We had been pregnant for five minutes.
Sure, Misty had been late, but neither of us had been expecting this. We stared at the blue line, re-read the pregnancy kit instructions, and stared some more. I don’t think we said anything for quite some time.
“Maybe we did it wrong,” she said.
Those tests are seldom wrong, and this one wasn’t. We had planned to have children: nebulous, vague thoughts of some future time, as unformed as this new addition to our family.
It was a Thursday night. The next night we were leaving Durham, North Carolina to begin the fifteen-hour trip home to Arkansas for Christmas. We sat in the living room, packing and wrapping presents. Occasionally we looked up at each other. If my face looked anything like Misty’s, I must have looked very surprised.
We had been pregnant for a day.
I spent most of the day at work, swinging wildly between depression and excitement. I wasn’t ready to be a father. We weren’t ready to be parents. This is going to be one of the greatest events of our lives.
I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to run up and down the halls, shouting at the top of my lungs, “I AM A FATHER!” We had agreed that silence was best, but, oh, how difficult it was.
In the early afternoon I found myself thinking of something I wanted to tell our child. I suddenly knew I could do this. I could be a dad.
We began driving around 7 P.M. Our plan was to make it over the branch of the Smoky Mountains which lies across the western part of the state and on into Tennessee. We had a hotel room waiting for us in Newport, the first town I-40 takes you to once you exit the mountains headed west.
It was very quiet that first hour in the car. Misty was feeling bad and dozed on and off. I fretted. I wondered if we were really ready for this, or if this was some horrible mistake. Maybe I would wake up tomorrow and discover that, whoops, so sorry, this whole thing was a mixup, a by-product of a faulty pregnancy test.
We spent the last half of the trip talking about our child-to-be. We cried a lot; we laughed some. In the talking we learned that we were ready for this event, even if it hadn’t come on a schedule of our devising. We would be there for each other, and we would be there for our child.
We were ready.
We had been pregnant for just over a day, and now I was in an antechamber of Hell.
Emergency rooms are never pleasant. Even given my limited experience with them, I knew that. Once, when I was two, I cut my head open and had to have stitches. In college I had waited in an emergency room while my best friend, who had sliced his finger open with his pocket knife, got stitches. In my mind, emergency room equaled stitches.
We had arrived in Newport around midnight and collapsed into our hotel bed. At 2, Misty woke me up. “It…hurts so bad,” she sobbed between gasps of pain.
I bundled her up. “I hate being…such a cry-baby about…this,” she said, and, “Maybe this is…nothing.” I would have none of it. Back into the car we went, and back towards the hotel lobby. I told the man at the desk, “My wife is pregnant and in a lot of pain.” It was to become a familiar litany by the end of the night. Fortunately for us, he volunteered to lead us to the hospital.
So it was that, on a cold Saturday morning, I found myself reciting health insurance arcana to a tired woman while a man in dirty work clothes pleaded with a nurse. “Please…I’m his son, I just gotta go see him.” “Sir, they’re working on him now–” “But I just wanna see him, I won’t get in the way.” “His throat’s cut up real bad and–” “I know, I know.” “–they’re gettin’ ready to Medevac him to Knoxville.” A creased woman watched on, and what must have been a good dozen cousins, aunts, and uncles filled the lobby. TNN was blaring from the TV, and I hadn’t had more than three good hours of sleep in the last two days, going on three.
The people milling about no doubt belonged to the old man I had glimpsed in the operating theatre. By mistake Misty and I had barged in the entrance normally reserved for those arriving by ambulance. “Please,” I said as I stumbled in, holding up Misty. “She’s in a lot of pain.” I got a blurry glimpse of several nurses and policemen standing in a circle, looking quite surprised to see us. I also got to see a red-and-white form on a gurney. Later I would realize that, indeed, his throat was cut up real bad.
They put Misty on a gurney and asked her to wait. The Cocke County Hospital is small, and all of their efforts were going into stabilizing the poor man I had seen. He had been in a wreck, and was a wreck: he was diabetic, and had more than a few too many before he drove his car into a tree and his throat into his windshield. I was bustled out into the waiting room, where I discovered new torments undreamt of by Dante.
The night passed, every moment drawn out indefinitely. For an hour I sat in the waiting room, reading a book I had brought. It wasn’t very good. Whenever I asked the nurse behind the counter what was going on, I was given no information and a platitude to take back to my seat. I began to understand what had driven the son to plead with the nurse.
Eventually they let me into the sanctum sanctorum to see Misty. She had been stretched out on a gurney, ignored by the harried staff. They had taken her blood; we were later to find out that it contained a hormone specific to pregnancy, confirming what our $5 pregnancy test had told us. I held her hand and tried to think happy thoughts. Someone had poured sand in my eyes.
Eventually things began happening. More blood was drawn. Misty was wheeled into another part of the hospital and an ultrasound was taken. Around 6 A.M. we found ourselves alone in a hospital room, staring at each other while we waited for Doctor Azima to talk to us. We each kept nodding off, then bouncing back awake.
The final report: maybe she was having appendicitis, although Azima doubted it. But he couldn’t take a CT for fear of damaging the baby. Perhaps it was an ectopic pregnancy. Perhaps it was a miscarriage, although Azima and the OB/GYN he had called, Dr. Kim (“call me Dr. Kim”) Puterbaugh, didn’t think so. They were ready to hospitalize Misty, but when they learned that we had a hotel room, we were sent back and ordered on bed rest.
Seven in the morning. We collapsed into bed.
We had been pregnant for two days.
We slept until three in the afternoon. I got up and went to a near-by WalMart. I got Misty’s new medicine, plus Sprite, juice, and anything else which seemed appropriate. As an afterthought I added an egg of Silly Putty.
A quick detour through Taco Bell for me, then I returned to our hotel room. I dropped off the supplies and went to the lobby to make sure that we could have our room for the rest of the weekend. The hotel staff was amazingly supportive and kind. I wished I could bundle them up in the trunk of my car and take them back to Durham with me.
We passed the time reading, watching TV, and browsing through the pregnancy book Misty had bought. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” As I understand it, that particular book is a standard one. I’m surprised they don’t hand them out to sexually-active teens like condoms.
The message we took home from the book is that there are millions upon millions of ways that pregnancies go wrong. We worried a lot, and prayed, and called parents. All of the calls began with, “Guess what!” It’s hard to hide a pregnancy when it’s the reason that you can’t come home for Christmas. All of the calls ended in tears.
Eventually Misty felt well enough to go get dinner. We ate slowly, looked around at all the children. It’s amazing how being pregnant sensitizes you to other people’s children.
In fact, amazement was the order of the day. We marveled at how Misty already didn’t want foods that were bad for her. From someone who never turned down a french fry in her life, she became someone who couldn’t even look at fried foods, and all in the space of a few days.
We had been pregnant for four days.
On Monday morning we visited Dr. Kim at her office. She was wonderful. Her manner was kind, she explained everything to us, and she had a wall full of degrees and OB/GYN awards from Johns Hopkins. I wondered if there was room in the trunk for both her and the hotel staff.
She had a long talk with us, and was in general very reassuring. She said that she wanted to check Misty’s level of the pregnancy hormone, so she drew more blood. Then she cleared us for travel back over the mountains and back home.
The trip home was a lot of fun. We talked, laughed, and made plans. The extra bedroom could become a nursery. Misty could quit her job and become a freelance designer, the better to spend time with our child. They don’t pay graduate student much at all, but you’re rewarded with flexible time, so I would be able to arrange my schedule around the new baby.
When we got home, there was a message on our answering machine. We were to call the OB/GYN’s office.
Somehow, we knew. Even before the call went through, we knew. Misty’s hormone levels, rather than rising, had been falling steadily since they were first measured Saturday morning. The woman on the phone was as kind as is possible in such situations. She told us that most likely the miscarriage had occurred on Saturday morning.
We hadn’t named the child. We hadn’t even made any concrete plans, just a bunch of imaginary structures. Cloud castles, as it were.
Not having a child would be so much easier on us. Nothing had to be changed. Our lives could go on much as before.
Still we cried. We clung to each other and cried and cried and cried.
We had been pregnant for a day.