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The Waiting Game

When a newlywed in her twenties tells her parents she’s pregnant, they squeal and hug, jump up and down and start decorating the nursery. When an over-40 mom with a history of miscarriages tells her parents she’s pregnant, it gives them anxiety. “OK, I guess,” they say. “Keep us posted.” This is the limbo I’m living in right now. I’m technically pregnant, but at my age, the odds of winding up with a baby are not in my favor. Still, I persevere.

Whenever I test positive at home, my next step is a blood test at the doctor’s office. Not only does it confirm the pregnancy, but it measures my HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels so we can find out if they are doubling every two days — a sign of a healthy pregnancy. Historically, my HCG levels have been terrible. The first reading will be pathetically low, fail to double, then plummet back to pre-pregnancy levels. Game over.

I’m technically pregnant, but at my age, the odds of winding up with a baby are not in my favor.

And the thing is, there’s nothing that I — the slightly pregnant lady — can do to change the outcome. The egg is either healthy or it’s not, and only time will tell. Sure, I can stop drinking booze and make sure I take my prenatal vitamins, but once the horse has left the barn, it’s mostly out of my control. I hate feeling out of control.

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By some miracle, this time, my first blood test reading is well over 100 — a normal level for someone at my early stage of pregnancy. I’m off to the races! As grateful as I am for a glimmer of hope, it also means I’m climbing aboard an emotional rollercoaster. I must wait 48 hours for the next blood draw, and then six more hours to get the results, with my phone cranked up to top volume, glued to my palm, waiting. Then comes the news.

I call my husband at work. “Honey,” I whisper-yell. “It doubled.” Our victory dance is subdued, for we know we must do this wait-and-test mambo one more time. Incredibly, my levels double yet again. Now the embryo will be big enough to see on an ultrasound.

The doctor’s office waiting room is packed with nervous couples. I try to guess who is trying to conceive vs. who is actually pregnant. I exchange a sly smile with one woman, who confides that she’s here for her first ultrasound. “Me too,” I tell her. “Good luck.”

Setting our expectations, our doctor explains what he’s hoping to see on the ultrasound: at a minimum, a gestational sac. If we’re lucky, a heartbeat. The last time I saw a heartbeat was four pregnancies ago, when we conceived our daughter. A heartbeat is my dream.

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Whenever I get an ultrasound, there’s always a weird moment when I have no idea what I’m looking at on the screen. A 1970s UHF television station? A math problem? A poltergeist? Then it appears. A tiny oval, and inside it, a blinking light. Heartbeat. But my shocked gratitude has barely registered when our doctor gets that frowny look he gets when things aren’t going right. He busts out a stopwatch and starts counting, “One, two, three, four …” I don’t know what or why he’s counting.

“The heartbeat’s slower than I want it to be,” he explains. “I wouldn’t start telling people about the baby just yet.”

How I long to be that 20-something newlywed, decorating her nursery, blissfully ignorant of all the things that can go wrong.

Image via Thinkstock

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