Victoria Jelinek

The Pregnancy Diaries – 13

How we apples swim. Jonathan Swift

My husband planted an apple tree in our garden this week in honour of our first pregnancy, a tangle of atoms that we called Appleseed… my column this week is a page from my diary, written in 2009:

It’s not just the little group of cells that’s lost. I’ve had a miscarriage before. I was attached to this child. I was trying to tell myself throughout to be careful, careful, not to get too attached. I was so excited that I was bursting to tell everyone. I satisfied this desire by telling strangers who I knew I would never see again. I’m so disappointed now. I haven’t stopped crying for four days. It’s horrible. It feels visceral. I miss Appleseed. I was fascinated from point ‘go’ by this strange little thing and its rapid growth. It was first a little group of cells, then it had layers for the nervous system and respiratory system, then it had little nubs for arms and legs, then webbed feet and hands…a heartbeat by the time it died. I understand the body rejected it for a reason, but it hurts deeply. Also what hurts – perhaps more – is the attachment I felt towards the dream that having this child conjured in me and now that feeling is lost.

I have to lie down. When I knew that I was pregnant, if my body told me that I needed to lie down, I did. If my body needed water, I drank it. If my body said I was hungry, I fed it well. It was a habit quickly established as soon as I knew that I was hosting Appleseed. I quit smoking. It became a protection issue for someone else. I didn’t have breakfast before I went to the hospital. Thinking about it now, I knew that I was losing Appleseed anyway and so I didn’t have to protect the little thing anymore, so what did it matter if I ate or was comfortable? At the hospital, I sat in this little hard plastic chair, in this Victorian-type narrow hallway with little light, shabby furniture, linoleum floors, dank, with people standing and sitting everywhere. I went into a little office. Last night’s scan showed that there was a ‘buoyant’ pregnancy sack, and inside of it a yolk sack, and next to it, a foetus. Today, there’s just blood, the pregnancy sack has collapsed. The doctor tells me that because of my previous miscarriage ten years ago, coupled with my age, that I have a 74% chance of a miscarriage if I get pregnant again.

Feeling sick, cramped up, completely overwhelmed, shocked and disappointed, I went out into the hallway and the world seemed hard and horrible. There were so many people in this hallway. I went out into the stairwell and this guy pushed past me. I was walking rather slowly, gripping the rail with my left hand. Then from behind me this woman said, “Are you okay?” And I said to her “No. I’m having a miscarriage.” She took my arm and helped me down the stairs. Outside, she asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee or a tea. She told me that she was 49 years old. She’d had three miscarriages and an abortion because of chromosomal problems before she had a fifth pregnancy and finally her child who is now 14 years old. She’d been at this hospital today because she’d been at this recurring miscarriage unit because a professor is doing a study for the Imperial College there with the NHS. We went out on the street into the cool sunshine, it was one of those beautiful autumn days – I love London when it’s sunny with a bit of freshness to the air. She says to me, “Do you want a cigarette?” and I say “Yes!” I’m standing on the street bleeding profusely, I’ve not even had water, and I’m smoking.

We went to a pub across the road and sat outside. She fetched me a glass of wine. She’s Italian. She lives in England with her husband of 30 years. She’s well-to-do. Well-educated. Earthy. She tells me about her three miscarriages and the choice after all of that trauma to have an abortion and then about her son who has Asperger’s. She tells me how sometimes she felt angry and scared. But now she realizes that she wouldn’t be the character she is – and she likes herself – if she had not experienced all of this. She has truly learned to take things as they come. She tells me that if there was a lottery ticket and there was a one in four chance of winning that lottery ticket, I’d buy that lottery ticket, no? That I can’t give up because one doctor was discouraging and the statistics look bad. I must believe in, and honor, the love I feel for the child that I will have. She tells me that life is about living, having hope and faith, friendships, time. At the end of it all, it’s only about this. I feel better. Courage flits in me in place of Appleseed.

The Pregnancy Diaries – 5
June 7, 2012, 12:31 pm
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‘Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.’ Jules Renard

I went to the specialist in Grenoble this week. The good news is that I do not have uteri (two uterus’), just, simply, a larger womb that’s growing. So, with that bit of good news, I’m not facing the high chance of a miscarriage in the second trimester or the elevated odds that my cervix will open and deliver the baby too soon in the third trimester. The bleeding that I’ve been experiencing is because I have weak veins in the lining of my womb that are stressed as everything grows. The specialist said that this is nothing to worry about and this will stop within the next few weeks.

He did tell me that as with every woman who’s pregnant, I should expect to have some nasal congestion due to increased hormones – which surprises me as I feel as though I could get a job at the airport as a sniffer dog, my sense of smell is so keen. I first suspected I was pregnant when I walked into a restaurant that was cooking a big batch of pot au feu and thought that I would vomir ungracefully on the floor. The specialist also told me that due to my ‘mature’ age, I have a higher chance of thrombosis, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. These realities, as well as back and knee problems, are compelling reasons to have children while young…or younger, anyway.

Upon return to Chamonix I went to my regular doctor. After looking at the report from the specialist in Grenoble (tres vite), he prescribed tights that are like armour that I must wear throughout my pregnancy. Luckily, they come in black. The ‘neutral’ colour looks like the brown pantyhose my grandmother used to wear that bagged around the ankles. And, while these tights are a hefty pain to get on and off, they do feel really good on the legs…like flight socks, only all the way up over the bottom. They’re almost 80e per pair! Luckily, once prescribed, the carte vitale picks up the bill. I asked my good doctor many questions about the general issues with pregnancy, such as the hormonal smell thing, the high blood pressure and the gestational diabetes potential that the specialist in Grenoble had mentioned. My doctor said to me, “A French woman simply accepts what the doctor tells them to do at any given time, then says ‘merci bien,’ and leaves. It does not matter whether the woman is English, American, Scottish, Scandinavian, or South African… if she’s not French, she asks too many questions!’ This lack of female query explains a lot – pauvres les petits chou. The good doctor tells me that for us to be on the ‘safe side,’ he will write an ‘arret de travaille’ for me. I asked him what this is. He said that it means that I can present it to my employer and I’m immediately able to leave work and they must pay me the remainder of my employment contract. ‘Doesn’t seem fair to them’, I said. ‘It’s not as though my work is physically taxing.’ The good doctor replied, ‘But why work when you’ve paid the taxes not to?’ This, too, explains a lot about the French.

The Pregnancy Diaries – 4

‘There are some women whose pregnancy would make some sly bachelor smile.’  Honore de Balzac

I woke up in the middle of the night the other night and was bleeding. The next morning, I went to my good doctor for a check up and an ultrasound. He told me that I have two uterus’ (called ‘uteri’, really), which may explain the bleeding. The uteri are only apparent now because my womb is getting larger. They’re heart-shaped – my doctor even drew me a picture. There’s a high chance of miscarriage in the second trimester (which could explain my previous two) as well as pre-term birth in the third due to the danger of my cervix shortening and then opening up too soon.

Thank goodness the French are very attentive in their health care for pregnant women. You’re given a schedule of the tests that you’ll have, as well as the visits that you’ll have along the way, and specialists are frequently, and quickly, referred to. One test that both my husband and I are to take, is one that checks our chromosomes and DNA – it’s quite expensive, gets sent to Lyon, and has confidentiality statements attached to the prescriptions – kind of “Big Brother,” but still fascinating. The one that’s coming up for me is a comprehensive ultrasound that looks for the sort of thing that my doctor has just found, and measures the size of the nuchal folds; they’re on the back of the neck of the foetus and if they’re a certain thickness, there’s a good chance of the baby having Downs Syndrome. There’s also a blood test that complements this ultrasound and both happen here between 12-14 weeks. In the states and the UK, these tests are generally regarded as a ‘mid term pregnancy check’ and are done around 16-20 weeks. I believe the scale goes to 10k (as in, 1 in 5k, or 1 in 300 chance of a problem). If you have anything below a 1 in 250 chance of a problem, then you have an amniocentesis and the results come back a few weeks later. If you score higher than 250, then you have to go to another country to have an amniocentesis.

I’m going to take my blood test in Chamonix and then go to an ultrasound specialist in Grenoble next week who will be able to do the scheduled test, confirm or disconfirm that I have uteri, and explore why I might be bleeding. I looked the doctor up online and he’s world class, which calms me. While online, I looked up the two uteri thing to find out if humans get this or if I’m some strange anomaly that’s more closely related to a sheep. It’s called Uterus didelphys (how do I even pronounce that?), or a double womb. It’s not common. That said, a woman might never know that she has two uteri until there’s a complication in pregnancy, such as repeated miscarriages or placenta previa. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it. It’s possible to be pregnant in each of them (I’m not) but the likelihood of one or both of those foetuses’ surviving is unlikely. I looked up mammals that have them. A lot of them do, and even have two vaginas and two sets of fallopian tubes (I don’t).

Right now, my foetus is growing well and has a strong heartbeat. I could see its profile in the ultrasound with nose, forehead, legs and an arm. So, ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’, and I’m not singing. I’m going to try to see just what’s in front of me, to the very next thing, rather than race ahead with worries and fears; simple, but not easy, when neurotic like me and charged up with hormones. My sister emailed me  “Just remember to brrrreeaaattthe…”