by Dr. Laura Elizabeth
“Can you pull your panties down a little more for me?” the sonographer says.
My brow furrows just a slight bit. My heart starts to flutter ever-so-minutely as the only background noise is some indiscernible humming. The machine, my own nerves–could have been anything.
More measurements. More calculations. I stare up at the clock to see if any time has passed. I look back at her and this time her eyes are watering. This can’t be good. Soft marker for Down Syndrome, maybe? I am 36, after all. I get that my risk has gone up.
“Um. Is everything okay?”
“Let me finish the calculations and then I will update you.”
The minutes now feel like they are pressing upon my chest
I am alone and wish anyone, even if I didn’t like them, was here with me.
Deep breath. She is gathering herself. Oh please God…
“So here you see the gestastional sac. But. I am so sorry to tell you this. Look in here. There’s no baby anymore. I am so sorry.”
I stare at the monitor, turned towards me, and no part of it makes any sense to me. The sonograms never made sense with my son either. I remember my ex had to explain them to me, where Connor actually was located in them. But I agree now, there’s nothing to see in the current ultrasound. Just darkness.
“What??! I haven’t bled at all but a little bit and I thought that was just implantation bleeding. It was nothing heavy at all. That’s what it said online—.“
I am now sobbing. Can’t catch my breath. The second child for whom I had yearned for years, whom I had already been shopping for, to whom friends across the world had sent gifts, whom I had already *named* (first and middle, for both boy and girl) cannot just be gone like that. I don’t even know if it’s a girl or a boy. And never will.
The sonographer is now crying, too. I am the ultimate Pisces empath and that makes me cry all the harder.
“The doctor will be in in just a few minutes to talk to you. I am so sorry, again.”
I call my best friend. Then my best guy friend. I am not an emotional person in terms of crying easily in front of others, unless they are crying, but I am hysterical.
Conversations are a blur
My ex, my child’s father is deployed for three more months and totally disinterested. We are each other’s rebounds from long, passionate relationships where each of us was the more enamored party, and our time together was always total excitement and lightheartedness.
I apparently violated that pure fun by getting pregnant, and I am being punished for what I view as a gift, with stony silence. It crosses my mind that somehow his lack of interest was visited on our baby.
But no karmic or spiritual force could be that cruel. Could it? No actual spiritual being could or would punish a baby by depriving it of life simply because his or her father was not interested in holding the title. I picture my ex, the love of my life, and crave being in his arms right now and instantly hate myself for it because this is not his child.
I group-text the girls that I consider my tribe
Across the miles and even continents, these are the women who supported me through an unplanned pregnancy in my mid-thirties, as an already-single mother to a busy teenager, working two jobs while coping with, retrospectively, alarmingly-strong pregnancy symptoms and sickness.
These were my girls, who offered pure love and happiness at a time where I felt like some long-term friends, who lived much closer, had met my pregnancy news with coldness or jealousy or apathy. Withholding any excitement for this child who is now gone forever. Telling me that I had conceived so easily and that he/she struggled to congratulate under those circumstances.
And now the nurse-practitioner is in the room.
Ironically many months later, I remember absolutely nothing of what she looked like, which is strange for such a seminal event in my life. I think she was older, but it could be because I needed maternal kindness in that moment. But hair color, height, weight, the rest is a blur. I remember she explained what had likely happened, why I hadn’t bled more, how nothing could have been done to change the end result. Often in a crisis, I get hyper-focused, which is the case here. Trying to remember details/medical terminology, to pass along to the baby’s dad, in case he ever decides to care.
The nurse practitioner is the one who is crying now
I am calm. Processing. But every time I hear the word “baby,” it’s like a knife has silently come through the air to rip out a more discernible piece of my heart. I silently pray to be hit by a bus in the hospital parking lot because the pain would at least be over, and the thought does quietly amuse me. Talk about your ultimate awful hour. Miscarriage followed by traffic fatality. But I have a weird sense of humor in scary moments. And above all, this moment in time terrifies me.
So we are through this appointment, I think.
My regular doctor just broke his wrist in a biking accident. Not sure why, but I am now sobbing. Breathless, heavy sobs, that feel like they won’t end. Over the relatively-minor biking accident of a doctor I have met four times.
Maybe the thought of any suffering in this universe is just too much for me right now. Somehow I make it back to the car. Not sure how I made it. Stairs or elevator. But I am here and the only way I really know it is by the winter cold that just blistered my face. The weather contrasts even more with that day circled on my calendar in July, the initial calculation for my due date. Summer is warm and pretty and a time of freedom.
In this difficult and different moment, it is the dead of winter, dark, dreary, cold, and I have just lost my second child before his/her life began.
I sit in the parking lot for a minimum of an hour
Possibly longer. Just texting. Curled up in a ball in the driver’s seat. Haven’t given up yet on the idea of an asteroid coming out of the sky and strategically hitting me, though I do numbly hurry it along as it needs to move quickly if that is the cosmic plan, because my son has hockey practice that night.
I’m wondering all the thoughts that must come with this sort of loss, and there is never an acceptable explanation for. Why, in a world of unwanted children, did this happen when I was excited enough for *both* baby’s dad and me? When, even though I already have my beloved older boy, this was almost like a first pregnancy for me because of the wide age gap between first and second child. I was an inexperienced 22-year-old with my first child, just took it for a given that he would be healthy when born, and now, as a much wiser 36-year-old who actually *got* the miracle of life, what could be my final chance at pregnancy just ended.
At the cusp of second trimester. In a world where totally uninterested/unwilling people have healthy children all.the.time. Why couldn’t this dream be granted for me when I did everything the right way with health and fitness and desperately wanted this child, when dreams are granted every second to those who abuse their health and babies and don’t even want them?
Never will I have any answer that makes sense
I wish I could say, many months later, now past what would have been my due date, that it gets easier. It really hasn’t and I am not sure it does. I have learned to live with the pain of it, to have optimism that maybe this will happen again, with the right guy, etc. Cliché cliché cliché. But in the mystery of life, I have no idea what will happen.
Only that the love for my second child, whom I will never know in any way, at least not in this world, is no less than my love for my boy on the precipice between childhood and adulthood.
Seeing what miracles will unfurl in his world remind me of what a basic gift that is, that no parent should ever take for granted: the simple privilege of ever getting to lay eyes on your child. I often reflect on a story in an essay from the writer Alexandra Kimball, who also miscarried in her mid-thirties, and am both comforted and haunted by it. It is my life and my reality now:
When I was recovering from egg retrieval, someone sent me a video on Facebook of some chimps. In it, a female chimpanzee carries the corpse of her dead infant into a clearing and sets it down on the ground. Her expression is tender, curious. She examines the body’s ears and teeth with her forefinger and sniffs its fur, then walks a few paces away, to where the clearing joins the brush. She looks at the corpse from this distance, then returns and repeats the same exploratory moves.
A few other chimps join her. They, too, circle the dead infant’s body, sniffing and examining it, their leathery faces fixed in the same expression of gentle inquisitiveness. They stay with the infant as the mother goes back and forth, back and forth, between the edge of the clearing and her baby’s corpse. The first time I watched the clip, I thought I knew what she was doing: She was trying to figure out where in this lifeless bundle her baby had gone.
After she examines the infant once more, she scoops it up in her arms and scoots out into the brush, beyond the camera’s range, the other chimps following behind. A title card comes up, explaining that the mother chimp had brought her baby back to the group, which in turn, disposed of the body.
I recognized then that she had not been looking for her baby; she had been practicing how to leave it.