Lying on my back, face turned to the ceiling, I could feel my husband’s warm hand tighten in mine. Every other time I’d done this, my body had been twisted as far as possible to see the screen next to me, eager to catch a glimpse of the baby inside me.
This time was different. This time I was terrified of what I would see or, rather, what I wouldn’t see. I’d been waiting 24 hours for this moment, but had I been able, I would have stopped time so it never arrived.
The cold gel on my stomach jerked me back to reality.
“How many weeks along are you?” asked the clinician standing next to me, her face a blur, her voice gentle and sympathetic. I told her I thought I was around five weeks pregnant. Or not pregnant.
“Hmmm, that’s early. We might be able to see something, we might not.” I closed my eyes and thought about this strange place I occupied, this place between being pregnant and not being pregnant. Between motherhood or not. This space between one life or another, this path or that one. It’s a space that is sometimes easier to be in than not. At least when you don’t know, there’s still hope.
It had started the day before, as it starts for so many, with blood in my knickers and the feeling that I was dropping from a great height, my stomach left behind. My legs turned to jelly.
How much blood? Was I still bleeding? What color was it? The questions went through my mind, but as soon as they entered, they left again. The answers didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that there was blood.
I had only known I was pregnant for a week or two. It was spring and, by my calculations, the baby would be born in December. I had imagined bringing her – or him, probably a him, I thought – home to a house full of sparkly lights, a decorated tree in the corner, and the smell of spices in the air. It would be cold outside and cozy in, our first Christmas as a family of four.
When I saw the blood, the twinkly lights in my mind started to go out.
Shaking, I pulled up my underwear and went to find my husband. We were due to go for a picnic that morning and planned to take our 18-month-old daughter to a playground. She’d just started to come down slides on her own and to clamber over climbing frames. I had been looking forward to playing with her, but now I knew I wouldn’t be enjoying anything about that day.
“I’m bleeding,” I told my husband, my hand laying protectively over my stomach, wanting to shelter the tiny grain inside that we had already started calling Basmati after the rice. Or Mattie for short.
“Do we need to go to the hospital?” he asked. I didn’t know, I had never been in this situation before. I decided to call the midwives. Unfortunately, they weren’t much help.
“Keep an eye on it and call again if you keep bleeding,” they told me. Apparently bleeding at this stage is quite normal. It might not mean anything, and it might mean everything. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to know that I would be fine, that my baby would be fine, that we would be a family of four at Christmastime.
But for now, we were just three, and I had to continue as if nothing was wrong. So we set off for our picnic. At the playground, my daughter scrambled on the equipment.
“Careful not to fall!” I cautioned her as she balanced precariously on the metal bars of the climbing frame. I tried to appreciate the watery spring sunshine, but all I could think about was whether more fluid was seeping out onto the pad between my legs. I didn’t want to go to the park’s public toilet to find out. I wanted to keep hold of the fantasy of another child for as long as possible.
We walked through long grass, jumped over cow patties. I discovered when we got home that my daughter had picked up a tick and was trying to decide whether to call the hospital again. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. I pulled the tick off her skin and felt relieved that at least I could protect one of my children.
This time when I called, they asked me to come in. We had no one to watch our daughter, so she came with us. My husband took her to play at one end of the waiting area, while I sat at the other – just me and a terrified-looking Asian woman, who didn’t seem to speak any English. I smiled at her but feared she could tell I didn’t feel much like smiling. I was sure she felt the same.
Finally, my name was called. The duty doctor who saw me was a young man, distracted, hours of non-stop work etched into his face. Maybe it was the fatigue that made him uncomfortably direct. When I told him what had brought me in on a Sunday, he was dismissive. It “happens a lot,” he told me. It’s “normal.”
I could guess that he had never been pregnant or had ever imagined what life would be like with a Christmas baby.
In the end, they booked me in for a scan the next morning, and I was sent home. I knew that in the grand scheme of things I was not an emergency. I was not important. I was not dying. There were far worthier patients than me. But to me this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me, it was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them both to pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I had to stay another night in the space between.
But to me, this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me. It was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I spent another night in the space between.
I spent another night in the space between.
The sonographer moved the magic wand over my stomach.
“Let’s see, are we going to be able to find anything?” she asked quietly, concentrating on her job. Her tone was so different from the male doctor last night. I thought about how many women had laid exactly where I was, waiting to hear the news they either long for or dread. How many times a day did she have to carry this responsibility on her shoulders?
I could bear it no longer and turned to see what she was doing. As always, the fuzziness was hard to interpret. But suddenly there was a flashing light. A flashing, sparkling, twinkling light. A heartbeat. A Christmas heartbeat.
“There it is!” The sonographer echoed my relief. “You must be slightly further along than you thought. You wouldn’t normally see a heartbeat this early. By my reckoning you’re probably around seven weeks pregnant.”
She paused, smiled. “And that’s a strong heartbeat. I think you’ll be fine.”
We left the hospital for home – for me to carry on being pregnant and for us both to plan for the time when our family would grow from three to four. We were told that the most likely reason for the blood was implantation, bleeding that occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the mother’s womb. A cause so common, I was sent home overnight to wait to see if I was still pregnant. So common that I didn’t seem worthy of sympathy from the busy doctor who first saw me.
I knew this stage isn’t really considered “proper” pregnancy by some, but I also knew how many would disagree. Every dark line for every wanted baby is special. As soon as that line appears, the child is a part of you, present and future.
And should it turn out that this time it isn’t meant to be, if you leave the space into darkness, we pack that child away somewhere and keep it safe forever in our memories – as I had started preparing myself to do.
My pregnancy ended successfully, with the birth of a beautiful girl on December 11. We bought a tree a few days after bringing her home and spent an exhausted, sleep-deprived Christmas day with my family. It wasn’t quite the sparkly, twinkly event I had imagined – but it was nevertheless a happy ending.