Mind Games

N and I went for a scheduled ultrasound yesterday. It wasn’t totally necessary, but my placenta was low at our 20-week anatomy scan so it was a good excuse to just check on things. I won’t bury the lede: everything is fine and normal and I do not have placenta previa (my placenta is 8 cm away from the opening of my cervix which is plenty far and nothing at all to worry about).

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with just dropping the information bomb about our loss when we go into appointments like this. I’ve found that if we’re going to get the extra care or concern that we need, it’s best to leave the guessing out. Ultrasound technicians rarely know a patient’s background, so I just came out with it when we walked into the room: “Just so you know, we had a second-trimester loss last year so we’re always pretty nervous for these things.” The technician, Carlos, was kind, friendly, and professional. The ultrasound itself was quick, though, and I couldn’t see the screen while he was doing it. When it was over he made a point of bringing us the report in the waiting room and telling us with a smile that everything was normal.

All of that seems pretty reassuring, right? It probably should be. And I thought it was until later last night. (I feel like this is a running theme for me — the discovery of my not-okayness coming later on in the day after digesting a day’s events.)

He asked me more than once about her movements. He said she was pretty relaxed in there. Something is probably wrong. I’m not feeling her move enough. I know she’s alive right now, I know I feel her moving, but something must be wrong. Why did he ask so much about her movements?

Later in the evening, I tearfully described my fears about the appointment to N who remembered things very differently than I did (and in a way that I should — and am trying — to trust). He reminded me that Carlos asked about movement before the ultrasound even started, and that the two other times I remembered him asking about movement were actually just two parts of the same comment, “When is she most active?” and after my reply, “She’s pretty relaxed in there right now.” The thing is, I wasn’t being negative or looking at the appointment judgementally. I legitimately remembered the appointment being much darker than it actually was, which is a bit scary to me.

Strangely enough, I was more anxious about this ultrasound than our anatomy scan at twenty weeks. For that one I had somehow convinced myself that if we got a bad diagnosis again and went through what we did with Odin, I could do it. I would give birth and meet my baby and it would be worth it, because I would choose Odin over and over again and go through it all again to hold him. That probably sounds pretty insane, but it got me through that stage. For this ultrasound I didn’t know how to feel. Everything has been so normal so far that I can’t help but think about all of the potentially bad things that could still happen. Being a part of the infant loss support community makes everything that is, in reality, pretty rare, seem so much more common. Lately, I have been more anxious, generally, than I’ve ever been in my life (can you tell?) and this general feeling of dread and impending doom came with me into that room yesterday, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. The ultrasound image we got of baby girl isn’t a good one. It’s actually pretty creepy. For some reason we didn’t get to see her whole silhouette like I imagined we would. He just showed us her head and face. I imagined feeling reassured by seeing her okay in there, but it just didn’t happen the way I thought it would. But again, my memory of what we did see on the screen is much darker than what happened in reality. N reminded me that we saw her hand pop up and give a wave. And that, although she looked a bit squished, we saw her profile and her nose and it was cute. We may have even “awww’d” a bit.

Our friends have a collection of multiple images from their ultrasounds. Literally a dozen pictures of their baby before she was born. We have nothing for this baby. The hospital where we go for ultrasounds doesn’t give out images like the regular clinics. This time we took a picture on our phones of the screen but the picture is disturbing. It’s just her face and she looks like a ghost; her eyes look like black holes. What if this is all we’ll ever have?

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or not, but I’ve been doing a mindfulness/CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course through the maternal mental health department at the hospital where Odin was born. It’s two hours long, once a week for 8 weeks. It’s been challenging, but helpful. I’ve gained new perspective on thought patterns and how they relate to depression and anxiety. My biggest takeaways so far have to do with self-compassion (probably the hardest part for me) and really starting to believe and remember that thoughts are not facts. I haven’t been super diligent about meditating regularly, but there was a study done recently that shows that all you need to do to gain benefits from meditation is a 9-minute practice a day, which seems pretty doable. If it seems like I’m a mess, it’s because I probably am right now. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard not to be a mess. It’s just that this is hard. PAL is not for the faint-hearted. I am grateful for all the support I have and also for this forum, which helps me work through and process what I’m feeling. And maybe you’re reading this and relating to the mess. If you are, I’m glad you know you’re not alone.

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No Pink

I know I’m not alone feeling gutted every time I check my Twitter feed these days. The news is depressing, it’s triggering, and it’s infuriating. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be pregnant and about all of the silent sacrifices that women and mothers make. It’s hard not to consider womanhood when the news has been what it’s been lately.

I am a woman and I am a mother and I am very happy to be both. But I am about to bring a female baby into this world and this is a world where women are vulnerable, both physically and emotionally to the power of the patriarchy. (Sidebar: I’m having a PAL pang here where I’m feeling scared to assume that everything with the rest of this pregnancy will be okay. Deep breath. . .) The news these days has been heartbreaking on so many different levels, but I’m here thinking about what it means to be a woman. In Hollywood, women who have been fearful and silent are coming forward to tell their stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of powerful and influential men. It’s starting a conversation about a hidden, accepted, systemic problem with how women and men are socialized. I am inspired by the strength the victims have to come forward and horrified by what’s happened to them. I know that there are so many reasons to feel grateful and lucky to live where I live and to have the privileges I do, but I am also scared for my girl.

I hate that she will walk down the street and be catcalled. I hate that some guy at a bar will slip a drug in her drink. I hate that men will tell her she should smile more. I hate that the mandatory uniform at her first job will be revealing and uncomfortable while her male coworkers wear jeans. I hate that she will face judgment and opposition when she makes choices about her body as if it’s anyone’s business but her own. I hate that she will never feel 100% safe walking alone at night.

People ask if we know the gender of our baby and it makes me defensive for a variety of reasons, despite their honest intentions. I am proud to be carrying this baby and proud to be her mother but I worry for her and what it means to be a girl in this world. I mask some of that fear behind a vocal and light-hearted disdain for the colour pink, but it’s much deeper than disliking a colour. For me, dressing our girl in pink feels like allowing the labels and limitations of what it means to be a woman to start before she even has a choice about it. For me, the problem is what’s tied up in baby outfits that say “Mommy’s Little Cutie” vs. “I Am a Superhero!”. It’s how we write on the bodies of babies the gender roles which we fight against as women and as adults. To me, dressing a baby in pink feels like adhering to society’s view of what is arbitrarily feminine based purely on my baby’s sex organs. Our daughter’s worth is not determined by what she looks like but by who she is as a person. We know this, we preach this, and yet. . . The retail market is overrun with the idea that a baby needs bows and sparkles to signify her femininity (what even is femininity in an infant??) There seems to be this strange need to add pink and ribbons to make it clear that a baby is a girl. And I don’t understand it. A baby can’t choose. I will definitely be sure that our girl knows that she does not ever need to demur to the assumed entitlement of boys in “Daddy’s Tough Guy” t-shirts. We will do our best to teach her these lessons while society shows her otherwise.

I am so excited for that wonderful day in the future when people stop asking pregnant women, “is it a boy or a girl?” as if it matters. It doesn’t matter. The answer should always be, “it’s a human baby!” My child can do or be whatever she wants to be whether she is dressed in blue or pink; whether she identifies as male or female.  But even as I say this I know that she will be limited. Unless feminism is accepted in every facet of our society over the next 20 years, she will make less money than her male colleagues. She will be overlooked for promotions. She will be judged for her appearance. She will make career sacrifices and take unpaid leave to raise children, if she chooses and is able to become a mother. She will be victim to the male gaze, no matter what she looks like, what her sexual orientation is or how she dresses or behaves. And all of this makes me so angry. I feel powerless to protect her and I want this world to be better for her. I suppose that’s where motherhood starts.

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(I want to acknowledge that my point of view is from a place of privilege. I am a cisgender, straight, white, middle-class, Canadian woman and that, inevitably, impacts my world-view. I try to stay aware of what my privilege means and hope that I haven’t said anything here that is offensive to anyone. I also know that life is a journey and on the way we learn things. If there’s anything I’ve said that you find problematic, please send me a message.)

Always Missing

And sometimes you can’t breathe.

How is this your life? How will you go on for the rest of it without him?

All it takes is an image, a thought, a sound, a memory, and the pain comes flooding back.

You can’t believe he’s gone. He was just a little baby in your arms. A little baby. How can this be?

Everything is tainted by the missing. A tiny him-shaped hole in everything.

All of your joys made a little bit bitter because of his absence. You know he is with you in your heart, but it’s not enough.

There are moments when all you feel is love and you know you were blessed he picked you. And you know you would do it all over again just to hold him.

But why couldn’t he stay?