I had always imagined that women skip along to their first ultrasound with a great sense of excitement. I hadn’t thought for one minute about the crippling terror that might descend in the days before it.
My main thought is: what if it’s not there at all? What if it turns out to be a nasty virus? But there are other worries too: What if it’s not viable? What if it’s already given up the ghost?
Come the morning of the scan, I am quite beside myself.
‘I think my boobs have definitely got smaller again,’ I tell H, ‘and I just don’t feel as ill as I did last week. I think it’s all over. I think we should prepare ourselves for bad news.’
H, stoically pointing out that a mere five minutes ago I was feeling too sick to eat breakfast, doesn’t really know what to make of all this. ‘We just have to wait and see,’ he keeps saying. ‘We can’t do any more than that.’
I’m lucky, of course, to be having a six weeks scan in the first place. Everyone else has to wait until twelve. But I’m a patient of the fertility clinic, and even though I’ve managed to get pregnant without their help, they’re being extremely kind and treating me as if I’m still one of their flock.
In the hour beforehand, I occupy myself by chugging water. I can’t remember how much I’m supposed to drink, so I guzzle my way through a litre, just to be sure. In any case, my mouth is dry. But by the time I’m sent along to the ultrasound waiting room, every footstep feels like an earthquake in my bladder. I silently congratulate myself for being such a good patient.
By the time I’m called for the scan, my biggest worry is that I’ll be sick, and that I won’t be able to stop myself from peeing at the same time. Neverthless, I forget all that when I lie down and am smeared with gel. H decides not to sit down beside me; instead he hovers geekishly around the equipment.
‘We’ll see if we can see anything this way first,’ says the sonographer, ‘but don’t panic if we can’t. We’ll try an internal scan if we don’t get anything.’
I nod. I’d prefer it if she skipped straight to the internal one, if that’s clearer. I’m not proud. But I’m worried it might sound weird to ask. In any case, it’s not long before she’s pushing painfully down on my abdomen and I’m back to the distraction of trying not to piss myself.
‘My,’ she says, ‘you have been good with the water-drinking.’
Yes, I think. I am ridiculously conscientious like that. I watch her roll the handset over my stomach. Nothing appears. It feels like a lifetime.
‘Problem is – and I don’t find myself saying this often – I think you’re bladder’s too full.’ She points out the enormous reservoir of water on the screen, and the way that it’s squashing my uterus. ‘Do you think you can go and empty half of it?’
‘Oh god yes, thank you,’ I say. I put my skirt back on and nearly run to the loos, where I have cause to thank the gods of Kegel that my pelvic floor allows such activity.
On my return, things run much more smoothly. My uterus is looking a great deal less flattened, and very quickly the sonographer says, ‘I can see a yolk sac.’
‘Is that good?’
‘Yes, of course. I’ve just got to try and find a heartbeat now. The embryo’s very cellular at this stage, so you won’t see much else. And I’m having to enlarge it so much that it’s all very blurry.’ She shows us how other parts of the screen appear to pulse at that resolution. The whole image is like a big grey storm-cloud.
But then, she points to an area that’s pulsing slightly more than anything else. A tiny, persistent heartbeat, slightly white against the grey. ‘I feel like I’m watching an electric spark,’ I say.
‘There,’ she says, ‘perfect.’
H presses his face up against the screen and looks delighted that he can see it too. ‘I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it out,’ he says. Nobody cries, or even wells up. We’re just relieved. And still not out of the woods in any case. Until that twelve week scan, I’ll carry on feeling like I’m kindling a fire, rather than carrying a baby. It’s just too tentative.
H had found his confidence with the ultrasound now. He points at the top of the picture.
‘Is that big, gaping space your vagina?’
‘NO!’ the sonographer and I crow in unison.
‘How rude!’ I say. ‘That’s my bladder! Honestly!’
The sonographer scoots the handset over a little, to reveal a rather more compact line on the right. ‘That’s her vagina,’ she says. ‘By the way, did you know you’ve got a fibroid?’
‘Really? They were looking for one a couple of years ago, but never found it. That would explain so much.’
‘Well, it’s nothing to worry about; it’s on the back wall of your uterus, so it’s actually the ideal fibroid for pregnancy, if there is such a thing. It won’t interfere with your baby at all.’
Our baby. Fancy that! We leave with a 5mm embryo, a 35mm fibroid to keep it company, and a tiny, electric heartbeat.