Dear Past Katy, 2016,
When I told you in last week’s letter that this New Year’s California trip would be one of the scariest experiences of your pregnancy with Jack, I meant it. What I didn’t tell you was that it would also bring some of the most special moments of your entire pregnancy. And that on-the-whole, it would be just the getaway you needed, because when you’re pregnant after miscarriage, small issues can be terrifying. But the joyful moments–those are the ones to hold onto. They were with Jack.
In your rush to toss everything you’ll need in your suitcase, you’ll decide to pack your fetal doppler (which allows you to hear the baby’s heartbeat). You’ll tell yourself it’s silly to take it. You’ll know that using it while you’re traveling will only play into the feedback loop of anxiety that tells you that you constantly need to check on your baby.
But you’ll take it anyway, promising yourself you won’t actually use it.
You’ll be so thankful you did.
You’ll take a day trip down to Big Sur to enjoy a serene day of walking and fresh food and some of the most beautiful sights you’ve seen.
It will be an amazing day, relaxing and full of the positive energy you need as you try to adjust to the comfort that’s supposed to come with making it through the 1st trimester.
But while you’re sitting at a stoplight on your way back to your hotel in Carmel, there will be an 80-something-year-old man in the car behind you. From a complete stop, his foot will slip off the brake and hit the gas. His car will plow into the back of your rental car, pushing your car into the one in front of you. You’ll be terrified.
No, that doesn’t explain it at all.
You’ll be scared shitless.
You’ve never been in an accident before; fender bender “bumps,” sure, but nothing that ever actually made you jolt. This one wasn’t terrible–it could’ve been much, much, much worse. But it will thrust your neck forward, jerking it back, and you’ll feel the seatbelt grip tightly and dig in to your 14-week-pregnant belly.
The world will start spinning around you.
This will be your first panic attack in a very long time. (Luckily, it’ll also be your last for a while. Until Jack is born, when they’ll become more than regular. You’ll deal with that then. We’re not there yet.)
The car in front of you, which has almost no damage and where the passengers don’t describe anything like the jolt you felt, will insist on sitting on the side of the road for what feels like hours. It might’ve been hours. You’ll have no idea.
They’ll be obnoxiously upset that you don’t have a paper copy of your personal insurance card on you, despite your being able to show everything they need to see from the rental car company. You’ll want to punch them.
You’ll pray, panic, repeat.
They’ll make a hugely overblown deal about a small dent in the bumper. No. Scratch that. It’s not even a dent in the bumper. Their car looks perfect. Totally normal.
But they’re afraid that accident might have lifted their trailer hitch too high for it to function, and so we must sit on the side of the road waiting for a police report while an elderly man worries about his elderly wife and the pregnant lady in the middle car nearly has a nervous breakdown.
Eventually, they’ll also decide one of the passenger’s necks might hurt. Maybe. They aren’t sure. They’ll just put it on the police report in case it turns into a thing.
Eff these people!
The elderly man who caused the accident will feel terrible, but will clearly want to get away. He’s tired, stressed, and worried about his even more elderly wife in the passenger seat. You’ll feel bad for him while also being so incredibly furious at him, even though you know how unfair that is. You won’t tell him you’re pregnant; he doesn’t need the added stress.
But sadly for both of you, you’re not going anywhere for awhile. The passenger of the car in front of you will make sure of it.
You will stare forward, allowing Husband to navigate these people who seem to think there are other things to worry about in the world than the tiny human, just passing the first trimester mark, gestating in your belly.
All you will do, for hours, is internally wonder, “Is my baby still alive?”
You’ll elect not to go to the hospital. It’s 30 minutes away, they won’t give you a wait time, and they don’t have an OB or ultrasound technician on staff in the ER. So even if you do go, what can they do? Nothing, apparently. At least that’s what the lady on the phone tells you. Of course this happened in the middle of nowhere.
You’ll call every local doctor, and you’ll ask every female on staff at your hotel if they have an OB they can call to try to convince them to just give you an ultrasound. No one will see you.[Side note: Our medical system should not be so overburdened that they won’t see a terrified pregnant lady with a history of recurrent miscarriage who’s just been in a car accident because she isn’t an established patient. This is absurd. Something needs to change.]
You’ll return to your hotel room and do nothing but lie on your bed, staring at the ceiling. Sometimes you’ll shake, sometimes you’ll cry, but mostly, you’ll just stare. Husband will want to get out of the room, distract you, help you enjoy your time in Carmel. But you can’t. You can’t move further than the bathroom, constantly checking for blood. You need to know.
You’ll pull out your doppler, and it will take a little while to find the heartbeat, much longer than you think it should at 14 weeks.
But you will find it, dear one.
Even when you don’t believe it. You’ll make Husband take a video that both shows the heart rate and allows you to hear the sound, and you’ll send it to your friend Christina, who’s an OB. “Does this sound normal?,” you’ll ask. “Is this the right pulse for how far along I am?”
You’ve turned to Christina so many times during miscarriage, and she’s never actually made you feel better. Just to be clear, this is not an insult. She’s a doctor, after all, and every time you needed advice, most signs pointed to miscarriage. What reason has she had to make you feel better when she knows that you likely shouldn’t?
But this time, she’ll encourage you.
Past Katy, please know what a big deal that is. Please allow yourself to feel it.
“Everything sounds fine,” she’ll say. You can get an ultrasound if you can find one, but this early on, that baby is so well protected that if there’s still a heartbeat, I wouldn’t worry. Check in with your OB when you get home just to be safe.”
You’ll call your OB as soon as they open the next morning, and she’ll echo exactly what Christina said. Of course, you’ll go in to verify that all looks well as soon as you’re back in Atlanta, but at least for now, you can calm down, enjoy the rest of your time in Carmel, and head up to San Francisco.
In San Francisco, a weird, special thing will happen.
You’ll wake up on New Year’s Day, and you’ll have en email from your OB. I get that test results are automated and, thus, the emails probably are too, but it doesn’t read like it’s automated. You’ll probably always be confused by that. How is it possible that you got this email first thing in the morning on New Year’s Day?
Anyway. It’s test results.
Given your history with miscarriage, your OB had recommended the harmony test, meaning you’d find out if the child you’re carrying has proper chromosomal structures.
But testing chromosomes means something else, as well. It means you’ll find out the sex, unless you specifically ask not to be told.
With husband still sleeping beside you, you’ll start shaking as you open the email. You’ll put up the walls you always put up during pregnancy, certain that there will be a major chromosomal problem that makes this baby incompatible with life.
Don’t worry dear, you’ll be wrong.
The internet connection will be slow, so you’ll pace and bite your nails as you wait for everything to load. Finally, it will. And there, at the very top, in the plainest letters and language you can imagine, you’ll learn some big news.
“Chromosomally normal male”
You’ll start shaking, whether from anxiety or excitement, you’ll never know. Probably both; adrenaline comes with both, after all. Even as you write this in 2018, you’ll tear up and shake. Clearly, your emotions are heightened on this subject.
You’ll look at Husband still asleep, knowing you can’t keep this from him for a second longer than you have to. Desperate for a cute way to tell him the news, you’ll think through all the possibilities. You’re still not convinced this pregnancy will be successful, but these test results are HUGE for predicting that it might be. Also, you’ve never had a pronoun to use for your child before.
And then you’ll look over and see that precious doppler. You’ll put gel on your stomach, squeezing the last bit out of the tube, and start looking for a heartbeat. Your heart will stop in this moment–in the time it takes you to find that heartbeat, you’ll convince yourself that it’s not there anymore. Of course you will. But you’ll be wrong.
You’ll finally hear the heartbeat, and the noise will start to wake up Husband. “Are you using that thing again?” he’ll ask. “Didn’t your therapist tell you it’s not a good idea to use it too much because it can make your anxiety worse?”
He’s right, of course, but you’ll ignore him.
“You hear that sound?” you’ll ask.
“Yeah,” he’ll mutter.
“That’s the sound of our baby boy.”
And for a moment, however brief the moment, you’ll truly believe that everything will okay this time.
Husband, meanwhile, will lurch into overdrive. He’ll go from lying down, half asleep, to practically leaping up in bed, zero to sixty in half a second flat.
He’ll grab the doppler from your hand, leaving it exactly where it is on your stomach. He’ll lean down and put his ear to your stomach, as if he’s somehow listening through you, not through the machine.
For years, you’ve argued over what you would call a baby boy. He’d be given a family name, but you’ve insisted that a nickname is essential; Husband never agreed.
At least not until this moment, when the world seems to come together. You’ll feel temporarily calm, like everything will be okay, while husband kisses your belly, looks up at you with a huge grin, and excitedly exclaims, “Jack!”
If you could read this, sweetie, I would tell you one thing, and one thing only.
This is your baby.
You’re going to carry him to term, birth him, bring him home, and have a hell of a postpartum experience. You’re going to have to renegotiate everything you know about yourself and your life so you can find a way to be happy as both a mom and someone who really, truly, desperately wants a fulfilling and successful career.
But all that aside, this is your guy. His smiles will melt your heart, his laugh will be potion to your soul, his snuggles will soften every muscle in your body. Sometimes, his tantrums will even make you laugh. Because you have a child and he’s okay and you know that because all normal children throw tantrums. My God, how amazing.
I know you’re not going to do it, but you can relax now. This time, everything really will be okay.
Hugs, dear one. I know you need them.
Future Katy, December 2018
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.