Posted by: emjb | May 19, 2005

Cricket and not-cricket

In my last year (I think) of college, I had to fulfill my religion requirement, so I decided to take a class on Buddhism. Which would have been fine, except it began at the insane hour of 8 am. One is not generally qualified to ponder deep questions about the nature of reality at 8 am—at least not if one is a college student who tended to stay up late playing D&D (shut up). Anyway, as a consequence I don’t remember much about the class.

Now our school had a seasonal insect problem, namely, plagues of black crickets that swarmed every spring. Apparently the lights on campus attracted them in their mating frenzy, making every lightpost and doorway a gathering for cricket orgies. Most of them died in the crush, or from being walked on by college students, and when they died, they stank. They got everywhere, and more than once would fall off a doorframe onto your head when you were walking into a building. Crippled survivors would crawl down hallways, and occasionally, wander into classrooms to chirp and die. One day our Buddhism teacher was trying to explain a Zen concept, which we were not grasping. Looking for an example, she pointed to a dead cricket in the floor. “You think that what you are looking at is a cricket. But in Zen, you are also looking at a not-cricket. Cricket and not-cricket are both there, existing together.”

***

I have been sharing my pregnancy experience with you, my patient readers, pretty much since the beginning. But I haven’t really told you everything. I didn’t tell you, for example that until early this month I was almost sure I had miscarried the baby. My levels of progesterone were low from the beginning, which, doctors think, may—may—sometimes cause a miscarriage.

Miscarriages can happen for lots of reasons, at that point in pregnancy, and they can even happen without any symptoms whatsoever—no blood, no change in pregnancy symptoms, for a month or more. Aside from a sonogram, if you suspect a miscarriage at that stage, there is no way to reassure yourself that all is well. And even if you had a healthy sonogram one day, the fetus could die the next, and literally fade away into your body, which would continue to produce pregnancy hormones for a while until it got the message and finished the miscarriage. If you ever visit miscarriage/fertility forums, which is what Googling “low progesterone” will get you to, you will see post after post discussing faint symptoms or none at all, pregnancy tests that don’t guarantee success, women who bled and were fine and women who bled and lost their babies. Beautiful sonograms one day and empty black screens a month later. And lots of miscarriages preceeded by low progesterone.

But anyway, what was I doing there? I mean, my doctor had prescribed progesterone supplements at the beginning of my pregnancy right? And then I took them and had a healthy sonogram, with a little beating heart and everything?

Well yes. But then after that, I stopped taking the supplements, because they were making me sick, and because I had this idea that if the pregnancy was going to proceed, it was, and the progesterone wouldn’t matter one way or another. This was not the brightest decision I ever made, I might add. I mean, yes there are some doctors who don’t believe the supplements really do anything, but really, there was no reason to stop them. I wanted the baby, yes? I should play it safe, then. But I didn’t. I took a stupid risk. In my defense, I think now that I had pre-partum depression (which I didn’t know existed at the time). Dark thoughts and sadness sat on me, at a time when I thought I should be really happy. I felt awful physically and mentally all the time. I couldn’t shake the bad feelings, and the additional stress of the medicine made me angry. I was angry that I felt so bad and couldn’t feel better no matter what I did. I lashed out and rebelled and stopped taking the meds.

And then, the next progesterone test; my levels were low. Really low. Red flag low, for my stage of pregnancy. I freaked out, and started Googling. My midwife didn’t scold me, just told me to finish out the supplements. Maybe she’s used to pregnant women doing crazy things; maybe she felt like, whatever happens happens. So for the next 3 weeks, I took the remaining supplements, and I was sick, and I beat myself up every day. I was in a state of baby and not-baby; maybe it was still there. Maybe it was already gone. Maybe I had screwed things up; maybe it didn’t make any difference, it would have stayed or gone despite my screw up. I tried to prepare myself for the next ultrasound, for the empty screen and the vanished heartbeat. For having to tell people what happened, even if I didn’t tell them it was my fault (if it was), for having to deal with their sympathy and the sudden awkwardness in the conversation. For the guilt I was bound to feel, though I would never be sure if I deserved it. For having to try again, and being afraid that I wouldn’t handle that well either.

May 2, we went in for the next sonogram, and an endless time passed while the tech warmed up her machine and smeared the jelly all over my stomach. And a few seconds later: “Healthy baby!” And there it was, crazy and active, forcing her to keep moving the wand to keep it in frame. Alive beyond a doubt, and healthy-looking, at least to me. “Do you want to know what it is?” I was so stunned with relief that I laughed and said yes without giving it a thought. She looked at Matt holding my hand. “Do YOU want to know, Dad?” He said yes, too, and then she told us we had a boy. I didn’t care what the gender was, I hadn’t had any intuition about it one way or another, but knowing somehow made the shadowy creature on the screen snap into reality, for me.

A little boy. An active little boy, with big feet, even further along than we had originally thought; my due date was moved back a few days. We finished up and thanked the tech, and I cleaned off the goo and got ready to leave, clutching my smudgy printouts of my little boy. No more worrying about baby and not-baby; he was real, and he appeared ready to stay.

Now you read enough books on birth, and you know that miscarriages can and do happen later in pregnancy. And then once they’re born, SIDS and autism and diseases and injuries. For all their lives, you worry about them. So when my brain tried to put me back into worry mode in spite of what I’d just seen, I made a decision; I was going to be happy about this, and assume good things. If bad things happen, there’s nothing I could do anyway. I had already spent three months in a dark cloud; I wasn’t going to stay there voluntarily. I was going to be happy. I was going to enjoy this pregnancy and this baby, and take pride in his energy and his big feet and look forward to seeing him face to face.

And I do.

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