My Fetus Is Growing, but So Is My Worry


Based on today's ultrasound, we could have a winner here. What a journey this has been—from my initial elation at discovering I was pregnant to a misdiagnosed miscarriage to today's doctor's visit. There on the ultrasound screen was a seemingly healthy 9 1/2-week-old fetus frantically waving its little webbed nubby hands at me.

People keep telling me how heroic I am, as though I've somehow trumped a potential miscarriage with a healthy baby through the sheer force of hope. But I can tell you that there was no hope involved. It was the opposite of hope. I entered every day of pregnancy with fresh pessimism and dark predictions.

The way I see it, there is no upside to optimism. I think it is better to be shocked and surprised by good news than to be stunned by a horrible discovery, better to anticipate grief than to have your idealistic heart ripped apart by a pregnancy that ends prematurely.

I know it's not rational, but I've begun to believe that I keep my pregnancies healthy by worrying. If I lie awake at 4 in the morning imagining that the life within me has stilled permanently, then my baby might be OK. It's only the scenarios that I don't imagine that might actually hurt the fetus. If I review every possible bad outcome, I will protect us all from it.

This theory seems to have been proven true by the existence of my second daughter—the tall, good-natured 8-month-old who tugs my maternity pants down each time she tries to climb my legs. Every time I caught her snoozing in utero, I'd guzzle cold lemonade to get her kicking. At every prenatal visit, I would grill my doctor about my odds of losing the baby (all the way through week 41).

Then she was born perfect. So, in my mind, all that worrying saved that pregnancy from certain doom.

The corollary is that I owe a fresh batch of anxiety to this new child. Could my abject pessimism be what brought the pregnancy back from the brink two weeks ago? Again, by the logic of the grief-stricken, it certainly seems so. A positive attitude would have been asking for trouble.

Next Page: The fears to come [ pagebreak ]I will have a nuchal translucency screening in a couple of weeks to see if there is a chance my future child has a chromosomal abnormality, so I should have plenty to worry about between now and then: How high have my odds skyrocketed in the last year? Could we raise a child with a severe disability? It's fuel for those 4 a.m. psychosis fires.

But ultimately, and don't tell this to the fates above who might punish me for it, I am absolutely elated to be pregnant. I'm excited to watch this baby grow, despite myself, to learn if we're having a boy or a girl. I'm eager to watch this new life become increasingly recognizable as a human being, and then join our family next May.

I need that excitement (as much as I need the fear) to buoy me through an inevitably difficult pregnancy. My previous full-term pregnancies have been defined not just by high anxiety, but also by at least 20 weeks of hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness that sometimes leads to hospitalization), anemia throughout the second trimester, and then premature labor scares beginning at about 22 weeks.

Whenever women say how much they love being pregnant, I can only stare at them with envy. Pregnancy, to me, is nine months of a continuous battle. My body and brain bunker down in a deep, muddy trench and brace for an army of enemies to come over the hill.

But it's the tiny victories, like that squirmy fetus on today's ultrasound, that make me believe I just might win the war.