I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious leading up to our first ultrasound appointment that day. We had made it through the first trimester where I had been sufficiently crippled with enough morning sickness to squelch most fears of a miscarriage. Sure I was older this time around, but not quite to the post-35-year-danger-zone everyone kept warning me about. If I felt anything at all, it was probably more in alignment with contentment than anything else. Both Brian and I were united in our decision to make this our fourth and final round of baby-making, so we maintained a calm yet thrilled demeanor as we anticipated seeing the movements in utero.
We stuck with our ritual of not finding out the gender of the baby, though from the beginning we both found it difficult to even imagine adding a boy to our estrogen-heavy household. Nonetheless, not officially determining the gender allowed just enough room for the anticipation and suspense I thought I would need to make it through this final pregnancy. I also tend to believe that not knowing the gender of each child increased my ability to maintain curiousity about the story unfolding inside of me, as opposed to attributing my own culturally-informed gender-based associations. So there I was, there we were, relatively calmly awaiting our first sonographic introduction.
It was obvious that we were not amateurs as we identified the face of this child of ours before the technician said a word. It was the first body part we looked for and there it was tucked shyly behind two little hands. The magic of that moment lingered for quite some time as the technician went about her business of measuring and typing and measuring and typing. Nearly 30 minutes had passed when I began to notice that the technician had become silent. She was too silent. Intentionally silent. I knew then that something was not right.
I studied her face as she tried to conceal her concern while asking me to change into a gown so she could conduct a trans-vaginal ultrasound to gather a few more detailed images. I wanted to ask what she was worried about, but I simply obeyed her request knowing that she would be unable to give me any information directly. They had rules about these things and I was trying to respect the rules. Damn my propensity to follow so many rules. I kept looking at Brian trying to signal with my facial expressions that something was wrong. He seemed confused at first but as this portion of the ultrasound continued he began to sense the technicians concern as well. She was focusing her efforts with that awful wand on the right side of my lower abdomen where I imagined my ovary was positioned. I saw a mass. And so did she. 5cm. That’s what she typed. She then told me kindly to get dressed and go wait in the lobby so she could get a doctor to come and speak with us.
Fear was not the immediate response for either of us. It was closer to confusion or disorientation. A feeling that often surfaced whenever any level of trauma occurred. We sat there together for 45 minutes awaiting news from a doctor. In that time, I did what I always do. I tried to fight my way out of the confusion. I called my mom, an experienced nurse, and reported everything I saw the technician type and we began piecing together that I had a mass on my ovary that was likely the size of a golf ball. So I was prepared to hear that from the doctor. But the doctor never came. Instead, the same technician finally came out to the two of us and said she had been attempting to get my doctor on the phone so she could walk me through some of the concerns from the ultrasound, but that my doctor had gone home for the night so I would need to await a phone call in the morning.
My heart sank. How could I live with this kind of uncertainty through an entire night? How could I go home and face my other three daughters who were eagerly awaiting the photos we promised to bring of their baby brother or sister? But I still couldn’t bring myself to pushing against the rules. Brian saw my reluctant resignation and asked the technician, “Is there anyway you can give us any information?” She shook her head no but proceeded to tell me that if there was any sign of bleeding that I would need to call 911. This directive didn’t make sense. What would bleeding have to do with a mass on my ovary? Still studying her concerned face, I found the courage to simply say, “Please.” My hands were shaking and my heart was racing as I braced myself for some news. She knelt down next to us and whispered that she wasn’t supposed to tell us anything because she is not a doctor but that she understood our need to know something. She went on, “You have a mass on your ovary AND placenta previa. But don’t worry too much. You’ll probably just need a c-section and they’ll remove the mass then.”
Don’t worry too much. Don’t worry. Too much. I tried to chew on those words but they tasted bitter in my mouth. The tone in her voice wasn’t bitter at all when she delivered them to me. She was kind and the look on her face told me she was simply trying her best to soothe me and protect me from fear. But sadly, I did not find that phrase to be soothing at all despite the frequency for which I believe it is used in our culture. Why do we use that phrase? Is it genuinely an attempt to calm someone else down? Or is it really born out of the pressure we feel to say something when confronted with the face of another human being who is feeling a whole lot more than just “worry”? I don’t think that phrase is helpful anymore. Perhaps I never did. It serves as an effort to minimize feelings…or attempt to thwart them all together. But what I needed more than anything in that moment, and in the moments and months following, was for someone to let me feel, or help me find my feelings so I could process what was literally going on inside of me.