I watched the screen and felt the entire earth give way and rock under me as it became increasingly clear that the ultrasound tech was not seeing anything. I began furiously praying to St. Jude as my mom had told me she did at my last ultrasound. Although raised half Jewish and half Episcopalian, I don't particularly identify with my Christian half or with organized religion at all for that matter, but this seemed like a moment where the Saint of Lost Causes might forgive me for that and give me just one little miracle for being a good person. The tech searched around for a bit longer and then stoically said she was going to go show the doctor the images.
The guarded, slow motion way in which this was unfolding was scarier than any suspenseful horror film ever written. Chris stood up and put his arm around me and his lips on the top of my head, but I could not feel a thing. The doctor walked in. She must have been no older than Chris I observed offhandedly with some extra part of my brain that wasn’t preemptively screaming and sobbing. This is where the entire moment was put on pause and I had an utterly out-of-body experience.
As a therapist in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I had been on the other side of countless numbers of these conversations. The Out-of-Body Version of Me looked down from my perch on the ceiling and thought “Huh! That’s interesting, this is what it is to be the patient about to get bad news”. All those years of empathizing and putting myself as an ally and advocate for the bad news recipients had made me acutely aware of everything happening in the moment. First I noticed the way the ultrasound tech stood in the background and would not make eye contact with me. Later maybe she would say to her husband “Oh I had such a sad case today” or maybe she would just compartmentalize and never think of me as a human being again because medical people can be shockingly good at that. I noticed the way the doctor made a point to sit and get at eye level with me like someone had told her to do in some “patient centered care” seminar once. I watched the hitched breath she took before speaking that revealed she would rather be anywhere else than doing this right now. Then as if on command all the fractured versions of me -- the one perched on the ceiling, the dissociated one in the fetal position in the corner, the one already weeping her heart out-- rushed back into the version of me sitting on the hard examination table and I heard the doctor say there was no more heartbeat and that the pregnancy would no longer be considered viable. Chris asked if they would be doing another another ultrasound to confirm and they said no. No they would not.
It’s strange to find yourself inside the exact moment you spent weeks not allowing yourself to look at as a possibility. I felt about a million happy possibilities and expectations for how my day, month, year was going to go evaporate into thin air. I have no memory of getting home and into pajamas and under the covers. I have one brief flash of recollection that as we passed over the Brooklyn Bridge the water looked more gray than I had ever seen it. The rest of the day was a cruel repetitious cycle of all my closest friends and family texting or calling to ask how my ultrasound went. Each time I explained it I would relive the moment so fully that it actually knocked the breath out of me. I turned off my phone and sobbed like a wounded animal while Chris cradled me in his arms and eventually I gave in to the salve of numbness. This may have been the first day of my life where a happily ever after seemed entirely out of reach.