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173 beats a minute: On one surprising little baby and the possibility of tiny miracles

FiveFamilyPlusOne

It was an early summer morning when I realized that we might need a pregnancy test. This was hilarious to me.  I mentioned it to my husband and we laughed about it – of course, it wouldn’t be positive, of course.

We were done having babies. We had made the decision to move into a new season of life more than two years ago – after a lot of prayer and conversation and waiting. The reasons for our decision were our own but we knew we had made the right decision. We were a “five-family,” as the tinies called us, and I was content. I was even learning to make peace with The Ache. I loved the baby season of our life and I will always miss it. But I loved our new season of life, too, and we had begun to orient our life to school-age kids. I began to “lean in” to my own vocation as a writer and even an occasional preacher with joy.

So when I picked up that early-result test really it was just to put my mind at ease. I couldn’t be pregnant, no way.

***

One early Saturday morning in June, Brian sat on our bed waiting for me to emerge with the expected news. Instead, I walked out of that washroom and simply looked him dead in the eye. “No way,” he said, “no. way.”

And we began to laugh – a little hysterically, I admit.

We laughed every time we looked at each other for the next three weeks.

***

We told the tinies that very day. We made the tactical error of taking them out to dinner at a non-kid-friendly establishment. Evelynn had not had a nap that day and she was ferocious in her exhaustion. I ended up spending most of the meal walking her out of the restaurant for her behaviour. When Brian finally blurted into a brief quiet moment that we were having a new baby, I was feeling frazzled and exhausted, Evelynn was still on the brink of a melt-down, the other two tinies were starving, and we looked like a three-ring circus to everyone else within range.

The serving girl looked overwhelmed for us when we told her why we were there “to celebrate! a new baby!” And then the tinies cheered and I cried because I was nonsensically happy with my circus. And then Evelynn and Joe got into a yelling match about whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and I decided to pull the plug on the dinner. For pity’s sake, let’s just go home, I like all of you people better when we’re at home and properly rested.

A new baby, of course, Lord, because life isn’t crazy enough already.

***

We told our families and closest friends that day, too. I think we needed the moral support. I think we needed someone to say, “it’s okay, you’re going to do great, you can totally do this.”

Because in those early days, all I could think about was how my life was being completely reoriented and I hadn’t planned for this and my life was going to have to run to catch up to this news.

I felt scared and overwhelmed, grateful and disoriented.

And yet I was so happy.

***

We told the tinies not to tell anyone. We made a great show on the Sunday morning about keeping secrets. But the very first thing that the tinies did when they walked in to church was to inform everyone: “Mummy’s having a BABY!”

PSA: Tinies are crap at keeping secrets. We only managed to keep this pregnancy a secret from Facebook. Everyone in our real life found out within 2 minutes of running into the tinies.

***

But it didn’t take long for the fear to set in. This is my eighth pregnancy even though I only have three children. We seem to be able to get pregnant easily – it’s holding onto the babies that is the trouble. And now I am considered “an older mother” – my risk factors in early pregnancy are high.

And so my primary job in early pregnancy seems to be fighting the fear and the anxiety, trying to choose hope and faith on a near daily basis.

With every baby I have lost, I have had zero pregnancy “symptoms” – no morning sickness, nothing. But with my three tinies that we have earthside, I was sick as a dog and grateful for it. Perhaps the only women who rejoice over morning sickness are those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and early/mid pregnancy loss. Every bout of sickness, every day of exhaustion, every ache, it all testifies that someone is still there, still growing. It’s when your body goes quietly “back to normal” that you start to fear.

But with this pregnancy, I have not been sick. I have not been overly tired, nothing.

I go through my days and there isn’t a single indicator that I’m pregnant. And that has terrified me.

***

Finally I went to have the initial checks. And it only seemed to confirm my worst fears: there was no heartbeat.

I drove home from my doctor, numb. I pulled over on the side of the road to call people. I called Brian, I called my mum, I called my sister, I called my dad. And I called a couple of friend who I know are prayer warriors.

I wasn’t ready go give up. Not yet. I was still hopeful. For that day, anyway.

***

We went to our regular midwife a few days later. This was the one that was supposed to find out the truth once and for all.

Again, no heartbeat.

And I think that was the point when I gave up. Brian still continued to hope and pray, he agreed with our midwife that there could be any number of reasons why the heartbeat wasn’t showing up. I wasn’t there anymore.

Hope was too hard for me. 

My family and my friends decided that since I could not hope that they would hope for me, they would have faith for me.

We were scheduled for a final ultrasound check. I began to make my plans for how to handle this. As in times of great sorrow in my life, I went very deeply within myself. I stopped talking and completely withdrew. My family all knows this about me and they gave me the space I needed, my soul felt like it was in survival, shut down to just the basic functions.

How could we be here again? I felt like I could not bear this loss. We had done this so many times already – this was part of the reason why we decided to stop with our three. I felt like I should be grateful for the little ones we have in our home and that it was too much to expect more. And sure enough, here we were again. I began to make plans, figure out schedules for medical procedures.

My sister had bought the new baby a little white and grey sleeper in soft cotton the day after she heard our news. But on that day, I stood in my bedroom, looking at that hopeful little sleeper hanging in the closet, and I folded it up and put it away mechanically.

On the morning of the final ultrasound check, I went to the coffee shop and I wrote an entire blog post telling the world about how we had lost another baby and how the sorrow was swallowing me whole this time. I scheduled it to post the next morning. Then I drove to the doctor’s office to meet my husband.

***

I lay on the table, numb. And we explained why we were there and so thankfully no one was happy or excited, wounding us further with their blind hope.

Our tech quietly went about her business and the minutes passed, so slowly. Then in a tone of complete shock she said, “173 beats a minute.”

“What?” my entire body woke up. What? What? What? What?

“173 beats a minute!” she crowed. “There’s one little baby here and … it’s alive!”

Brian started to cry and I started to laugh, this is what we do when babies come to us. He broke all the rules and texted from the room: “173 beats a minute! We are having a baby!” over and over and over again. Little arms and legs were moving, a heart was beating, life!

I called my friends and they almost couldn’t believe it. Sometimes we get so used to our prayers feeling unanswered that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the miracle happens. This baby has a lot of people longing for his or her life now.

Later that night, I went to my blog dashboard and sat looking at that post I had written just a few hours ago. My great act of faith was to not only unschedule it, to not only put it back into Drafts, but to entirely and irrevocably delete it.

***

I still don’t know if that was a miracle or not. It feels like one. It’s entirely possible that the doctor and the midwife simply didn’t get the heartbeat for whatever reason. But all I know is that there was no heartbeat and then there was – 173 beats a minute of a little heart still hanging in there.

There was nothing there and now there is precious life.

***

“This one might be your desire-of-the-heart baby,” Brian told me one day this summer.

He said that because, even though I made my peace with The Ache, even though I was in complete agreement that we were done with our three, even though I was ready for this new season of life without any babies in my arms, there was still that part of me that longed for one more. Perhaps it was the desire of my heart broke through all the expectations and plans somehow.

I don’t know why Tiny #4 came to being – even that part feels like a miracle, to be honest. But I know that Tiny #4 was so longed for, deep in my heart far from articulation.

***

I’d be lying if I said that was the end of my fear, that since then I have walked in total assurance. It has still felt like a roller coaster all summer. I go through days when I feel sure we’re destined for sorrow still.  Even now, I don’t “feel” pregnant which makes it hard to keep the fear at bay.

It is still my daily battle: faith over fear, hope over despair, over and over and over again.

(I certainly look pregnant though – hello, fourth baby, my abdomen muscles have given up any pretence.)

I had another appointment just last week with our midwife and again, trouble finding the heartbeat. Finally on the third check – 160 beats a minute, so faint but unmistakably there. Still there.

Now we have crossed 14 weeks and I have decided to be hopeful anyway. Every day that passes feels like a victory somehow.

I bought a baby name book this week.

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