How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Vacation With a Miscarriage
by Lisa Richey
First, be a total glutton and take two weeks off in a row. You think this is genius because, dude, two weeks off, and also you can spend the last two weeks of the first trimester puking in the privacy of a beach house, with copious amounts of relatives nearby to watch your toddler instead of squeezing into non-maternity clothes for work until you finally hit week 12 and can officially come out of the pregnancy closet and kiss button flies goodbye for the next nine months. The downside is that you will now be coming out of said closet to your entire family, not to mention 100 of your closest in-laws (hurray for family reunions), but it’s your second pregnancy so you throw caution to the wind. Also, you’re basically a high functioning alcoholic when not with child, so you have a pretty obvious tell.
The night before your last full day at the beach, start bleeding. Not just spotting but bleeding, but not near hemorrhaging — nothing worth waking your already hypochondriac mother up for at 3 a.m. Look up the scant medical facilities in the beach town who you’ll call in the morning in search of a functioning ultrasound machine and eventually fall back to sleep in the twin bed you’re sharing with the toddler, both comforted and distressed by his presence at this moment.
The next morning, make a few phone calls and realize you are stuck heading to the ER. Try to pull your mother aside and subtly explain to her that you need her to take you to a doctor, just to check things out. Recall that as a New Jersey Italian, your mother is wholly incapable of keeping calm and now the entire household is running about because you’re bleeding. Smooth. At one point, six people are trying to tag along for the journey, but you politely insist they stay home and watch the toddler, as you don’t need your uncle present when discussing lady parts with a doctor you’ve never met.
Now that it’s just you and mom, hop in the car and confirm that your bad driving is in fact a trait you inherited. Despite or possibly because of the assistance of the GPS, make a few wrong turns and finally arrive at a hospital that looks more like a place you’d go to buy adirondack chairs than a serious medical facility. You are the only people in the ER, but it still takes almost an hour to see a doctor. At this point, you’re still sitting on a wad of toilet paper, because someone who’s 11 weeks pregnant doesn’t pack maxi pads when going on vacation. Thankfully, a nurse finds you a pad the size of an adult diaper and now at least you aren’t concerned you’ll repeat a scene from middle school, the first period days.
The doctor comes in and she is young. Like younger than you are, and you only just turned 30. She orders up a bunch of blood work, a pelvic exam and an ultrasound. Or she could just do the ultrasound, being it is the only diagnostic tool that’s relevant at the moment, but it is an ER and blood work is their form of initiation. The nurse comes in, overly cheerful and asking such wholly inappropriate questions as “So are you hoping for a girl?” to which you answer “I’ll just take a heartbeat at this point.”
She then completely butchers putting in a line, such that she has to jiggle the thing in your vein to coax out the I kid you not 12 vials of blood she’s taking despite their not being at all relevant to the situation at hand. You feel faint, but play it up enough that she thinks you’re passing out and finally removes the line in your now very bruised arm. You contemplate walking out and driving the four hours to see a real doctor in a real hospital. You request a ginger ale and are denied. This seems like a total injustice at the time.
Finally someone comes to take you to the ultrasound and your mom is not allowed to come with you. OK, so the exact time when you will find out if this pregnancy is viable, the proverbial moment of truth, will be you alone in a room with a fucking ultrasound tech who’s not allowed to say anything other than “I’m not allowed to say.” Awesome.
You stare at the screen as you know roughly what you’re looking for, and there is no heartbeat to be found. When you ask her if she sees one, well, just guess her reply. She moves from the external ultrasound to the internal, a.k.a. wanding. Yup, it’s like an ultrasound dildo, complete with a mini condom for sanitary purposes and half a tube of lube. Needless to say, this is uncomfortable. Worse, you can no longer see the screen, only the funny way the tech is scrunching up her nose that implies that she has no idea what she’s looking at. The wanding goes on way longer than it should given you already know there’s no heartbeat and therefore no viable pregnancy, radiologist or not. Finally the torture is over and she heads off to talk to said radiologist and you’re left alone in a room with a cheesy wallpaper border depicting the very beach you should be sitting on right now instead of your current stirrup situation.
The radiologist comes in with the tech and starts by drawing a picture of a uterus on a piece of paper. Great, a free lesson in anatomy, with a condescending tone on top. He is also so young. If the uterus is a V, they like to see implantation in the middle of the V. Yours is at the very top edge, which they call a corneal ectopic. He says they only see one of these every few years and you reply that you must just be exceptional. Regardless, he confirms that not only is there no heartbeat, there’s no fetal tube, which basically means no fetus… Just an empty sac in the wrong spot. He seems way less concerned with the whole lack of a live baby than you are, and re-wands you to confirm his diagnosis, which turns out to maybe not be so far to the edge as first thought. All you think is “Who gives a shit, there is no baby, I am having a miscarriage. End of story.”
You are wheeled back to your room and mom gives you a look to which you can only reply with a thumbs down. She bursts into tears and so do you.
The young doctor comes back and you are again treated to a drawing of your uterus. Given the placement, she wants to wait for a consult with the OB on call, but he’s in surgery so we have to wait. She does a pelvic exam anyway and takes a bunch of swabs, you don’t know why. She still denies you ginger ale and tries to get the nurse to put in another line but you insist on waiting until you talk to the OB. You’ve had enough unnecessary intervention already thank you very much. She forgets to prop the bed back up, so you lay down flat for the next hour, watching the minutes tick away and recalling that your c-section was over in 20 minutes so what could be taking so long. You want to go home. You don’t want any more treatment at this hospital if you can possibly avoid it.
The OB finally arrives and he is the only redeeming moment of the whole experience. He thinks the ectopic diagnosis is bullshit and focuses instead on the unfortunate news that the pregnancy isn’t viable and that you are now having a miscarriage. He suggests you head home, call your OB and schedule an appointment with him, and arms you with prescriptions for painkillers so the drive back won’t be torture. He says if you don’t feel comfortable, he’s happy to treat you, but you are grateful to be released back to your own life. He warns you that people will say stupid, insensitive things, things they would never say to someone who lost a child that they had met, and while you already know this, it further confirms the OB’s humanity in this shitty situation and you feel comforted in some small way.
You get dressed, suffer through another round of vitals while the nurse tries to say something helpful that only makes you cry again but finally you get your fucking ginger ale and that helps. You head back, stopping for a burger while your mom picks up the prescriptions. You dread walking back into that beach house with all that family. You dread calling your husband who is home and not at the beach and giving him this news over the phone. You focus on your French fries instead. Because your life is really no different than it was the day before. Just the direction it was going to take has changed. And you try to think about this and not the baby you won’t be having six months from now.
Lisa Richey is a corporate blah-dee-blah living near Charlottesville, VA, who doesn’t actually write for a living, although she does play farmer in her spare time.