There I was, sitting alone on the toilet in our master bathroom, trying to avoid glancing over at the thin little stick sitting on the counter. One minute passed, then two. After three full minutes I dared to pick up the stick and look down at the window. It was faint, but it was there. The little pink + sign that I had been hoping for.
I should have been happy, ecstatic even. This child was very much wanted and indeed already very loved. We had counted dates and spent the last two weeks waiting and hoping to see this very sign. Instead, I felt a sense of dread and terror down to my toes. You see, about eight months earlier I had been in this very same position. That time, the positive test did bring the rush of joy and excitement that one expects with the anticipation of a new child. My husband and I quickly began dreaming dreams and making plans as to how our lives would change as a family of four.
But that dream was not meant to be. About two months into the pregnancy, it ended, as quietly as it began, for reasons still unknown to us today (I wrote about my experience with early miscarriage here). And although I know that early miscarriage is so incredibly common (as many as 25% women will experience at least one pregnancy loss in her lifetime), the experience devastated me to my core. You see, we had loved that child too, and when we lost her (in my mind the child was a little girl) we grieved her. That grief was like walking through a very dark storm, and it took time and energy. Our hearts were broken. It took several months for me to come to terms with the possibility of trying again, which I now understood held the distinct possibility of losing again. Hence the feeling of fear that settled into my stomach the moment that I saw that little pink +.
The first days after we found out we were pregnant once again I told no one. NO ONE. Aside from calling the OB office to be sure that I could schedule our first visit (with ultrasound) at exactly 8 weeks (and not a day later), it was a secret that my husband and I kept very tightly to ourselves. To be honest I spent most of those first eight weeks disbelieving that the pregnancy would actually come to bear a child that I held in my arms. I analyzed every single pregnancy symptom (or lack there-of). Was I tired enough? Sick enough? Did I have strange enough dreams? Every time I went to the bathroom I fully expected to see blood, but also strangely wanted the confirmation that it wasn’t there, and so therefore I think I went many more times than necessary in those early weeks.
The morning of our 8-week ultrasound came, and I still could not bring myself to believe that the pregnancy was viable. I suppose it was my way of protecting myself in a situation over which I had not one ounce of control. I was shaking inside as I walked into the office, and I tried to make jokes as I changed my clothes and climbed onto the table. My husband was by my side and held my hand tight as the technician started the exam. I know we both were holding our breath. And then…..we saw it. The tiny little jelly bean shape with its tiny little heart beating fast and strong. It was there, in front of our eyes. And I cried. I cried the happy tears that should have come that first moment in the bathroom with the little pink + sign staring at me. And although I knew in my logical brain that there still existed the possibility of loss, in that moment I was able to allow my heart to believe and to dream.
The rest of the pregnancy was more or less uneventful. We told our families, celebrated, and began making plans. I was sick, much sicker than I had been with either of my first two pregnancies, which I took to be a very good sign that things were progressing as they should. Twenty weeks came and went, and all ultrasounds and measurements showed a healthy, growing baby boy. Each week that passed allowed me to be more confident that we would meet this baby at the end of the pregnancy. Of course I continued to worry, but slowly my worries shifted from “Will I get to hold this baby?” to wondering how the birth would go, how we would adjust to being a family of four, and how I would be able to learn to parent two young children and their individual needs at once.
My first son was born 5 days before my due date, which I thought was just perfect: far enough along that there were no worries about underdevelopment, but I never really got to that “Will this baby EVER come out?!?” stage. Since everyone I knew told me that your next babies come faster and earlier than your first, I was completely expecting to deliver around that same mark or slightly before. Well, my due date came…..and went, with no sign of baby. For a long seven days I sat through non-stress tests and ultrasounds and worried that the delay meant some problem that we hadn’t identified.
Finally, on Christmas morning, I woke up to the familiar contraction pains that told me baby was on his way. We quickly opened presents and stockings and then packed the soon-to-be older brother off to his grandparents’ house and then….we waited some more. All day we waited as the contractions grew stronger, then weaker, then stopped for a few hours, and then picked up again. Again, I worried. This was nothing like my first labor which progressed like a textbook from first pain to first cry 19 hours later. The pain was different, my coping strategies didn’t work the same. Where during my first labor I was able to relax in the tub most of the day, this time around I had such strong back labor that I spent the entire day either on my feet or on my hands and knees. There aren’t many places to go on Christmas day, so most of the day I spent pacing my house…and worrying. Was baby okay? Was something going wrong?
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the pains got close enough together that we called my sister and headed to the hospital. I arrived there already 6 cm dilated (yippee!) and was quickly checked into a room. For two hours, with the support of my husband and sister I paced, danced, swayed, cried, swore, and collapsed against them. When I no longer had the strength to stand I crawled into the bed and held their hands as the contractions came faster and harder. My water broke with a huge gush, which brought the midwife in to check and see if things were ready to get more interesting.
“Are you ready to push this baby out?” she asked.
“GOD, YES!” I yelled.
“Then my dear, you go right ahead.”
So from somewhere primal and ancient I pushed, trying with all my might to bring this baby into the world. After about 20 minutes the midwife took a look at the monitor and calmly (but seriously) told me that the baby wasn’t as happy as she would like, and that she needed me to give the next pushes everything I had. By some miracle of nature, there was no room in my brain for worry at this point. Sounds erupted from my body over which I had no control, and with all the strength I could muster I brought our baby roaring into the world, seven minutes before midnight on Christmas day. For a brief moment the room was too silent, as the midwife and the assisting resident unwrapped four coils of umbilical cord from around my son’s neck and then…he cried! The cry was strong and loud, and quite possibly the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
It was in this moment, when my son was placed upon my chest, as I counted his fingers and toes and looked through his eyes into his soul, that I truly understood the concept of a “Rainbow Baby.” It was a term I had heard shortly after my miscarriage. A rainbow comes only after a storm, and is a symbol of hope and life and promise. As a family, we had weathered a storm. The loss of a child, no matter when it occurs, is something that changes you. The storm was dark, and lonely. But at the end of this storm was the rainbow. This child that I now held in my arms was a living, breathing reminder that life continues, and somewhere in every difficult situation lies a ray of hope.
When people ask me about my family I proudly talk about my two boys. Secretly though, I know that I have three children, two of whom I have been privileged to hold and raise in this world. All of my children have taught me important lessons. My oldest, who first made me a mother, taught me how strongly I can love. My youngest, my rainbow, has begun to teach me how large my heart can expand, and also to let go of the struggle for perfection and instead savor the day to day. And although I never got to hold my middle child, she still had important lessons to teach me. I learned that I can hurt deeper than I ever thought was possible, but that I am stronger than I thought. I learned the true value of friends and family. And I learned that I can weather a storm, and at the end of the storm, there can be a rainbow.