I took a pregnancy test on the morning of May 14th, my husband’s birthday. I’d had a feeling about it and I thought it would be a nice surprise. Good morning, here’s your coffee, Happy Birthday, here’s a stick I peed on. It’s got a baby in it.
I got back into bed and we both kind of looked at it, our faces lopsided with a jumbly, inchoate collision of mixed emotions. It wasn’t as happy a surprise as I’d imagined. We were both instantly filled with dread. Hope and excitement and joy, but mostly dread. Because we were not born yesterday.
I told him then that this was the last one. I couldn’t do it it anymore. If this one didn’t take, I was done. I asked him to remind me of that if needed, noting that I was at that time sound of mind and body but after a miscarriage all bets are generally off. I start wanting to get pregnant again almost instantly. My body whines and whistles with emptiness, a great soughing wind of grief and void through a collapsing ruin. It is extremely difficult, if not functionally impossible, not to go directly to “maybe next time”. And I knew, in my sound-of-mind-and-body state, that I did not want there to be a next time.
The next weeks passed in relative calm. We are so good at this now. David went on tour and we both settled into the wait, the interminable linoleum muzak-flooded waiting room of the first 15 weeks. We had two good strong heartbeat ultrasounds, but I wasn’t going to get excited. I occupied a bland, vanilla-beige landscape in which I repeatedly assured people that I felt “very mindful” and “very grounded”. It was more or less true. I’d have to say it was probably less mindful than flatline, but it worked. When I expressed doubts or fears one of my closest friends urged me to “stay positive”, and I replied that I couldn’t do “positive” but I was doing an ok job staying out of “negative”. Positive wasn’t a safe place for me. There’s hope in positive, and in hope lies terror and helplessness and the manic negation of everything you believe you know about the way the world works, for you at least. Positive was treacherous territory. Neutral was perfect, and I was a master at neutral.
And when I saw the blood at 11 weeks, alone in the bathroom in an empty house at 11:30 at night, I threw my head back and scrunched my eyes shut groaning, “No no no no no no no…” and knew that it was over.
But I was not surprised.
In the middle-of-the-night ER waiting room I pulled my sweater down over my bare legs and curled up on the couch, the rocketing thrum of my heart playing counterpoint to the grim, weirdly calming certainty of the ache in my back, the increasing cramps. Soon, at least, there would be an answer, and whatever mad little cockeyed optimist bullshit voices that kept piping up in my head would be blasted quiet, and I could get on with things. Whatever that meant.
When they took me back I craned my neck to see the screen from my prone position on the table, every optical nerve straining to find the outline – yes, there it is – stretching and pushing my sight to find that flicker, that precious shimmering butterfly that would mean – please please oh please – this little life still held tight.
I looked and looked and looked till my eyes hurt, and then in a flash I realized: I didn’t have to look anymore. I didn’t have to try to find a flicker of hope on that unfeeling screen. No amount of straining or stretching or searching would matter now. I didn’t have to keep hoping or even staying neutral. I didn’t have to keep wrenching open a space for an impossible possibility. It was ok to let go.
I turned my head and surrendered to a bottomless relief.
Grief and relief, flowing in equal measures around the dead husk of my hope like a felled tree in a fast-running river.
As I drove home, sobbing on the phone to that same close friend who was the only one blessedly awake at 2am, the most pressing thing on my mind was avoiding The Bitterness. The rage, the resentment, the hatred of all Normal People who trot about being all fertile at you while you shrink into weird, twisted shapes, ragged and grating like bone on bone. The alienation, the irrefutable feeling that you are of a different, inferior species; a mule, a chimera. Oh god, it is the worst injury of all the injuries childlessness can deal out. It is acid, nuclear waste, seeping poisonous and inescapable through the veins and eating a swathe of desolation around you that acts like a moat, cutting you off from love and joy and progress and life. I had fought it for 5 years, sometimes winning battles but never the war. I didn’t want to go back there. I could not go back there.
I spent the next 4 days with my sister and her family. They are busy and full of doing, which was lovely to be around. So they rocketed around doing all they do and let me come in and out of involvement as I needed so that I was never alone but never overwhelmed. I grieved with my husband over Skype, my poor husband who was out there in Nowheresville without any of the resources that were gathering around me like an immune response. I tried to tell him about the relief that burrowed in the heart of the grief, how we could maybe start to actually move forward on some of the dreams we put on hold while we waited helplessly to see if an apathetic universe would do us a fucking solid and let us make a baby. Buy a house? Live abroad? Adopt? Go to Burning Man? Probably not that last one, because we are too old for drugs and we like toilets, but you get the picture. We could do anything. Anything. Anything would be better than nothing. And we could act now, do, now that the years of paralysis and waiting were over.
When I went in for the D&C the clinic let me bring my weird stumpy hobbit dog Frodo for comfort and support. It’s hard to be sad around him. He’s just so absurd. I briefly went agro on a protester outside the clinic who simperingly asked me if I needed any “help”, while standing next to a giant photo of a dead fetus. “NO I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP I AM HERE BECAUSE MY BABY IS DEAD AND THESE PEOPLE RIGHT HERE ARE HELPING ME WITH THAT SO STOP TALKING TO ME OR I WILL SCREAM YOUR FACE OFF.” That was pretty much the gist of it anyway. Frodo was aggressively stumpy and funny-looking at her. A woman bringing her daughter in through the same door behind me muttered, “Well said!” as we were buzzed into the lobby.
I got home after recuperating in the bustling bosom of my family and the house looked exactly as it did the morning after the ER. The clothes I had worn to the hospital and numbly stripped off the tomb of my body lay where I had dropped them on the floor next to the bed. The room that would have been the baby’s still collected dust in the same state of limbo-imposed storage-locker disarray. The dishes I had been in the middle of washing when I went to go pee and saw the blood were still in the sink. Everything was frozen in time, a chilled and perfectly preserved despair.
I entered the house and was overrun with The Bitterness.
The story of how I survived, and maybe not won but definitely waged a successful diplomatic campaign to end, the war, can be read here.
Also, here is a picture of my absurd stumpy hobbit dog Frodo. My husband took the picture. It is awesome.