We packed our bags and grabbed our 3-year-old Finn, and left for 1000 degree rural Texas for a few days to visit family. We killed two scorpions the first night, and subsequently captured a jumping spider that was surely named for the effect it has on its prey. And human captors.
Avara lay next to me, on her side as always, trying to sleep. The hour was late. Since our son's birth, sleep hadn't exactly been something we were good at anymore. We longed for it, but knew it would never greet us again the way it did when we were young.
Avara sat up in bed and walked to the bathroom. I'd gotten used to pretending that if I laid still enough, sleep might come for me. But it never did. She returned to our blow-up mattress and spoke softly, as friends do and as we'd always, talking about anything, but this time she told me she felt some cramping and pain in her abdomen. It was undeniably ambiguous.
We let it go.
But a couple nights later, at the witching hour, the sweat on Avara's brow dictated getting her to a hospital. She wasn't one of those soft characters when it came to pain. She muscled through it. She ignored it like a T-Rex dealt with a gnat. Hell, she pushed our son out in four hours with no help.
Her father drove her, as only a father can and would, to the local emergency room, which wasn't saying much being in a town of less than 4,000, and I stayed with Finn. So began our text discourse for the next four hours...
They started with needles, then scans and sonograms over her abdomen to make sure her IUD didn't puncture the wall of her uterus or something horrific like that. Her texts were short, almost curt. It was almost 2 a.m. by this point, so the fact that she was awake meant to me she was either in a ton of pain or scared enough to forget about it. But, in the next moment, she grabbed me through the phone like my collar was bunched in her fists.
"Positive pregnancy test. Whoa."
The whole world could go down in a sea of text messages.
They weren't equipped to assess anything transvaginally. (God, I hope that's the last time I use that word for a while because unless I'm quoting"'Fifty Shades of Grey" or telling someone to televaginally send me some pizza, I don't want to hear that word again for a long while.) They couldn't even take out the IUD if they had to.
I didn't know what to say. Didn't she have an IUD, which, for those of us who are less familiar, is something with a 99.9 percent effectiveness rating for preventing pregnancy? I should've been there with her. I knew her hands were shaking just typing those words to me. Instead, I was busy making sure Finn didn't fall out of the non-toddler-proofed air-bed for the 87th time.
Avara and her dad went to a second hospital, and got a more decisive response. All I really cared about was her well-being and the fact that she wasn't going to bleed out or, worse, have her vagina accidentally sown up by someone who was too tired or too backwoods to care.
But the opposite was true.
They worked through things compassionately, systematically checking everything they could. Doctors told her some cysts had burst, near her ovaries -- the most likely cause of the pain, but it could be related to the, wait for it, pregnancy. Since we were on a trip, it made more sense to get back to Los Angeles as fast as possible. They couldn't be sure of much else. The blood tests were going to be the tell-tale anchor upon which decisions would be made and directions charted.
But no test, or prodding could resolve the situation we found ourselves in. Not that night, at least. I looked at my son and half-dreamed all the insane experiences my parents had gone through while they watched me sleep soundly, breathing heavy in my own world.
She either had: an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage or a miracle zygote growing inside her despite the IUD's best defenses.
At 4 a.m., I was staring at my phone, waiting for a text from Avara. Finn flopped around in his sleep almost as much as my mind jumped from outcome to outcome.
"Gonna rest a bit until doc comes in. You gotta sleep. So wish we were home."
With that, I gently fell over next to my son; his breath on my face washed away any energy I had left...
At around 7 a.m., Avara crept into the guest room after her long night touring hospitals. I'd moved to one of the bunk beds so both me and Finnegan could sleep. When she slipped into bed with me, it almost felt like a dream. I opened my eyes and we looked at each other. What was left to say? Words would only be the spray off the waves over the tides in our hearts. So, we just held hands and closed our eyes once again.
We let it go.
We spent the next two days playing pretend and eating barbecue. Canceling the trip wasn't something we could afford emotionally or financially. We did our best to enjoy the final days in Texas, and when I say "enjoy" what I really mean is eat quite possibly the best pie we've ever tasted in our lives from a small diner named Blue Bonnet Café. And by "eat" I mean "stuff four pies in our mouths." Texas wins the barbecue and pie baking portions of our country's beauty contest.
If this is self-medicating, I DON'T WANT TO FEEL ANYMORE, GUYSSS.
Avara's pain subsided. I could tell she was trying not to think about being pregnant but I defy you to try not thinking about something sometime. Good luck with that. She was kind of glowing over the idea of being with child. She wasn't fooling anyone. I'm not even sure she wanted to.
Then we went home and made an appointment with our OBGYN, the same man who assisted us with delivering our son. We needed someone sane enough to sort out the confusion. He's dealt with pregnancies, birth and infertility for over four decades. To meet him, you'd think he was a cross between a mad scientist, and a kind grandfather. His competence puts you at ease, but his mind moves around in ways that are not easy to follow. The level of chaos he has to deal with on a daily basis is mind-boggling.
Avara did the battery of tests again. Her hormone levels had increased, but hadn't exactly doubled. Apparently, as the pregnancy tissue grows, so does a specific hormone in your body. The rate of the hormone elevation is roughly double every two days. Her belief in her pregnancy, however, became exponential. She just kept telling me she could feel our baby, and didn't need a blood test to confirm it.
This guy helped a lot. He's a professional. Can't you tell by his hat?
We went back to doctor's office two days later to talk about the test results and what we saw and didn't see. I don't enjoy telling people what to believe and crushing hopes, but I was trying to be as pragmatic as possible. Looking too far into the future, with as uncertain a situation as this was, could've led to shattered hopes or unreal expectations. We had to take it one day at a time.
But I kept quiet, and spoke only when it improved the mood or brought common sense to the table. No point in being too chatty when you're on a tightrope.
Avara took the day off work for this particular appointment. My wife wanted to see her little girl. She was in a fairly good mood. The office staff acknowledged that we were there for a consult and possible "D 'n C" (D & C for those keeping score at home), or as I like to refer to it, the Definitely Not Cool. Let's call it that because if I call it anything else, including it's clinical name, I may break this computer or drown in my own salt water.
The doctor came in for the sonogram. No baby on the screen. We decided to remove the IUD. It was still in its original home. We looked again, still nothing.
Now, this is the part where it gets tricky. What can we, human beings, rely on if not our own sense and intuition? Still, denial is a gluey substance. Facts these days can be used to paint any picture or sell any story. Avara seemed to know she had life inside of her. I couldn't deny her that. But where was that life? Did it have a chance to thrive? And was there a life in the first place or had this all been a case of miscarriage followed by a body that was extremely receptive to creating a paradise for some lucky zygote?
Our doctor told us the Definitely Not Cool was the way to go. To his credit we'd done three rounds of blood tests and ultrasounds. He had been more patient with us than most. He even consulted his partner on it and that guy was stunned we had waited this long. Our doctor explained that, by this point, we should've seen something conclusive. An egg sac. Something.
We let it go. We agreed.
Our transformer couch was still in bed-mode, so we took advantage.
Or rather, I let Avara make up her mind. We are a team but this was not my body we were talking about and, unlike some, I refused to be the man telling the woman what to do with her body. It's a novel idea.
My wife said "no thanks" to valium and our doctor didn't blink an eye. She told him, "I won't freak out, but I can't promise I won't cry."
I know many women have had this procedure. I wish I could come hug each and every one of you. It was one of the worst things I've had to witness. Truly.
We came home and I held my wife. There was no way to exorcise this process out of ourselves. We were numb. And in grief. But I was also angry.
I said, "I want to go beat things and run fast."
She said, "I just want to cry and go to sleep."
We probably could've used a dose of each other's advice, truth be told.
Avara went to work the next day. I know. Can you believe it? She's a bit of a martyr that way, but her busy day probably helped keep things in motion so that she could breathe a bit. She asked me to call in for the lab results. The material gathered (read: remains) from the Definitely Not Cool was taken to a lab and analyzed for an egg. No dice.
This meant she had an ectopic pregnancy and our final course of action (our least desired too) was a drug that dissolves the tissue. It was a low-level chemotherapy, a little shot of death. After all of that, a shot that would end everything. Hadn't it been enough that our contraception failed, blood tests were taken ad nausea and my wife was literally scraped and sheared of her womanhood?
But she had been right. She had been pregnant. Our doctor's office, a place we had been so excited to visit, to witness a beating heart, to learn the sex of our baby and confirm life, was now an unfair place that just kept taking from us, over and over.
It's been four months since that late night in Texas. It took me a while to write about it, and even now I am riddled with guilt for experiencing grief over a theoretical baby that mightn't have existed at all. I'm asking myself why I'm posting this. How do you end a post a like this? Why even write a post like this?
So, I can let it go. Now.
I owe you one, IUD. But you owe me and my wife a whole hell of a lot more.