Australia, August 15, 1998
On the worst day of my life, the scan couldn’t find our baby. It was supposed to be the most magical of moments – that first glimpse of our child/children – an eight-week-old embryo or embryos. Just a dot sized shadow on the screen no doubt. Or double dots. The untrained eye would doubtless miss him/her/them. But I knew my heart would soar at the sight, even if I had to strain to see it.
I was to unfold in the now familiar surrounds of the ultra-sound scanning room. I’d been there at least a dozen times, repetition having spurned routine and with it a sense of the comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Not that the procedure is painful, just undignified. Simply a strange sensation as the hard phallic probe is inserted into your vagina and moved from side to side in its searching. Pelvic muscles are best relaxed when the natural reaction is to tense them, along with the rest of your body.
This time I was able to relax, to a point. I didn’t have to fear the follicle count, nor whether the leading eggs were too mature while the rest lagged behind. Of course I was still nervous, but in an excited way. My heart skipped a little in its beating and butterflies fluttered in my stomach. A nice sort of nervousness, more anticipation than anxiety, over that magic number – one, two or three.
One was the overwhelming probability – one baby to take all our love. But we had plenty of love to go around and told ourselves we were prepared for twins, a pigeon pair. Life would be busy, but how wonderful to have an instant family, especially if we could be lucky enough to have a boy and a girl. Triplets were beyond the realms of our imagination if not the capacity of our love. Why seriously consider the possibility when the chances were so low? What we weren’t prepared for was nothing.
Nothing, no sign of our baby. Where was he? Why wasn’t she there? She didn’t say anything, the sonographer. No quiet reassurance or excited pointing to the picture on the screen. She was probing away but all she could find was a big fat nothing. And so she said nothing.
I can’t remember how she looked, but I’m sure it was serious, sombre even, then sympathetic. She turned her back on me to search the silence for the right words to say in the wrong situation. I lay there, the steady hum of the machine providing false comfort. It’s regular rhythm promised normality when abnormal nothingness was what it showed. I could have asked the question that pounded in my head but panic prevented me from processing the thought, fear from forming the words. The answer loomed as ominously as hail about to fall from a grey-green storm cloud. It hung in the air, thick, sultry and threatening. And still nothing. My heart had already sunk to somewhere south of where I ever felt it could go by the time she finally spoke.
“I’m really sorry, but I’m afraid there is no sign of a pregnancy in your uterus,” she said.
No sign. What could she mean no sign? What about the tiredness and the swelling breasts and the tingling nipples, and what about the blood tests that had supposedly confirmed all was well.
Shock stifled the scream of “NO” in the pit of my stomach. Disbelief dulled the despair. Sobs welled inside and got stuck in my throat until all I could manage was to whisper “WHY?”
“It could be a mistake,” a glimmer of hope, as she phoned the clinic. “We’ll see what the doctor says”. And then again “I’m really sorry.“
And then she left me, alone in that moment of absolute anguish, solitary sadness. I felt myself curling up in a scared little sac of sorrow, as if taking the foetal position would somehow transform me back to the warmth and safety of my mother’s womb, rather than face the emptiness of my own. I’ve never felt so alone. Where was Jon – why hadn’t I insisted he be here?
The clinic sister found me with tears flooding my face, hers contorting with concern as she told me things might still be OK. The doctor would see me as soon as possible, hopefully in about fifteen minutes.
“I’ll ring your husband” she offered. “Try to stay calm” she sympathised. “You’ll be alright”.
And then she was gone and I was alone again, this time crying in the Infertility Clinic staff room. Big gulping sobs, the sort that suck your breath away until eventually your pitiful attempt at letting it all out is reduced to a sad struggle for air. My chest tightened to form a barrier to the pain rising like bile from the pit of my stomach as I gasped for enough oxygen with which to cry.
I waited. Why is it that happy moments are fleeting while despair drags on? I wondered as I stared into space, fixated on some irrelevant object, trying to concentrate on it to keep the reality of the situation from penetrating my bewildered brain. If I thought about it for one second I knew cruel circumstance would sneak in and surreptitiously destroy our dream – We’d lost our baby!
Finally it seemed, Jon arrived, and I really lost it. I lost it seeing his faced etched with the pain he was trying so hard to conceal in a brave bid to be positive. He was a pall bearer – all controlled emotion, but I knew he was churning inside. It was all we could do to comfort each other with a long, sad hug.
The doctor’s first words were “I’m really sorry – Everything looked like it was going well”. He continued, “I’ve had a close look at the scan and there definitely isn’t any sign of a pregnancy in your uterus. But the blood tests so far are showing up pregnancy hormones. There are a few possibilities….”
And so he went on, giving his best medical opinion, spliced with an appropriate measure of genuine sympathy. I heard his words, but I wasn’t really listening. Sorry, Sorry, Sorry – it echoed eerily in my head. Sorry, that sad little word only said when something is really wrong and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Sorry – the doctor was sorry he couldn’t change the situation. Sorry, that we were so upset, but he couldn’t offer a solution. Sorry, which also means wretched and that’s how I felt. Sorry – with each reverberation of that sad little word it hit me again and again – We’d lost our baby.
“It could be that it’s a little too early for the embryo to show up on the scan”, the doctor offered a ray of something. But I couldn’t cling to something said with so little conviction.
“It could be a spontaneous miscarriage” he continued. “That will probably show up in the hormone results from today’s blood test.”
The third alternative, he explained was an ectopic pregnancy – a pregnancy in the tube.
“It’s a normal pregnancy, which explains the hormone results, but unfortunately it’s in the wrong spot”
I remember asking questions, but I can’t remember what I asked and I certainly didn’t get the answers that would make everything right again. The doctor left us alone to try to regain some composure. But I was inconsolable and nothing Jon said in comfort, nor his tender touch, could fill the emptiness within me. The emptiness from where our baby should have been.
Finally we left the clinic with the sympathy of the staff.
“Things might still be alright,” they offered again.
The “Thank-you” card and the box of chocolates I’d intended giving them were still in my bag as we walked out the door I’d entered with such excited expectation just over an hour before. Was it really only an hour before?
The rest of the day passed as though I was watching a television that wasn’t switched on to a proper channel. Fuzzy, foggy, fragmented. A mixture of tears, hugs and mind-numbing daytime television, the lives of the soap stars no more surreal than what was happening to us. We wallowed in how bad we felt. At least I did. Jon tried to be positive. The doctor had told us to WAIT and see. The blood test came back in the afternoon still showing signs of a pregnancy. I allowed myself a fleeting feeling of hope. But I knew the feeling was fraudulent. I knew hope wouldn’t deliver our dream, not this time. And so my soul bled, profusely.
Read on….Canada, August 15, 2011
We had Liam’s final post-placement social worker visit today, so our ten year ADOPTION journey, as far as the authorities are concerned, is officially over (well almost). We went to Vancouver to see the social worker (who is lovely, social workers must be all cast from the same soft mould) and told her that Liam is eating and sleeping and meeting his milestones. She was as impressed with our little boy’s motor skills and engaging personality, as we are proud of him. She’ll do her report, we’ll review it, then it will be sent to the Department in Queensland and then on to China, and that will finally be it!! We can go back to being normal parents who don’t have to prove themselves, other than to ourselves and our children. We paid another $500 for the privilege of getting a gold star.
After suffering and surviving through the ADOPTION process for a decade, it will be sweet relief not to have to deal with it anymore. And it will be a relief on our budget. It’s a process that forces you to bite your tongue, swallow your pride and choke on your tears, while making a meal of your private life. We should really be entitled to some sort of medal of valour for making it through, but we have our two children, and no reward could be greater.
Today also marks the 13th anniversary of the Worst Day of My Life. Not that I mark the anniversary. It’s just that I can’t help but remember it, expect for that one time when I was reminded of it only as a sharp intake of breath lying in bed that night, shocked that I’d almost forgotten. It’s hard to believe that I could have had an almost-teenager by now (Aghh).
Now I’m remembering the details of that day, in stark relief. They stuck us in this little lunch-cum-storeroom, shutting away our sorrow, out of sight and mind, until the doctor was free to see us. No doubt the consultation room was too busy and the treatment room probably too sterile for the gush of grief and all the tissues it took to soak it up. We were the failures, closeted away from all the hope in the hearts of those sitting, naively, in the waiting room. Only we weren’t cocooned from the pain. I’ll never forget that pain, but it’s less real now, less raw than it felt for the longest time.
I have to wonder whether this incredible pain has been transmuted, somehow, into the form of, the life of, little Liam. Alchemy, magic.
I don’t think I can call the 15 August, 1998 the worst day of my life anymore, even if it was for so long. It’s not that another even worse day has happened since (thank God), just that there’s no longer any point remembering how bad and sad that day was. I say this when I hold Liam, kiss his downy head, hug him close. I realize that we wouldn’t have our beautiful little boy, had the baby who ceased to exist for us on what was the worst day of my life actually been born. It’s possible, although unlikely, that we would still have had Katelin, as our second child. We could have turned to adoption, presuming we hadn’t fallen pregnant again in the interim. But there is no way we would have waited out the long and painful process to adopt Liam. I can hardly imagine how bad and sad it would be if he were not in our lives, nor if Katelin wasn’t our precious daughter. I can’t really think of anything worse.
So it is time – time to say goodbye. Goodbye to the dream of our unborn baby and your unfulfilled promise and all the unknown possibilities. You were only a dream. You will always be a dream, even if our dreams have come true.
I wipe away a final tear. My eyes are dry now.
So Bye Bye Baby, Baby Bye Bye.
The Google quote of the day is by Pearl S Buck, whose words and sentiments I have so admired.
There is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.