“Did you have any luck with lemon drops or ginger tea when you were pregnant with your girls?”
In the causal flow of conversation, I started to reply that I'd discovered Preggie Pops with…but I stopped short. She didn't have a name. My third pregnancy. She had to be a “she” because they all were. I had a full 13 weeks with her—seeing heartbeats on monitors and texting my husband “Our baby is starting to look like a baby!” after one doctor's appointment. I had a full first trimester of nausea and exhaustion. I had discovered Preggie Pops with this one.
After two healthy, full-term pregnancies, I had no need to worry. Two minutes of waiting and a plus sign on the stick. Another baby. The shock was real—we weren't trying, we were actively preventing, yet here it was. I was sobbing when I climbed into bed with my husband as I babbled about needing a new car, wondering if I could go back to work and how could we possibly fit three kids into one bedroom. I couldn't stop the tears and cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning, with stinging eyes and a nervous pit in my stomach, I awoke to a family of five.
My oldest was just three at the time and so curious, so observant. I did my best to answer every question. We waited until after my first appointment, after hearing a little heartbeat, to tell my girls they were going to be big sisters. My own sister recorded us giving them the news. There were shy smiles, little kisses and clingy hugs.
“What are we going to name our baby, Mommy?”
And, with that, “our baby” became something we talked about. And talked about.
“Is our baby eating that cereal that you're eating, Mommy?”
“When will our baby be here?”
“Our baby is due to arrive on Easter, my love. We have to wait for Easter.”
The security guard at my office was so excited for me. “Do you think this one is your boy?” she'd ask. I'd feign annoyance, but secretly wondered. “We'll find out soon enough” I'd cheerfully reply. I was snarky when I commented that the secret first trimester was a luxury reserved for first-time moms. By the time I was eight weeks along, this pregnancy was bona fide. Heartbeats and flutters, and sonograms and lists of names. It was all there, and I took every part of it for granted.
I remember vividly the tiny speck of blood that caught my eye during a trip to the bathroom that Thursday morning. It was the tiniest of specks, but it was there. My heart skipped a beat but I was almost 14 weeks along and I suspected nothing. The very light spotting Friday didn't worry me either. We attended a funeral on Saturday. Oh, how incredibly fortuitous that was. We talked about life, about death, about burial. My oldest, the three-year-old, wanted to know everything and I stretched my brain muscles to be as honest about the body as I could be. “Grampy's body stopped working, sweet girl. He lived a long time and we were so lucky to have known him, but his body stopped working and that's what happens when you die.”
Two trips to the bathroom during the funeral service, and two more rounds of spotting. I started to worry. I cried in my mother's arms, ostensibly because I was conflicted about calling the doctor in the late afternoon on a beautiful Saturday, but under my breath I whispered, “This has never happened. Something is wrong.”
I finally called the doctor on Sunday morning and she hurriedly asked which pregnancy this was and how far along I was and she told me the chance of miscarriage was very low. That was what I wanted to hear and I relaxed. My birthday was the next day and we had the gift of a quiet morning and a brunch date. When I noticed that my breasts weren't tender at all, I celebrated the start of my second trimester. When I ordered my decaf coffee at brunch, I was fully back into the grind of life as the pregnant lady. Then I got up after our meal and told my husband I was going to run to the bathroom in the restaurant to just “see how it's going”.
It was terrible. The sudden feeling of everything below my waist—my baby—starting to drain. I reached into the thick, blood-red water in the toilet to pull out whatever I could find. Somewhere, at some point, I'd heard that you're supposed to bring the “tissue” to the hospital. So that's what I did. I walked back into the restaurant clutching those clumps wrapped in toilet paper. Pale, shaking uncontrollably, and still bleeding.
“Fight or flight” is commonly known but that space in between is rarely discussed. I was definitely in that space—functional, but barely. Disoriented, but navigating as my husband drove to the hospital. Weak, but able to say “I think I'm having a miscarriage. What do I do?” to the triage nurse in the ER. I remember the extremes—smiling with the nurses and young doctors and wailing as my body convulsed with another contraction. Answering medical history questions with a steady voice, and then dissolving into a river of tears when the ultrasound revealed an empty uterus. The thick red clots I'd carefully wrapped in toilet paper and brought in were put aside, just uterine lining. Whether “our baby” was hiding under that dark red water and I didn't know it, or whether “our baby” was delivered on that cold hospital bed in the back corner of the ER, I'll never know. I want to know. I want to answer the question that my oldest asked over and over again, “what happened to our baby, Mom?” and all I can tell her is that she died at the hospital. Her body stopped working.
Everyone, at some point in their lives, discovers the terrible companionship of the “what ifs?” In those early days of healing, my mind was utterly cloudy with them. What if I hadn't changed practices to deliver at a different hospital? I would have done the genetic testing and I might have known. I might have known that my body would painfully, heartbreakingly, naturally end this pregnancy. I might have known if this was my third girl or my first boy. What if I hadn't lifted my oldest daughter up so much at the funeral? What if I hadn't fallen over in the rocking chair while snuggling with her little sister? What if I ate the wrong thing? Bent the wrong way? Internalized the emotional turmoil of those first few days of this pregnancy a little too much? Was it better or worse to imagine that none of this had happened? My heart couldn't handle the possibility that I had done something to harm my youngest and I was grateful for what little rational thought I had left reminding me that I had been powerless to a force greater than me. It hurt—truly hurt—to know that my body had done what it needed to do to protect the baby. To protect me. After two healthy pregnancies, I knew it had done just that.
When I became pregnant for a fourth time, everything was different. My innocence was lost, but my gratitude was real. I breathed. I meditated. I thanked my body for the chance to do this again. I was kind to myself. I gaze with unabashed wonder on my third girl every day, and I know she is here because “our baby” is not. And that's okay. One day I'll tell her all of this, and I will hold her close when I start with “there was another…”