Some women plan babies like hair appointments. Their fertility is mapped out on color-coded calendars and forecasted like the weather on mobile device applications. Even delivery dates are selected in advance with preference to national holidays and weekends. Managing my reproduction has always been mysterious and elusive to me, at best. So much so, that after more than four years of marriage, I began to question if we could have children at all. Undeterred, my husband and I continued on our childless travel adventures abroad. We always said that once we found a suitable place to settle, we’d explore fertility treatment and adoption if need be.
One of our adventures took us to Algeria where we both taught English. Our days were long and free time was scarce. The food selection was foreign to us, so we retreated to the familiar taste of bread and French fries more than we should have. When I started to experience indigestion, I chided myself for my poor eating habits. I wasn’t eating nearly enough raw food and found too much comfort in fried treats. The bloating started to expand my girth, so I met with a doctor to ease my distress. What she discovered did little to relieve my woes but only raised my anxieties. I was about ten weeks pregnant and totally clueless.
My irregular menstrual cycles were mostly convenient but in my newly discovered pregnancy, it meant that I missed a critical event and almost an entire trimester had passed me by. In those early formative weeks when I should’ve been eating lots of fruits and vegetables, taking supplements, and meditating on the new life within me, I was aloof. I felt regretful that I didn’t give my budding child the start I had hoped for and nearly expected a miscarriage. Instead, the very first ultrasound showed a tiny baby with developed vertebrae pumping her arms up and down. My husband and I were in disbelief but thankfully, we went on to deliver a healthy, full-term baby without complication.
When that little miracle of ours approached two years old, we started to consider another child. We assumed that a second child would be as effortless as the first but two years later, we couldn’t be further from the truth. We discovered our second pregnancy towards the end of the holy month of Ramadan. We had been praying fervently for another baby and it was the perfect end to a blessed season. Our daughter eagerly shared the news with her grandparents during our summer visit, and we basked in the bliss of a growing family. About a week into my stay, I saw spotting that quickly became bleeding and later cramping. Much less prepared for loss than the first time around, I was distraught to see my little treasure receding and fading away. I arrived to the emergency room just in time for an automatic flush toilet to snatch my fetus away from me. It felt like a pathetic ending to such a joyous beginning.
I grieved through that loss in the comfort of my family and in the gratitude of knowing that I have a wonderful child who was well worth the wait. I couldn’t explain to my daughter what happened to her little sibling but could only encourage her to pray for another. When that prayer was answered nearly a year later, I only had thirty minutes to enjoy the news before, again, my little one began to slip away. My homeopath who had been treating me for nearly a year seemed even more devastated than me and suggested that I consult a senior gynecologist about hormonal therapy.
At this time, I was transitioning between Oman and Morocco and couldn’t prioritize fertility in this major move of ours. I had enough on my plate and figured I would just enjoy our year-long adventure in Morocco and sort out the baby-making later. Only a few weeks into my arrival, I was experiencing déjà vu—a familiar North African landscape, lots of bread and indigestion. I thought it implausible to be pregnant again only two months after a miscarriage. I took an over-the-counter pregnancy test and braced myself. It was the third positive test out of nearly a dozen in the last two years and I didn’t know what to feel. I was lucid about my track record and tried to find a way to teeter between hope and caution.
Between my limited Arabic and hand gestures, I explained my case to a warm and endearing doctor whose office was conveniently next to the supermarket I frequented. I had no idea of her experience and credentials, but her smile and concern spoke volumes above our limited exchange. After a physical exam, she abruptly initiated a pelvic ultrasound which had become routine for me following the previous losses. As usual, I tried to keep from tensing up. But unlike the past examinations, I heard a sound that I hadn’t heard for almost four years—a tiny beating heart. A developing being, barely the size of a blueberry, had already captivated me. Tears streamed from my eyes and I tried to savor the moment for as long as I could. My doctor saw hopeful signs for the pregnancy but still prescribed progesterone to see me through the critical coming weeks. Then and there, I realized that my baby did not need my doubt and anxiety but rather a cascade of joy and elation unfettered and unbound. I want the duration of his or her life to be flooded with abundant love regardless of how long it will last. For this, I must submit to the mystery and miracle of the present.
With every passing week, my husband and I held our secret hopefully, sharing our excitement in quiet whispers, glances, and smiles. Though tempting to tell our three-year old daughter, we decided to wait. At 14 weeks, all four of us, baby included, met my new doctor. My daughter squealed at the site of her tiny sibling on the ultrasound screen. My husband and I felt some relief, but there was still a long journey between the womb and the world and souls can be quite fluid in transition. Nonetheless, we decided to tell our parents and let them choose how and with whom they wanted to share our news. We welcomed the prayers and optimism of our community to see us through.
As the pregnancy progressed, I continued to nurture my heart for whatever lied ahead. In reality, it’s all quite precarious–birth, life, and the destiny that awaits us. I embraced each day with gratitude, including the blessed day my son was born and the days that followed. In truth, we are never fully “in the clear”. The gift of life, with or without motherhood, is sacred and unpredictable. I am learning to not only be brave in a birthing room but also in life, because every day we are giving birth to one reality or another.
Chantal Blake is a writer and unschooling mom of two from New York City. Currently based in Turkey, she has been living abroad since 2008. Major themes in her writing include travel, veganism, and migration. She archives her stories and adventures at WayfaringGreenSoul.com
Photo provided by Chantal Blake.