We stared at the ultrasound screen. Please move, please, Oscar, move, I silently begged. The doctor looked at us, “I’m sorry.” I threw up. The following morning I gave birth to our son. He was beautiful, he was perfect, and he was dead.
Less than a week earlier, we had a doctor’s appointment; for reasons I can’t remember, I took the stairs to the third floor clinic. I was 37 weeks pregnant and looking forward to the arrival of our son. The nursery was ready, the car seat base was installed and we had our birth plan—stay home as long as possible, no drugs, walking or standing as much as possible—the naïve plan of first-time parents. At our doctor’s appointment my blood pressure was up. Stupid stairs, why had I taken the stairs? I had to wait; they wanted to make sure my blood pressure went down. Meanwhile we checked the baby’s heart rate. I noticed it was in the 120s when it had typically been in the 130s and 140s. That’s strange, I thought. I wonder if I should mention it. I also asked the doctor about the baby’s movement; he was moving less as we drew closer to the due date. The doctor said that was normal, as he got bigger there wasn’t as much room to kick and roll around. As we waited for my blood pressure to drop, my partner, Jodi, and I talked about final preparations for Oscar’s arrival: who would get the first phone call, who did we want to visit us in the hospital. The doctor and nurse returned and checked my blood pressure a third time. It was still high but had dropped enough that they felt comfortable letting me go home.
I didn’t ask for a non-stress test, I didn’t demand they check the baby on an ultrasound. I went home and probably watched something stupid on TV. The following day I called a friend who had given birth and asked her about the baby’s movement; I wanted confirmation that it was okay that he wasn’t moving very much. She said the same thing the doctor said, “It’s normal, don’t worry, there’s not as much room,” her son was born healthy, so I believed her.
One and done. That’s what I had said as soon as we got the positive pregnancy test. I was 34 years old, and my partner, Jodi, at 29, had a much younger uterus, so she could carry the rest of our children. We knew we wanted kids and were taking the next step in our relationship together. We started trying to get me pregnant shortly after our commitment ceremony. The doctors thought that at my age it might take three or four inseminations but they didn’t think I would have any problems getting pregnant. I believed them. I didn’t know getting pregnant might be messy and complicated.
A few weeks after our first insemination, I was not pregnant but I was very sick. I had a fever, I was achy and exhausted. We discovered I had CMV, a mono-like virus that most people get and never know they have. I was working as an academic advisor at the time and assumed I’d gotten it from one of the 300ish college students with whom I’d met over the fall semester. We eventually learned I had contracted the virus from our sperm donor. The sperm bank allowed us to choose a new donor at no cost, and so we began again the process of choosing a donor. At this point, the doctors began discussing with us some different options for moving forward. We could continue inseminations, we could try inseminations plus some drugs, or we could try in vitro fertilization. We opted for number two: insemination plus some drugs to stimulate my ovaries.
A few months later, as I was going to bed, I told Jodi I was in some pain. As we talked the pain grew worse. I got up to use the restroom and couldn’t. She called the ER and after a few questions, the nurse instructed Jodi to bring me in immediately. A doctor came in to examine me and touched my stomach; I nearly leapt off the table because I was in so much pain. They gave me pain medication and finally determined that the drugs I’d taken had overreacted and my ovaries were out of control! As we were meeting with doctors and nurses, we were told that this was a good sign; it likely meant the insemination we’d done a week earlier was taking. One week and another negative pregnancy test later, I was devastated. At that point, Jodi and I decided to take a break and revisit the idea of getting pregnant in a month or two. After a few months we met with our doctors again to discuss our options. We still wanted very much to have a baby and I still wanted very much to be pregnant. Two months later, we did our first in vitro fertilization.
Our first positive pregnancy test; we were thrilled! The nurse encouraged us to wait to tell anyone, but we told as many friends and family as we could, we were living on a cloud. As the pregnancy progressed I experienced morning sickness; I ended up in the hospital with an incarcerated uterus but was otherwise blissfully awaiting the arrival of our baby. We found out we were having a boy and quickly went through our names and settled on one, then another, then back to the first and finally we found him: Oscar Ramon.
Jodi and I sang to Oscar, we read to Oscar, we bought clothes and toys for Oscar; we consulted with our friends on the best way to introduce our golden retriever to Oscar. We were giddy with joy.
We were not the only ones. Most of our family and friends were delighted and shared our joy. However, since my parents hadn’t been supportive of my marriage to Jodi, the news of a baby was met with hesitancy. My relationship with my mother required an adjustment period, to put it mildly, which involved reminding her that regardless of how I became pregnant and regardless of my partner’s sex, I was going to have a baby and that baby would be her grandchild. My mother and I eventually became close and talked about silly stuff like decorating the nursery and what her pregnancies were like. It was something I’d dreamed about, interacting with my mother in the way I thought mothers and daughters were meant to.
Then August 1st. August 1st. The day our world crashed. The day Oscar died.
And I have so many regrets. I regret skipping through the process, living from insemination to pregnancy test and back again, instead of appreciating the time spent ‘trying’. I regret not spending more time enjoying being pregnant, appreciating the wonder of growing another person.
I regret breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me when a friend with a similar due date had a miscarriage.
I regret that the tenuous relationship I’d had with my mother, which through my pregnancy had become closer to what I’d always hoped it would be, disappeared with Oscar’s death. I regret not telling her, just two weeks after my son’s death, to get the f&%k out of my house after she told me, “God didn’t intend for you to have children.”
I regret not holding him in my arms just a little longer.
I regret blaming Jodi, I regret blaming the doctors, I regret blaming the nurses and my friends and my family. I regret blaming God. I regret blaming me.
What about the actions I didn’t take? Do I regret those? I think sometimes that he might have lived had I asked for any number of interventions, an ultrasound, a nonstress test, amniocentesis, anything. I think sometimes that surely, there was something I could have done. And it’s easy to get caught up in this way of thinking, to look for ways I could change the past.
But then I think, if he had lived, would I have gone on to get pregnant again? Would I have this wonderful five-year-old daughter? Would Jodi have gone on to carry our second daughter, now two and a half? Would we have just welcomed a third daughter into our lives? So now, when we sit down together for family dinner we say ‘story’ – ‘We give thanks for being, we give thanks for being here, we give thanks for being here together.’ These simple words capture exactly how I feel about my family.
So I hold those regrets in my heart, because I don’t regret that as soon as I held my son, I asked my doctor how soon we could try again. I don’t regret that I felt a little pang of disappointment when I found out my next baby was a girl. I don’t regret imagining our family with Oscar; he would be seven years old, perhaps losing his first tooth, learning to play soccer, and dancing and singing with his sisters.