When I was 11 or so I learned that I was an IVF baby. I knew my parents were significantly older than most of my friends’ parents, and that they had difficulty having children. That had always been a part of my life. Being a child, I thought that IVF meant that I was some kind of robot person, some part of my DNA was artificial. I wasn’t human. When I expressed this concern to my father, he laughed. He explained to me that the only difference is I was made outside of my mom, most people are made inside of the mom. It almost made me feel better. I wondered why I was so difficult. Did Hashem even want me to exist? Or were my parents so determined to have children that he gave up arguing with them and just threw my neshama into a body?
Sometime around that time, I learned my mom had preeclampsia and spent the first few days after we were born (I’m a twin) in the ICU. Something about my mother nearly losing her life so I could live deeply disturbed me. The fact that my twin was in the NICU, my mom in the ICU, and me being totally fine filled me with guilt. When was it my turn to pay the price for life? I became thoroughly, irrationally, convinced that one day I was going to pay my price. I’d never have children. I’d have children, but they would all be unhealthy. The main anxiety that stuck with me was my fear of dying in childbirth. I became convinced that I’d spend the final days of my life in a hospital, my newborn in the room adjacent crying for me and losing all function of my body, while knowing I brought a child into the world only to see me leave it. My mom might have survived preeclampsia, but I would not. I was sure of it. I dreaded all blood pressure tests, because I thought one day it would be the death of me. As I could feel my heart beating in my quickly numbing arm, I’d try to breathe. It was always a perfectly acceptable number.
It was not a normal fear for a preteen to have. When I was 18, I tried to see a gynecologist to see if I was going to have the same infertility problems- she cruelly laughed me out of her office and told me to come back when I was actually ready to have children. She offered me birth control- I left.
My anxiety has improved greatly over the past year. I used to go months at a time where every other thought I’d have was “I’m going to die”. When I found out I was pregnant, I was filled with joy. My anxieties and fears mostly lived in the back of my mind. My pregnancy, miraculously, Thank God, poo poo poo, has been medically boring. A while ago I came in for a routine appointment. The nurse, someone I didn’t recognize, wrapped the cuff around my arm and I closed my eyes, trying to breathe. She wouldn’t let me see the numbers. She walked out of the room, saying nothing. She came back a few minutes later with a different machine.
“Is everything OK?” I mumbled.
“Let’s see,” she said, fishing around for the cuff she wanted from the attached bin. She took it again. Said nothing. Walked out of the room. My doctor rushed in.
She looked at me, confused. I was supposed to be an easy appointment.
“Your blood pressure is a bit high…” she started, going on a well practiced speech about preeclampsia and its implications. Blood tests. 24 hour urine test. Come back tomorrow.
“Best case scenario, if you do have it, we will induce you at 37 weeks. You will be heavily monitored in our high risk unit and you and the baby will be fine- worst case scenario-”
“My mom nearly died from preeclampsia- she was in the ICU for a week.” I sputtered, interrupting her. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty. I usually joke in conversations with my doctor. She’d never seen me freak out, the way I imagine first time moms stereotypically freak out. I was going to be a chill pregnant lady. I was determined to laugh off every discomfort, whine about it without thinking it made me more important than anyone else. Years of nightmares began flooding my head. Having to tell my parents they’d have to live this trauma again flooded my brain. I wasn’t going to tell them. I’d just get induced, have the baby and hope for the best. Just tell them I’m early. Lie to everyone.
“Oh gosh, I’m going to shut up now,” my OB said, putting her head in her hands and took a deep breath. I told her about my mom, her struggle. Everything. I smiled through the whole thing, tried cracking jokes about it, trying not to be hysterical. Silence.
“You’re funny. Chances are everything is fine. The blood work will come back tomorrow.”
I went back to the busy waiting room, waiting for them to take my blood. I put my head in my hands and cried silently. I was always so scared of seeing sad people in the waiting room; what a horrible reminder of the fragility of life in a room full of people creating it. Couples around me were cooing over sonograms, women absently rubbing their growing bumps. I tried to hide my face. There’s nothing to cry about yet, you don’t even know if anything is wrong.
It felt like a year before the nurse called my name, the second I turned the corner out of the waiting room, I began sobbing. The nurse, my favorite, also pregnant, held my hand.
“I’m really really scared. I can’t do this.”
I sat silently, tears streaming down my face as I watched her put the needle into my arm (I find watching the blood test itself very soothing, call me a freak.). I made my appointment and stumbled out.
I was going to die. I was going to be induced, the Pitocin destroying my body more than I ruined it myself. I was going to leave my husband all alone with our beautiful baby. I was a homewrecker. It was payback time.
The best thing you can do right now is calm down. Think good thoughts.
This isn’t supposed to happen. I always knew this was going to happen. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Even if I survive, I’ll be traumatized. Forever. I’ll never look at this kid without fear. This is all my fault…only if…
Objectively, you don’t know anything is wrong. Stop. Just stop. Even if so, it’s not your fault. Even if so, you’re in good and caring hands. Everything is going to be fine. Just because your mom was a second-to-worst case scenario, that doesn’t mean you would be. Medicine has advanced in the past, I don’t know, couple of decades. You know, logically, realistically, you are highly unlikely to die. Stop.
How am I supposed to react to my biggest fear coming true?
Better Question: How do you want to react to your biggest fear coming true?
My husband quietly comforted me the moment I got home.
“This is my worst nightmare,” I whispered.
“We don’t know if anything is wrong yet. It’s probably not. You’re in good hands, everyone is just keeping a close eye on you so that everything goes ok.”
He took me to work with him. Took me out to eat. We bought groceries. Distracted me. I cancelled my plans for the next day, knowing I wasn’t going to be mentally present. This feeling felt fitting for the Nine Days. Dread. I finally slept so well that night, feeling like it was the last night of my life I’d sleep. But we also made jokes all day, laughing about having to pee into a jar, joking about how this baby would come early because it’s so impatient to meet us. Ignoring that one picture of my mom in my baby album I could never get out of my head, wrapped up in wires, legs swollen and covered in varicose veins, eyes half closed. In pain. I never understood why it was there- now I get it.
The next day I took an Uber to my appointment, carrying my purse in one hand and a jug of urine wrapped in plastic bags in another. My Uber had to double back, pick up someone in the opposite direction. Their block was closed, we drove the wrong way down a one way street. My blood was pumping so quickly I was covered in sweat, my eyes glazing over.
Shhhh it’s fine.
It’s not his fault. It’s the algorithm.
We’re going to die in this one way road and I’m not even going to die the way I always thought I would. This is it. Uber’s going to pay for my funeral, at least.
The rider cancelled her ride.
I practically rolled out of the car, waddled-ran to the lab in a wobbly but determined gait only someone heavily pregnant could muster, stumbled to the elevators, cut everyone waiting and shoved my way out of the elevator to check in. Didn’t they know I was finding out my death today? The nurse called me in almost immediately, I collected myself, as if walking to an executioner. She checked my blood pressure.
“Perfect, you can go now.”
“Your blood pressure, it’s great. You can go home now.”
“No… I need my test results. I was promised my test results.” I insisted. The nurse frowned, looking at my paperwork.
“One second,” she said, leaving the room. She came back a minute later. “Come with me.”
My doctor was hanging out in her nurse’s office- each doctor in the practice has an assigned nurse practitioner who patients can call with questions, if they can’t answer they ask the doctor for you.
“Hey, your blood work was perfect. Nothing to worry about.”
“Really?” I said, confused.
“Yeah, just keep a close eye on your blood pressure if it creeps up again, but you’re in perfect health.”
I walked the 20 blocks home. Relieved, confused. I bought vanilla soft serve from an ice cream truck. We had Impossible Burgers for dinner. I told my parents. They took it well.
I thanked God.
I took my blood pressure. 110/87. I wrote it down.
I wasn’t scared anymore. Not because things went right, but if they went wrong, which who knows, might still, I could handle it. I knew it now. Sometimes we need to think our biggest fears are going to happen to acknowledge that they’re not so bad. Or maybe I need the room for bigger ones coming along. Who knows. Right now, I feel fearless. Grateful, but fearless. It’s a wonderfully stupid way to live.