True confession – I scouted out pregnancy sites when I was five minutes pregnant with my first baby. I was so excited, but it was too soon to tell anyone. It felt strange to be walking around with the hugest, most glorious secret of my life.
In those early weeks, the one place where I received confirmation of my pregnancy was online. I loved clicking on the links for week five, week six, week seven, week eight – all the while reading with fascination about what was happening in my body.
In the interest of cautious superstition, I did not actually register my pregnancy with any of those sites until after week thirteen. After all, I had read the statistics about how many pregnancies never make it past six weeks or eight weeks or twelve weeks, and I wanted to protect myself from unnecessary grief if things fell apart.
But when I finally held an ultrasound picture in my hands, staring at my baby sucking his little thumb (caught on camera!) I decided it was safe to share the news. With friends, with relatives. With strangers on the bus and on the airplane. With anyone who gave me an opening by smiling at my growing belly.
I registered my pregnancy with several websites, eagerly selecting the option to receive weekly emails about how my baby was growing. The weeks ticked by, and I measured my progress against the emails. I bought maternity clothes. I felt little kicks. I gained weight.
My husband and I went to baby furniture stores and looked at cribs, changing tables and rocking chairs. Check, check, check, I mentally clicked off all the milestones that were recommended by all the helpful websites.
Those pregnancy websites must have been in cahoots with the baby product companies, because as time went on, I began receiving coupons in the mail for diapers, formula, bottles, and baby lotion.
I read What to Expect When You Are Expecting. I mailed printed photos of the ultrasound pictures to my family, with a little note that said, “Hi, Aunt Lisa!; Hi, Aunt Jenny! Hi, Aunt Lindsey.” I carried one of the pictures in my wallet.
But there was not a link on any of the websites that tells you what to do when you go to the hospital with a baby in your belly and you come home empty-armed.
There was nothing that said what to expect when you are sitting in your wheelchair in the lobby, waiting for the car, and you are placed right next to two other women in wheelchairs. They each have a sleeping bundle in their arms; they are juggling balloons and flowers and blankets and tiny knitted caps.
You have a silent scream building up inside you and a panic attack engulfing you as you realize that all your hopes and dreams for your baby will never take shape. How will you survive this minute? How will you survive the next few days? You feel a yearning for a baby, and you see the baby of the woman sitting next to you, and you contemplate an almost insane desire to grab the child and run and pretend your life is still on track.
You make it through the memorial services. You make it through the night and the next and the next. You make it through several weeks of short-term disability from work. You get back to work and open your computer for the first time.
Waiting for you is a cheerful email from the pregnancy website, informing you what will be happening in your life now. What should be happening, anyway. You collapse into tears. Despite your efforts to unsubscribe, daily and weekly emails keep coming. A colleague helps you by contacting the various websites and somehow getting your name and email removed from the list.
But it is too late. The existence of the baby is already out in cyberspace. There is no way to contact all the formula and diaper and infant care companies to get removed from their lists. And so, in painfully regular fashion, the snail mail coupons start arriving.
When the baby would have been three months old, a slew of coupons arrive for size 2 diapers and bigger bottles, with the exciting notice that your baby is no longer a newborn. When he would have been six months, your mail is stuffed with advertisements and coupons for baby foods and toys.
A gift certificate for a free baby gift arrives from several apparel stores on his would-be first birthday. At the two-year mark, you start receiving sample pull-ups and training pants. Because, as the pamphlets remind you, your baby is a big kid now!
And so it goes. You never forget how old he would have been. You chart the time from his death by the ads and coupons. You wish you had never ever registered for an online pregnancy site.
Some women find great comfort in linking up with others on pregnancy websites who have suffered losses. There are whole wonderful support groups out there, where people can find each other and grieve and recover together. But I was in a place where I just could not do that – I simply was unable to seek out others with whom to commiserate-- and so instead of getting any benefits from having put my pregnancy online, I only felt the painful repercussions. Maybe it would have helped me to find other grieving moms and bond with them. But I couldn’t. I was so paralyzed by grief that I couldn’t.
I learned the very important lesson that you can never undo it once you register for something online, because it is out there in cyberspace. We can never trace all the threads that started when I typed in my estimated due date into a few pregnancy websites.
We still get mail for him, addressed specifically to him, and it has been ten years. Ten years. Ten years and an adoption and two births later. And even after all this time, when I come home and see something on the mail table with Matthew’s name on it, I still need to pause for a minute and remember to breathe.