Fragility

I wrote this piece in late March. Now that I'm into my second trimester of pregnancy, I feel ready to share it with you here. Announcing a pregnancy is a joyful thing but I know it can also provoke mixed feelings. If you are facing infertility or infant loss, I mourn with you and wait expectantly with you. ***

Soaring high

A few mornings ago I held a positive pregnancy test in my hands, the faint blue lines making a “+” sign on the plastic wand. There was no excitement, no rush of joy or sadness or anything in particular. I showed my husband, he nodded. I threw the test in the trash, moving into the bedroom to pack my gym bag. My two-year old daughter demanded help putting on her socks, I bent over to pull them on.

When I got to the YMCA and began running on the treadmill, my feet slapping the nylon, I watched the incessant CNN coverage of the missing plane. It was carrying 269 people and disappeared a week ago, swallowed up by the sky. It might have landed, one headline reads. The plane flew for four hours after the last communication, another reporter says. Families are pictured holding vigil, resting their heads in their hands, hugging and crying. They are in the worst kind of darkness, the one of not knowing.

I don’t think much about the tiny zygote burrowing into my uterine lining, only four weeks along. I don’t let myself wonder if it’s a boy or girl.

Later that evening, when I use the Due Date Calculator online, BabyCenter says the baby is the size of a poppy seed. I don’t click on the link to see what the baby looks like at four weeks. I wonder briefly about having a baby near Thanksgiving, about how this child would be three years younger than my firstborn.

//

We lost the last baby at six weeks. I was holding my toddler on my hip, striding across the library floor, my arms loaded with book bags and coats. There was a popping sensation, then a whoosh of fluid that soaked my underwear. A thought fluttered in my mind: “Am I having a miscarriage? I have to remember this moment in case I write about it.” I batted the thought away with the detached curiosity of someone who has never experienced real loss. Of all the things, it seemed so implausible.

I walked to the children’s section of the library and locked myself in the bathroom with my toddler. I sat down on the tiny child-size toilet while my daughter started pulling down paper towels from the automated dispenser, the mechanical “weee” sound jamming over and over. My jeans were wet; it looked like I had peed myself. But there was no blood, so I chalked it up to a weird womanly moment.

The next morning I started spotting. It was Sunday so we went to church and I tried not to worry. My husband had to stop by work, so I came home with my daughter. My upper thighs began to ache and my lower back pulsed with slow-moving pain. I called the midwife line and spoke to a nurse. “The midwife on call is delivering a baby right now,” she said. “But I paged her and she will call you back soon.”

The cramping continued and I searched online for clues. My daughter was cranky, ready for her nap, but I couldn’t pull it together to go through the nap routine. She sensed that something was wrong and she touched my wet cheeks gently.

“Mama crying?” she said. “Ooooh, mama. Sorry mama.” She patted my face, her tiny fingers moving up and down.

The midwife called back, fresh from ushering a new life into the world. I described my symptoms, my throat constricting as I tried to push the words out. She told me that spotting is very normal in pregnancy, but the cramping was not a good sign.

“This doesn’t sound too good for you, honey,” she said.

I laid my head back on the couch as I listened to her speak, my eyes squeezed shut.

“Are you still there?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice thick. She told me to get an appointment at the clinic for the next day.

After I hung up, I started sobbing. I started thinking about all the late nights I had spent recently watching Netflix, about how I was still drinking several cups of coffee a day, about how I had missed a few days of prenatal vitamins. “This is my fault,” I thought. I had taken it for granted, what my body could do, conjuring up new life like magic.

The first pregnancy had been so easy, so straightforward. I come from fertile women, hourglass figures and broad hips. My sister always said that our bodies were the kind that can squat and deliver a child in the fields after working outside all day. We conceived the first time we tried. Having babies was something that I was confident I could do.

I never knew a baby could slip away from me, disappearing into the clouds.

//

Another week has gone by and my mind hovers on grocery lists and schedules and legions of library books to return. But I also start drinking decaf and swallowing the large oval prenatal pills, their smell nutty and healthy. Except on nights when I’m writing, I go to sleep before midnight.

We made it to five weeks, I think nonchalantly. Nobody besides my husband knows that there is magic happening in my womb. Nobody will know if the magic stops.

With the last pregnancy, we told our immediate families right away. So many joy-filled, Guess whats! What a thing to share, the news of a second life in your very body. And what happier news to receive than another grandchild that will toddle around during holiday meals?

Once the blood tests confirmed the miscarriage, I had to make sad phone calls, send the emails and texts. Yes, it’s a miscarriage. And the loss kept happening as I bled for days, a life leeching into giant maxi pads. We got a few cards in the mail, my sister sent flowers. Days kept coming and going, the bleeding finally stopped. Most of the time it felt like nothing happened.

But at the most random moments – in the post office, driving the car, stirring pasta – I would remember that the baby was gone. (Not dead, I didn’t think of it that way, he or she never was, never had become.) The baby was gone and the loss would stir up panic and the realization that ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS IN LIFE CAN HAPPEN TO ME. Lives can be magically conjured in my very body and lives can be ripped out before I even hear evidence of a heartbeat.

I’ve never been a worrier. I don’t dwell on worst-care scenarios or follow my kid around with a bottle of Purell. But miscarriage has cracked my glass half-full optimism; it has revealed how fragile it all can be. It’s a world where your loved one can board a plane and vanish in the sky and you don’t know whether they’re at the bottom of the ocean or waiting for rescue on a desert isle.

It’s also a world where magic can happen; I know, I have a zany pig-tailed toddler to prove it. For now, I let my body do its mysterious work while I busy through my day, trying not to jinx it. And as each week passes, I’ll sigh a little deeper in gratitude that we made it this far.