Published on April 30th, 2019 | by Shannon Brescher Shea


Holding Breath

Lying on a hospital examination table, shivering despite the thin blanket draped over me, I stared at the ceiling and breathed. The word please pulsed through my mind; it thumped in my belly.

         Please don’t let it happen again. Please.

         The day before, I had been lounging on our couch, having just put my two-year-old to bed. All of a sudden, I felt a rush of wetness and ran to the bathroom.

         The blood on the toilet paper brought back a rush of memories from 10 weeks into my last pregnancy. The end of my last pregnancy. Reclined on the table at the ob-gyn’s office, the paper crinkling and tickling. The ultrasound technician’s furrowed brow. “It would be too early to hear the heartbeat anyway, right?” I had asked. My ob-gyn reaching out her hands to hold mine.

         And there I was in our bathroom again, four months later,  10 weeks along, and bleeding.

         “Chris, Chris—help, help, help,” I gasped out to my husband. Where was he? I scrambled for a sanitary pad. My hands were shaking. As I stepped out, my husband came in the living room and stopped. “What’s wrong?”

         “Blood. I’m bleeding.” 

         “How much?” he asked.

         “I don’t know,” I said.

         I don’t know. I don’t know.

         I called the doctor. Somehow, the nurse understood me despite my stutters and tears. She told me to go to the hospital the next morning if the bleeding continued.

         It did. It continued through the night and into the next morning, slow and steady. Enough for my breath to stall every time I felt the rush leaving my body. Last time, there was no blood. There was no outward sign of warning. The tiny fetus had simply stopped developing, shown on a routine check. This time was different.

         God, I hoped this time was different.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

         Arriving at the emergency room, I put on the white and green gown and settled into the lumpy bed.

         We spent the next three hours there, waiting for a space in the ultrasound technician’s schedule. We watched blocks of Teen Titans Go and Spongebob Squarepants on the room’s TV. I read Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen to my son. My husband squeezed my hand periodically. We’d been married nearly a decade and waited for years to have children in hopes of the “perfect timing.”

         Nothing is ever perfect.

         My toddler kept trying to climb up onto my belly. He wanted me to be his and only his again. Not wanting to put the baby at risk, I kept pushing him away. Was this practice? Would I need to keep pushing him away? Would he learn to share? I wanted another baby to love, a sibling for him, another child to make our family complete.

         After the first miscarriage, I told my husband if it happened again, my son would remain an only child. After all, I’m an only child and I’m fine. I couldn’t go through the agony again.

         Which would it be?

         Finally, the nurse told me, “We’re going to take you for some testing.” I slid silently off the bed and into a worn wheelchair, my legs sticking to its blue vinyl. After kissing my son’s blond head, I waved goodbye.

         Seconds after the technician in the ultrasound room gave me instructions and stepped out, I couldn’t recall what she said. Panic crowded out anything else. I lay there, waiting.

         Ten minutes passed. Then 20.

         I kept breathing. And praying.

         Please. Not again. Please.

         As I stared at the ceiling, the technician returned. She spread jelly over my belly, the warmth spreading out over it. She then touched the paddle to my body, its cold metal making me flinch.

         “First off, your baby is fine,” she said, smiling. I let out the breath I had been holding onto for hours. I closed my eyes, holding her words close to my heart.

         Your baby is fine. Your baby is fine.

         But, she couldn’t determine what had caused the bleeding. The emergency room doctor put me on bedrest until I had the chance to see my own ob-gyn.

         Thankfully, my doctor had answers. The placenta was further down in the uterus than it should have been, rubbing against my cervix. Every time I took a step, it created friction. For now, it was bleeding. In the future, more pressure could cause the placenta to rupture.

         While the doctor lifted the bed rest, she prescribed other restrictions. No walking for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. No lifting more than 20 pounds—including my toddler. No yoga. No sex. 

         In the following weeks and months, my life became a series of managed risks. Nothing would relieve the anxiety; I could feel the lava rising up every time I walked a little too far, leaned down a little too often. When my son begged me to lift him up and my husband stepped in instead. Anything that threatened to anger the pregnancy gods. If I had been usually paranoid during my first pregnancy, now I was hypervigilant. Every twinge was a question mark. Every step could be toward loss.

Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

         Over and over again, we returned to the high-risk pregnancy specialist. My two-year-old wiggled in the fake-leather seats in the examination room. When the technician arrived, all three of us watched the screen; and for months, the baby and the placenta remained in too precarious a position to lift the restrictions.

         I waited.

         Finally, at seven months, the specialist proclaimed, “It looks good.” My belly had grown, and the placenta had shifted enough that it was no longer blocking the cervix. Once again, my breath rushed out. I leaned my head back and smiled.

         A fog lifted. Ever since that first rush of blood, I had been holding onto my pregnancy so loosely. Daydreaming about the baby was too likely to lead to nightmares. Other people seemed happier about my pregnancy than I did. Instead of selecting furniture or decorating the baby’s room, I avoided preparations. If I held that potential future too tight, it would shatter.

         But now, I went to prenatal yoga, reveling in my huge body’s capabilities. I started walking to the train again, appreciating the ability to get around on my own two feet. We picked out jungle-themed decals for his room, tested out rockers at the baby store, and hunted for just the right convertible crib.

         Then, three-and-a-half weeks before his due date, my younger son arrived into the world. I didn’t have time to do my yogic breathing. It was a mere 15 minutes from the moment we got to the hospital to the moment he was born. He surprised me again.

         When the nurses handed him to me, wrapped in that classic striped hospital blanket, I breathed deep. I breathed in his smell and breathed out my anxiety. While parenting is never what you expect, I knew this little person in my arms was real.

         Breathing, crying, and real.

         I held his little body—barely five pounds—to my bare chest, feeling his skin against mine.

         I listened to his breath.

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About the Author

Shannon Brescher Shea is a mom of two children, ages two and five, and lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs. She’s previously written for Romper, the Washington Post’s On Parenting, and Ravishly as well as for her own blog, We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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