Today, February 2013

It is the one question I am never quite expecting every year, oddly enough: the question that always stays close to my heart but is compartmentalized now in my mind, the way some memories have to be.

The question always follows a series:

“Do you smoke?” (No)

“How much alcohol do you drink?” (None—I don’t drink alcohol)

“How about caffeine?” (I’ve spent the year getting off of coffee in favor of just green and black tea)

“Any history of heart disease in your family?”

“Any history of breast or ovarian cancer?”

And always then:

“How many times have you been pregnant?”

Usually I don’t have my two children with me at my annual OB/GYN appointment, but they came with me today. Watching them wait quietly against the wall near the intake station—Katie looking at me intently and Eric with his thumb for comfort—I feel my heart fill up with my two children. These two children made me a mother. I can never imagine having any others in their place.

But: “How many times have you been pregnant?”

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Spring 2004

It is spring break and Bill and I are on a trip to the Bay Area to visit my brother at Berkeley and help him start moving into his new apartment, as well as to enjoy time in San Francisco. We haven’t gotten married yet, and we are sitting on a the ledge of a big fountain in Ghirardelli Square. I have a huge ice cream in a waffle cone. We are people watching and talking about wanting children, the breezy bay air drifting around the late afternoon. I could be in San Francisco always, I feel—I love it here.

We start talking about names for children, just for amusement at this point. Part of my waffle cone breaks off and drops. The pigeons—many of them—come running. Peck peck peck. These pigeons are at the top of their game. Bill has such a silly streak, one of the parts of him I love best. He can make a joke out of anything. He loves to play with words and invert phrases. He won’t be too serious with me at this moment about children’s names. We need to get engaged and married and pregnant first. That is to say: there’s time. But he does offer one contribution, as he watches the pigeons put their heads in the dropped cone.

Pigeon-Hat. We can name our future first child Pigeon-Hat. Of course I laugh. I joke back: Pigeon-Hat McGaugh. That will make a great name!

November 2006 

We’ve been married for six months, and I have recently discovered a few weeks ago that I am pregnant. It’s early enough that I have an appointment made for my first check-up, but long enough that I have already bought a rattle. I am completely excited and have already been testing out names for boys and girls. I’ve told the family, including my Uncle Eric in the hospital—my uncle who would pass just a couple weeks after Christmas that year. I have held back no part of myself in my own excitement. I have always wanted to be a mother, and we couldn’t wait to start having children soon after marriage. The holidays, I am thinking, will be so cozy this year as I am growing a baby.

The day before Thanksgiving, the spotting starts.

The days that follow are the absolute worst of my life. To this day, I can only start to glance at my journal entries from that time before I have to turn away.

There is one particular night over the span of a short few days when I know for sure I am losing the baby, the precious life that was there, that I already loved and wanted so much. Bill holds my hand all night long as I alternate between sleeping and waking up in tears.

By some horrible stroke of misfortune, we both end up with a doozy of that year’s flu as well, right as this miscarriage is happening. I have to go in to the OB to make sure my uterus is empty and to get bloodwork. I have a temperature of nearly 103. I worry they will think I have an ectopic pregnancy. There is an ultrasound. I am advised to wait two to three months before trying to get pregnant again.

I spend many days crying and not wanting to move, and with that flu, I can’t really move far anyway. Thanksgiving break is long that year, but I still end up missing two or three days in my classroom. When I go back, I switch into teacher mode at work but come home and just wallow. That’s not much like me, but it is by far the darkest part of my life so far. I am taught many things in that time.

Eventually I become absorbed in work and the new city library and check out stacks of books about music history, a big passion of mine. I read Gone with the Wind for the first time and lose myself in it for hours. My Aunt Jenny sends me the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas—to this day, still a favorite. There are too many gingerbread lattes. My brother comes home and we decorate Christmas cookies.


Decorating cookies in December 2006

By March of 2007, I know I am pregnant with the baby who would turn out to be Katie. She was conceived on Valentine’s Day of 2007.

Had our first baby continued to grow, I would have been pregnant with him or her right at the moment Katie was supposed to be made. The possibility of not having her is unfathomable. I know that she and I were meant to be together.

Yet still when I see that rattle, I think of the life for whom it was intended, the essence I will never know in this lifetime.  Even after I had Katie, it was a long time before I took the rattle back out: it is a symbol of another time.

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So today I am asked the question:

“How many times have you been pregnant?”

I take a look at my two healthy, beautiful, perfect children. I am so thankful for them. I can imagine no one but them.

Yet a distant part of me makes only a gasp of a sigh as I look at the nurse and answer, before explaining:

“Three times.”

And that was Pigeon-Hat.