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'Something to celebrate': One couple braces for a year to remember, in the face of uncertainty

Courtesy Kari Plog
An ultrasound image of Kari Plog's baby.

When my husband, Christian, and I talked about starting our family, we knew only so much would be within our control. But we never imagined just how out of our control everything would get.

When the country’s first case of novel coronavirus was identified in Snohomish County in February, we were emotionally distracted. We were still processing the whirlwind couple months that started with the unexpected news of our first baby, followed by a traumatic visit to the emergency room where a doctor told us I was miscarrying. I’d suspected it for days, but tried to stay optimistic.

“I don’t feel pregnant anymore,” I told Christian in the ER, while we waited for the doctor to confirm what we already knew.

When it comes to pregnancy and parenthood, society tells you there's a right and a wrong way to feel, a right and wrong way to share the news, a right and wrong way to prepare, to labor, to feed. The list goes on, and on, and on.

But there’s no blueprint for dealing with a miscarriage. There’s no BuzzFeed list of top 20 ideas for announcing your failed pregnancy. And society doesn’t offer much beyond deafening silence. If it happens to you and you're brave enough to share, you learn about a catalogue of traumatic moments your loved ones also suffered in that deafening silence.

I hadn't expected to conceive so soon, and the surprise abruptly changed us. It was Day One of something new, scary and better than we could have imagined.

But after the miscarriage, we couldn’t begin imagining our new life, and our old one felt incomplete.

And as little as we had planned for our failed pregnancy, we were even less prepared for what came next. 

Washington started shutting down March 12, when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the closure of all schools in the state’s three most populous counties. Soon, all schools closed. Restaurants and bars shuttered. The world was at a standstill, with no end in sight.

As hospitals braced for Armageddon, we had to decide: do we try to get pregnant again, like we originally planned?

As we contemplated should we or shouldn’t we, Christian and I didn’t realize the decision was already out of our hands. We eventually learned that just as Washington was shutting down around us, another nine-month countdown had already started.

At our first ultrasound, we heard our baby’s heartbeat, something we weren’t able to hear the last time — a sign that everything was normal. That’s when new worries took over our old ones: thinking about the future when the future is entirely uncertain.

Having your first baby is about as uncertain as it gets. When you throw in a pandemic that some of the smartest people in the world still don’t fully understand, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the future. I knew that any pregnancy that came after my first one wouldn’t be the same. But I had no idea just how different this next one would be.

“The first time, every day between when we found out you were pregnant and when we found out that we’d had a miscarriage, it was all I thought about,” Christian told me recently. “And now, obviously, I think about it a healthy amount every day. But I feel like anytime you’re going through anything challenging, the best thing that anybody can do for themselves is to worry about what’s in front of you right now.”

What's in front of us now are dozens of question marks. We don’t know when, if at all, we’ll get to push strollers through a department store, or if we’ll get to host a baby shower and celebrate with everyone we love. Come December, we don’t know what hospitals will look like for labor and delivery. There’s a chance birthing classes will have to happen virtually. The tour of the birth center is up in the air, since hospitals are severely limiting who comes and goes. 

And there's the big question: what happens when the baby makes a grand entrance?

“I've thought to myself, do I need to quarantine myself and your dad for the whole month of December so that if this is crazy, we might have an opportunity to hold our grandbaby,” my mom, Lisa, said recently. “And if the risk is still out there, even if we quarantined ourselves, would we still want to take a chance and be around the baby? It's really uncertain.”

We try not to think about whether grandma and grandpa will get to hold our baby in the hospital. Or if anyone will get to see our son or daughter, even from a distance, in those first weeks or months. Still, despite this absolute mess of a year, 2020 probably isn’t going to be so bad.

“If everything goes according to plan, we will have a newborn in December,” Christian says. “And that'll be something to celebrate.”

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Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.