Jackie: She Was Fiona
Jackie Danziger has long been a fixture of the Last Day production team. Her talents, vision, and discipline have kept pace with (and, let’s be honest, wrangled in) Stephanie’s antics — a feat in and of itself. But during this time of creative and professional achievement, Jackie was also going through an immense and private struggle. One day, everything was fine, and the next, she was forced to make a life-changing decision. A decision that permanently altered the way she thought about work, family, and bodily autonomy. Jackie has since made it to the other side, and it turns out the other side is a pretty great place to be. That’s true for many reasons, but especially because it’s full of baby giggles.
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Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jackie
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:05
Jacqueline, Jackie, Jack, I want to go back to when I fell in love with you, fast and hard. We were meant to be together. This is an interview about us. Okay, this is Jackie Danziger. If her name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you have heard it in the credits of nearly every episode of this show. You’ve also heard her on the show a few times over the years. As a producer, Jackie has been an absolutely integral part of the team since the early days. In fact, I actually want to start by taking you back to those early days when we first met. I was desperately trying to scrape together a team of freelancers to help produce a brand new show called Last Day. I do want to actually ask you, though, like, can you describe who you were, I want to know when and how we met, and where you are in your life and how we collided just reminded me of that.
Okay, so when we met, I had just gone freelance. I was like discovering who I was our first conversation, I had to take a phone call with you, like in the lobby of a hotel, because I didn’t want my boss to know it was like looking for other gigs. And so I’m sitting in this New York hotel looking at tourists milling about, and I’m talking to you about the show, and I had done other recovery shows before my family and recovery. And we were talking about it was the most confident I’ve ever been in any job interview in my life. I like I truly said to you, I was like, Oh, you’re looking for me. And I’m free right now. So lucky for you. Like, you should hire me. You did.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:48
I also remember early on thinking that you were a real grown up? Like I remember, you had a professionalism to you and a professional boundary. And I never did.
Just a backup. I feel like what you actually said to me at one point is, you seem a little uptight at first. I was like, I’m at work, ma’am.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:21
Listen, call it up tight or professionalism. But Jackie’s talents and hard work propelled her from that initial position consulting on last day for 10 hours a week and saving me from drowning in a sea of my own overwhelm to her current role as Vice President of narrative content and production at Lemonada. And as it turns out, this was always sort of the plan. Who were you when you first took that job? When I met you? Can you describe?
Yeah. So yes, I just I’ve always wanted to do some version of what I’m doing right now. And I feel like you met me. Like, as I was going through the rungs of that ladder, and was trying to basically cram a decade of work experience into like, five years because I saw where I was, and I saw where I wanted to be. So I was like, okay, I could probably get where I want to be if I worked one job, what if I worked like three jobs all at the same time, I could basically wake up at four in the morning, start writing my one job and then halfway through the day, I’ll start writing my other job. And then at the end of the day, I’ll do my emailing like, so it was probably working like 80 hours a week when we met each other because I was a freelancer and had said yes to everything. And just wanted again, to get somewhere I was like very, very much career focused, but had sort of an endpoint in mind that was trying to get to.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 03:49
Did that sort of laser focus. Play into other parts of your life? Are you like that outside of work? Are you like this driven? I’m here, I need to be there. I’m going to take you know, five years it’s going to be this is the plan. Here’s the list. Are you like that?
No, I think I’m actually profoundly avoidant in every other part of my life. Like I’ve had a Waterpik I was supposed to set up like a month and a half ago because I want to like be better with my teeth. And it’s still sitting in a box on my desk. So no, I think actually, in most in most other ways, I’m pretty like, I’ll get to that. my now husband was with him for a long time when people were like, you’re gonna get married? What’s marriage gonna be like? Like, I don’t know, we’ll like do it when we want to and then even when we got engaged, everyone’s like, when you went like set the date and was like, I don’t know, like maybe two or three years from now. So no, I do feel like in in most other ways, it’s pretty much like, is this important, is it not? Especially social life relationships, I’m extra probably kind of a dick when it comes to like, putting things off for a long time.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 04:55
Okay, so the truth is that as much as I’d love to have an episode or maybe a whole life where Jackie and I just talk shop and giggle for hours. There is unfortunately a less awesome reason that I’m interviewing her today. We have produced so many Last Day stories together, not to mention tons of other shows featuring other off the charts intense life experiences. And at some point, a little shy of two years ago, Jackie found herself suddenly stuck inside one of the stories she’s so used to producing. All of a sudden she was the one facing an unimaginable circumstance, a moment where time froze and stood still, where nothing was the same afterward. This is LAST DAY, a show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. And today we’re telling the story of standing on the brink of motherhood, facing an impossible choice. What happened, how it changed her, and how she finds herself today full of a presence and gratitude that was previously unimaginable.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:24
Jackie met that now husband in New York City, and she married him 9 years ago. And contrary to how it may appear as the host of the SATA show ever made, there is nothing I love more than a love story with a happy ending. Justin, intro Justin, when did you meet him? When did you fall in love when he’s been in your life for a long time.
A long time. So our relationship is dated because we met each other when we were both working at the Apple store around the release of a brand new product called the iPhone. That’s how long we’ve known each other. It was my summer job. I was working as a cashier. He had been working there for a while. So he was an Apple Genius, which felt very important at the time. This was kind of like when there was only a couple of Apple stores and it still felt kind of like high end. So yeah, it was a terrible job because nobody liked the iPhone at first. So people would spend all this money on it. And they would come in they’d like there’s no keyboard. And I don’t know what this is. And it didn’t work that great at first. So my job people just like yelled at me all day. And then I would go into the back and like have a little bit of a moment where he worked. He was like the cute nice guy that would just like make me feel better. And I was in a show at the time. And I had invited all 300 employees of the Apple Store to come and see my show and the only person who RSVP was Justin. And I was very excited. And he was like my cute Apple genius that I was courting. And I was like, I’ll get you a free tickets like no big deal to be like great. The day of the show came, he didn’t show up on time I held the doors. There was not a lot of people there let’s get real. But we held the doors for him. He never showed up. I was so heartbroken. And I found you know, found them later I texted him and was like, what happened? You completely showed me up. And he sent me back a picture of his broken face that was all bruised because he had been hit by a car on his way to the show. And then like the first and last time that I’ve ever flirted with a boy, I was like, that’s okay. You can buy me dinner next time. And he did and we’ve been together.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:34
What the fuck? How don’t I know this story? I didn’t I’ve never heard this story. No. Like any couple who’s been together long term, their roles have evolved over time. Justin’s work ethic inspired Jackie to doggedly pursue her own career goals, and Justin adjusted his own path to support her journey. For most of their relationship, this ebb and flow was how they worked, even as they both looked toward the future. What about kids? Was that a priority for you? Did you to talk about having a family? Where was this on your radar?
So I had nannied all throughout undergrad and some of grad school. So I really liked kids, like kids felt like I was good with them, especially babies very much my thing. But the idea of what having kids would mean for like these larger goals was a little bit more of a point of tension. And then Justin had his own rotating feelings about kids. I think for him it was always like a very logistical consideration. And because we’re in New York, it like never feels like a good time to have kids because there’s never enough room everything is always too expensive. So we were definitely those like typical millennial parents that are like waiting for the perfect moment where everything’s just gonna work out. But I think that we had really it went from being a maybe to being like, Okay, let’s try it. So We made the steps where I went off birth control. And it was like the beginning, the beginning of a journey. All of our friends had real struggles with infertility. And so we assumed also that us coming up at the right point was actually like, this is going to be the beginning of like a two year journey. Because that was basically the average of all of our friends took them, at least a year, usually more like two years to get and stay pregnant.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 10:29
And that was not the case for you?
That was not the case for me. I went off birth control, and a couple of weeks went by. And because it was so not on my radar, I wasn’t tracking my period, I wasn’t even thinking about it. And because we were so busy with work at the time, I was like, overwhelmed had realized I had missed my period, I kept thinking to myself every day, I’m gonna go get a pregnancy test. But like I said, I’m avoiding in every other space of my life, so kept not going out and getting a pregnancy test. So I ordered some on Amazon and only when they arrived was I like, oh, right. I’m supposed to take a pregnancy test. Took it at probably like 9pm and could not believe it. When the thing literally said to me pregnant. Like the last time I had taken a pregnancy test was when I was like a teenager and read the lines. There were no lines. It was not unambiguous. And I was so shocked. Like I had enough. I had enough foresight to turn on the camera on my phone, so I could record Justin’s reaction to it. And he was just gob smacked. I mean, both. It was just the most shocking thing that’s ever happened.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 11:55
You couldn’t even say words on that video. It was just laughing and breathing. Same thing happen to me. I thought it would take me 14 years to get pregnant when I got married. And then the next month was pregnant. I could not believe that this would be a reality.
Well, that was definitely the same thing for me. I mean, like in my head, it was like, Okay, I’m starting the journey. We’re going to try to get pregnant. Step one, lose 30 pounds. Step two, cut out alcoholic I had this whole plan and there was like, Oh, shit, like this child is? Oh, boy, kid.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:30
Get on folic acid. All of the I know, I know.
I was taking prenatal I was like the one thing I had started to do, again, just because I had all these friends who had major fertility issues so that they had given me some things to start doing. So like I maybe like a couple of weeks under my belt.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:48
And then I think it was like the day after you had taken that test because it was it was on your desk. And you were like, Oh, we’re gonna renovate. We’re adding a room. And I was like, you, bitch, what are you […]
You really just like weaseled it out of me though. I think I was so excited about the whole thing. Like I was nervous but excited. So I had the pregnancy test sort of with me that I would like look at lovingly throughout the day. And you were like a room? What do you need a room? And then he just made us sit in silence. You wouldn’t say anything to me. You just kept making this stupid face.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 13:35
I think I was laughing and laughing and looking at you and waiting and you were breaking slowly. Yeah, that sounds rad. And did you feel pregnant? Would Did you have any symptoms? Was there anything happening in your body early on?
No, I mean, I had I was I got off really easy. Like I didn’t have morning sickness. I wasn’t nauseous. I was tired though. I was like, extremely exhausted. Which was a hard symptom to identify because I was working in such wild hours there’s a little bit like of course I’m tired like tired would be the appropriate feeling response to a life. But then like what felt like a little bit tired as I as I progressed through that first trimester was just like extremely tired was definitely my primary symptom.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:23
Mack Truck tired, narcoleptic tired, you’re like sitting up and then you were down Mike used to laugh he would take photos of me I would just fall asleep in any all the time for like, hours. You really you’re growing eyeballs and a spine and bones and you know, ears that takes energy. What else do you remember?
Two things. One, it was all during the pandemic that that was happening which meant that when we finally got to go to the doctor Justin couldn’t come with me. So like our first scan where you hear like, cardiac activity from exactly the horse, the horse. So the first scan, we get to hear the heartbeat, Justin was connected over FaceTime. So, you know, that’s how that’s how all of those were. And then we were working on a show called the Cost of Care. That was all about healthcare in general. But we were doing two storylines that were all around birth. But of course, because they were Lemonada shows it was like, deeply traumatic. The worst story you can imagine, like you think you’re starting a family little do you know, you could be bankrupt or you traumatized like, it just was like, oh, it was a rough story to be working on when you realize you’re pregnant.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 15:40
Yeah, I remember trying to check in to see if you were okay. I mean, was that affecting your was it impacting your mental state at all hearing the stories,
I think it just made me afraid of certain stages. So for both of the stories that we were telling at the time, it all fell apart at the 20 week scan where it was like everything was smooth sailing, like, you know, maybe it was this maybe was that but both stories fell apart at that point. So I was really loving being pregnant because it was pretty easy. And I just like love the idea that at any moment, I was bonding with the baby because she just was like they’re at work with me are there throughout the day. And yet, I was a little bit like, Let’s get real everybody, we got to get to this 20 week scan. So that put in my radar. But I will say when I had we had a 16 week scan in early anatomy. And that’s when I think I truly fell in love with the baby and was able to stop thinking about these other storylines, because that’s really when it’s like you see everything. They go through all the organs. For me it had also like a presentational quality. Like I swear like my hospital, they have these big screen TVs and they dim the lights and they felt like it was like Jackie Danziger, this is your baby and like the Jurassic Park music that you plays in my head, like it’s just like this, like wonderful experience. And in in that there’s a lot of things that they show you that are not familiar where it’s like, okay, it’s the heart if you tell me it’s the hardest the kidneys when he told me his kidney, but I remember seeing the spine was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, because it was so clear. And you had been joking the whole time about like, you’re building eyeballs, you’re building a spine. And that was funny. It was funny until I actually saw it was like holy shit grew a spine. It was like really incredible. It was like, it was so beautiful. And I became fixated on it in terms of just being like, like Justin couldn’t join me for that scan. But he was going to be allowed to go to the next one the 20 week and it was like I cannot wait to show you her back. It’s just so gorgeous.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 17:57
Okay, so Jackie is pregnant with her first child. And honestly, things are going pretty smoothly. Sure, she might doze off here and there. But as the ever high functioning type a rising grinder that she is she was nailing the demands of her pregnancy and her job. But all the while she was holding this 20 week scan as that final box, she had to check the box that said ding healthy pregnancy all is good. Technically, it’s referred to as a 20 week anatomy scan where they basically check everything out all the major organs and body parts. And just make sure it’s looking like a viable human 10 fingers and toes check, four chambers of the heart check to eyeballs check essentially, every other scan or bloodwork or test up until that 20 weeks has a caveat that’s like looks good but let’s wait till we get to 20 to be sure. And all the while your body is changing and growing and you’re falling in love with this tiny little alien that’s growing inside of you. And because of the stories she was covering, she refused to even announce the pregnancy publicly until she got the all clear at her 20 week scan. So needless to say there was a lot of pressure going into it.
On this day, I got this like tiny older lady who was just like kind of lovely. Where it felt like she was giving us grades the whole time so everything was like lungs. Beautiful. Head looking good. Kidneys, gorgeous. Every I was like damn we’re killing it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 19:44
You love to get an A plus. I love to get an A plus. It’s part of your personality.
And I hate silence. Really hate silence. So typically the scans were really uncomfortable for me because it just was like somebody jamming a wand into my stomach quietly. So yeah, this lady was awesome, because she really let me know what was what. The problem was that you have to get through all of these things. And she’d been really clear that like, sometimes the baby doesn’t cooperate. So we gotten through all of the angles, except for the hand and the spine, oddly enough, so the thing that was like so excited to see, the baby just couldn’t get into that position. And the other important thing to say at this point is that I had not yet felt the baby move. And this is around the point that that would typically happen. So, you know, I hadn’t, I hadn’t felt the baby move. And they, we just couldn’t get this right angle. And it’s one of those moments where it’s like, she asked me to get up, you do like jumping jacks, you touch your toes, she tells you to empty your bladder, like everything that you can think of, to sort of move, nothing worked. And so by the time we got to an hour, she was like, You know what, things look good. We’re not getting the spine, we’re not getting the hands. She’s just too active. She’s like, not cooperative. Come back next time, but things are fine. So we left being like, we nailed the scan, like we passed, I texted everybody that we were cool, I officially started sharing the news with people, we felt good, it felt really, really good. You can’t go back for another scan that week, because of insurance, like they just won’t pay for two scans in a week. So I had to wait a week and go in, so at 21 weeks, we went in and they were like this is going to be you’re gonna be in and out, you just have to get two angles. So we went in, and this time, I had quiet tech again. So it just was like quietly trying to get these. And yet again, I still hadn’t felt the baby move and the baby was not getting into the position. And luckily, she was able to get some angles of the spine, but they were like partial. And it just got like more and more and more quiet as she was figuring stuff out. But because we were seeing some partial images, it still felt like we were we were okay. So she said, You know, I think I think we’ve got it. I’m not sure that because I never got the exact position that we need to let me go confer with doctor and just see if you’re good to go. She came back, but it was a different doctor than I usually get. And the doctor introduced herself as h I’m part of the high-risk OB GYN team. And immediately, it was like, I’ve been duped. Because I had, again, just been producing these stories that all have this moment where it’s like, and then the doctor came in the room. But for me, the story is typically I knew there was a problem when they went to get the doctor. And for me it was like I didn’t even know I didn’t know that we were in that category. Like I genuinely was like, let’s see if those images are enough. So when they came back and said that they were part of the high risk team, it was like, it just was it felt like time had stopped, every hair in the back of my neck was standing up.
And the doctor said that they found something on the spine. And that it looked small, it was hard to see because they weren’t able to get a clearer image. And that they weren’t sure exactly what it was. And because they weren’t sure, they needed us to get more information. But she could tell that I wasn’t taking in any information at that point. Like I just felt like I was like not I was like not in reality out anymore. Out of my body. Really couldn’t hear what she was saying and just kept again, like I like became fixated on the scenario where I was like, Oh my God, how did I not see this coming? How did I not see this coming as opposed to just like being present in the moment. And I think that she could tell. So instead of even trying to keep talking to me, she wrote down three possible diagnoses on the paper and was basically like, just take these with you and know that they range in severity. The top option, you’re looking at some, you know, this would be a severe fetal abnormality. The last option, you would be looking at emergency surgery after she’s born and a stay in the NICU, but largely a normal life. The part though that snapped me back into reality is that she said if you’re thinking about terminating this pregnancy, you have very little time to make that decision. So for me, the timespan between, we’re good to go. And there’s a problem to the concept of ending this pregnancy was so fast and so shocking. And the thing about it is that no one can tell you what to do with these decisions. And so of course my first question was, is that something I should be considering? And she was like, just, it’s something you’re gonna have to think about because there’s a cut off in New York State. And you are really right around it right now. At the time, it looked like it was the least serious of all of them, which made me feel so much better. It was like I had to let go of some things but it was like of these three it really It does look like it’s going to be this thing that you’ll be able to have, you’ll be able to remedy with surgery, and then she’ll be able to have a typical life. But even the lowest state option felt like such a loss. It was like I had imagined, because all of my friends had had difficulty with their actual births. And I knew that birth plans were sort of stupid, the only thing I had held on to was, like, I just want a baby, like, I just want to be able to have a baby and however she gets into the world will be great. And then we will spend time together. So even the idea of emergency surgery and NICU felt like a loss of that dream. And you just start thinking about all of these possibilities of any of these diagnoses, how it goes from being like, we’re good to go, this is a perfect pregnancy to I didn’t even think of all of these things that could be wrong. But only couldn’t hold on to at that point was, we don’t know yet. We have to get more information. And the way to do that was a fetal MRI.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:01
So literally, you’re lying there. And this, this was so hard and fast and sharp and crash, bang, boom, like did it feel that way to you?
It did. I mean, it was a combination of three things. One was, I knew it, I knew it at all of those points previous every previous skin, every previous genetic testing, where I thought to myself, this is the end of the road. And then I finally let myself believe that we were okay after that first 20 week scan was like, oh, I just was like beating myself up to ever have hope that this was going to work out. So that that was one thing was like, what an idiot, I was to think that I was gonna get to have had this pregnancy. The other thing that was hard was the I deserve this, because I had not done all of the things leading up to getting pregnant, that would have been that ideal. You know, it’s like, you know, I’m not super fit, I’m not, you know, doing prenatal yoga, like all of that stuff was like, if I had done that, then this wouldn’t be happening. And then the other part that is just so stupid was like, I’m stuck in the kind of story that we produce. And so that part too was like this karmic, like this is what you get. Then now you’re in a Last Day story, you’re in a Lemonada story. And all of that just felt extremely sad and overwhelming. It was bad.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 27:36
It was bad. But when bad stuff happens, you really have no other choice than to put one very reluctant foot in front of the other and move forward. In this case, the next step was to go in for a fetal MRI. So they could determine which of the three possible diagnoses they were looking at. And that process alone was incredibly difficult.
The only time that they have available for this very intense scan is my 34th birthday. So it was like, fine, that’s fine. So that day, you know, I go, you get into your gown. And it had not occurred to me how uncomfortable it would be to be that pregnant in an MRI machine. And so getting into an MRI machine, almost 22 weeks pregnant at that point, flat on my back, was in some ways, the first thing that was all I could think about it just was I was in so much pain, I was so uncomfortable. And it’s allowed. It’s not like a usual MRI machine that just sounds like tapping, it actually had almost like an alarm quality to it. So I’m 22 weeks pregnant. It’s my birthday. I’m in pain. And this alarm is blaring in my ears. And all I could think about was like how did I get here. And so then I’m trying not to cry and try not to shake because if you shake and cry, they can’t get a clearer image. So trying to calm myself down. There’s no button to like be an emotional support person here because it’s just me and a bunch of MRI techs that are just like ma’am Could you could you try to like you know, you have to be still you have to be still try holding your breath. So I’m like sitting there trying to hold my breath. And because the baby is still so small, I ended up being in the machine for two hours to try to get the scan. And so for two hours I just every two minutes was holding my breath trying to get the scan, the alarm would go off and then we would do it again and again and again. I would say that was definitely one of the lowest points of just I mean, feeling so completely alone, but just having an out of body experience of like, again, going from having this charmed pregnancy to just feeling like I was in a hellscape. I could not escape it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:13
Literally trapped, literally trapped. And it’s your fucking birthday.
It’s my birthday wish I’m not even like a birthday person, but it just was like, it just was the fact of it. The other thing was I think I was in major magical thinking at this point of being like, it’s got to be taken this long. Because it’s such a small problem. It’s so hard to see, like, maybe this is a really good sign. And they can’t find the thing because it’s, it’s not a big deal. Which is like crazy. But it’s really, what I think was going through my head was like, you know, if it was a larger abnormality, I’d be in, I’d be out, we would know. Whereas it’s so teeny tiny. It’s the kind of thing that’s gonna get fixed with surgery. You know, this is painful now. But this is what it takes to get the answer that we need, which is everything’s going to be okay.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 31:28
And when do you get the results of the MRI? What happens then?
So they were going to give it to us the next day, you know, we had an actual call with the high risk obstetrician. And so that was the plan. So because we knew it’s gonna be a whole day that we had to get through. I got home and Justin and one of my best friends, James, we’re home to basically be like, distraction crew. So the plan was to like, watch a Whoopi Goldberg movie. Ice cream cake, because those are like my two comforts. An ice cream cake was like all that anyone could think to comfort me and felt pretty good at the time. But right, right around the time that we were watching the movie, my phone rings, and it’s the hospital. She says, you’re going to get results automatically sent to your patient portal, oh, God. And I wanted to make sure that we had a chance to talk, you’re going to get the full details tomorrow. But and so just her saying that was like it’s got to be bad enough that she’s literally rushing at like nine in the evening. To give me this news. And basically, what she says is that she’s sorry to tell me that of the range of options. It is not the least serious. But it’s the most severe that they had thought it could be. And that it actually was more severe than they had initially thought. So she gave me a new diagnosis. And basically was like, please don’t Google this. Don’t, you know, just try to wait as much as you can until you can talk to the doctor tomorrow. And it was another moment where it just felt like time stood still. And I just remember getting off the phone, having to go back into the living room and explain to James and Justin who I was talking to. And mid-explanation the doorbell rings, and it’s an ice cream cake being delivered.
Then we had to have all of these serious conversations while an ice cream cake melted and Whoopi Goldberg is frozen. Still on my TV.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:08
So what words do you say to Justin, how is he responding to all of this in the moment?
So Justin’s a logistics guy, but he’s also the most like optimistic we stick to the plan. I believe there’s going to be a way I mean, like truly, anytime there was a problem, it was like, you know it, I think it’s gonna be okay. Like, Let’s not buy into this. It’s going to be fine. You’re going to be fine. We’re going to be fine. There is nothing that we cannot figure out. And, you know, I had gotten off the phone with a doctor and called my mom because my mom’s a nurse and I gave her the new diagnosis and she was like, okay, you don’t google it, but I’m going to look into this a little bit. Say goodbye to James. She calls me back. And you know, she just was like Jack, I’ve Googled this we’re at a different camp now. This is much more serious. And she’s like, I just, I think that we need to actually start thinking about all of our options. And for my mother, who, you know, by the way, has no grandchildren had been dreaming about this baby for much longer than I had been dreaming, for her to even bring that up, for me was like, a real realization that this was much more serious than anything we had been talking about. So then to have to talk to Justin about it. He was not in that camp. He didn’t, he just wasn’t thinking about it. And he said, he said, listen, all I care about is can she still love me? And can I still love her? As long as that’s, as long as that’s true, that’s all I care about. And that was really hard. Because for me, I had this brief moment where I thought, I don’t know if I feel that way. Even in this mode of denial, and trying to think about the best thing, I really started to think about quality of life and what we were talking about. And all of a sudden, it was the first time that I asked myself, I don’t know if I want this. And that felt like I was this monster and Justin was this like incredible, you know, more loving, more compassionate person. And my mom had the foresight to say, texture therapist, and see if he’s free to talk to both of you tomorrow. So I texted my therapist, and I told him what was going on? And he said, I’m free right now, do you want to have a call right now? And so Justin, and I had a phone call with my therapist. And, you know, beyond talking through all of the typical stuff of just, this is trauma, this is shocking. How do we get through this experience? And what do we have to do next? He then said, Do you mind if we just go through a little bit of a checklist to make sure that you both even understand what it is that you’re talking about? Because it seems like there might be misalignment of what you both want to do next. But I want to make sure that you both have the same definition of reality, because he knows me, and he’s like you are likely 20 steps ahead and future vision. And I’m not sure that Justin has arrived there yet. So he went through a checklist that was basically like, if it’s a child who can never walk has no, you know, has no motor skills? How would we feel a child who needs to be fed through a feeding tube, a child who’s not able to swallow a child, you know, just going through all of the symptoms that we were talking about. And shockingly, Justin very quickly was like, oh, no, that would not be what I would hope for this child. And immediately, it was actually clear that we were on the same page. And from that point, it was the most helpful conversation we’ve ever had. Because otherwise, I think this would have been a really, truly terrible experience. I think we needed to get on the same page in that moment.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 38:12
Look, I know this show is called Last Day, but a lot of times the stories could more accurately be called bleak week, or the worst fucking month of my life. In this case, Jackie essentially signed off from her email and Slack, retreated to her mom’s house with Justin and hunkered down to navigate some impossible choices. What this essentially amounted to was a lot of crying, and a lot of information gathering. One doctor walk them through what it would look like if she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. Another was the pediatric neurosurgeon they’d be working with, if she went ahead with the pregnancy.
The neurosurgeon was like, listen, you’re in a very rare moment, because typically, this doesn’t get diagnosed until much later. And most people by the time they find out, there’s nothing that they can do. And we do the best that we can. But I’m with these kids for their whole life. And it’s very hard, you’re looking at a lifetime of surgeries. And I don’t know that people would choose that if they weren’t given a choice, and you’ve been given a choice. And then we talked to the other doctor who walked through what it would mean to end the pregnancy. You know, they have to go through all the risks, they have to go through all of that. And by the end of that conversation, I just was like, completely destroyed because I knew what we were going to do. But it was terrible, because even though everybody was with me, my mother, my husband, I had to actually make the Decision felt like, it just felt like I then became complicit with the loss. It wasn’t something that had happened to me it was something that I was choosing. That was so complicated, because especially with this, it’s something that I’ve always believed in. I am so staunchly pro-choice and end believe it’s not something to feel guilty about. It’s not something to feel ashamed about. But because I suddenly found myself in the ultra-tragic, ultra-uncommon story. I just felt such guilt and shame, such immense guilt and shame. That week, was so painful because it was us saying goodbye to her. But we tried as much as possible. As much as it was terrible to also make it beautiful time between me and her. So it was just sitting in the sun imagining her feeling that singing to her telling her how much I loved her and how sorry I was, Justin’s parents came down they got to be with us but it was just terrible knowing that at the end of that week she would be gone.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 39:54
Everybody breathe. Too much crying.
Okay, take a ticket for I will say though. This is what the experience was like was it never got worse than this, this moment. I’m not gonna say that it was all up from here. But it never got worse, this was the low point.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:32
So following the lowest point, Jackie had to go in for the procedure itself, which was a two day ordeal thus far along in her pregnancy. She said she felt like a monster walking into the hospital, but was met with nothing but kindness and compassion from the staff. Still, she and Justin walked into the same hospital, they would have delivered their baby a few months later. And the alternate version of the story. When they left, they would have strapped her into the car seat with her little knit cap on and adorable newborn onesie, driving nervously and cautiously all the way home. Instead, Jackie, and Justin left the hospital by themselves. Meanwhile, life carried on Jackie eventually came back to work and did everything she could to put it all behind her.
A few things started to happen to me and like the weeks and months afterwards. One of them was this aching feeling of missing her, which was very confusing because I didn’t like she never really hard to say did she exist she not existed, like even trying to define that was really painful and hard. But where she was real was a she felt she was always with me. So really pedestrian things suddenly became really triggering. So even just talking the concept of having a voice, singing, listening to music, all of these things were things that I would just be through my day and think I’m doing this with her she’s a part of this experience. So trying to do any of that going back into a meeting setting and just be like, I’m sitting here talking all day and I am alone. The feeling of being alone again, was really, really intense. And that was something where it was like clearly Justin was with me throughout this experience. But he was not with her the same way that I was and therefore didn’t have that sense of just being empty afterwards. And then it was hard. It was hard to figure out how to go on with my life this way because a pregnancy has such a clear beginning and end. So I had to live through the rest of what would have been my pregnancy leading up to then a due date. So that that time between June and September was miserable because the whole time I felt like I was like in this alternate reality that was not supposed to exist. So and we had had, we had had things that we were looking forward to. So it was like, Oh, we always go to, you know, the lake with Justin’s parents. And we had imagine, oh, this year, when we go for Justin’s birthday to the lake, I’m going to be eight months pregnant. Huge, huge. And Justin was like, you should get a bikini of us to be like, huge and inter tube, it’s just gonna be a big belly out. He was just like this image, we like thought about it, which again, was like funny because it was like, so not me. But like, we were both gonna, like really lean into it. And then we just still went to the lake, but there was like, no bikini and no baby. And Justin and his family. You know, the thing that felt right was just trying to like, be normal. And this was their time to just be happy that they were together. But then I was just like, the ghost of Justin’s wife haunting their vacation, you know, because like, I’m in this alternate reality, where all I can think about is like, how are we not crying and screaming, and aware of the fact that she’s not here with us, like, she’s supposed to be here with us. And that was hard, like this constant feeling of like, I’m still grieving and empty, like the physical feeling of also, just not being pregnant anymore was really painful. And there was nothing you can do them, like, you just have to keep going through this time. And then like living through the due date, that never will be, I had a lot of just like very specific images. Like I try not to get my hopes up about little things. And yet the idea of like the little newborn in the little blanket with the little hat, and like nursing her in my room, like all of that felt like I can’t, I cannot wait. The due date was in September, I imagine like, oh, the first holiday we’re gonna go to as my family’s did to lose worth of celebration, like what a beautiful opportunity to introduce her to my family. I imagined Christmas like I just without even realizing I had done it really had grown attached to the stream of what that life was going to be like with her. We named her. All of it was hard. I mean, even that was, you know, as much as I try not to get my hopes up, we fell in love with a name for her around like 12 weeks, and we just knew it was like she was Fiona. And loved it. I still love that name. But that that made it all very hard when things started to fall apart. Because it wasn’t just this pregnancy is not looking viable. It was like, what’s going to happen to Fiona?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 47:33
The movies in our minds could win Academy Awards, couldn’t they? Just so specific, and vivid and clear. And then all of a sudden, when you feel like you’ve wandered onto the wrong set, and they’re making some shitty horror movie, rather than the rom com you wrote, produced, directed and starred in, it can feel completely devastating.
We were still deep, deep in our grief. Like I would sort of feel like I was like, all the way to coming to peace with it. And then again, I would like see something or someone would say something and I would be thrown right back into it. And into it was either like grieving her being miserable or hating myself just feeling so guilty. So then it was like, Great, let’s make a baby. I’m like, totally able to do that. It was insane. And unlike the first time where I felt like it was so loosey goosey. The only way I could feel better was to be so rigid and controlling. So I was like, you know, not just tracking my period. I was not just doing that. I was doing the like dipping sticks in urine three times a day to see how much I’m ovulating and the writer Oh, yeah. All of it. And so we were also then trying to get our home renovated, which was the other fucked up part was like, Okay, well, I guess we’re still going to do this. Then I realized, oh, wait, I’m ovulating. If I if I leave the city while construction is happening, then we can’t make a baby and we have to do that because I don’t want to wait too long. So we knew we were going to get like a hotel room to try and just like it’s like so crass, but like we got to make a baby. And then I don’t know if you remember this, we got fleas. It was like everything was going wrong. We have a cat colony in the backyard and just because he’s a nice fucking person decided to volunteer his time to clean up the backyard and the feral cats gave him fleas, which gave me fleas. We’re in a hotel room with fleas being like, let’s make a baby. It was terrible. I was like covered and calamine lotion was monstrous
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 49:40
experience with terrible science experiment.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 49:44
So you have You have please sex.
Great. Yeah, please sex in downtown Brooklyn. And in a hotel, which by the way, was not nice. I made the real mistake of being like ooh boutique hotel, you know boutique hotel means? Small, gross, small and gross.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 50:03
So yeah, way back motel and yeah, boom, boom, boom.
Exactly. And yet, so then. So that’s October, we go home for Day of the Dead in November, which has all of the sort of sad things attached to it because this was supposed to be when the world met Fiona. And this time I had the pregnancy test with me. And you’re supposed to test first thing in the morning. First, pee is the most potent. And unlike the last time, I was like, counting down the days when I can do it. And so early, early in the morning, like five in the morning, it was just me in the bathroom took a test. And again, the words popped up pregnant. And I just couldn’t believe it that yet again, we had really gotten lucky. And really on our first try, were able to get pregnant again. And it felt like this karmic thing that even though I had wanted the celebration with my family to be when they met Fiona, it seemed really excited I got to be with my whole family, when we realized that we were pregnant again. So that was really nice.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 51:03
Sharing the news with her family, and with Justin was a huge first step. The things were different this time, she tried to do a big reveal for Justin but the hysterics of the first time were replaced with a much more subdued reaction. They were both working really hard to not get their hopes up.
I mean, I didn’t get to enjoy any part of this pregnancy really, I was like, from beginning to end. I just was like, we can’t bond with this baby. We can’t make plans for this baby. This baby has no name. Like let’s really try to make this as absolutely removed as possible. And working from home was in some ways helpful because it just was like I live from like my neck up as a human. Do you mean it was like I don’t even exist below here. I don’t think about my body. I don’t want to like tenderly touch my belly. I don’t want to take any photos. Like there’s no documentation of this one. It’s it was really a pretty dissociated experience.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 52:08
And how is the 20 week scan?
Oh my god, the 20 week scan was. So we took the day off both of us. We went to the scan and who should her ultrasound tech be? But it was that short, little lady, which was exciting, but also felt like she was kind of the harbinger of doom. Oh, shit. And so yeah, I was holding my breath throughout that whole thing. And sure enough, the baby didn’t get perfectly into the position for the spine. And I was like losing I was it was not great. And then sure enough, it was like, Oh, we press in the right direction. And she rolled over and it was there. And it was like beautiful. And it was like everything that you’re hoping for. And we got our badge of approval. And we had to ask her like three times, we’re like, you’re sure everything’s okay. Everything was okay. Just to confirm you’re saying it is okay. Could you write it on a piece of paper that this is okay. And it was so exciting that we went to the Natural History Museum afterwards and went to the planetarium and it was just like this lovely, lovely experience of feeling like we could be a little bit happy.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 53:18
So you are at 40 weeks, it’s time and you go to the hospital, what happens?
So we went and it was like, dancing, singing with her. It was a big moment for me to be able to in this second pregnancy get to a point where it felt good to listen to music and sing again. And it was just a wonderful experience to be going through contractions feeling her move, playing her music and feeling like we were both like ushering each other through this experience. And they came in and they were like you’re a first time mom is going to take a long time, we’re going to check your dilation, but you’ve probably got hours to go. They checked and they were like nope, you are ready right now. And so it was like I was immediately dilated. Then my doctor came I was lucky that my actual doctor got to you know, be the one to deliver it. But she was like, listen, my shift is over in two hours. Your first time mom pushing can take up to two hours. Let’s just see how you’re doing. She looked she was like, ah, nevermind, I’m going to be delivering your baby because it’s gonna happen right now. And sure enough, I pushed for like 15 minutes and Taya was in the world. And it was amazing. It was like just yeah, my birth experience was awesome. I have to say after like a lot of really hard stuff in the middle. Yeah, every everything from the minute I got to the hospital was just wonderful and beautiful and she was gorgeous from the beginning. I look back and I’m like what she really she actually was like she was she just was beautiful and immediately alert and interesting. Like she just was fabulous from the very beginning.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 54:55
And do you feel like you finally could breathe? Did you feel a sense of relief that you hadn’t felt in a long time?
Well, they, they brought her over, she was in the little blanket of the little hat and everything that I had been really fixated of what I had wanted. So when it was real, and she was sitting on my chest, it just was like, the greatest moment because it did, it felt like I had gotten there, I gotten to this endpoint. And of course, it was like the beginning of a much longer journey, but it felt like I had survived. And in my body that I had been up for so long had gotten me there. And my partner like it just felt like all of the things that I had been sort of dissociated from felt like it snapped into something that I could be aware and alive and with everybody again.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 55:48
How old is Taya today?
Just turned seven months. She’s moving, she’s babbling. She’s just like, I will say, it’s hard. It’s hard having an infant. But this experience, I think I would have had a completely different experience if it wasn’t for everything that happened to me. Because of that, I am grateful for everything. I have the most blissful relationship with her because I’m just so happy and grateful for all of it. It’s like she, she slept perfectly for the first three months, and then changed her mind. At four months. It just stopped sleeping. So for five weeks, I just was up every 45 minutes with this baby who suddenly hated me. And even that was like, isn’t this great? That’s terrible. It was terrible. But it was also like, how lucky am I to be on a yoga ball at three in the morning with this baby?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 56:47
How have you changed? I mean, like, you went through the absolute worst thing that ever happened? You got the best thing that ever happened. How have you changed?
I think I’m less rigid. We could joke about it. But I think I am. I think the biggest thing is that my priorities have shifted. And in a way that I think when people have talked to me about this before with like kids, it’s kind of like weird feminists button where it’s like, I don’t want I don’t want a baby to change everything that I am and everything that’s important to me. But I will say, having had a baby after everything, it’s like, my concept of what’s important, and what is valuable is very different now. And so just realizing that it’s like my time with her is from 5:30 to 7, I hold that time really preciously. And I savor every part of it, it’s like, I’m never late to my time with her. I never skip out on that. Like, it’s really, really clear of what it’s like, if I if I miss bath time, it feels like a real loss for me. Whereas if I don’t get to read those emails right away, it’s like, it’s fine. Like, nothing bad is gonna happen.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 57:55
And in that is also presence.
It’s small stuff. It’s like, my favorite moment of the day, is like when she goes to bed as like, I’m feeding her last bottle, and she just looks so satisfied. And I think to myself, like you’re satisfied with your life, and I’ve taken good care of you today. And you’ve had a great day, and I’ll see you tomorrow is just like, the best. It’s like this wonderful, wonderful thing. It’s like and we get to do this again tomorrow. And that feeling of just like nothing is happening right now. And it’s great. It’s like so great.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 58:26
Yeah, you’re such a good mom Jackie.
It just feels good.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 58:35
Beautiful to watch and like as somebody who loves you so deeply. My heart was just broken for you and me You’re so loved everyone loves you. You are so beloved and to see you in this place of joy and to see you with this exceptional baby. I am not her mother so I can tell you that she is exceptional. Is just Yeah, it’s everything. I’m just so fucking happy for you and I just love you so much and I love her and I just love that the story ended like this.
Yeah, I think we can only talk about the story because it ended like this. Like I’m not sure actually if I would be able to like go through this and see the lessons if I didn’t if it didn’t end this way.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 59:27
Are you okay?
I feel great. I’m gonna go hang out with my baby afterwards like that’s the great thing.
Thank you so much for listening. There is even more LAST with Apple Premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to content like Jackie’s advice for anyone experiencing something similar to what she went through. You can sign up now on Apple podcasts. LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to bit.ly/lastdaystories, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.