Six Monkeys: Mother instincts kick in up in the air

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By Kelly Dolejsi

Friday morning, I woke up to a sunny Florida day, the golf course sparkling outside my in-laws’ patio. Friday evening, I was back in Los Alamos, finally, after one of the most stressful periods of waiting I’ve ever experienced.

It began while I was admiring the sixth hole of the short, crane-filled golf course at The Groves in Land O’ Lakes, when I felt a new pregnancy symptom that didn’t seem right.

I decided to ignore it.

During the first several weeks of pregnancy, I was too tired to even notice what was going on. But before long, every new symptom alarmed me. A stuffy nose, a sore calf muscle, even disinterest in reading a Murakami novel seemed ominous. The biggest question was always, Is this normal? And the answer, every time, was, every pregnant woman is a complete freak.

So by Friday, by 16 weeks into this, I had evolved enough to relax as my husband’s parents drove us to the airport. But the symptom persisted. By the time Michael and I made our way to the terminal, I was worried.

I told Michael a few minutes before we boarded and he reminded me that it was probably nothing serious and that even if it did signal a complication, most likely the doctor could do something to help us.

He was right. I believed him. The plane took off and I tried looking out the little window at the flat, water-edged landscape. I tried reading some essays. But the worry was turning into something worse. I could barely breathe, taking in only crumbs of that weak, faded airplane air. Tears popped out of my eyes, tiny optical balloons pricked by this overwhelming fear of losing the baby.

My husband and I had already experienced one miscarriage. Just a few months after our wedding, we found out the tiny embryo we had recently become so excited about had never developed. An ultrasound revealed that I had what is lamentably called an empty womb – meaning that an egg sac had formed inside my uterus but no embryo was growing inside of that sac. Having that blurry black-and-white image explained to me was the saddest moment of my life.

Sitting in the airplane, imagining our current fetus, whose heartbeat we had heard only weeks earlier while we watched it bouncing around on a much more encouraging ultrasound screen-shot, I tried to concentrate on what I could do to keep it safe. I could stay calm. I could rest my head on Michael’s shoulder. I could eat my peanuts. I could focus on calling the doctor’s office as soon as we landed.  

When I finally spoke to the nurse midwife at Albuquerque Sunport, she said to go to the emergency room.

She advised heading all the way to Los Alamos Medical Center, which would not be as crowded as the busier hospitals in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. My husband and I agreed, got in our truck and almost immediately hit a traffic jam on I-25. I wanted so much to hurry, to be there already, to know our baby was still alive. But we kept stopping every few feet, the seatbelt pulling against my stomach. Each time, I concentrated on breathing with my tiny, stone-like lungs.

After more than eight hours of frantic worrying, we arrived at the ER and thankfully, from this point everything happened very quickly.

The doctor on duty confirmed that everything was OK. Then a technician wheeled me over to the ultrasound room where Michael and I saw, on the screen, our baby scratching its head, its pointy elbow jutting upward and its tiny hand near its ear. It appeared utterly content and completely safe.

That’s when I realized: I had been so distraught all day not because I might miscarry, but because my child was in danger. These are very different thoughts. The first means I might not become a mother. The second means I am a mother of a baby who could die.

Like nearly everything else about pregnancy, this glimpse of mother-brain is both wonderful and harrowing.

For now, I’m relieved and ecstatic that we made it through Friday. I’m relaxed. I’m in love with my still–small but–round -belly. But looking toward the future, I see that I have no choice but to give birth to an immortal, one with wings and an inability to be harmed by stovetop burners, electric sockets or cars. Otherwise I might never truly breathe again.

E-mail Kelly at kdolejsi@gmail.com.