7 weeks, 2 days.
We sit in the tiny plastic chairs meant for three-year-olds. There aren't enough grown-up chairs to go around. I examine the small coat hooks next to me. They are labeled with the thoughtfully uncommon names and homey photos of smiling toddlers: Dashiell, Anemone, Violet. The toddlers are in an adjacent room, and the din is terrible: a clanging mess of outside voices and blocks crashing against one another. One woman rushes in late, explaining that she has a nine-week-old baby. Two other women in the room are heavily, third-trimester pregnant. One is wearing a tight tunic, and its black and white stripes strain and distort on her belly.
I can't stop stealing glances at their stomachs, even though I am supposed to be listening to this preschool orientation. Early-childhood educational buzzwords are hurled at me: Montessori, the Reggio approach, "whole child," Bank Street. They are said in a matter-of-fact way, as if we are supposed to know what they mean.
On normal days, I resent the whole preschool rigmarole. That we've had to spend several hours of our lives taking tours, arranging "interviews," and writing applications that list our not-yet-two-year-old child's "educational goals." I hate that there are no public options and these private options are so exclusive and precious.
But on this day, I'm especially full of rage, because we're waiting to hear news, and it seems like the rest of the world should just pause and wait with us.
7 weeks, 1 day.
I go to get my seven-week sonogram alone. During my first pregnancy, my husband went with me everywhere, but this is an early-morning appointment, and someone has to stay with our daughter. All the other appointments during my first pregnancy flash back as I go through the motions of peeing in the sterile cup, undressing and folding my leggings on a chair.
I am nonchalant during the exam. The doctor asks me about my work while he sticks his fingers inside me. I mention some article I have written for Cosmo. We keep chatting as the wand goes into my vagina and starts probing around.
The chatter stops as the doctor takes measurements on the screen. The mood in the room changes quickly, from perfunctory banter to muted quiet.
7 weeks, 4 days.
I am sitting on the carpet with my daughter, turning over blocks. "Which one is B?" "Beeee!" she says, picking up the correct block. "That's great! Now where's the Y?" I ask. "Whyyyyyyyy," she says, and puzzles over the pile. Her strawberry-blonde hair is lit by the sun streaming through the window. Her skin is impossibly creamy, and her dimples are cartoonishly perfect. I am overwhelmed by how much I love her. I say, "You know Y, we saw that letter at swim class this morning."
We took her to her YMCA swim class as if nothing were wrong. We argue with her about putting on her Crocs, which she pronounces "cocks." It makes me laugh every time even though it shouldn't. We play Humpty Dumpty on the pool wall and pass a ball with another toddler. We take off her wet swimsuit after class and pile her back into her winter clothes. The whole process takes longer than you could even imagine, but on this day I find the tedious routine soothing.
7 weeks, 1 day
I can't remember exactly what the doctor said, but the following information was imparted while the wand was still inside me: there was no heartbeat, no fetus, just an empty sac. I could see the sac on the screen. It was just a black hole in the middle of outer space.
"Get dressed and meet me back in my office," the doctor said, kindly. "We'll talk."
He walked out and I sat on the exam table, naked except for my gown, feeling vulnerable and skinny like a plucked chicken. I get up and pull my clothes back on.
There are two possibilities, he tells me. The likelier possibility is that the pregnancy is not progressing. Based on the first day of my last period, there should be more development. There should be a heartbeat. The sac should be bigger. But my period is so irregular that we can't be certain that the first day of my last period is a perfect indicator of when I ovulated. If I ovulated late, there's a chance that the pregnancy is normal. I need to go to the radiologist and get another ultrasound in five days to see if there's a heartbeat then.
I take this information in while looking down at my lap. I know I should ask more questions, but I can't think of any. He hands me a referral to a radiologist, and I put on my silly, fluffy lumberjack hat and walk out into the street. I call my husband and start crying.
"I'm so, so sorry," he says.
7 weeks, 3 days.
We lie in bed after our daughter is down for the night and try not to think about it. I ask my husband how he's feeling. He's haunted by his thoughts. He remembers feeling smug when I got pregnant right away the second time around, and that we are being punished for his thought crime. We're not even Catholic.
7 weeks, 2 days.
After the preschool orientation, I go straight home and get into bed. I keep thinking about those pregnant women in their tiny chairs. I'm so envious of their healthy bodies, and curse my own. Then I feel guilty for my envy. Who knows what those women have been through themselves? I like all the baby photos I see on Instagram as penance for my thoughts.
I don't know what else to do, so I take a Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep medication that is OK for me to take. I wish I had a real drug, like Klonopin, but it's not safe for pregnant women. I wonder if I'm still legitimately in the category of pregnant women, or if I should binge on benzos and sushi without a care, because it might not matter anymore. I keep thinking about the black hole in my stomach and start to cry. I fall into a fitful, sweaty nap.
I wake up with a steely resolve and call the doctor. I tell him I want to be able to get a D&C as soon as possible if it is confirmed that the pregnancy is not viable. I don't want to keep carrying around an empty sac any longer than I have to. It's morbid and depressing. He says he can schedule the D&C, but that we might not get a definitive answer at the next ultrasound and we'll have to wait a little longer. If the sac is still very small, a D&C could fail; there could be complications.
There is, of course, also still a possibility that the pregnancy is a healthy one. "You don't want to terminate a healthy, wanted pregnancy because you're impatient," he says. He's right — I don't. I just wish I had some control.
7 weeks, 6 days.
The second ultrasound is at the radiologist's office. It is in a dank corner of the far East 30s. The office has no windows and old tan carpeting that shows stains. This time my husband comes with me. We are seen almost immediately. The nurse leads me into the exam room and instructs me to take off my bottoms.
After I take my sneakers, pants, and underwear off, I lean back on the exam table under a thin paper sheet. Chris Hemsworth's dopey face is staring at me from a nearby magazine rack. He's on the cover of People's Sexist Man Alive issue. While we're waiting for the doctor to come in, my husband and I joke about how Chris Pratt was robbed.
The radiologist comes in after a few minutes. He's all business, no small talk. He instructs me to insert the vaginal wand myself. After I do so, he starts rooting around in my uterus. I'm numb to the wand, and also to my expectations; I'm trying to bludgeon the small part of me that hopes that the pregnancy is still viable. I don't hear anything, but I can't remember if I could hear the heartbeat myself when there was one with my first pregnancy. The doctor spends several minutes taking images and measurements. He doesn't say much. He has me push down on a particular spot on my stomach, presumably so he can get a better look at the sac.
The sac has grown, but not enough. There is no fetus, and no heartbeat. The radiologist tells me this somberly. He uses the word unfortunately, but I can't remember anything else he says. He goes to call my obstetrician.
Chris Hemsworth's face stares at me the whole time. I'm sort of glad he's the one who was the sexiest man this year. At least some other, better Chris is not ruined for me now.
7 weeks, 6 days.
My obstetrician calls back after we get home. "It looks pretty bad," he says. But he suggests that we wait another week to get a D&C. The sac is still so small that the D&C might not work, and then I would have to get a second surgery. He also says that he doesn't want me to have any regrets. A very, very dim possibility that things are OK still exists, but it is ever vanishing as the days go by. I might just miscarry naturally before a D&C anyway, the doctor says.
I have no real reaction to this news, at least not at first. It's just confirming what I already thought. I need to do something to pass the time, so I start researching my condition online. It turns out I have a blighted ovum, which sounds like a kind of tree rot or Victorian curse. I prefer this term to just miscarriage, because it is vaguely gothic and slightly more specific.
There is one website where women ask questions about all manners of pregnancy-related issues and several doctors respond. One woman writes: "Blighted ovum question? Did the baby ever exist?" One doctor responds: "Not as such."
8 weeks, 5 days.
Me: WTF dude, I just barfed twice today. This is some total bullshit.
Friend: !! What's that about??
Me: Well I am still technically fucking pregnant even tho it's not a healthy pregnancy.
I looked it up and your hormone levels keep rising until you miscarry, even though they don't rise as much as they do in a normal pregnancy.
It's some bullshit
Is what it is
Friend: That's so mean. Universe??
8 weeks, 6 days.
My husband stands behind me as the doctor gives me the transvaginal wand to insert into myself again. The sac appears almost immediately. It looks bigger, but it's still empty. A round tear in the solar system, sucking up stars. The exam takes less than five minutes. "I'm sorry," the radiologist says. "It's OK, it's what we expected," I tell him, trying to keep my voice even. "Can you tell the obstetrician I want a D&C as soon as possible?" "I'll call him, but you need to tell him yourself. I'll give you the phone or they will recommend you go over to the office." He leaves the room, and I pull my pants back on and tie my sneakers. I don't say much to my husband. There's not much to say.
The D&C is at the ambulatory surgical unit at a fancy hospital uptown, the same hospital where I delivered my daughter almost exactly two years ago. The waiting room is scattered with crystal decanters of various sizes, and prints from ancient Metropolitan Museum exhibitions. I am, in a way, looking forward to this surgery. Because it means that I won't be stuck in some endless liminal state between pregnant and not pregnant. I will have a definitive state, even if it's not the one I want.
I'm also excited to be put under. It's not general anesthesia, but it's sedation heavy enough I won't remember a thing.
I wake up, groggy, and am given cold apple juice. My husband is there. He holds my hand. I remember waiting for the car in a wheelchair in the lobby, and every time someone opens the door, the cold December air chills my legs.
I go home and sleep it off, and then I wake up and binge-watch an Israeli soap opera called Srugim, which my husband has taken to calling "my stories." It is about modern Orthodox men and women working and loving in Jerusalem. The women all sound perpetually angry, possibly because they have to wear long sleeved T-shirts under dumpy short sleeved T-shirts. The leading man is feckless and smirky in a way that apparently transcends cultural differences. I usually half-pity the female characters, who are so trapped by their traditional society. But in this moment, I envy their rituals and their certainty about their lives.
They do tests on the remains of the pregnancy. The fetus had a common chromosomal disorder — 99 percent of pregnancies with this disorder don't make it to birth, and the 1 percent that do have massive health problems. It was just bad luck, and not the kind of thing I should worry about happening again. They call it a "good" miscarriage. Someone tells me that the miscarriage is a blessing, that my body was doing the right thing. When they say this, I want to punch them, but later I find the thought comforting.
For a while, I think about the miscarriage every day. I am grimly determined to get pregnant again as soon as possible. I spend $200 on ovulation kits and pregnancy tests and prenatal vitamins. It doesn't happen. I lose my mind at celebrities who seem to get pregnant with zero struggle and announce their apparently effortless fertility with heavily filtered Instagrams. I avoid seeing an acquaintance who is due the same week I would have been due because it's too painful.
We decide to stop trying for a while. It's making me too depressed. I'm only 33, so we have some time before all my eggs shrivel up and die. I go to a fertility specialist to make sure of it; she confirms that while we "can't wait forever," we don't have to rush. I pay her $650 out-of-pocket to hear this news, and it feels worth it.
The due date was July 5. I let this day pass like all the others, without even mentioning it to anyone. By this point, a couple of days will go by without my thinking about the baby I would have had, about what all our lives would have been like. It's a Sunday, and I spend the day watching my daughter play in a tiny pool shaped like a giant turtle. She climbs in and out, in and out.
Jessica Grose is Lenny's editor in chief.