I remember every single doctor’s appointment clearly.
Perhaps it is because I spent three years shuffling from office to office- off and on tables, in and out of stirrups, undressed from the waist down, ready for the next test, the next scan.
It was during this shuffle, as I like to call it, that I was introduced to mindful meditation. In the moments where my stress seemed relentless, I found that my breath kept me grounded. Each inhale forced the chaos to become calm, each exhale gave me the strength to move forward.
With each exam.
Inhale. This will only take a second, Rachel. Exhale. All finished.
With each blood test.
Inhale. Needle in. Exhale. Needle out.
During the phone call that changed my life.
Inhale. You’re pregnant, Rachel. Exhale. Tears.
I thought becoming pregnant with my daughter meant I would naturally enjoy my pregnancy- #bumpdates and all. That the anxiety I had grappled with during my entire fertility journey would retreat somehow only to return again when I actually became a mother.
I was wrong. I was very wrong.
As a patient undergoing fertility treatment, I was seen weekly in my specialist’s office. Ultrasounds, HCG levels, and urine screens became my reality for the first 10 weeks of my pregnancy.
In a way, it was magical. We got to see our daughter growing right before our eyes. I never had to download an app to help me conceptualize where she was in her development. For me, she was never the size of a prune or as big as a plum. She was real, in-picture from the very beginning.
She was a yolk sac that over the weeks became a body with hands and feet that grew to be 1.5 inches long. We watched her brain and her heart and her spine double, and then triple in size. Every Wednesday, we got to see our daughter become more and more human. It was our special day.
The downside of magic is that reality is usually waiting on the other side. And part of my reality became worrying about each milestone my doctor was evaluating.
Inhale. Is there a gestational sac? Yes.
Exhale, “See you next week.”
Inhale. Is there a heartbeat? Yes.
Exhale, “See you next week.”
We danced between magic and reality for ten weeks. And when I was released back to my regular OBGYN, I thought the tango was over. After all, our daughter had a healthy heartbeat, a strong spine, vital organs, and was growing actual bones. Yet, we still had several scans that were monumental in my pregnancy journey.
My 12-week ultrasound was the first appointment I had after transitioning from specialty care back to my OBGYN. For most women, this ultrasound is the ultrasound. While gender isn’t usually revealed until the 20-week anatomy scan, this is the first time most mothers get a glimpse of their baby.
Among other things, this scan can confirm the baby’s heartbeat and general size. It helps evaluate the position of the uterus, measures the baby’s general structures, and confirms the presence of various internal organs. Not only can it provide a detailed picture of a baby’s development, but it can also help to detect chromosomal abnormalities as well as heart defects.
As I sat on the exam table, I found myself back in the space dancing between anxiety and excitement, fear, and joy. We had rehearsed this before, every Wednesday in fact. But this scan felt different. It felt heavier on my chest somehow.
Inhale. The ultrasound gel was cold on my belly.
Exhale. Hi, baby.
The room grew darker as her image was projected on the screen in front of us.
Her heart rate buzzed on the monitor at 150 beats per minute. I glanced at my husband, who was smiling ear-to-ear, nodding his head to the hum of her heartbeat. He was already in-synch with her; already in love.
The doctor glided the ultrasound wand back and forth over my abdomen, taking measurements along the way. She pushed firmly into my side, causing my daughter to kick back in return. The three of us laughed as each time my doctor pushed, our daughter pushed back.
This was the first time I had seen her move, and each movement drew me closer to her. It’s as if she came to life in that very moment to tell me it was okay to connect with her fully and completely. And I was all in.
I meditated on my journey to this very point in time. I thought back to my breath and the shuffle- the dance between magic and reality.
I realized that meditation helped me survive the trauma that came with my fertility journey. At first, I used my breath as a means of survival. To get through each test. To hold out just a little bit longer.
Yet with each inhale and exhale, my practice evolved from survival to something much more profound. Instead of using my breath as an escape, I have learned to be present and connect with myself even if it is sometimes painful or traumatic.
The scan finished, and the lights grew brighter. I already missed my daughter and wanted to see her again. My doctor wiped the gel off my belly and smiled.
Inhale. “Baby looks perfect, Rachel.”