Pregnancy journal: Foreign territory and the first ultrasound

Page from a US passport showing one stamp from Ireland and one from England

Written a month ago, after rereading my notes from the first fetal ultrasound, performed July 21:

I’m sure learning of one’s pregnancy is a strange experience under any circumstances, but my life was already seeming a bit outside of routine. My sister had just given birth, so I was still feeling awed by her journey and by this incredible new person in my family. And then we were leaving to travel abroad less than a week later; Erik and I would be traveling together to two countries (England and Canada), and then I would be going to Scotland by myself, my first solo foreign travel. So life was quite exciting enough, and then right into the middle of that came the confirmation of my pregnancy.

I had thought about not calling the doctor until we got back from our travels (in retrospect that seems a terrible idea; I was probably just overwhelmed), but I woke up the next morning and thought, no, I really want to make that contact. So I called, and it was a Friday, and I got an appointment with my NP (whom I really like) for Monday. After the visit she consulted with the office OB-GYN (who would become my OB) and said they wanted me to get an ultrasound before I left, if possible. So I called around; the closest imaging center that had a next-day appointment was 26.2 miles away (the distance of a marathon, hmmm).

So there I was, exactly one week after my nephew’s birth, exactly five days after learning of my pregnancy, exactly the day before getting on a plane for London, not yet packed for the trip, hieing myself to Pleasanton via Lyft and BART. It was one of those days when I’d awoken especially early and therefore had so much time that I got lulled into peace of mind and forgot to check the clock as my departure time grew nearer. I wasn’t quite late but I was very close to it. I had just boiled a pot of eggs so I packed an egg and a piece of soda bread into a small container, hastily filled a water bottle, and ran out the door. And then the Lyft navigation app sent the driver on a really roundabout route to BART, exacerbating my worries about tardiness. I felt both jittery and resigned; everything was happening so fast, I felt a kind of inevitability about the mess-ups and hitches, like there was bound to be something and if this was as bad as the something got, I could cope.

The ultrasound itself, at least, was not new. For a mostly healthy 33-year-old, I’ve had quite a lot of experience with ultrasound. I had a rare, very weird cardiac condition when I was about 10 years old, which meant echocardiograms (cardiac ultrasound). So I had the whole process explained to me in the kindest and most friendly way when I was an ill child: “We’re going to put this gel on you, and then rub this thing over the gel, and it won’t hurt at all and will let us see a picture of your heart.” During the course of my illness I had at least two of those (each time followed by these amazing chocolate cookies the pediatric cardiologist bought from a local bakery). And then, because I’ve had digestive upsets and abdominal discomfort, and also because I once had a gynecologist who thought the perfectly normal position of my cervix was not so normal, I’ve had two pelvic ultrasounds as well. (Those are less fun than the cardiac kind, because you have to drink a ton of water and then hold your pee.) So I wasn’t worried about the procedure itself, and the tech (who was named Avey, or something that sounded like Avey) was lovely and incredibly no-nonsense about pregnancy (“You seem like a great person, you should definitely have a kid, but some of the people I see…!”). Avey had music playing in the room and as soon as she started to move the transducer wand over my abdomen, “Thieves in the Temple” came on. I wanted to laugh but Avey was so practical, I repressed it into a smile.

What I remember most now, thinking back on this day and that week in general, is the intense newness of everything. Even taking BART felt like something I’d never done before (it kind of was, because I had to take it to the end of a line I’d never taken before, to get to the imaging center). I remember standing there waiting for the train and just feeling a kind of tender freshness in the air and in my gaze and in everything in me. It was a bit like that heightened awareness you get when you’re leaving a place you’ve loved very much, that sensitivity that leads you to say to yourself, of everything you encounter, “This is the last time I will see this,” “This is the last time we will speak to each other,” “Even if I someday return, all this will have changed” — except in this case, they were not lasts, but very very firsts.