By Amanda E. Snyder
I’ve never done things in my life the way you’re supposed to. Or when you’re supposed to.
As an undergrad, I majored in fiction writing. (Seriously.) Then, after acing my first Big-Time Job Interview post graduation, which was as a copywriter for a restaurant food supplier in Chicago, I turned down the job because I knew that I’d be unhappy. I was 21 and financial stability wasn’t something I cared about.
Having a family wasn’t on the radar, either. In my 20s, it was always so distant; the idea of a family was nice, but I knew I wasn’t even close to ready. Dating in my 30s I had thought would be easier (aren’t we all supposed to be getting more mature by now?) but it proved just as difficult as ever. As for that far-away image of kids, that only diminished in my 30s. I loved being an aunt and I loved my freedom. I did want a partner, sure. But kids were not something I needed.
But then…oh, but then. At 39, I met a tall, dark, and handsome 27-year-old Brazilian man named Davi who remarkably had gone to college near my ultra-rural western Illinois hometown. We felt terrifically familiar to one another and less than three months after meeting, moved in together. One day when discussing our future, we broached the subject of children. We were at an Irish bar in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. We hadn’t moved in together yet. It was the 4th of July and we were creating our own pub crawl. It was early afternoon and we were two or three beers in.
“You know how there are some women who are, like, mothers through-and-through? Even before they’re mothers?” I asked, sipping my beer. “I’m not one of those people. It’s not that I don’t want children, but I don’t need them.” I wanted the circumstances to be right – the partner, the income, stability – and if that didn’t happen, I didn’t want to bring kids into the picture.
Davi nodded and gripped his glass and half-chuckled. “Well me, I am one of those people. I really want to have kids.”
And right there, I felt my perspective slide just a little. I could see a family with him, this young and familiar man who most of the time, acted more mature than me.
So nearly nine months later, when I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed. I mean sure, the ESL school where I worked had just closed the week before, I was freelancing part-time for a non-profit and had no savings, but I had a supportive partner who would make sure everything would be alright. I was working from home the day I found out, and after getting a positive pregnancy test that morning with a cheap internet testing strip, I rushed out to buy another test (no surprise: also positive), What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. I had called the doctor, certain that I needed to rush directly to the office – because I’m a 40-year-old woman pregnant for the first time and I had no idea what I was doing. That’s an emergency in my book, folks! But the nurse I spoke with talked me through guidelines (Nothing raw! Less than 200 mg of caffeine! Take those pre-natals!) and scheduled my ultrasound.
My boyfriend came home from work that night and we ate dinner while watching a Cubs game, but I (duh) passed on my usual Friday post-work cocktail. I was the best kind of anxious when I went into the kitchen to collect two wine glasses and the Welch’s. I made up a silly conversation starter, hoping to sound nonchalant: Oh honey, before I forget, there’s something you need to put on your calendar in late November…early December. I walked up to the chair in the living room where Davi sat watching the game. Because that’s when our baby’s going to be born.
Not even a full second passed before he jumped up. “Baby, are you pregnant?!” The next hours were a glorious high, calling our families, swearing them to secrecy, laughing, hugging. It would be his mother’s first grandchild and my mom’s sixth; both were equally elated.
It was an unbearable two week wait until the first ultrasound. I’d calculated that I would be six and a half weeks along, but was hoping that I’d be more. That week, I’d had some mild pregnancy symptoms: heartburn, a little tired, some trouble sleeping, and really wanted to be as far along as possible. The ultrasound had to be vaginal because it was still so early. The wand they used was shaped like a thick curling iron and the doctor – a kind, no-nonsense woman – moved it so gently that it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d feared. We saw a little round peanut on the edge of a black circle on the screen. The measurement showed it was only just over six weeks, but the next ultrasound would prove a better measurement, the doctor assured us. My boyfriend and I peered at the round little cluster on the black-and-white monitor. There was a brilliant little wiggling flutter it was making. The heartbeat.
“Everything looks great,” the doctor said afterward, as she was preparing to leave. We left with a boatload of information on various tests, and the coveted ultrasound photo.
We rushed home and called our families and sent them the picture. I started a baby registry on Amazon but only added diapers, a baby carrying wrap, and several Cubs onesies before I realized I wasn’t sure what exactly we’d need. There were so many things: a crib, a changing table, a stroller, bottles, lots of little tiny baby beanies because babies always need hats.
Wasn’t there a list somewhere I could copy-and-paste? Or maybe my big sisters, with five children between them, could handle this? They were super good at that. Even though I was 40, I was still the baby of the family and felt clueless.
I wanted to be showing immediately. I wanted belly-hugging tops and cute maternity swimsuits. I wanted to feel the baby kick, and have the baby listen to samba through headphones perched on my belly. I dreamed about breastfeeding (cool!) and childbirth (scary!) and contacted a friend who worked as a doula. When I read that the embryo was the size of a blueberry, we took to referring to it as “the little blueberry.” My boyfriend took on some pregnancy symptoms with me – upset stomach, back pain. “Man, this pregnancy has me all outta whack,” he joked one afternoon. We talked about names: Camila! Isabela! Rafael! Gabriel! Antonio! Gabriella!
It was hard to make things seem real at just six or seven weeks, but I was trying.
The pregnancy symptoms that had simmered in the week before the ultrasound exploded in the week afterward. I was beyond exhausted, but at night, I was so uncomfortable and achy – not to mention going to the bathroom two or three times – that I couldn’t sleep. And while I never threw up, I had constant nausea. But it wasn’t the too drunk or too sick nausea where you know that throwing up would make you feel better. It was just an ever-present and brutal sour stomach. At the same time though, I was ravenously hungry. I had to nibble every hour to abate the nausea-hunger duo, but if I ate too much it was just as bad. I kept reading that no extra calories were needed in the first trimester and weight gain was supposed to be just 1-4 pounds in those first three months. I was certain I’d gained more than that in week seven alone.
My boyfriend, who already worked a 9-5 office job, took up the dishes and the laundry and the cooking and everything else I couldn’t get to anymore, even though I was only working 20 hours a week, largely from home.
I started to worry about everything…did we have enough money for this? Would we ever go on a good vacation again? How would my body change? How would our relationship change? Could I still dance samba in a bikini and drink whiskey and be crazy hot in a dress as a mother? How would we find a babysitter we could trust? How would we make sure the baby knew our families – mine in Chicago and my partner’s in Brazil? Would we get married? If we did, would I be a beautiful bride, or just a tired mom? Did it matter? Was I ready for the sacrifices I would have to make for the rest of my life? Did I have a choice?
In the week before the second ultrasound, the symptoms that I thought were already bad got worse. I cried daily. I knew that the emotional roller coaster was part of pregnancy and I tried to remember that, but it didn’t always work. One night, Davi and I went on a late-night grocery run together and I began crying when we got home because, “We’ll never be able to do that once the baby comes!” (Note: We had never, not once in our relationship prior to this, gone a late-night grocery run together. So who knows why this bothered me?) My boyfriend hugged me and smoothed my hair and assured me it would ok, that we had, you know, like seven or eight months before we’d need to deal with that, and that babysitters were not impossible to find. I woke up late the next night and cried because I didn’t want to buy a maternity wedding dress. I cried one morning because I just wanted to feel normal again.
I stopped thinking about names, about the baby registry, kept putting off taking weekly belly photos because I didn’t want to look at myself, forgot about wanting to start a pregnancy journal because it would just be filled with musings about how horrible I felt. One afternoon while on the phone to my sister, I told her what I had been afraid to say out loud: I’m not ready to be pregnant yet. I wish it were a little further down the line.
In truth, I wanted everything to happen in the “right” way, probably for the first time in my life. While I’m not the type of woman who gives a rip about a traditional wedding, I did want an amazing dress and I wanted a fun party with my family and friends to celebrate. I also wanted booze-soaked vacations in tropical places and a house that was ours and a savings account with more than $10 in it. Then I wanted kids.
It was a surprise to me, but I wanted the storybook. Still, when you don’t decide you want that until you’re 40, you don’t have time for that kind of storybook.
There’s not much I can do about it now though, I said to my sister, who assured me I would learn to roll with the punches and it would be ok.
I had my sisters to confide in, but I also craved a kind of anonymity I could only find on social media. I created an anonymous Twitter profile about being newly pregnant. I tweeted out the things I’d been thinking and feeling, with a sarcastic bent.
Can I ask for a seat on the train if I don’t look pregnant yet?
Is there a word for this nausea-hunger thing?
If I ever write a Yelp review about being pregnant…pregnancy should be very worried.
They were silly but it felt good to shout into the void. I even tweeted about feeling guilty for being concerned about my appearance. I knew that I was not alone, that other pregnant women had to feel these things too. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s that showing your vulnerability brings about connection with other people and that’s what I needed. I needed it to be ok to say that I was having a super shitty time being pregnant. I needed to be able to say those things and not feel like a bad mother-to-be.
Because I felt like an awful mother-to-be.
Between my grandma, mom, sisters, aunts, and cousins, they’d had roughly 12,000 children. And these maternal superheroes…had I ever heard them complain like I was complaining? Surely they didn’t cry in the shower because their boobs hurt and the water was too cold, right? They weren’t so vain as worry about their waistlines while growing humans, did they?
A few days before the second ultrasound, as I lay listless on the couch one morning and dreading my day, I recognized my listlessness for what it was: depression. I was no stranger to the cousins of depression and anxiety. They’d been masked under “pregnancy mood swings,” but they were there, sure enough. I knew that they crawled into your bones, weaved their way through your muscles, causing pain and aches. And I also knew that all I needed was perspective. I understood that come December, we’d have our little blueberry and we’d spend hours staring at the baby, wondering how we’d ever passed the time before they arrived. It was just hard to remember that when I felt like I was going to vomit all the time and hadn’t had the energy to shower in a day and a half. I decided I would talk to the doctor at the next appointment about some kind of therapy geared toward moms-to-be.
I was excited for the next ultrasound. I knew that seeing how much the baby had grown and nailing down the due date would bring back some of the zip that I’d lost in the last two weeks. I was looking forward to another ultrasound photo and sharing it with the sweet grandmas.
In the examination room that day – a tiny little square room that barely held the doctor and my boyfriend and I – the doctor told us that the tests we wanted – in just two weeks! – would also tell us the baby’s gender via email. I hadn’t realized that we’d know the baby’s gender with the test or that we’d know it so early. How cool!
Again, the doctor readied the curling iron-ultrasound wand. I laid back and she inserted the wand and moved it gently. The black circle appeared, and as she moved the wand, we saw not one, but two little blueberries at opposite ends of the circle.
It’s hard for me to remember the exact order of what happened next.
Oh SHIT. Twins!
My boyfriend and I had thought, at the first ultrasound, that we’d briefly seen a flash of a second embryo. I even had a dream about having twins and had – several times – read articles about having twins and what the symptoms were. In retrospect, that’s one reason my pregnancy symptoms were so awful – I was getting double the hormones. All the articles said that symptoms were twice as bad with twins…but what did I have to compare it to?
My boyfriend pointed out the second blueberry to the doctor. He said something about it, I said something about it. I’m not sure exactly what.
Because I realized that the doctor hadn’t spoken in what seemed like a year and a half.
She was peering closely at the monitor. I saw it before she spoke. Or rather, I saw what she didn’t see: There was no little wiggling flutter this time.
Neither of them.
There was no heartbeat.
“I’m less concerned about there being two,” she began slowly, “than the fact that I can’t find a heartbeat here.”
Other things happened. The wand moving, more peering at the screen, tears rolling back and puddling in my ears, my boyfriend gripping my hand, his lips on my forehead, we’re ok, it’s ok baby, it’s ok. I wanted to wail, to have my body wracked with sobbing, but as it was, my crying was making the ultrasound picture blurry. I tried to calm my body but the tears wouldn’t stop.
The doctor had looked closely at both bundles on the screen, seeing no movement. They measured only seven and a half weeks, when they should have been eight and a half weeks. She asked if she could bring in another doctor to confirm what she was(n’t) seeing and we said yes, but I knew there wouldn’t be a different outcome. Another kind woman came into the already small room and inserted the wand again. There was more talking, more peering at the screen.
But they were both gone.
It was called a missed miscarriage: the embryos had stopped developing, but my body hadn’t realized it yet.
My options were to wait and let my body figure things out and miscarry “naturally,” to take a prescription drug at home to speed up the process, or to have a D&C, a dilation and curettage, a surgery to remove everything. Because there were two, the doctor recommended the D&C. With the “at home” options, there was a chance that tissue would still remain and I would have to have the D&C anyway, so that’s what I chose.
“I want you know,” the doctor said before leaving, “that you didn’t do anything to cause this, and there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it.” She repeated that. “I know you’ll probably think ‘What did I do last week?’ but please, there’s nothing that you did.”
But when someone tells you, ‘Don’t think about elephants!’ what’s the first thing you think of?
Did my hatred of morning sickness kill my embryos?
Did my listlessness and late night tears kill them?
Did my vanity cause this?
Did my depression and anxiety do this?
Oh, I heard motherhood, or the universe, or God, smirking at me. You say you’re not ready to be pregnant yet? How about now that you’re not? I’ll bet you’re ready now. Motherhood doesn’t need vain little weaklings like you. We only take warriors.
I would never not feel guilty.
The procedure was simple and the doctors and nurses were unbelievably compassionate. I didn’t want to feel or remember anything about it, so I kept asking for more medication, but I do remember that one nurse held my hand during the entire procedure. She was pregnant.
As I write this, I’m not even a week post-surgery. I finally feel like myself again, and in what seems a recurring theme, I feel guilty for feeling good. I feel guilty for being happy that things are returning to normal, and that I have more time to prepare for being a mother.
“You are the last person who needs to feel guilty about anything,” my boyfriend comforted me when I told him that, after a great night out.
Thankfully, I think I’m beginning to believe him.
Amanda E. Snyder is a writer, teacher, performer and Chicago-lover who lives in northern California with her partner and dog. She’s performed her writing at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Second Story in Chicago, as well as Quiet Lightning and the Marsh Theater, both in San Francisco.