Hold your breath, the technician says.
A little line pulses along the edge, measuring, measuring.
I feel my own heart racing. I can’t tell what I’m looking at.
See, there’s the little heart, beating like crazy.
I’m so relieved I laugh. How fast is it?
My smile dissolves. That’s too low, I’m sure it is, for eight weeks.
Maybe you’re off on your dates? Have a good Christmas. Try to enjoy your little one.
My little one practices walking backward in the living room.
Backward! she says, laughing. Running! she says, dashing forward, tackling me on the couch.
All month she’s been saying, Mommy lie down, Mommy sleeping, Mommy ouchie tummy, as I’ve battled morning sickness and exhaustion. Much earlier, it seems, this time around. We’ve watched more Sesame Street than I care to admit. All I can stomach are cheese sandwiches and salt and vinegar chips.
Backward! she squeals again, bumping into the cat near the Christmas tree.
She’s too young to really understand what’s going on, but she’s caught the energy in the air, loves picking up the presents and ripping off the bows. She points to the tiny stocking we’ve hung on the mantle, the fourth one. It’s the only one she can’t reach, the only one we haven’t put anything in yet.
In Kingdom theology, it’s that narrow slice in the middle of a Venn diagram, where God’s kingdom overlaps with this world. It’s the place where the divine touches us, inexplicably and incomprehensibly. It’s a baby who is God, who is light, who is love, who is truth.
The incense is making me dizzy this year, milky tendrils of smoke curling out of the silver ball, winding up the aisle. The rector—a mother herself—is giving a sermon that speaks straight into the panic in my chest, but all I can think about is not throwing up.
All of my senses are on edge, especially scent. When my husband brings me flowers—lilies, funereal and pale, mixed in with red holly and pine branches—I put them out on the porch in 31-degree weather, the heady scent sending me to the toilet with dry heaves.
Already but not yet—Christ has already come, and has not yet returned. Christ was already (always) here—In the beginning was the Word—and had not yet arrived.
I am already pregnant, already eyeing onesies at Old Navy, already dreaming of names— and not yet out of the woods. Not yet sure this one will make it. The waiting and expectation of Advent are not lost on me this year.
The second ultrasound is set for January 6th, the morning before my birthday. Epiphany— “all is revealed”—or Three Kings’ Day. In Wales, they burn a Yule log and bury its ashes with a new seed in spring. I want there to be some good left in this year, a seed to carry over to the new one.
What is a year? A grid of days, each square a pair of brackets set around moonrise and sun rise, the long rope of it pinned at the spring equinox to keep it from drifting.
2016 was brutal and we’re now at the start of a long, hard winter. In the new year, will things be better? Will there still be a heartbeat? Will it be stronger?
When I lost my first pregnancy, I bled for a month straight then drank for six.
Have faith, a new friend tells me this time. Try to stay positive.
Faith can be dark, I want to tell her. Faith can be negative, night on night, starless. Faith can be rage. Faith can be whydidyoudothistome. Faith can feel like a prison, until the angel lets you go and you realize you made the prison with your own small thoughts, with your tiny, human insistence on understanding.
There’s no way I could be that far off.
I’ve counted backward and forward through the calendar, doing fuzzy math, stretching numbers the way Elmo and Big Bird do on Sesame Street. But maybe. Maybe?
My friend in Indiana is 15 weeks, teaching three classes, trading childcare with her husband so he can go back to school, take classes like calculus and discrete math. Apparently there are natural numbers, rational numbers, and real numbers, finite and infinite objects. He will use these ideas to develop computer algorithms. I used a computer algorithm to track my cycle—temperatures, moods, feelings. Invisible signs made visible.
When you see the heartbeat on ultrasound, the chance of a miscarriage goes way down, my doctor says over the phone. She hears my shaky voice and keeps repeating herself.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t take it back. I know it was there.
I think about the centuries before ultrasound. When all we had to go by was the visible—a belly getting rounder—did we trust more in the invisible?
I think of a cloud of women, a hidden constellation of pregnant bellies and grief. All of the women who lost children. All of the children who lived.
Now that I’ve seen it, please, please don’t take it back.
Guest post by Melissa Reeser Poulin. Melissa is a poet, freelance writer, and grant writer. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and toddler. Read more of her writing at melissareeserpoulin.com.
P.S. If this essay resonated with you, don’t miss our podcast episode, #IHadAMiscarriage With Jessica Zucker