Fertility After Loss Journey: The Ultrasound

March 22, 2019

By Sanda Rathamone

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” -  Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

For those of you who are new to my Fertility After Loss Journey, Dr. C (my OBGYN) ordered a uterine ultrasound exam. The purpose of this ultrasound was to visually determine the health of my reproductive organs (ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus). Also, it would help us find some answers as to why I struggled to conceive or if I have PCOS.

The ultrasound appointment was scheduled on Friday, March 15th and the images were sent to Dr. C. Now a week later, I am still waiting to hear from Dr. C about the results, as well as the blood work that was taken earlier this month.

Before getting into detail about the ultrasound, I want to mention that I was relieved that it was not at the same imaging center where we had Elijah's last ultrasound at 20 weeks; the one we had days before he died. I was not prepared to revisit the past and walk through those same doors. I just couldn't imagine myself being perfectly okay in a place where we were once so happy - and blissfully ignorant of what would happen.

Of course, the same requirements applied to this ultrasound, like the one we had with Elijah: drink 32 ounces of water 2 hours before and do not, whatsoever, pee! Supposedly, the water puts weight on the cervix, which helps with "clear" images. 

I remember the frustration in doing this and hated it; it was absolute torture. I also thought that because I was pregnant (and already peeing a lot) the first time around that my bladder was not able to hold 32 ounces. I had to drink another 32 because I secretly peed in the parking lot before getting to the appointment. And then, had to pee again once I got to the waiting room. I peed so much that day...

We were a street away from the imaging center (it was a new place, we didn't know that there was a parking garage!). I walked much slower than my normal pace, all the way to the waiting room.  My bladder was so full that I could only take one tiny step at a time. And it was embarrassing, exhausting, and excruciating.

My bladder felt like double doors that were on the verge of cracking open by the heavy weight of water. Thankfully and painfully, I made it inside the building and to the (second) front desk. The woman had to verify my identity (last name, personal info, appointment), for the second time! The first front desk had asked me the same questions and I could barely talk through my pee-holding and was focused on nothing, but pee-holding!

The woman then asked me if I had been drinking my water. Through clenched teeth, I hissed a "YESSSSSSSS" and tried to sit in the waiting area. I couldn't. I stood up and walked around, did a little sway and dance and tried to keep calm. But I couldn't. My husband suggested that I'd ask the front desk woman to use the restroom, but I wasn't sure she'd be nice enough like the first time around, when a lady allowed me do so before Elijah's ultrasound.

I bit my lip, prayed, and walked to the front desk.

Me: Crossing my legs, "I don't think I can hold it. Can I use the restroom?"
Front desk woman: Looks at the clock, "Ummmm... can you hold it.... .for 10 minutes?"
Me: Shaking my head, "No."
Front desk woman: "...." 
Me: Crosses my legs the other way.
Front desk woman: "Can you start and then stop?"
Me: "I can try."
Front desk woman: "Okay. Restroom is down the hall to your left. Make sure you drink water when you come back."

A bucket of pee came out so fast that it was hard to control. Somehow, I got a hold of it and then felt a searing pain on my left side, probably my left kidney. Never again will I do that! I left the restroom with less than half of my hard work. When I was back into the waiting room, I was fine -  for just a few minutes. I drank more water, which made me want to pee more water.

My husband kept asking if he should go into the exam room with me. 

"Do you want me to go in with you?"
"I don't know if they will let me go in this time."
"Should I go with you?"
"Are you sure you want me to go in with you?"
"Okay, I'll go with you."
"No... I'll just wait out here."
"I'll go in next time. I just want to hear the heartbeat."

I wasn't sure why he had mentioned "heartbeat" when the ultrasound was just a uterine exam...

Finally, the technician appeared at that doorway and called my name. For some reason, I decided to braid my hair, which was something I rarely did. My hair is usually in a bun or ponytail during the day. The technician happened to have a long, blond braid down her back. I didn't know why it caught my interest, it just did.

As I made it through the door and into the room, a surge of discomfort, awkwardness, and nervousness overwhelmed me. I wanted to turn around and walk out the door, a bit confused on why I was there. Somehow, I found myself listening to the tech's voice, which sounded like rehearsed lines. "Lay down on the recliner, lift your shirt, and pull your bottoms below your abdomen." She turns on the ultrasound machine and gets it warmed up, while I ever so slowly do as she says (my bladder is extremely full), I tell her, "this is soooooo hard." She says, "I know."

In one swift motion, she takes a small towel and tucks it under the waistband of my leggings, then quickly says, "hot gel." It was definitely HOT, but quickly cooled after the transducer probe glides on my belly. On the screen, I could see the familiar static white lines (that I don't understand) in a black background. Then, I see this rather large round, clear sac, which was obviously my very full bladder. The tech continues to scan certain areas and angles, and punches in words like: "Long UT," "Long Cervix," "LT Ovary," and "RT Ovary."

Besides the silence, all I could hear are the tech's clicks and the pings from the machine. Being my hopeful self, I looked for a sign of life or something that looked like a baby inside. Unfortunately, all I could see was white static and gave up. With nothing to do, but to look up at the ceiling, I was surprised to see that there was this beautiful LED screen of pink purple clouds with a hint of orange sunlight hanging above the bed. Probably something to keep patients calm, perhaps entertained.

Out of nowhere, I hear this loud shuffling, rumbling noise. As the noise steadies itself, I realize what it is. The tech confirms that it was my heartbeat. Just my heartbeat. No other heartbeat...

Finally, I was given permission to relieve myself! I quickly sat on the toilet in the restroom that was just two steps away from the recliner - pretty smart and thoughtful if you ask me. I had one of the longest, most satisfying release in all of two minutes! At first it was a rushing river and then slowed and slowed, until it became trickles and drops. I thought, "Wow, that was the quickest ultrasound of my life." I was a tad disappointed (don't know why). Thinking that everything was done, I discovered that I was wrong. The tech announced that she was going to get the vaginal probe, asked  me to remove my bottoms, and place the sheet over my legs.

After doing as she says, she comes back into the room and asks me a few questions: 

Tech: "When was the first day of your last period?"
Me: "Uh... December 5th? January 5th? I forgot, let me check."
Tech: "Oh, it's been awhile."
Me: Walks half-naked to a chair to grab my phone, "Yeah." I click on the Flo app and wait for it to load.
Tech: Waiting.
Me:"January 5th."
Tech: "Oh so are you here because you just want to make sure...."

I think I know the rest of the words to her question. I assumed that she knew why I was there and what the ultrasound was for...  Although, she was wrong, sort of... 

Tech: "Have you ever been pregnant before?"
Me: "Yes."
Tech: "Was it a live birth?"
Me: "No. I had a stillbirth at 20 weeks."

She quietly scribbles some notes on pieces of paper. Then, shows me the probe and explains how it works (I just nod, already knowing what it does). I lay back and slowly, she places the cold, hard, plastic probe inside of me. I feel uncomfortable, almost insulted. I don't like the probe very much.

I am sad as I realize that I cannot see the screen; the tech moved it. All I could see is the back of the machine and the light from the screen glowing from her face. Just like the first round, I hear fast clicks and pings. Only, instead of pressure on my belly, I feel pressure down below as she moves the probe farther down. The worst part was feeling the probe on the edges of my walls at odd angles. It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling and I just wanted to get away from it. I keep myself calm by looking at the ceiling, repeating words in my head: "There is a baby in there. There is a baby in there."

After the clicking and pinging, the tech stops. She stares into the screen for what felt like an intense three minutes. It was like she ran into something that made her stop dead in her tracks. She studies it, moves her head in small angles. I wanted to know what she was looking at or what she had found. But I said nothing. Nothing! Why didn't I say something?! Or, why didn't she say anything?!?! And then, suddenly, it was like time resumed and everything was back to normal. She quickly removed the probe, asked me to put my clothes back on, and mentioned using the restroom for a second time.

Confused, I get up and does as she says. I try to peak at the screen, but she quickly decides to close the opened windows and turns off the machine. It seems like everything she does is with speed and haste... Before I leave, she says that the exam will be sent off and tells me to have "a good day." Like I did her a service. Honestly, this was the strangest ultrasound I have ever had. The whole thing felt like a "wham, bam, thank you, ma'am" experience.

I walk out and back into the waiting room to meet my husband in less than 15 minutes, like nothing had happened. "That's it? What happened?" He was confused, so was I. When we were finally out of the building, I wasn't sure how to feel. I certainly wasn't happy, nor was I sad. I felt odd, out of place, strange, and just plain confused. This wasn't a typical ultrasound where you would expect to see a baby on the screen - I had to remind myself of that.

Later, my husband shared his thoughts:

I thought that you were trying to surprise me. I thought you found out you were pregnant and the ultrasound was a surprise. That's why you wanted me to go with you?" 
A part me had hoped to surprise him, and myself. I had hoped to see a baby on the screen, even full-on knowing that the ultrasound wasn't for a pregnancy. I had been missing my period for over two months with negative pregnancy tests in the past weeks. I had hoped that the ultrasound would catch a glimpse of a developing embryo, hidden somewhere among the white static. Perhaps that is what the tech saw when she froze and looked closer, more intently on the screen. I don't know. But to protect my heart, I can't expect much.

I told my husband that if I found out that I was pregnant again, I couldn't have kept it a secret from him, like the first time. I would be way over my head excited, so much so that I'd want to shout it to the world.

Currently, Flo says that I am 77 days into my cycle and 39 days late for the expected period. I wonder if the tech had seen a fertilized egg, would she have reported this? I hoped that she did and will. For now, I am waiting for Dr. C to go over the blood work and the ultrasound results. Crossing my fingers that there is an answer. Stayed tuned for more. 

Read more on my Fertility After Loss Journey:
With love,
Read Elijah's Story, "From Gender Reveal to a Spontaneous Delivery"

Photo: fofysfactory

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