Homegrown Hollywood: Heartbeats, the best sound in the world

A few months ago, my husband Jason and I did an embryo transfer.

For those of you who’ve never done in vitro fertilization (IVF), this is the last step in the process – the thing we’d been waiting for since we began trying to get pregnant years ago. After all the shots and medications and surgeries, the doctor was finally going to take one of our embryos out of its petri dish and put it in me.

On the day of the transfer, groggy from a lovely little Valium, I watched on a monitor as that embryo slid into place. After all that time thinking about our possible future child frozen in a little dish, it felt incredible to know that I could finally keep it warm and safe with me.

We had to wait 14 days to find out if it worked. In those two weeks, I swung from excitement, to terror, to discouragement, to my-husband-can-do-nothing-right-and-therefore-I-will-be-mad-at-him-all-the-time. I was a real treat.

Near the end, I had cramps and bloating. I was all too familiar with those symptoms. I Googled it (because I’m a foolish masochist) and found out … absolutely nothing. But I knew my body. I didn’t need Google to tell me it had failed.

After my blood test, I moped around the house and started planning my cocktail tour of Los Angeles for when I found out the bad news. But I’d forgotten something important – something I’d learned on this long journey through IVF: Our bodies are amazing, and they don’t give a flying fallopian tube what we think. Because a few hours later, my doctor called. I was pregnant.

Pregnant! I couldn’t believe it. I kept asking my doctor if she was sure she had the right lady. It was me, Jessica, the woman who’d called her once in a panic when I couldn’t remember if I’d taken my vitamins. But my doctor assured me she had the right person. It was real.

Jason came home an hour later. I’d planned on telling him in soft, maternal tones – leading him to the couch, placing his hand gently on my stomach and whispering that he was going to be a father. Instead, when he walked through the door, I rushed at him like a linebacker and screamed in his face, “We’re pregnant!” Once he got over his terror, he was thrilled.

The next few weeks passed in a blissful (and nausea-filled) blur. A month after the news, Jason left for an extended work trip to Australia and I settled into a day of Googling cribs and figuring out how to get Jason on board with the baby names I liked. I was right in the middle of a brainstorm when I suddenly realized something was wrong. I didn’t feel right.

I checked and confirmed: There was blood – too much blood.

For a second, I couldn’t breathe. I felt light-headed, like I was in a dream. This couldn’t be happening when everything seemed like it was finally working out. I snapped out of it, called my mom and then my doctor who instructed me to get to an emergency room. I drove myself, picking up my friend Patti on the way.

The entire drive to the hospital, all I could think was how our baby had been safe in that petri dish but not with me. I knew that wasn’t true, but no matter how much I tried to shut out those thoughts, in the silence of the car, it was hard to keep them at bay.

The doctors confirmed there was a concerning amount of blood, but no one could tell me why. After paperwork and questions I could barely answer through my fear, they finally rolled me to radiology for an ultrasound.

The ultrasound tech came in, smiled gently and began her scan. I asked her to tell me as soon as she saw any indication of whether or not the baby was OK, but she shook her head. She wasn’t allowed to – hospital policy. She had to wait and show the images to the radiologist, who would explain the outcome to me.

I laid on that table in complete silence as Patti strained to see the screen, hoping to get some information from the shadowy images. After 20 minutes trying to keep my head above the waves of despair, the ultrasound tech said softly, “I know I said I can’t tell you anything but … I

think you know what this is.” She turned up the volume on the machine and a pounding filled the room.

A heartbeat.

It was the first time I’d heard it, strong, loud and determined. Every beat was reassurance. Every beat seemed like our baby saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”

I started crying. Patti started crying. The ultrasound tech started crying – all three of us sobbing with that little sound bouncing off the walls. It would take weeks of bed rest and restrictions to recover, but eventually the baby and I emerged on the other side, safe, healthy and so damn thankful.

I’m into my second trimester now, and even through my joy, I’m thinking of the women who continue to walk the terrifying and stressful journey through infertility. And the women who’ve had an ER experience like mine with a different outcome.

I’m sensitive to announcements like these because I remember how painful it was to hear that others had conceived when I was still in the deep, fighting for my own chance. I hear you, I know you’re there and I’m sending you strength.

What a journey this has been. And from what everyone has told me, it’s only just begun.

Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com.