Eleven weeks pregnant, I dropped Gavri, my 4-year-old, off at school, strapped 2-year-old Sal into the stroller, and headed to the OB/GYN for a routine ultrasound. As I lay on the table, I sang to Sal from the pages of her nursery rhyme book: “Hush little baby, don’t say a w—“
The sonogram technician looked up. She had been quietly taking measurements and listening to the fluid flow and heartbeat. “I’m going to get the doctor,” she said.
She walked out of the room.
That’s normal. Isn’t it?
She walked back in with a doctor. Click-swish-click-swish. Gagoom, gagoom, gagoom. The doctor turned the screen so I could see.
I saw my baby. She zoomed in on its brain and I saw what looked like a triangle.
“Normally, at this point we would see the baby’s brain fully developed,” she explained. “This hole wouldn’t be here. It might be nothing. Come back in a month to check.”
I left, shaken to the core.
My doctor called the next day. “It might really be nothing, Ann. But you don’t have to wait a month. You can come in next week.”
I started to pray. Out loud, in English, I asked God to heal the baby. I started singing because when we’re singing it’s like we’re praying twice, and that seemed more efficient. I sang running errands. I sang washing dishes. I sang walking Gavri to school. I sang so much that on one of those walks she looked up and asked, “Mommy, are you davening?”
Then I wondered if my prayer was too direct and somehow inappropriate, so I just asked for the strength to deal with whatever came next. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a perfect child and it didn’t look like I was going to get one. And so then I asked God for a miscarriage.
My doctor called again. There was a four out of five chance that my baby had a chromosomal abnormality: Trisomy 13 or Trisomy 18. “They’re not compatible with life,” she explained. “Call back tomorrow and we’ll schedule you for a meeting with a genetic counselor.”
So I did. And learned that there was about a 90 percent chance that I would miscarry before the end of the pregnancy. But no one could tell me when. The average survival time for babies born with such a condition is seven to 14 days.
Abortion was an option. But before taking that step, they recommended a follow-up test—a CVS —for further information.
My husband, James knew that we needed to consult with our rabbi. But I had already decided: I couldn’t be pregnant with this baby. I couldn’t wear maternity clothes and have people ask when I was due. Have the girls ask when the “new baby” was coming. “Oh, actually,” I would say, patting my belly, “this baby’s probably going to die. We just have to wait and find out when!”
Still, we met with our rabbi that night. He explained that Judaism places great value on the health of the mother, even the mental health. “It’s the mother’s decision,” the rabbi told us. “You have to tell Ann that you support whatever choice she makes.”
I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next morning I woke up bleeding. I was thrilled. I was giddy. I was getting what I wanted!
I feel guilty about that to this day.
I took Gavri to school and volunteered at the book fair. I emailed lesson plans to my principal, saying I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it in. I called a friend to watch the girls, telling her I was miscarrying and on my way to the doctor’s.
Later that afternoon, at the doctor’s office alone (I had told James I would call before going in for surgery), the cramping was so intense it was all I could do to keep from squatting in the waiting room. The nurse called me in. “The doctor’s probably going to want to do an exam,” she said. “Why don’t you go change?” So I did.
Then it happened.
And I saw it.
And I screamed.
And no one came.
I left the bathroom and I went into the exam room. The doctor came in. Tears welled in my eyes and I said, “I think you have to check the toilet. I think I just passed a mass.”
She did. I had.
She stood looking down at it. “That looks like your fetus,” my doctor said, her hand rising to clutch at her heart.
“I know.” I saw it. At the bottom of the toilet. It was the size of my thumb. It had hands and a face…
“I’m sorry. Do you want me to leave?” She walked towards me. I started to cry.
“No! Please. Don’t leave me alone… I’m sorry… I have two little girls…What a horrible thing to happen to a baby…”
Years later, I sit in a room full of women training with me to become interim caregivers. My third child had just weaned. The social workers are explaining that some women are simply—constitutionally or circumstantially—unable to parent their children. The natural response to this is “Tsk. Every mom wants her baby, every mom should want her baby.”
But I understand. I slink down in my seat, afraid they’ll see me and know. I was that mom. Who didn’t want her baby.
But I did.