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The Harder Parts of Being Pro-Life

alec vanderboom

On Thursday, I went for my second hour long sonogram in the inner hollows of seven story HMO. I bribed my older kids for patience in the waiting room with cheap games from Target. That way, my husband and my two year old could come into the appointment with me. The two year old actually fell asleep in her Daddy's arms. Miracle.

I started stressing a little at the beginning when the tech wrote "KNOT" on the bottom of one picture. The last ultrasound showed us that the baby in my womb already has a triple nuchal cord around his neck. Of course, it would be my feisty kiddo would could flip himself into a true umbilical cord knot at only 23 weeks. I voiced my fears out loud to the tech in a shaky voice, "That says knot, right?"

Except it didn't. She wrote RVOT or Right Ventricular Outflow Tract, a piece of the cardiac system. My darn nearsightedness!

After I started getting air into my lungs, Jon decided this was his cue to step it up as the calm presence in the room with the gift of distraction. He started talking about his detailed research on the historic context of the ISIS conflict in Irag and Syria. Both the tech and I found this extremely interesting and asked him all kinds of detailed questions. (My artistic husband entertains himself for his 3 hour daily commute by downloading different pod-casts on his ipod. Right now he's studying The History of Middle Eastern Politics for fun. This is yet another reason I'm on my eight pregnancy with this man. History is sexy!)

I got through another 75 minute session in The Room Where Leo Died, totally fine. I talked about history and State Department Politics. I don't know what it says about me that abstract Government Theory completely lowers my anxiety level, but I'm happy to find something that works. Two weeks ago, I thought I was horribly damaged by past childbirth experiences and would need massive medication to get me through my next c-section surgery date. Now I'm thinking a thick book by John Locke, my faithful husband, and a quick prayer to Mary could be enough.

I left that appointment feeling great. The tech said everything about the placenta looked great. The baby boy has huge feet. I went upstairs and picked out the first pair of new eye glasses I've had in 5 years. Self-care feels great.

I had a really relaxing Fourth of July celebration. We actually made it to Downtown DC and watched the Nations Fireworks in all their glory.

On Sunday night, I got an email from my OB. "The placenta is still low."

"How low?" I asked.

His next email named a number that was low. Lower than I thought I was at 2 weeks ago. My OB wants me to come back for another sonogram in 1 to 2 weeks.

Ahhh! I really suck at anxiety. I'm actually okay at functioning in the moment of a crisis. Believe or not, I was the calmer parent while Tess was closest to kicking the bucket in the NICU four years ago. It's the "before hand" or "afterwards" that mess me up. It feels like perpetual stage-fright some days.

Here's what I hate. I now have the special "call for emergency help when you are bleeding number" from my HMO. My HMO is huge. It's spreads across 15 states. It's all about protocol. There is one "triage" number that you call for assistance from an advice nurse whether you have an earache or labor pains. Have I mentioned that I've had 5 c-sections? Doctors told me "you can not push under any circumstances, call as soon as you start labor pains and state loudly that this is number X c-section for you!" I was supposed to call the normal advice line in this situation.

Now I have this special, secret number to call, an "emergency bleeding number." It feels like getting directions to the Bat Cave. I don't feel reassured that I have quality First World medical care with this information. I feel even more freaked out. "Wow, I'm at real risk! They don't even trust me to get myself to a local ER anymore."

So that is where I am today. I'm checking my underwear for blood. Which totally sucks eight months after a miscarriage. It's gross to explain just how heart-stopping it can be to do normal bathroom breaks when your newly pregnant after a miscarriage.  I'm so frustrated to be back here again.

I went to get supplies for Family Movie Night at the grocery store with my husband and two little girls last night. As he unbuckled my two year old from her car-seat, my husband told me "It's just not easy for us to be pro-life." He talked about how there were people who go down to the March for Life once a year and wave signs. We struggle with this deep belief all the time. There are two sons that we buried in a cemetery. We spent 4 weeks of our life with another newborn in the NICU. We've spent 23 weeks worried about this youngest kid making it past a miscarriage. Now we're going to worry for another 16 weeks if the baby can avoid a premature birth and I can stay off of bed rest.

I nodded my head and I talked about the lack of support we have for this pregnancy. This complication that I have isn't a result of multiple c-sections. It can happen in any pregnancy. If it happened with baby one or two, there would be all these friends and family who would tell us "Don't worry!" "Things will be okay!" "We're here for you whenever you need us!" Yet this complication happened with baby six. There this silent condemnation like "you were asking for trouble by getting knocked up again!" "This is what you get for tempting fate."

I tried to speak my incoherent thoughts out loud to my husband. "This diagnosis isn't even that serious. I think if I was pregnant for the first time, I sort of go with the idea that in 90% of all cases this problem clears up easily by the 32 week. I don't know why I'm so scared about it."

My husband told me gently, "We're not those people anymore." This isn't our first rodeo. We've seen stuff go bad. We've been on the wrong side of loop-sided statistics.

I shrugged my shoulders and we went inside to buy movie snacks for our family.

Sometimes I tell myself that it would be easier for the general public if I decided to donate a kidney to one of my older kids, rather than go through another c-section for a baby I haven't met yet. A kidney surgery carries way more risk, but it make more sense to strangers. There's this two year old with brown eyes and brown hair named Abby. She's so cute. I'm her Mother. Of course, it makes sense that I'd put myself on the line for her.

Baby Matthew is the kid I haven't met face to face. I don't have that gooshy, overwhelming love for him yet. He's a little abstract. I can still picture my family as complete without his physical presence. Because he's abstract, it's easier for me to get swamped by all the medical fears and think "This idea about becoming a Mother to yet another human being was really dumb. I should have cut my losses."

That's when I love my husband so much. He squeezes my hand inside our soon to be too small passenger van and says "That's why this situation is more pure an than impulse to donate a kidney an older kid. You're putting heart on the line for a stranger."

Because I'm a nerdy historian, I thought about the traditional new baby gifts of the early Puritans. In delicate pins the women would spell out "Welcome Stranger" on a frilly pin cushion. Back when big families were the norm, a new baby was seen as a stranger and someone who deserved hospitality. I don't really know this new baby yet. He's a male. He's got big feet. So far, it appears that all four chambers are working in his heart. He might be an easy pregnancy, or a hard one. He might have colic or he might be an easy sleeper.
Based on our track record, however, I'm pretty sure this kid will be a unique soul who steals my heart.

This morning, I woke up feeling better. "One day at a time!" My husband is home from work for another day. He and I have plans to fix up our house, to make it even more irresistible to potential buyers. We have a Swim Meet tonight at 6 PM. I want to linger in the bathtub and bake a Southern 7-UP bundt cake.

I logged on to my daily read of the Leilia's Little Catholic Bubble and got tears in my eyes. She has a lovely tribute to her new son-in-law on her blog. I'm reminded suddenly that this pregnancy which is so self-focused right now (my swollen ankles, my ever-lasting morning sickness, my fears about placenta problems) is really not about me at all. There is a new boy coming into the world! Maybe he'll look at his bride like this someday! Maybe that kind of intense spiritual love will come out in another way--the priesthood, creating an work of art, or restoring a piece of lost wetland. (Curiously, I'm having a hard time picturing your face being that joyful over writing an appellate appeal or finishing a tax return. Yet unconditional love, Baby Matthew. You do whatever floats your boat).

The thing I love about the pro-life cause is that its a special club of those who "get it". Some people get that life is a precious thing. I get inspiration from both mundane and unlikely places. Thank you everyone for writing about your journey. I feel stronger when I read encouraging stories on the internet.