The receptionist was different. A young girl, long straight hair draped down her shoulders, was a sharp contrast to the older gregarious woman who previously welcomed patients into the doctor’s office. The former receptionist’s “how are you, Girl?” greeting to all women (young or not) was replaced by a flat “I’m glad you came early. No one else today has come early.” With barely a glance over her dark-rimmed glasses, this receptionist was pleasant enough to make me not wish she was nicer. A small part of me yearned for the over-the-top joyful familiar face. Having visited this office an unmentionable number of time throughout my pregnancy, she was a beacon of comfort in the stormiest of waters. At the same time, this new girl had no ties to my past. She had no recollection of my husband and me showing up nearly weekly for months. She was a first-line person, and started my current experience off differently than in the past. She did not realize that she helped chip away at the panic building in my chest.
A few minutes earlier, I sat in my car under the darkened first floor of the parking garage. The glassy front door within view, thoughts of all the times Jason and I walked in only to leave in tears flooded my vision. Arriving 40 minutes early, I had time to stew in the dismal dread before convincing myself to go inside.
This time is different.
This time is not like the others.
This time I’m not pregnant.
This time is routine.
No words could erase the ultrasounds pictures that overflow a file folder we keep at home. No self-talk could calm the clips that play like movie reels as the doctor and technician scrutinized the grainy black-and-white image looking for abnormalities. No deep breathing could settle my frayed nerves as they remembered sitting in plush chairs in the doctor’s smartly decorated office after-hours as she revealed her suspicions that our baby likely had the same genetic condition as Sophia. Flying through my mind were images of blood, tears, ultrasounds, sweaty palms, and many many flimsy cotton gowns. Tearing through my body were shallow breaths, tapping fingers, and heart beats that could take down a drum line.
Waiting for my turn now for just a routine exam, the small sub-waiting room allowed me access to semi-audible mumblings from the hallway from the same doctor who took us into her office that one chilling evening. Whispering with the ultrasound technician, phrases filtered into my tiny cubicle where I had once awaited my own bad news: “She’s 11 weeks along. There is the endometrial lining, but I cannot find the sac…” With these utterances, I nearly lost a tear. When the couple was then ushered into the miniature-sized room with me in anticipation of their baby update, my gaze never left the floor and I begged the Universe to spare them the pain we felt over and over again. Such a useless appeal as I now understand it does not work that way. When I eventually left my appointment and that same couple followed me onto the elevator, I offered a soft smile and held the door for them. It was the least I could do.
Returning to my car, appointment over and as relatively painless and quick as my logical mind struggled to convey, the memories continued to surge. We used that parking garage with every visit, the same automatic lifting-arm gate we met repeatedly before released me once again from my confinement. Turning right to exit–and then right again–felt like how it used to be, often following Jason out as we usually drove separately. But this time, there was no silver Corolla ahead of me. There were no tears, no bad news, no dreadful knots in the pit of my stomach. My pride of survival was dampened by the gloomy feeling this place evokes. As I struggled to get the other couple out of my thoughts, the sadness compounded. This sustaining trauma-filled grief we have felt should be enough for everyone. No one else needs to know this kind of heartache.
If only it worked that way.