I had it all planned out.
I was going to wrap up the red “No. 1 Big Brother” shirt in heart-themed wrapping paper. It would sit propped up on the cherry-colored tablecloth, among the oversized chocolate shark and heart-shaped lollipops I’d also bought him for Valentine’s Day. I already have a propensity for going overboard on holidays, but this – this – was going to be epic.
The timing would be perfect – I’d be one day past the 12-week mark of my pregnancy. When my belly started rounding out at just 7 weeks, though, we joked that it was possible Ryan would guess before we could wait long enough to tell him.
But when I went in for what my doctor called an “8-week dating ultrasound,” we found there was nothing to date. A growing gestational sac inside my uterus, complete with yolk sac for the “baby” to feed off of. “Baby,” not baby, because there wasn’t one. All the nausea I’d felt, the exhaustion that knocked me on my side by 5 p.m. every day, the aversion to Brussels sprouts and cravings for Honey Nut Cheerios, it was all for a baby that never even was.
The ultrasound tech was silent, and because this wasn’t my first pregnancy rodeo, I knew that wasn’t good. Well, the big empty uterus on the screen was a pretty solid indication that something was amiss, too.
“I thought I’d see more at this point…” I said, my sight glued to the screen to avoid the tech’s eyes. Not that I needed to worry too much about meeting a pair of eyes that were also avoiding mine.
“Yes, well… it’s still early…”
“Right,” I responded, even though I wanted to scream: “BULLSHIT! You know that’s bullshit and I know that’s bullshit. Why are we pretending it’s normal to see a big blob of nothing when I’m here because we’re supposed to be measuring something?”
Afterward, I wandered down an empty and seemingly endless hallway of quiet, fluorescent lights. As I walked, I took deep, even breaths. He won’t ever wear the shirt, deep breath in. Even if I get pregnant again, with an actual baby that can be measured, it will never fit him, slow breath out.
I sat down in a chair. I’d somehow made it to the other side of the hospital to get my blood drawn. This was so my doctor could have all the information possible for a diagnosis of “no baby,” I suppose. The nurse who was going to take my blood was blonde with an exotic-sounding name that was pretty enough for me to comment on but unusual enough that I forgot it just a few seconds later. I gave her my right arm because I know it has the better veins, and I marveled at how we can do this. How we can make small talk and recall vein quality even as we’re walking around pregnant but not actually pregnant.
My mom had just left town the day before. We’d gone shopping while she was visiting, and she’d bought the “baby” a new crib sheet. And a hooded bath towel. And a sleeper covered in the most adorable black and white hedgehogs. Hedgehogs, of all things. I had sprung for a gold-colored onesie with the word “Thankful” splashed across the front of it. The “baby” could wear it at Thanksgiving, we giggled.
As my blood poured out into vial after vial, I pictured the bursting plastic Target bag still sitting on my bedroom floor. The tags were all affixed, which was good because I’d be able to take it all back. I wondered how quickly I could do it. Get the bag, drive to the store, return it all. It shouldn’t take long. These things can be undone much quicker than they are done.
I was thinking all this at the same time I was joking with the nurse about whether I’d be able to produce a urine sample for her, because I just went after the ultrasound, but hey, I’m pregnant, so if I wait 5 minutes I’m sure I’ll have to go again! I didn’t throw up the air quotes around “pregnant,” even though I thought it would be kind of funny in that dark, nothing-about-this-is-funny sort of way.
That t-shirt, the red “No. 1 Big Brother” one … I bought it for Ryan the day I found out I was pregnant. Not this time, but last time. I’d been in a store just days before and saw it on the clearance rack. We’d been trying to get pregnant for a few months, and although I suspected I already was pregnant, buying it seemed like too big of a jinx on the whole thing. I stared at it for a while, and then I left it behind. As soon as that second line appeared on the home test, though, I rushed back to the store, worried it was already gone. But there it was – one left in his size.
Meant to be.
That pregnancy ended almost before it even began.
I now think it’s likely this shirt is less “meant to be” and more “cursed.” Sure, maybe this keeps happening because of pure bad luck. Or maybe the culprit is my advanced maternal age everyone keeps reminding me about. Or maybe it’s because I went back for that damn shirt. Actually, if I turn it around in my mind long enough, I can see that it’s a blessing to have this wretched shirt. It gives me something concrete to blame for my two lost babies. “Babies.”
During the 10th week, I have a third (and final) ultrasound that confirms the lack of “baby.” Before I take the pills that will rip the pregnancy from my body, I head to the store. I’m not there to return; I’m there to buy.
Into my basket goes a flashy red tablecloth decorated with pink Xs and Os. Valentine garland, because apparently that is a thing. I buy one of those little heart-shaped balloons on a stick that last way longer than any parent would like. A pack of whimsical monsters-in-love wall stickers that I know will make Ryan smile on the morning of what we refer to in my home as “The Day of Love.”
I buy a wooden sign that says “Love Each Moment,” and I hang it the minute I get home.
Because my heart may be aching and my body may feel broken, but my holiday spirit will not be crushed. Not by miscarriage or loss or a cursed size-7 T-shirt.
I am still a mother, and I can still make this an epic day.
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