When I was in fourth grade, my teacher had us bury the word nice. She wrote “nice” on an index card and made a coffin out of a tissue box covered in black construction paper. She played the traditional funeral march (you know, dum dum da dum, dum da dum da dum da dum) and slipped that index card into its Kleenex grave. At the time, I thought it was a clever way to remind us 10-year-olds that there were more descriptive adjectives. Now, I recognize this was slightly morbid and potentially insensitive to some students in the class. However, the analogy remains: When we started trying to conceive again, I had to bury a word of my own: If.
I have always been superstitious, the kind of person who believed that if something went wrong, it’s because I didn’t worry hard enough. Yet the rational part of my brain knows that science and religion have both shown that positive thoughts lead to more positive outcomes. I had to let go, deliberately and with difficulty, to my negativity. I decided to “poked fate in the eye until fate gives up,” to quote another mama who lost her first baby. I’m being a rebel. I will no longer say “if” this new, rainbow baby makes it to life, but “when.” At least, I’m trying.
Each week of this new pregnancy has been a battle between hope and doubt. This was our journey the first trimester.
Week One: A colleague is selling a hand-me-down bassinet. My IUI is two weeks away. With reckless optimism, I buy it. I bring half the pieces home; the other half remains at the office to be picked up at some nebulous future time. My wife gets me a card that says how proud she is of me of making this leap of faith. She put a “Joy” card in the offering at church “for the beginning of a new life.”
Week Two: We tentatively schedule our IUI. I have very few pictures of me pregnant with Ander; I thought there would be time; I thought it was silly. This time, we start early, taking pictures on our way to the IUI: our hands on the doorknob to go outside; a silly shot of me acting like a swimming sperm.
Week Three: The two week wait overlaps with the Advent season, in which Christians wait for the birth of a baby. The irony is not lost on me as I struggle to decide how and if we include our lost son on our Christmas cards. To avoid awkwardness, we choose to sign them “The Zinssers.”
Week Four: On Friday, I see Anderson’s name five times, and it seems to occur just as I begin to wonder if I’m pregnant. On Saturday night, both my wife and I dream I am pregnant. Therefore, I decide to test on Sunday morning. There is a second line. It is faint, but not so faint. Definitely there. We spend Sunday in bursts of giddy excitement. We know, of course, that one pregnancy test means very little, but one day of bliss is better than one day of anxiety. I have learned that my disappointment is not greater if I start from a place of happy rather than sad.
Week Five: We head to the East Coast for Christmas, and tell our parents we are pregnant just a few days after we find out ourselves. They are thrilled. I contemplate the challenge of surviving the holiday season without any alcohol. I feel guilty about not doing anything really special for Anderson, but we hang a stocking for him, and give a ceramic ornament of a touched-up picture of him to the grandparents.
Week Six: This is the week I started bleeding with Ander. This is the week I started bleeding with Ander. This is the week… I get superstitious about which bathroom stall to use at work. I have flashbacks anyway. I check to make sure I’m not bleeding yet at least once an hour. I take a flight to DC for work and opt out of the full-body scanner at the airport. The lady doing my patdown runs her hands over my stomach and says “Oh! Are you pregnant?!” I’m like: (a) I can’t seriously be showing yet, and (b) what would you have done if I said NO? Secretly, though, I am glad. Granted, probably 90% of the women she pats down are opting out due to pregnancy, but still. When she asks how far along I am, I lie and say “oh, the end of the first trimester” because I am ashamed of saying only six weeks.
Week Seven: It is Ander’s first birthday. We are supposed to be feeding him his first cake. Instead, we keep gazing up at the sky, hoping to see a sign of him. We do: it snows, which is perfect. It should always snow on our polar vortex baby’s birthday; it was snowing the day he was born and as we left the hospital after he died, 26 days later. We build him a snowman and thank him for picking out his little sibling for us. We ask him to keep this baby safe and to watch over them. It is odd, being pregnant on your baby’s birthday. Unfair, somehow.
Week Eight: We have our first ultrasound! There is a baby with a beating heart. My relief is overwhelming. I find out my due date is August 25, but my c-section is tentatively scheduled for August 4, the day I turn 37 weeks (due to the classical incision from my first c-section, if I go into active labor I’m at risk for uterine rupture). I suffer from a case of the should-have-beens: Ander should be toddling down the aisle at my sister’s August 8 wedding. Instead, I’ll be delivering my maid-of-honor speech in a hospital bed under the influence of painkillers.
Week Nine: We decide to go all out to enjoy and celebrate this pregnancy. However long it lasts, we will always have two children now. So: we paint the nursery. We talk with our moms about baby shower dates. We’re assuming this baby is going to stick around. Granted, it helps a LOT that this pregnancy is off to such a better start. It means I’m not obsessing and fretting over every little ache and pain (especially as I’ve felt them before and have a good sense now of what is normal and what is not). Plus, I can EAT with this pregnancy! I was so sick with Ander, and so averse to everything, that I lost weight and felt crummy all the time. This little one makes me ravenous and I only dry heave sometimes in the mornings. I also don’t seem to have the crazy aversions to everything like I did last time (yet) though I am craving black olives, cheddar cheese and chocolate soy milk like nobody’s business. With Ander, I loved pizza and any carbs with tomato sauce (lasagna, spaghetti), but this time pizza makes me feel bloated, so it’s out.
Week Ten: We start telling a few people who ask directly or who otherwise need to know (my physical therapist; one of my sister’s bridesmaids who really wanted to know why I couldn’t make it to NYC in late July for a bachelorette party). We have dinner with the friend whose son was born on what would have been Ander’s due date, and she asks because I’m not drinking.
Week Eleven: We begin to keep a journal for the baby, whom we call Poppyseed. Last time, I obsessively recorded my symptoms (which in retrospect did at least provide a handy comparison to this pregnancy). This time, however, we want to write about everything Poppyseed does in utero. To share with them later, and also… just in case. So that we at least have these memories preserved.
Week Twelve: In another pique of reckless optimism, we book a baby moon! Well, to be fair, I have to be in Ft. Lauderdale for work, and it happens to coincide with the wife’s spring break (she is a college professor), so we plan to stay for a long weekend to enjoy the beach and sun. I figure if I’m going to be pregnant through the summer, I can even justify a maternity bathing suit (even if I’m not really showing yet). I also treat myself to a new fancy dress because we have to go to a university ball in a few weeks and I figure I can re-wear that dress for a later baby shower. This, however, leads to an episode of Midnight Panic. All I can think of is: what if this baby is stillborn? What if lightning strikes twice? What if I manage to avoid the abruption, only to have something else horrible happen? What if it already has, and I won’t know for another three weeks? Every day that brings me closer to the 19 week mark – when I started to really bleed with Ander, what I think of as the beginning of the end – makes me both more confident and more nervous.