I looked down to see tiny droplets of blood silently seeping into the toilet. The water turned the dark red color of a professor's corrective pen. Unclear. Explain. Revise.
I was seven weeks pregnant. My hands shook as I looked at the toilet paper streaked with blood, and I yelled for my husband. He told me to put my sneakers on. We were going to the ER. As he hurried me down the stairs of our apartment and into the parking garage, I stopped for a second before I got into the car and grabbed him. "I want this baby," I sobbed into his shirt. "I know," he said ushering me into the seat.
It was my first time being pregnant, and I had never wanted anything so badly–so painfully–in my entire life.
The ER doctor checked me over, and as he pulled off his gloves covered in blood he told me he was sending us down for a transvaginal ultrasound to see what they could find. "The technician won't tell you what they find or if there's a heartbeat or not. You'll have to come back up and hear it from the doctor," the nurse warned me. In the dark room lit only by the light of the ultrasound machine, I watched as the technician furrowed her brow and clicked various things on her screen.
She paused for a second and looked over at me. I was silently sobbing, tears flowing ceaselessly down my checks. My husband pinched his face trying to hold back his own tears as he gripped my hand. "Oh honey," she said, taking pity on us. "Look. It's ok. There's the heartbeat. There's your baby. Right there." She swiveled her screen around so I could see the throbbing black blob. The relief was so overwhelming I couldn't speak.
They couldn't give me a reason for the bleeding. They handed me a shiny black and white image of the blob and sent me home. I carefully hung up the picture on our fridge and marveled at it every time I opened the door to get a snack. Four small black magnets, one on each corner, so the image wouldn't curl up or get damaged.
A week later I bled again.
This time I went to L&D, and again they reassured me that nothing was wrong. Again they handed me an image of the (now slightly larger) blob and sent us home.
My anxiety and desperation about keeping this child became so crushing that my mother flew across the country to take me out for tea and help calm me down. When I asked my boss for a few days off to spend with my mother, she asked me if I was all right. I told her, "Not really. I think I'm losing my mind."
The bleeding never fully stopped during my pregnancy. And neither did my anxiety. But there was something else: guilt and shame.
I felt guilty for leaving work so often to go to the hospital. My husband, who came with me to every single emergency and non-emergency appointment, skipped out on so many client meetings that he eventually had to tell his own bosses the full truth about where he was going. I felt embarrassed for being so scared. Each time I felt severe fear mingled with humiliation. Until one doctor changed everything for me.
Sometime around my fifteenth emergency trip to the hospital, they told me the doctor on call was an older male–not my first choice for a gynecologist. After he checked me and assured me that my daughter (by this time we knew she was a girl) was fine, I apologized to him. I nervously mumbled some joke about coming here so often and wasting everyone's time. He stopped what he was writing and moved his doctor's chair closer to me.
"Honey," he said, "no one here thinks you're crazy. This is your baby. You do whatever you have to do to make yourself feel better. Pregnancy is scary. No one is ever going to judge you for wanting to make sure your child is okay." I thanked him, choking back tears, as he handed me another glossy image of my child for my collection.
Those words meant so much to me. They freed me. They gave me permission to advocate for myself and for my child. I wasn't being crazy. I was being a mother. I just didn't know it yet, because I had never been one before.
Twenty-two: At the end of my pregnancy I had twenty-two different images of my child. My fridge became a jumbled mess of photos all overlapping and crinkling together. Eventually I packed up all the ultrasound pictures and replaced them with a color photo of my daughter, swaddled in a ducky blanket at the hospital. But I never forgot the photos it replaced. I never forgot the courage it took to lean into my fear and ask for help. I never forgot the words that doctor said to me and how sometimes we become mothers before we even meet our children.