It was in a small, dark room by the glow of a computer monitor that I stopped being so damn cautious, so damn paranoid. So damn cynical. It was in a small, dark room on the glow of a computer monitor that my son came to life before my eyes.
A little over 6 months earlier, my wife reported to our IVF office for what was to be her last ultrasound before she was handed over to her own OB-GYN doctor. It was a frigid January morning, before dawn, but she was giddy. We’d been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years by then and had entered into IVF 7 months earlier. The first two rounds bore no results. Our doctor explained that there was nothing more they could do, but they’d attempt a third round anyway to ensure, basically, that they’d exhausted all the possibilities. But, then, she did respond. And in a blur, she was pregnant. Within a single month, we’d swung from total devastation to complete elation, suspended the entire time in utter disbelief.
My phone was ringing on the kitchen counter behind me. All I could hear and feel was my heart thudding in my chest. Text = good news. Call = bad news. After so many diversions, the tide finally seemed to be turning in our favor, to the extent that neither one of us thought much of her appointment that morning. She was excited to be making the 45-minute drive at 5 a.m. for the last time. But, otherwise, it was just a formality.
I answered and all I heard was sobbing. I started crying too, without even knowing why. She finally caught her breath long enough to say, “They lost the heartbeat.”
It was a long slog back to a life that resembled our normal state. Clare, my wife, blamed herself, out loud at first and then quietly, to herself, when she sensed I was running out of ways to tell her that there was no blame to be placed. She was inconsolable.
Even through the fog, she was determined to try again as soon as she could. What saved me from free-fall was knowing that we didn’t have to start from scratch. We still had a frozen embryo to fall back on. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t immediately use it, but it had to Clare. She was 35 now. The chances of us producing another sound embryo or two were shrinking dramatically by the month. She wanted to endure another round of injections in anticipation of trying to have a second child, or even needing another backup embryo. My heart sank. We’d already been through so much. Retreating to the injections would, best-case scenario, put a baby a year away. My mind ran through the last year, and I suddenly felt so tired. Our doctor advised us to move forward with the frozen embryo, and Clare, mercifully, yielded.
We were much more guarded the second time. The first, as soon as we learned she was pregnant, a hope unlike any I’d ever experienced began to bud between us. We weren’t naïve. The next nine months would be loaded with pitfalls. We knew that. But, increasingly, over the last couple of years, even reaching this point felt unrealistic. It was a big deal that Clare was pregnant again. We weren’t downplaying that. We just had a better appreciation of the weight of it.
We didn’t brainstorm names. We didn’t discuss the nursery. We didn’t joke about how clueless we’d be as parents. We didn’t tell our friends. And we didn’t tell our families. We did quietly go about our lives. Clare dutifully reported for her pre-dawn physical every couple of mornings. And I hovered over my phone until her text came. “Everything’s good.” And so, our lives progressed in 3- or 4-day increments.
Her last exam at the IVF office this time around came and passed with little fanfare. The check-ups with Clare’s OB-GYN would become monthly, but, sensing her anxiousness at the first one, she told her to come in the following week, and to call in the meantime if she had any concerns.
Gradually, the weeks accumulated, each one, to me, at least, putting a little more distance, physically and emotionally, between us and the miscarriage. But each one also felt like it led us a little deeper into no man’s land, still too far from the end to convince ourselves that we were safe.
Nearly 5 months in, Clare was still hardly showing, but we decided it was time to leave our bubble and start telling our families and friends. The responses were warm and ecstatic. Still, it was hard to feel like we weren’t burdening them. Six months before, these same people covered us like a thick down quilt and immediately became so sensitive to our ebbs and flows. We struggled with the prospect of needing them in those ways again.
“I’m really nervous,” Clare said.
We were sitting in the OB-GYN’s waiting room, about to be called back for her last comprehensive ultrasound. Even now, a week removed, I’m having a hard time grasping that we’ve reached the last of any part of this process.
“You have nothing to be nervous about,” I said. “Everything’s been clean up until this point. We’re coasting.”
I said it convincingly, I’m pretty sure, but I wasn’t convinced myself. I was nervous, too. It wasn’t until the ultrasound commenced, though, that I knew true nervousness. Suddenly, a baby appeared before us. I couldn’t believe someone so large was inside my wife, still so slight. The technician moved from limb to limb, organ to organ, describing what it looked like and then, what it should look like. He was an older man, his tone soft and gentle, telling us what we needed to know quickly but unhurriedly. It was still the most anxious half-hour of my life. I realized by the end of it how much everything else pales in comparison to the health of this child. Everything that followed me into that room had fallen away by the time we walked out of it.
“So, do you want to know the sex?” he asked.
Clare wanted to know a couple of months ago. But I was hesitant. IVF, grateful as we are for it, robbed us of so much of the natural nuances of a pregnancy. I wanted to hold onto this one mystery for as long as I could, if only to feel like everything wasn’t predetermined. But after being introduced to almost every inch of our baby, I needed to know, too.
“Well, there’s his little penis,” he said, pointing. “It’s been there all along.”