There was no warning. No spotting. No cramping. Nothing.
Okay, maybe in retrospect there was some warning. Suddenly I wasn’t nauseated anymore, a fact which I was elated about. And I had so much more energy. My pregnancy had taken a sudden turn for the better. Or so I had thought.
At the time I didn’t question the loss of the symptoms. I was seventeen weeks, and it seemed reasonable that those symptoms would disappear at that point.
So there was no obvious warning. I don’t know why that matters so much. If I had had warning, would I be happier now? I doubt it. I somehow don’t picture myself sitting here saying ‘oh, well, at least we had warning. Guess we can't complain’ I can’t figure out exactly how it matters that we had no warning, but yet, somehow, the fact remains: it does.
It was just at a regular prenatal check. I remember sitting in the waiting room, flippantly reading this cheesy romancy novel. My mood was light, like the book I skimmed, and I waited patiently for my name to be called, not anxious or fearful in the least. After all, there was nothing to be fearful of. Just a routine check. Weight, blood pressure, and a quick listen to the baby’s heart.
But a quick listen to the baby’s heart took a lot longer than it should. For the first ten or twenty seconds I was not alarmed when the doctor struggled to find the rhythmic lub dub, a simple sound that conveyed so much. But as the seconds ticked by, a growing dread mounted. The doctor repositioned the Doppler several times, each time turning up nothing but the sound of my own heart beating and a bunch of static. After a few minutes, the doctor turned the Doppler off. She stated the obvious, that she was having a hard time finding the heart beat. But obvious though it was, hearing the words spoken out loud changed everything. It brought the gravity of the issue into startling focus. And though I tried to tell myself that these things happen, that fetal heart rates can be hard to find and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, I couldn’t help but recall my previous appointment, where the heart beat was instantly audible.
Within minutes, I was in another waiting room. It wasn’t so much a room as a small antechamber with three folding chairs lined in a row. Two other people sat, awaiting ultrasound. They were much more composed than I was. They glanced surreptitiously at me now and then but said nothing. A part of me couldn’t wait for my name to be called. I needed to know. Another part of me wanted to give up my turn to someone else when my name was called. I didn’t want to know. My stomach flip flopped with my mind. I felt sick, I felt okay. My name was called. I found myself standing up and being led to a small exam room. It took but a moment for the ultrasound to simultaneously confirm my worst fears and obliterate my highest hopes.
"I'm sorry," the radiologist told me. "You're little person in here has died."
I cried and cried. None of it seemed real. This couldn’t be happening.
After all, we’d had no warning.
They had to induce me into labor. It’s a weird feeling, being in labor when you’re seventeen weeks pregnant. I could feel my stomach hardening. I would put my hand on my stomach, feel the baby in my abdomen. And I always felt this urge to try to protect the baby, to try to stop things from happening. I didn’t want my body to expel it, though I knew intellectually that it was dead no matter what. Dead if I expelled it, dead if I defied my body and kept it tucked away inside me. Anyways, it’s a feeling I can’t explain. I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want it to be over. I just wanted to be back in that waiting room. Reading that dumb book, innocently unaware of everything that lay ahead.
It took a long time.
Throughout the night the pains would come. I would wake up, shift around, fall back asleep. I didn’t try to time the contractions. It wasn’t a happy labor, like in the movies when the wife wakes up and nudges her husband “I think it’s time”. It wasn’t like that. I think I wanted to ignore the fact that I was having contractions. Just wanted to be asleep.
In the morning I woke up to go the bathroom. Going to the bathroom was scary. The nurse had put a hat in the toilet the night before “just in case”. The silent implication of that stared at me every time I went into the bathroom. But I told myself there was nothing I could do. It was going to be traumatic. Whether it happened or in the hospital bed or in the toilet, the baby would come out one way or another.
I went to the bathroom rather uneventfully, though I did notice some blood in the hat, which hadn’t happened before. I stood up to go back to bed. Water trickled out and formed a little pool on the bathroom floor. My water had broken. It struck me as odd. I didn’t realize that the water broke during a miscarriage. Didn’t picture it this way at all. I shuffled back into bed. Startled and scared. I woke up and told my husband, Geoff.
“That’s a relief,” he said.
“Well, finally, things are starting to happen.”
We had been in the hospital now for about sixteen hours. I understood what he meant but certainly I did not share in his relief. I sensed that things were about to get intense. Was I prepared for what lie ahead? Could one ever be prepared? For this??
We had talked last night, Geoff and I, whispering under the low light of the hospital night light. It would have been quaint had the circumstances been different. I decided that I wanted to see the baby afterwards. Geoff decided emphatically that he didn’t. We respected each others choice. For Geoff it was like the less he knew about the baby the better. But I wanted to know everything that could be known. But now I was second guessing myself. Did I really want to see? And would I really be able to face it alone?
The pains got steadily worse. A resident examined me. Snapping her gloves off, which I couldn’t help but notice where heavily soiled with blood, she said that I was sufficiently dilated to deliver the baby, but the baby was still really high up. As soon as it came down a bit, it would be over with. In the meantime they offered me morphine. I waited for them to hook up the IV and the tears streamed down my face. I was crying because of the pain, first and foremost, but also because of the sadness. I was delivering my baby. What I had anticipated as such a happy moment in my life was near at hand. Except it wasn’t happy. I would leave the hospital with empty arms and a flat stomach.
Well, sorta flat.
It happened fast after that. The baby came quickly and quietly. Indeed, at the time I wasn’t even aware of it happening. A doctor came in to examine me again, a different doctor this time. I felt a kind of gush as he removed his hand. He informed me that the baby was passed. And with that it was over.
Later on, the nurse brought the baby to me. Though I was scared for this moment, I knew that I needed to say goodbye. And to know everything that I could know about the child that I had carried. The child that I had lost. He was brought to me in a little wicker basket, which had been made up with yellow blankets. His whole body fit into a bootie, and the little face peered out. I cannot say that the face was cute, nor was it ugly. Google a sixteen week fetus and that’s pretty much exactly what it looked like. What I can mostly remember was how he had his one hand curled into a fist and tucked neatly under the little chin. I remember him that way. Little fingers the size of spaghetti strands. And it gives me a good feeling. He didn’t look cute, objectively speaking, in fact he was down right alien looking. But he was posed in a cute way. And that is what my mind has chosen to remember. That tiny ball of a fist.
It is what it is. Nothing less and nothing more.
That’s what I was told by a resident, one of many I had seen during my stay at the hospital. Of all the things I had been told, that for some reason seemed to be the most prophetic. A simple statement, but I come back to it often. So simple, but at the same time so complex. I struggle to make meaning out of it. It is what it is.
But why is it what it is? My logic goes in a circle. Was it my fault? No, it was no ones fault. It just is. It is what it is. But why? Why is it what it is? Why couldn’t it be something else? It must have been my fault. And so it goes round and round. An insolvable riddle. But we live in a strange cosmos where we are forced every day to accept the strange and the incomprehensible. Why do children get cancer? Why is there war? Why does Blockbuster claim that they have no late fees but then charge you “restocking fees” when your movie is late?? It makes no bloody sense, but alas we must simply accept it. It is what it is.
A month has passed and I have never been able to get back into that book I was reading that day. Just can’t seem to go back to that place. But I know that in time I will. For I will bring it along when I go for my next prenatal appointment- I can only hope that one looms in the future for me. And only then, once I am seated in that waiting room once more, with new life blooming anew, will I be able to truly pick up where I left off.