It was Sunday. It started off pretty normal, I think. I was exhausted--partly because I hadn't slept so well the night before, due (once again) to too many trips to the bathroom. I also was anxious. I knew that the day had the potential to be pretty momentous, and not necessarily in a good way. We had an ultrasound scheduled for that afternoon.
It was a routine ultrasound, for routine screening of genetic defects, of which we are not particularly at risk. But two things were stuck in my mind: When researching nucal translucency online, I had run across a sentence saying, in effect, "some people who go in for this ultrasound discover that the fetus has no heartbeat." And a few nights earlier, I had woken up with particularly painful cramps in my abdomen. The cramps were not accompanied by any blood at all. They actually were similar to cramps that I've had in the past when dealing with constipation (not a pleasant topic, but face it, it's common for many people and not just during pregnancy), and I had pretty well convinced myself that that's what they were. I didn't call the health unit, didn't consult with any medical professionals, didn't even tell my husband. But there was still that niggling worry in the back of my mind ... what if it was more? What if the ultrasound showed that the fragile little heartflutter that we saw before had disappeared altogether, rather than turning into the fragile little heartbeat that it should now be? You can see how quickly I go back and forth between trusting God with my worries and taking them right back upon myself. I have a feeling that the struggle to leave this little one in God's eminently capable hands is going to be a long one ...
Anyway, in addition to dealing with the anxiety, I was dealing with exhaustion. As I mentioned, part of it was due to too many nighttime excursions to the loo, as my British friends would say. But there's more to it than that. No matter how long I sleep at night, how well I sleep, or how few times I have to get up, I'm still exhausted during the day. I accepted that up until recently, but I'm coming out of the first trimester now. I'm supposed to be getting my energy back, and I'm not. I can easily sleep 12 hours at night, then take an hour-long nap within three hours of getting up in the morning, and still be ready for bed by 8pm. Friends have told me how tired and pale I look; one former labor and delivery nurse called me up just to ask if I'd been taking my iron tablets--she tried to be nonchalant, but it was clear she was concerned. I told her that I didn't have iron tablets, but I'd been taking my prenatal vitamins daily. She agreed that they should have an adequate amount of iron, so I should be okay. But this conversation made me curious, so I did what I always do when I have an unanswered question--I turned to the internet.
On Sunday afternoon, before the ultrasound, I started researching pregnancy and anemia. At first, everything seemed like old hat--there was nothing that What to Expect When You're Expecting hadn't already told me (great book, by the way; I highly recommend it, although I think I ended up with a British version--but I picked it up locally, so it's not too surprising). Then something clicked. It was something I'd read a million times but hadn't really applied to my prenatal vitamin. All the websites that talk about dealing with anemia and getting enough iron while pregnant caution readers that the body's absorption of iron is inhibited by calcium and is promoted by Vitamin C. I had skimmed over that important information so many times--and then it hit me. In order to disguise the nasty taste of my vitamin, I had been taking it with milk. As in high calcium, low Vitamin C, exactly the opposite of what I needed. I've probably prevented my body from actually using all that iron that the prenatal vitamin is providing. So I decided that I needed to start taking the vitamin with grape juice (low calcium, 100% RDA Vitamin C). That alone would have made the day momentous--I still don't have much energy, but it takes a while to replenish iron in the body, so I expect to feel better before too much longer. I also fully expect to be told by my doctor tomorrow that I'm anemic, based on last month's blood work, and I intend to explain what I'd been doing and see what other changes I need to make to replenish the iron as quickly as possible. So hopefully, one problem turned the corner and began being solved on Sunday, before it could do serious harm to me or the baby.
With one concern relieved (although I was beating myself up over my apparent inability to connect the dots earlier), I headed off to the hospital for the ultrasound. Jeff was able to meet me there, and we followed the instructions we'd been given as to where to go and whom to talk to. In no time, I was lying on the table with the cold goop on my abdomen, Jeff standing beside me. The doctor, whose English was perfect--he'd spent a few years in New York--was surprised that we wanted a nucal translucency ultrasound. He wanted to know why we were worried. He accepted that it's routine screening now in the United States, and seemed to have the typical Egyptian attitude of "well, if you want it, you can have it, although it does blow my mind that such an expensive procedure is routine, even for low-risk pregnancies, in America." (The ultrasound cost LE150, roughly $30, which is a big deal in a country where the average citizen survives on around LE10 or $2 a day.)
And then came the second momentous event on Sunday--by far the more momentous of the two. We saw our baby. And he* looked like a baby. A real baby, not the bean-shaped blob of former ultrasounds. The head was clearly a head, although disproportionately large, as expected at this stage of development. The body was clearly a body. I never did see the legs, although the doctor insisted that all the major body parts were present. But the baby was waving at us. You could clearly see his little hand sticking up above his head. And then he decided to greet us--or maybe to protest the ultrasound--in a more visible way. With the doctor holding the ultrasound wand perfectly still, we saw the baby's entire body shake, then lift. After that, baby did not take a break; he was jumping around for the rest of the ultrasound.
The doctor pinpointed the heart and showed us the little heartbeat, although by that point, I didn't need to see it. The baby's movements were enough to convince me that our little guy is still alive and kicking. But the doctor had another surprise in store for us. He turned on the speakers. And I heard the most beautiful sound--the rapidly beating heart of our preborn child. We even heard the extra effort that it took to make a particularly high leap in the womb. It was a strong, steady heartbeat that would have reassured even the most anxious mother that her baby was doing just fine.
It was such a special time. I don't know if it was seeing the baby, or hearing the heartbeat for the first time, but something inside me that hadn't fully believed that we really are pregnant finally started to believe. It still doesn't feel completely real yet, but ... I'm not quite sure how to explain it. Even though it doesn't always feel completely real, I completely believe now that there really is a little life growing inside of me. Before, I knew it was true, but I didn't fully believe it somehow. I'm sorry; that's the best I can do. Maybe others who have experienced pregnancy can explain it better than I can.
So there you go. That was my momentous day. I'm sure there will be others during--and after--this pregnancy, and I'll be sure to share them with you as well.
*A note on pronouns: It's still too early to tell the baby's sex from the ultrasound, although we will find out just as soon as we can. I generally use whatever pronoun pops out, although it seems to be feminine most of the time for me, whereas Jeff tends to use masculine pronouns. Some days I say "she" all day; others I say "he" all day; and others, I alternate. But Jeff and the doctor both were saying "he," and that is technically the correct pronoun to use when the sex is unknown and you don't want to use the cumbersome, politically correct "he or she." So for the purposes of this post, I'll stick with masculine pronouns ... although I make no promises about future posts.