In my limited experience, the permanence of death is as annoying as it is sad. When my grandpa died, I didn’t quite understand the import. I grieved the event of his death, but that didn’t stop me from expecting him to resurface eventually. When I struggled to compose my first outline in my high school history class, it irritated me that no phone yet invented would bring me his help. I scanned the crowd for my grandparents at my graduation three years later, becoming irked when I realized that he hadn’t returned to help my grandma travel again. Older but apparently no wiser, I hung my head when my birthday card from my first best friend, Lena, failed to arrive this year. I understand that cancer took them both, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that it’s never going to give them back.
This summer, Ian and I expected a baby to arrive during the first week of April 2011. At eight weeks along, we watched our little embryo’s heart flutter on the ultrasound screen, but the doctor thought he/she looked too small and asked us to come back in a week. We prepared ourselves for the worst, and sure enough, the next test showed no pitter patter of little atria. The OB advised us that I could A) wait to miscarry naturally, B) take Misoprostol to induce the inevitable miscarriage, or C) undergo a D and C (short for “dilation and curretage”), a procedure otherwise known as “uterine scraping.” Still in a daze, we boarded a redeye headed to D.C. for Viv’s godmother’s wedding a few hours later.
Of course I felt melancholy for a while (despite my best efforts to experience and exhibit nothing but joy over a truly perfect pairing). Even though my connection with this little one paled in comparison to my love for Viv, I had grown to care deeply about the seedling in the month that I rejoiced in knowing I was pregnant. In the middle of the night, during that terrible week of uncertainty, I even gave him/her permission to let his/her heart stop beating if the struggle to keep it going became too difficult; “don’t fret, little one,” I thought, “it’s okay if you need to rest.” I later tried to embrace this seemingly foolish maternal attachment to something the size of a grape and selected both a gender and name: Demi, short for embryonic demise, her official diagnosis.
For me though, the pure sadness wasn’t the worst part. The news that I had lost the baby shook my world, because both the event and attendant hormones changed my perspective on just about everything. I went from healthily and responsibly carrying around a few pounds of extra padding for the benefit of an unborn child to being just plain chubby all over again. My acceptance of near-constant nausea and exhaustion as serving another life instantaneously morphed into frustration at feeling simply sick. Big sister in the making no more, Viv looked like an only child to me for the first time.
Worse yet is what the lawyer in me likes to call the expectation measure of damages. As a routine-bound person, one of the only things I hate more than change itself is a last-minute change of plans. The most difficult part of the entire experience was the direct assault on my to-do list and other details of my vision for the future. Big picture, nothing changed. We’re young and healthy; Viv will know the joy of siblings that Ian and I both cherish. But we won’t be taking a newborn to France with us in June, our efforts to schedule Skype sessions to share the happy news need not continue, I won’t be growing big in the belly with my pregnant friends, I don’t have to retrieve maternity clothes from storage, and the “new member of the family” picture books must be returned to the library. Since the baby clearly became too sick to be meant to be, I lost nothing of current value; yet I suddenly found myself robbed of an investment I had expected to reap huge emotional reward during the coming year, and all that follow.
Thanks to the week of preparation, by the time our wheels touched down in D.C., the tide of dismay and disappointment caused by this mental sea change had ebbed, leaving mostly annoyance. I started to grapple with the physical ramifications when we arrived at Linda’s house. I stared open-mouthed at the lovely white furnishings that I’d never really noticed before. They begged for a magazine spread; I prayed that I didn’t miscarry on them. Or at the wedding. “Oh dear God,” I thought, “please don’t let it start during Kaitlin’s ceremony.” At least the bridesmaid dress was dark blue.
In the end, my body held on to it. There are definitely benefits to having a cervix like a steel trap, but this process wasn’t one of them. Once we arrived home, I took the Misoprostol. After hours of cramping and bleeding, we considered the deed done. Two weeks and one trip to San Francisco later, contraction-type cramping equivalent to early labor with Viv gripped me out of nowhere. When my body’s effort to finish what the drugs had started just didn’t stop, the OB scheduled another ultrasound. I figured that a finite amount of material builds up in there; the more that came out, the less I thought was left behind. It turns out, what I’ll call the pregnant tissue turns the normal uterine tissue into a blood factory. Without modern medicine, the small amount of pregnant tissue to which my body clung would have kept the bleeding going until an infection bloomed and I died. Finding this scenario unappealing, I scheduled the D and C required by my diagnosis (horrifyingly labeled “spontaneous abortion,” as if on a whim I’d turned to Ian and said, “what the hey, let’s pull the ripcord on this puppy and try to catch happy hour”). In other words, whereas the doctor offered us three options, apparently my body chose “D. All of the above.”
During the D and C, the unthinkable happened: I laughed. In fact, I couldn’t stop giggling the entire time. Relief definitely played a role. The internet and OB prepared me for a significant amount of pain, but the procedure felt like small beans: lentils next to the big ol’ butter beans of the natural cramping the week before, Viv’s labor, and the pain occasionally caused by my Celiac disease. Yet my chuckles emanated more from the pure hilarity of the scene. The OB and nurse pulled what looked like a vacuum cleaner up next to the examination table. When they started, I couldn’t stop thinking that I’d felt a hose-like object shoot stuff up there before, but never take anything out. Having reverse sex with two unknown women to the hum of a Hoover while holding my husband’s hand struck me as ridiculously funny.
Many readers, particularly the squeamish among you, must be asking why on earth I would blog about such personal details. There’s the fact that I’ve always been an open book, and writing both frees me of the need to recount an event repeatedly and facilitates my emotional postmortem. On this subject, however, I made a considered decision to bolster the online consciousness and my loved ones’ awareness, primarily out of obedience to the golden rule.
I knew the numbers: between thirty and fifty percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage (one could actually say that my hardship over the last three months hasn’t been in vain since, statistically speaking, I increased my chances of bearing a healthy baby the next time around). I understood why people generally wait until twelve weeks to share their prenatal news. I guess I just figured that certain people – older, sicker women who are less disciplined about taking the recommended vitamins – skewed the data. Since I started recounting the story of my summer, I learned that many of my friends and family members lost babies. If I had known beforehand, maybe I could have controlled my expectations and in so doing lessened the emotional impact of our loss; at the very least, I would not have spent hours searching for the perfect “big sister” t-shirt. With familiar faces on the fairly taboo topic, I think I also would have felt less alone, recognizing the empathetic ears around me and refusing to blame my choices and my body in order to honor theirs.
I’m additionally motivated to add my voice to bolster the harmony rather than the chorus. Most tales of miscarriage focus on the physical details and the potential for depression. I saw not one story bemoaning the mental inconvenience involved or allowing even a modicum of humor. Perhaps I’m callous, but if there’s a chance my expression can keep someone else in a tough spot(ting) from feeling heartless, I’ll take it.
On that note, I worry that another point is so obvious that it generally gets ignored: men and women suffer miscarriage differently. Clearly, men don’t undergo the physical process. Ian’s the first to admit that – despite our preconceived (literally) gender egalitarian assumption to the contrary – the whole affair hits women harder mentally too as a direct result of this biological disparity. His body simply didn’t remind him of the pregnancy multiple times an hour during that first month or of the loss of it throughout the next. Nor did he ever wander around like Eeyore, his mood dampened by a dark hormone cloud. Of course fathers feel the loss, but a woman who carries a child experiences its passing uniquely. That is to say, a man and a woman who react asymmetrically shouldn’t feel insensitive and crazy, respectively.
Let there be no doubt that selfishness also prompts my disclosure. Every single time I speak about my miscarriage, whether confiding in a good friend or mentioning the experience in casual conversation, I feel better. The more I treat our loss as a normal part of life, the less somber it becomes.
Possessing a clean bill of health and looking toward the future, I’ve put the disappointment and frustration behind me. Consciously at least. I still find myself arriving at my OB appointments hoping they’ll discover a hidden heartbeat. When Ian said that his parents sent him a great birthday present, the first idea that flitted through my mind was that they’d somehow managed to revive our baby. Once again, it’s the permanence of death that’s the real kicker, or in our case, means this one never will be a kicker.