The doctor was brief: She was not pregnant. They would have to wait two months to try again.
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During her second attempt Aug. 1, Howard was more nervous than ever. She hadn't talked to Brian in days, not since he had moved to a desert outpost so remote, he did not even have running water. And Esteban and Jean Michel had flown in to join her.
As they took their places beside her at the examining table, she saw Esteban point to his heart.
"They may not be carrying the child," Howard remembered thinking, "but they're going through all the emotions with me."
A few days later, Howard took two digital home pregnancy tests and checked the tiny screens.
There it was, spelled out: "Pregnant."
She alerted the couple, who were ecstatic. The blood test would be a formality.
But when the doctor reviewed her results, he had bad news. A second test confirmed it. Howard had miscarried.
She could not bring herself to tell Esteban and Jean Michel. She asked the doctor to make the call.
On Jan. 27, Howard returned to the fertility clinic for one last try.
Once again, she was alone. Brian had returned from Iraq at the end of October, but was stationed nearly 200 miles north at Port Hueneme near Oxnard.
Howard went through the familiar routine on the examining table as the doctor transferred two of what he called the healthiest embryos he had ever seen. The French couple had hired a new egg donor.
Later that day, crippling cramps started, so powerful Howard could hardly walk. Then came the cravings: caramel turtles from See's Candies. She'd had similar cravings when she was pregnant with Ezekiel.
Howard bought five home pregnancy tests, and they all told her the same thing: pregnant. This time, she did not tell Esteban and Jean Michel. She could not bear to disappoint them.
She would wait until after the blood test Feb. 9.
The day dawned overcast. By the time Howard drove to the clinic for the test, at 9 a.m., it was raining. The doctor promised to call with the results as soon as he could.
At 1:34 p.m., her cellphone rang as she waited on her living room sofa.
"Congratulations," the doctor said.
The test showed she was probably carrying twins. (Later tests would show they were fraternal twins, due Oct. 15).
With the help of the doctor's assistant, Howard called Esteban with the news.
They laughed together. Then he said something she did not understand.
"He wants to thank you so much for being so strong through the whole thing and sticking with it," the assistant said.
"Thank him for being there for me," Howard said.
Outside, it had stopped raining. Sunbeams peeked through the clouds.