Victoria Jelinek


The Pregnancy Diaries – 20

“Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?” Carl Jung

My brother had a pulmonary embolism last week. It’s a blood clot in the lung that can cause sudden death. I’d be so sad if something were to happen to him that I don’t even want to think about that. Apparently, he had chest pain and shortness of breath. He wasn’t even going to the go to the doctor, just went to bed to lie down, but thank goodness for his wife who insisted that he go to the hospital immediately. He’s fine now, but he’ll be on medication for life and he has to have his blood levels checked regularly.

So, he calls me to tell me about all of this after he’s been in the hospital. I panicked by his call ‘cause he never calls, thinking that a call from him meant something horrific had happened to someone in our family. I wasn’t too far off base. Anyway. He tells me that he has a Factor II mutation in his blood. It’s what our father had, too. Before they discovered this, however, he’d been discussing his family history with the specialist, and one of the questions the specialist asked him is whether there’s any history of miscarriage in our immediate family. Of course. There’s me. The specialist tells my brother that a hereditary Factor II Mutation could be the cause of my previous miscarriages and I must get it checked out with a specialist so that something can be done to protect my current pregnancy and my life after the baby is born.

I’m scared. I’ve started to feel “safe” in this pregnancy. No more bleeding. No abnormal pain. Things must be okay, right? But even as I feel nervous about whether I have this mutation and it means there may be problems with this pregnancy, or later for me, I must admit I also feel a sense of relief because this may explain why I’ve repeatedly miscarried and I believe knowing is better than not knowing — I have a very hard time with the oft French phrase from doctors ‘c’est comme ca.’ My brother sent me the report and screening. It’s hard to understand. Words such as “mutation (G20210A) in the Factor II (prothrombin) gene,” and “in pregnant patients with placental abruptions and fetal growth restrictions,” (though everything looks good on my ultrasounds!). Something about testing for “R506Q (Leiden) mutation in the Factor V gene,” and “plasma homocysteine levels.” I took the results of my brother’s exam and the specialist’s report to my doctor who then referred me to a specialist in Annecy. The reports are in English, though, and the specialist in Annecy doesn’t speak English, so my doctor in Chamonix wrote a letter outlining everything and giving the gist of the problem. I’ve investigated it online now, too, and I’ve written a load of questions in French. Likely my grammar will be all off and the doctor will think I’m stupid, but the point is to find out whether I have this science-fiction sounding mutation or not, and whether there’s a risk for my baby. I must admit there are times like this that I really wish that I were in an English-speaking country or that I spoke fluent French…it’s bad enough to try to figure this kind of a thing out with an English-speaking medical system. To try to understand it in French and how the whole system works on top of that, is another thing altogether. Intimidating. That said, the French medical system thus far has been amazing for me; it’s immediate and responsive; comprehensive to the point of sometimes seeming overly careful (and all paid for by my taxes! It ain’t like that in the states). I think I’m in good hands…

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 15

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.” Marcus Aurelius

Prompted by my husband’s planting an apple tree in our garden for our lost baby, Appleseed, I wrote about this miscarriage in last week’s column. While I’m American, and therefore prone to “vomit” my whole life upon the floor to anyone I’ve just met, I’ve lived in Europe for almost 15 years now, and have learned (am learning) to hold myself back more and to think before I speak…so to write about something so personal filled me with ambivalence and trepidation.  However, the stories told to me by other women as a result of this piece, have touched me greatly and confirmed for me that it was right that I wrote about Appleseed.

Of course there was the angelic figure that I met when I was leaving the hospital after my pregnancy sack had fallen apart – her miscarriages and then the birth of her autistic son. One woman told me that she’d had five miscarriages, all at five and sixth months along in her pregnancy. Almost literally, the babies were falling out of her. Finally, the doctors tied her cervix shut and she was on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy that resulted in her only child being born. Another woman told me of a stillbirth in which she’d had to deliver the child through induced labor; she has since had two healthy children but holds this sadness in her heart still. Another woman had six miscarriages, one in which she’d had to deliver the baby stillborn, before she finally had her healthy babies; she told me that every night she still says a little prayer before she goes to bed for the baby she delivered and named.  These are harrowing stories from real life – not work, not money, not the tedium of daily life with its challenges, not friends who irritate us, or ‘enemies’ that overwhelm us – but the stuff that constructs who we are, what we’re made of fundamentally, and which defines our relationships to others.

When I was twenty-years-old I became pregnant with a boy man who’d been my boyfriend through secondary school. I was scared and confused. I’d just won a scholarship to a great university and knew that with a baby I couldn’t go…also, I was very young and the boyfriend was trouble. The only people we told about the pregnancy were his parents and mine. His family was incredibly Catholic and admonished me to keep the baby. He, himself, wanted to get married and have the baby. My parents were not sympathetic to his cause. They reminded me of what it would mean both in terms of my age and the unstable relationship that I had with the boy man. I got an abortion. It was painful and saddening for me, and because of the shame I felt, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my best friend – for almost a decade. It was harder still as my sister had a baby at the time I would have had this baby. Even now, my mind flits briefly to the thought of this aborted child when I look at my nephew. When I was finally open about the experience, I was startled to discover so many similar stories. Writing last week’s piece about the miscarriage of Appleseed reminded me of this early experience because of the fact that there are so many people who can relate to situations that we imagine are so unique to us…maybe even shameful…certainly not the image of ourselves that we want to portray…and it’s in the sharing of this vital personal information that we are truly courageous and that we begin to heal…and by ‘heal’, I mean that we begin to accept ourselves, our choices, and the circumstances and events of our life.



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.