It’s been exactly two months since I last posted. In that time, we took a family road trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. In our trusty Honda Pilot, we traveled 4,400 miles round-trip. We followed Route 66 on the way out. We touched 200 million year old trees turned to rock in the Petrified Forest National Park; we gazed down into the Grand Canyon; our bare feet splashed in the Pacific ocean for the first time. We were awed into silence by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, and bored into tears driving through Nebraska. When we got back in early April, I started editing and putting together the hours of video, and sifting through the hundreds of pictures we collectively took. I went back to work, and life clicked right along for two more weeks.
On Wednesday, April 24th, I woke up, kissed Richard good morning, and brushed my teeth. I gave good morning hugs to my girls, took a shower, and got ready for the day. Jess caught her school bus. Just before getting into my car to go to work, I had what seemed to be some sharp gas pains. I went back into the house and into the bathroom, and then slow, hot pain blossomed in my right lower abdomen. I sat down on the toilet lid and tried to figure out what was happening. I was dizzy and starting to see stars, and the pain was pulsing with my heartbeat. I’d been in the bathroom about ten minutes, and as Richard was passing by, he tapped on the door and jokingly asked if everything was ok. I said I wasn’t sure. I heard him freeze and backtrack, and he asked more urgently, Are you ok? I came out and very slowly walked to the living room. The pain was settling into a large, hot mass inside my belly. I sat down on the couch and Richard asked what was wrong, and I couldn’t explain. My mind was scattered, distracted. He asked me if he should take me to the ER. I thought about it a few seconds, and then answered that I wasn’t sure, that the pain seemed to be ebbing a bit. He said, No, if you couldn’t say no right away, we’re going now. He got Abby dressed in about a minute flat, and we all went to the ER, about five minutes away.
I couldn’t breathe very deeply at all, just shallow little breaths. He dropped me off at the doors and raced to park the car. I limped into the empty waiting room at a crawling pace, and gave the receptionist my name and my symptoms, and told her I had to sit down and my husband would give her anything else she needed. Richard and Abby came in then, and a nurse took us back to an exam room. Pain level? Eight, maybe nine. Hard to breathe, hard to move. My belly felt large and painful. They pressed all over it, and asked me questions. They wanted to get me in for an X-ray but took a urine sample first. I almost fainted on the way back from the bathroom; thank goodness for large strong male nurses to lean on. Richard had left to take Abby to school. He got back, and they put an IV in my right arm and gave me a dose of morphine. Another nurse came in shortly after that with the results from the urine screening. She had a small, gleeful smile on her face.
She said, Mrs. Taft, you’re pregnant.
What? I looked over at Richard, at my other side. He was as flabbergasted as I was. I’ve never been pregnant. I’d been having regular cycles, right up to two weeks previous, when I had my last one. I said to Richard, If I’m pregnant, something is very, very wrong. The nurse’s smile faded. She said, Well, this changes things. We’ll be taking you for an ultrasound instead of an X-ray.
They wheeled my bed to another room with an ultrasound technician. The pain as she pressed the transducer against my swollen belly was excruciating, but there was no way around it. She kept apologizing. I felt bad for making her feel bad. She kept looking for the fetus, and it was nowhere to be found. My blood pressure was dropping slowly and steadily. The female nurse came in to tell me the Ob/Gyn had been paged and was on her way. Another nurse was trying to get an IV into my left arm for saline, with success on the third try. The sonographer tech was still trying to see what was going on inside me. I heard her breath change, and then she quietly told the doctor next to her, I found it. I craned my neck to see the screen. There was the little heartbeat, strong and steady. I glanced at Richard, who was staring at the screen. I heard the sonographer say quietly, yes, eight weeks.
Things got a little scattered for me at that point. I don’t know the sequence of events. My blood pressure was 80-something over 40-something, and dropping. The Ob/Gyn arrived and told me that the baby was a tubal pregnancy, and I said, Ectopic? Yes, Mrs. Taft. The baby is in your right fallopian tube, and the tube has ruptured, and you’re bleeding internally. We need to get you into surgery immediately to get the bleeding stopped. Stupidly, I asked, can the baby be moved, or…? She said gently, no, the pregnancy’s not viable. Oh, ok. Richard kissed me and said he’d be waiting for me when I got out. They wheeled me down halls as the anesthesiologist explained what they were going to do, cheerfully and clearly. I thought of the scenes in TV shows and movies, where they show the patient’s view of endless lights blipping past overhead. I took the opportunity to appreciate my role as Patient. I looked up at the masked faces of the people pushing me, with their kind eyes and baby blue hairnets. I breathed, and blinked, and felt my body wobble over the slight bumps my bed rolled over. I had the sensation of floating along on the shoulders of a mighty river, sure and wide and deep.
We arrived in the operating room. It was full of people, all certain of their roles and performing their duties briskly. Just another Wednesday morning. Everybody was cheerful. That’s a good vibe to come into as a patient. As they prepared the mask to put on my face for the anesthesia, the lady standing next to me held my hand and rubbed her thumb soothingly in my palm. I could tell she was smiling encouragingly behind her mask as she looked down at me, then returned her gaze to the anesthesiologist. What a kind action, I thought. Nobody has to stand there and hold your hand in an OR when you’re going to be put out in a few seconds. They put the mask over my face, and told me to take deep breaths. I had some really strange dreams while I was under.
When they woke me up, I was being wheeled into the room I’d be in until Friday evening. I was presented with the facts of what they’d found:
- They performed open surgery on me, via a seven-inch incision on my lower abdomen.
- They removed two liters of blood from my abdomen. I was bleeding out.
- I had a very large dermoid cyst surrounding my left ovary, to the extent that there was no ovary tissue left, so it was removed. My left fallopian tube was left intact.
- There was another dermoid cyst on my right ovary, but they were able to cut it off cleanly, leaving my right ovary intact.
- The baby and my right fallopian tube, damaged beyond repair by the rupture, were removed.
I was given a transfusion of two units of blood. I had many kind nurses. I ate many cups of Jello and chocolate pudding, at all times of day and night. My inner eight year old was in heaven. In the next few days, I figured out how to turn off the beeping alarm that meant I’d moved my arm the wrong way, so nurses didn’t have to run in to do it. I watched some TV, but I mostly just sat and thought, and waited for my pain medication button to light up on my Jeopardy buzzer so I could push it again. Richard brought me chocolate and an overnight bag, and visited me several times a day. He brought my mom and the girls on the second night.
While in the hospital, anybody who asked, How are you doing? got the same answers, the same backstory. We weren’t trying to get pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant. We adopted two girls several years ago, and now they’re four and ten years old, and they keep us very busy. It’s ok, we weren’t looking to have more children. God takes care of us and we don’t always know why He does what He does, but it’s all ok.
Whoever had asked always seemed relieved that I wasn’t falling apart, and surprised that I was taking it so well. Who could blame them? I was surprised myself. However, I also knew that every time I prodded my heart for an answer, the prod met no resistance; it just dissipated, like throwing a tennis ball into a mist. That’s how I knew I was full of shit. I just didn’t know what the actual answer was. How WAS I doing? No idea. Throw another tennis ball, watch it disappear, and make cheerful small talk to reassure someone that I wasn’t going to go all weepy on them. I was released to go home on Friday afternoon, April 26th.
I’ve been on leave from work for two weeks, and have another four to go. I’m healing. The last two weeks have been chasing tennis balls; just giving my heart and mind the space to catch up with what’s happened. This is my new milestone. Everything in my life is currently measured against, was I pregnant then? How old was the baby when we were digging our toes in the sand in the Pacific? Did I know, somewhere inside me, that I wasn’t alone in my body?
This story doesn’t have an end yet, because I’m still right in the middle of it. I haven’t been brave enough to Google what a fetus looks like at eight weeks. Every night at about eleven o’clock, after everyone else is asleep, the grief comes. The pain wraps around me and squeezes, and I remind myself to breathe, breathe. Richard’s and my baby wasn’t meant to be, and I don’t know why this happened, and it’s too big for me. When I start going under, I send up a simple prayer; Please, help. And it does, a little.