothers, especially if they have a family history of depression or have previously suffered from it.
Many women feel as though their memory and brain function is hindered while they are pregnant, but tests have shown that while in fact mothers-to-be may feel this way, they don’t actually have a decline in performance in objective tests compared to the results of women who are not pregnant. Maybe because I already had mom brain (same definition as above) and add to that my age, lack of sleep and pregnancy and my brain is good as gone. Not me, I’m going to keep record of my moments where I lost my mind because that is just who I am! I couldn't focus, felt totally out of sorts, and started having anxiety that my numbskullness was going to lead to Tanner getting hurt or forgotten. Reading and writing have always been my passions so this allows me to incorporate them with the things that mean the most to me!
But then there are more gasps, and children point and whisper-shout and pull on sleeves or arms. She has lived and worked on several continents, and geography is one of the main ‘characters’ of her novels. It’s an unruly entity, wreaking havoc over the years with its pain and hemorrhaging, its fibroids and irritability. The uterus, with its destroyed lining, couldn’t support an embryo, which is why he only recommended it for women like me, ones who were older, who were done having their children.
In the car, I round the corner onto Ninth, and then, with the next left onto Delaware, the visions come back. They’re SETI researchers, and they speak with absolute certainty, voicing the belief I’ve heard many times before that the universe is too vast a place not to support life.
I already had two daughters, who I managed to keep alive and mostly happy for 10 and 8 years, respectively.
How would we be able to do the work necessary to strengthen our marriage, while having a needy baby to care for? I am not worrying about every little thing, though I do worry that I am not worrying enough. We tried to figure out how to explain the death of a baby whose existence had had never known to a young child.
I thought of all the babies born early, the inductions, the c-sections, but what I really envied were all the women who have managed to do this labor and birth thing on schedule the natural way. Where I came up with the idea that second babies are born earlier, I can no longer remember. I was advised to drink as much water as I could manage before more ultrasounds and fetal monitoring.
I was asked to repeat, “The baby is not in any danger.” I did not need to have this baby today. If she can’t let her thoughts slip away in late labor, to go to a place where her mind is lost inside her body, and her body is focused on getting the baby out, it can be harder to give birth.
The more frightened a woman feels, the more tension she holds in her body, the more painful contractions will feel. Even in the middle of the night, he has this sleep-walking way of finding his way into our bedroom. Because I’m a lesbian, I had already worked out all of the logistics: I knew when I ovulated, and I knew that the donor sperm we had purchased was viable—our doctor had watched them swim beneath a microscope. We planned this getaway before I told anyone I was pregnant, so I never raised my concerns about the timing. Just as she settles in to check for some movement, her future great-grandchild kicks out a giant thwack! And so it will be another few weeks before we know if my grandmother’s prophecy is correct. It seems that while my baby grows each day, getting ready to enter this world, my grandmother becomes weaker, getting ready to leave it. Many pregnant women may feel as though they are in a foggy haze, and are just generally don’t feel as sharp as normal. This is hardly surprising as mothers begin to feel the discomforts of carrying a nearly full-term baby. Depression can often cause someone to feel as though they are unable to focus or think clearly, and it is often accompanied by a sense or feeling of sadness or anxiety.
This suggests that while many women may feel as though pregnancy brain is a real condition, it may just mean that this is the perception of the pregnant mother.
The expectant moms had significant difficulty with memory issues, specifically for things that required extra effort, like learning new phone numbers or remembering doctor's appointments. The pinnacle day of lost brain consisted of me forgetting to eat breakfast, forgetting to pump, taking Tanner to daycare without a bottle (thank goodness the daycare lady had stored a frozen bottle for me, forgetting my cell phone (now, how is the daycare lady to reach me if I have no phone?), and forgetting books I needed for my class. I also remember feeling like I was losing it, thinking I had conversations with people that I never had. But nothing has so captivated as this little warm pyramid of glass with sixteen eggs in various stages of hatching. We knew a pregnancy would be high risk anyway, considering what we had been through the last time, and would need the closest of monitoring from the very beginning, and then months of bedrest, and I was done with monitoring and with control and the fear of more grief. An exhalation of disbelief is more like it, because nothing I say can get at that tangle that is Ian, his solitariness, and the sister he was supposed to have.
I wrap my hair in a band and push around the mail on our kitchen counter to unbury my keys. They talk about coded messages sent into the crushingly dark terrain of space, of two rational species, alien to each other, coming into contact for the first time. My career was finally recovering from my ill-advised “I can work full-time without daycare” years and I felt like I was finally reclaiming my own identity. I felt that intense panic of protectiveness that all new parents experience as I wondered if she could breathe on her own. A play therapist assured us that young children do not see death as either permanent or negative. I glanced at Reid in the rear view mirror and I thought about his sustaining love and how he could never know the impact of his presence.
The rain was stopping but rainbow colored oil slicks ran down in rivers towards gutters on the city streets.
At the Haydn Planetarium there is a plaque that describes the potential for interstellar life and how little we know yet about galaxies. The snow was blue against the winter sky and the embers of the orange light were fading and strewn across the sky.
The winter was the victor there and it contained much in the way of dormant things all trapped within it.
Every time I thought I had calmed my mind, my thoughts spiraled out again to worst-case scenarios: When was the last time the baby moved?
What if I left and the fluid level went down again and the baby wasn’t moving and I didn’t notice and he died and it was my fault?
I was lucky to have the right combination of what happened and what I needed—the gentleness of the midwives and the resources of the hospital. Maybe just an early sign of how unique each child is and how differently they need to be mothered, right from the start.
I swear he’s still asleep as he curls himself up perfectly against my body, somehow fitting into the three inches between me and the edge of the bed, and miraculously not falling.
Of the millions of sperm that would be delivered directly to my uterus, only one of them had to find my egg. Though I understood that conception took an average of three to six months, I knew plenty of women who had conceived on their first try. Surely my attitude was within my realm of control and yet, the more I tried not to worry, the more I worried, and the more I worried the more I blamed myself for worrying. Because my story has a happy ending, I can pretend that it was destined after all, that I was meant to be a parent. The amount of sleep one gets can definitely have an effect on cognitive ability, especially short term memory. If a pregnant woman feels as though she could be suffering from depression, it is important to not leave it untreated and seek treatment from a professional.
It is also thought that as pregnancy brain is commonly spoken about as a symptom of pregnancy, it could just be a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than an actual medical condition.
There's likely to also be increased difficulty with sleeping that can influence cognitive performance, including memory.
I remember my sister getting ticked off because we threw my mom a 50th birthday and I had thought I discussed some detail of it with her, but I later realized I had that conversation with my aunt. I still carry the guilt of his deprivation, my stingy uterus, only wanting to give him so much space, so much nourishment, my wild new mother’s love not enough to make him grow. It had taken so much time and talking to get better, and this state of better was fragile, like an eggshell, which made me angry. When he was in second grade, he was assigned a Day of the Dead diorama, commemorating someone he’d known who’d passed away. We will be the house he visits during the holidays, and if we’re lucky, during those summers he isn’t working elsewhere. The host asks about Hawking’s prediction, how the search for life beyond Earth is our most dangerous human undertaking, with its potential for catastrophe.
I’m realistic about this, yet it also re-oriented me to what love looks like on most days: doing the dishes, shuttling the kids to dance practice, not asking why I didn’t manage to take the garbage out (again). We passed the carriage horses on the way to a medical appointment and Reid watched them eat oats out of big buckets. I was shocked at the finality of and the force of regret I suddenly felt at what will be lost between he and I.
The blueness of the snow looked like the sea but perfectly still, beautifully captured imprisoned and resolute. Are his movements smaller because he’s run out of room, because he’s readying himself, or because of some other imagined thing? When life presents challenges, when it drops bombs of longing and grief, we inevitably grow and gain depth. We are the products of a series of infinite chances, bound to each other by the near-impossibility of it all. My 94-year-old grandma has been in and out of the hospital, and this trip provides me with an opportunity to spend time with her. But for my typically organized (dare-I-say anal?) self, the schedule faux pas was completely out of character.
Three years later, pregnant with a daughter, my uterus started to contract in the middle of the night, squeezing and squeezing until my water broke. I’ll avoid the 101, with its morning traffic, the surge of people heading down the Silicon Valley corridor. She’ll learn to read, and ride a bike, and make jokes, and swear, and he will be out in the world. As they talk, I conjure images of green antennaed creatures I remember from childhood cartoons.
Then, I remembered the little red sweater Reid wore when he waved and left the room, glancing backwards. That night as I lay in bed, soapy softness wafting off of him, I asked Reid whether he would crawl back in to my stomach and be a baby once more. I considered this all under the kaleidoscope sky with the apple trees, and the earth smell of fall everywhere. It had stored the light from the sun and it was still there within, beneath despite the general appearance of death, of nothing stirring.
The first time I lay on the exam table for an insemination—my feet in stirrups, my partner holding my hand—I summoned a feeling of openness and joy.
Her partner, on the other side of things, continues in a body unchanged by the ritual of hope and disappointment.
Their director, Alastair, had visited many times before and knew me quite well, so he had prepared his coworkers for my "ambitious" behavior in meetings. So I trustingly handed the girl a $20, she gave me my change, and I had to just hope it was correct. I want to be that chalice of life, and create something glorious, something that will make people teary-eyed. But until then, the disembodied voices on the radio fill the car with their musings about life beyond our world, and I see her and imagine knowing her, loving her. There were creeping early shots of colors in the trees as they prepared to burst into color and then retreat – a half death – until the spring. I gazed upon my baby on an ultrasound screen in sanity-saving weekly ultrasound appointments.
Her partner learns about the blood arriving, but is not the one checking her underwear every hour. Yu, my gynecologist, whom I will see later this week for the surgery or the procedure or whatever it is we’re naming it. I grip the steering wheel, making the many turns that will bring me home, and think of all that vastness hovering about us, of all the things real, yet undiscovered, and the unreal, beckoning for us to believe.
I looked at the weeping willows tacked up perfectly against the blue fall sky settling down from the scorch of summer; the world around began to recoil temporarily.
And nothing was going to happen to the baby in the time it took us to walk across the street for further monitoring.
I wasn’t expecting him to call, so I imagine the surgery schedule has gone awry, that they might have to postpone until later in the summer.
We would make the decision for ourselves, even if it meant scorching the land for the loss of a tree. I carry her from time to time, tell her she’s too old to be carried, but truth be told, I want to, so I lift her up and her legs wrap around my waist.
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