“Well, the doctor confirmed it,” I announced at my brother-in-law’s birthday party one March, “I’m pregnant again.”
My family was happy, but concerned. I was thirty-nine years old and had had two miscarriages over the previous three years. Although I’d had a beautiful daughter six years earlier, my husband and I very much wanted a second child, and here was a miraculous third chance.
“I have news too,” my sister, Val, said, her smile fading. “I have breast cancer. Surgeon’s scheduled me for a mastectomy in two weeks.”
How could this be? She was only thirty-seven years old. Months ago, the specialist assured her the lump was merely a cyst. Her family doctor agreed. When the lump grew and my sister began to bleed through the nipple, reality hit all of us.
The frightening fact was that doctors made mistakes, big ones. Doctors had also assured me that two miscarriages wouldn’t prevent me from giving birth to a full-term baby again. What if they were wrong? I’d read that the quality of a woman’s eggs depleted after age thirty-six.
No longer content to passively accept doctors’ pronouncements about our health, my sister and I began to research what we could do to boost our chances for the best possible outcomes. Since we were already physically active non-smokers, we had to broaden our research to improve our situations. While Val read about cancer treatments and alternative therapies, I gathered information about minimizing the risk of miscarriages.
I took the prenatal vitamins my doctor recommended. I also adopted a healthier diet, eliminated caffeine, and made time for adequate exercise, rest, and relaxation. Above all, I tried to stay positive. It wasn’t easy.
My sister’s ordeal weighed heavily on my mind. After her surgery, she began chemotherapy. While she battled nausea, headaches, and lethargy from these treatments, I vomited every morning. Only soda crackers and water settled my stomach, but I didn’t mind the discomfort. Compared to what Val was going through, this side effect of pregnancy was trivial. Besides, morning sickness proved that my pregnancy was real and that everything would be okay once the baby was born and my sister’s chemo treatments had ended.
Before my first trimester was over, I experienced a slight cramping sensation. I’d experienced this before at the beginning of my last miscarriage. In a panic, I rushed to the doctor who arranged for an sonogram. Two days later, I was stretched out in the quiet, dimly lit room while a technician glided a probe over the gel she’d squirted onto my stomach.
I remembered the last time I’d had a sonogram. Although the technician was accompanied by an associate, the only sounds in the room were the computer and fingers tapping over a complicated-looking keyboard. Results had shown that the baby was no longer alive.
Now, eighteen months later, the room was silent again. I closed my eyes and swallowed back my fear. When the test was finished, the technician smiled at me. A good sign. I went home and restlessly waited for results. Two days later, the doctor told me my baby was fine and all I had to do was take it easy. Although relieved, I also remembered that doctors made mistakes. Still, what was the point in dwelling on unhappy memories and on what could go wrong? Why not have faith that everything would be all right?
When I’d grown unusually large for this stage of my pregnancy, my doctor suggested I take a glucose test to see if I might have gestational diabetes. Because this test required a ten-hour fast beforehand, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’ve always been one of those people who hates missing a meal, and lately I’d been enjoying three meals and three snacks a day.
The glucose tolerance test involved drinking a moderately sweet-tasting solution, then having blood drawn from my arm once an hour for the next three hours.
Fortunately, the results were negative. I’d hoped there’d be no more tests, however my doctor raised the possibility of having an amniocentesis. The odds of giving birth to babies with certain diseases and conditions was higher for women my age, and this test could determine what, if any, they might be. My doctor weighed the pros and cons with me, making it clear that the decision about choosing this procedure was mine. Since I was in my fourth month, the decision had to be made soon.
I didn’t know what to do. There was a slight risk that the procedure, which involved withdrawing amniotic fluid from the womb, could induce a miscarriage. Also, if something was wrong, would my husband and I want to know? If we did want to know and the news wasn’t good, would we continue with the pregnancy? These questions haunted me for several days.
We decided to go ahead with the test, and asked to be informed of results. I’d come this far through faith, prayer, and healthy living. I wasn’t about to abandon them now.
When appointment day arrived, my husband calmly navigated the forty-five minute drive in heavy traffic. I would have preferred to go to the hospital closer to home, where my baby would be born, but that facility didn’t perform amniocenteses. As we drove, I started to have misgivings about going through with the procedure. By the time my husband was parking the car, part of me wanted to commandeer the wheel and rush back home, except my bladder was too full to endure another long ride.
Having been through sonograms more than once, I could gauge how much water I’d need to drink so my body would be prepared by the time we arrived for my appointment. When the hospital’s receptionist informed us they were an hour behind schedule, my careful planning fell apart. To keep anxiety at bay, I busied myself filling out the required forms, but my increasing discomfort and the long wait magnified my doubts. What if I had a miscarriage? What if the news was bad?
When I was finally escorted into a tiny room, I was a sweaty, frustrated wreck. In fact, I was so eager to get this test over with that the sight of the long needle didn’t phase me. I was too busy hoping I’d make it to the bathroom on time. While the needle was inserted into my abdomen, I chose not to read anything into the blank expressions of the silent medical staff. Throughout the procedure, not one word was spoken. I was simply another patient to be moved in and out as quickly as possible. So I spent the time staring up at the beige ceiling until the doctor was finished, and then I dashed to the nearest bathroom.
Despite the wait and staff ambivalence, the test was worth it. Results revealed that all was well, and I was able to regain some peace of mind.
At the end of summer, my sister’s chemotherapy sessions ended. She’d lost her hair and some weight. She’d lost her right breast, but she hadn’t lost hope that she’d remain cancer free.
On December sixth, just after five a.m., labor began, one day before my due date. Although the hospital was only fifteen minutes from home, snow had dusted the roads the night before, and we needed to drive up a winding steep hill to get there. After my husband took our daughter to school at eight forty-five, we headed for the hospital. Rush-hour traffic and slippery roads made the drive treacherous, yet we managed to arrive safely.
Since my pains were five to seven minutes apart, my doctor didn’t rush over from her clinic nearby. When she appeared at noon, I was pacing the wide corridor outside my room, waiting for my water to break, as I’d been doing for most of the morning.
Impatient to deliver this baby, I opted to have the doctor break my water. Once she’d done so, I soon went into intense labor. When it became obvious there’d be no brief periods of relief as there was with my first child, I was afraid I’d made a terrible mistake in rushing the process. Inevitably, though, delivery time came.
Gripping my husband’s hand, I was so focused on the pain that I was scarcely aware of the relaxing music we’d brought to play in the delivery room. After my second attempt at pushing, my doctor said, “Get help!”, to the nurse who scooted out of the room.
Before help arrived, my eight and a half pound son was born. Once assured he was all right, I thanked God.
Fourteen years later, my son is flourishing and my sister remains healthy. To this day, I still give prayers of thanks for the blessings I’ve received. From beginning to end, this pregnancy taught me that faith can be more powerful than all the mistakes, obstacles, fears, and doubts in the world. It’s a lesson I intend to pass onto my children.