a slightly revised version of this now lives at huffington post. click here to read it. (your support has been gracious and sustaining. thank you.)
I started bleeding on Sunday.
Just a little.
I know bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy can be a normal symptom of a normal pregnancy. Two full term pregnancies into my reproductive adventures, I also know it isn’t normal for me. But it is normal for some people. I don’t mind being some people once in awhile.
And so I didn’t worry too much.
When I woke up Monday morning, I’d bled through my clothes and onto the sheets.
Riley came home early from work and we went to the hospital.
They have you register in a little office with silk plants on the bookshelf before they let you follow the signs to where they do the ultrasounds.
I tried to stay calm. Rubbed my fingers against each other while the smiling woman asked questions.
“Alright then, and it looks like you have a PPO?”
Let me see my baby
“We have your husband as your emergency contact, is that still correct?”
“Sure thing. That still okay with you?” A playful head toss towards quiet Riley.
The baby belongs to him too
“Alright. And let’s see if I have any other questions here….”
Is my baby still alive
“Well, as long as this information looks correct to you…”
This baby seemed right
“...great then, hon. You two are just going to take a left out of here, follow the signs to ultrasound down that long hallway, and right before you hit the exit, turn left then right then left. Mmmmkay? Good luck now.”
Are you lucky baby
A long hallway and I wanted to walk out the exit. We turned left and then right and then left again instead. There was one more desk and one more screen to sign before I was allowed to lay down.
“Alright, pull your pants down around your hips. Gel on your tummy and here we go.”
The ultrasound technician is quiet and takes pictures.
Can you see my baby
“Now I need you to empty your bladder. The bathroom’s down the hall. When you come back take everything off from the waist down and put this sheet over you. I'll come back in once you're situated.”
Riley asks if he should go with me. He’s worried about me. I’ll be right back.
When I get to the bathroom and pull down my underwear, the blood slips out of me. It’s thick now and coats the inside of my thighs before I can sit down on the toilet. There are bright red clots. Small and new. I take a deep breath.
I don't think that is my baby
A few minutes to clean myself up. Wipe up the parts of myself that have dripped onto the toilet seat and floor. Walking back to the exam room, I try to pull myself inward, to steady the spilling, afraid of getting blood on the tech.
Back on the table. Riley sitting in the corner. He’s looking at me, and I know he’s got me. But motherhood - even when it is slipping out of you - is like grief. I’ve never learned how to share it. I keep my eyes on the ceiling.
The tech clears her throat.
“Could you raise your bottom and put both fists under each cheek? I’m just not getting a clear enough look here.”
I can and I do, but as I shift I feel a line of red move out of me and down my thigh. I can’t hold myself in. I apologize, but don’t know if she hears me.
Can you hear my baby
It’s a ridiculous position and my arms and legs start to shake while she moves the ultrasound wand inside of me and looks at the screen.
“Alright. You ready to look?”
She holds a mirror out to me, permission to abandon the unsteady support of at least one of my ass cheeks. I take the mirror with my left hand, position it toward the screen and try to continue the whole butt elevation job with just my right. This is no small feat. We must take our victories where we find them.
Relieved of duty, my left hand still shakes.
I can't see my baby
“So here’s what we’ve got. There’s still a sack there. And there’s a very tiny embryo inside of it. But it’s two weeks smaller than it should be. And if there is a heartbeat, it’s slow. But it’s hard to tell if there is one. As of right now...you’re still pregnant.”
Will the baby keep?
No one knows. Ask a doctor. More tests. Tomorrow.
When we leave, there’s blood on the exam table. I’m embarrassed.
There was some hope over the next two days.
I'm trying to hold onto you baby
But eventually, the blood came quicker and the cramps dug in deeper. I wept on the toilet while the future fell out of me. A few minutes to clean myself up. To wipe up the parts of you and me that had splashed onto the toilet seat and floor.
I’m glad the kids were still in school when it happened.
I'm sorry I couldn't find you baby
I’ve always wondered why women were so quiet about miscarriage. I used to think it was misplaced shame. And there is some of that. But there is something else, too. Motherhood is grief. It can’t be shared. I can’t make my eyes find those that seek to steady me from the corner. But I can feel them looking at me, I know they've got me.
I watched TV all day today. Riley came home from work early. Took the girls for donuts. We ate dinner a friend had dropped by with a note that said, “We don’t need any of these containers back.” The best kind of note.
Did you know you are more fertile after a miscarriage?
And that after one miscarriage your odds of having a second miscarriage don’t increase?
Did you know that many people are able to conceive within three months of a miscarriage?
Or that you can start trying again as soon your blood registers zero pregnancy hormones?
Did you know that miscarriage isn’t anyone’s fault?
Did you know I don’t believe that embryos are soul endowed, so all this sorrow is for a hope and not a reality and that should ease the pain?
Did you know there is really no way to stop an active miscarriage before the twelfth week?
Did you know that the more women talk about miscarriage, the less stigma there will be? The more support they will receive? And support means hope and love and understanding?
Did you know hope and love and understanding help?
Did you know your body is a wondrous machine and that embryo was a wondrous machine and both most likely recognized that the embryo couldn’t survive because of chromosomal abnormalities that would not have allowed sustained life?
Which means that (despite its etymology) miscarriage generally isn’t an error, but rather the result of things working well?
Today, I knew those things.
But tonight. Tonight as I followed Riley up the stairs, I had to hold onto the banister.
That baby. The one that was going to come May 12th. The one the girls drew pictures of and picked out names for over dinners. (“Mom. This is the baby going to the zoo with me.” “How about Hazel?”) The one that was going to be my last. That felt as new as my first. That baby, not the one that will come later. The one I don’t get to have. I could taste her. I could feel her against my skin and between my teeth. I felt nauseated for her and dizzy with her disappearance.
Here you are baby
I had to stop and shake the smell of her out of my nostrils and lift her hands out of my hair.
Riley at the top of the stairs looking down. He's still worried about me. I feel bad I can't be worried about him.
“You coming up to bed, Meggi? Are you okay?”
Yes. And not yet.