I often wonder what I was doing at the moment my baby's heart stopped beating inside of me. Was I folding laundry? Sleeping? Helping the kids with homework? Perhaps it happened during one of my adrenaline highs when I'd suddenly remember I was pregnant. In those moments, I was at absolute peace.
"Are you crazy?" people had asked. "Why would you want more kids?" I let them make me feel greedy. After all, raising children is expensive. Starting over with a new baby in the house would set us back. It would mean Caroline, almost 8, might not get gymnastics lessons or Luke, 6, might not get to play baseball. Never mind going to Disney World!
Although part of me obsessed about what my family might be sacrificing, I couldn't help but be overjoyed when I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test. And I remained overjoyed for the next several weeks, even through the vomiting and fatigue my 38-year-old body was experiencing. With each overwhelming wave of nausea, I'd think, At least I know I'm still pregnant!
It was all worth it because in a few more months, I would be able to breathe in the sweet smell of a new life.
Then I saw the drop of blood. No! A shock of panic raced through me. This can't be happening! But it was. And over the next 24 hours, my heart slowly broke.
"Nope, this isn't a viable pregnancy," said the ultrasound technician, as if she were chatting to me about the weather. "But look on the bright side. At least you weren't further along."
For a moment, I considered strangling her with the ultrasound cord, but I knew I'd never last in jail. So, instead, I took out my anger on a roll of toilet paper that was jammed in its holder in the hospital bathroom. I clawed at it, yanked at it, and swore at it until I had enough wadded-up shreds of tissue to wipe my eyes. (Please God, make this not be real. I promise I'll eat better. I'll start exercising. I'll....)
"We'll need to schedule a D&C," my doctor said, trying his best to be discreet despite the staring eyes in the waiting room.
Mind your own business! I wanted to shout at these strangers who were scrutinizing me. Instead, I fought the lump in my throat and pretended I was fine. Yet I wasn't fine. I was a puffy-eyed, mascara-stained, devastated woman "of advanced maternal age" who had just lost her dream of having another baby.
"I'll call you tomorrow," I told my doctor, in my bravest voice. Then I wandered the halls of the hospital maze and desperately searched for the right exit sign. I wanted to be home, yet I dreaded going there. I didn't want to face Caroline, who was elated with the news she would be a big sister again. She had repeatedly kissed my belly and squeezed me with the delight that only a child can possess. I didn't want to face Luke, who had overheard our baby news and put in an order for a brother ("Remember, not a sister!") And I didn't want to face my husband, Jeff, because I knew that he wanted this baby too. "Would you be horrified if we had another child?" I had asked him when I found out.
"I'm horrified by the two we have now," he replied, with a chuckle.
And though there may have been some truth to his statement, my worries were lessened when I saw him dusting off the crib in the basement the next day.
As I sat numbly in my driveway, staring at my family through the bay window, I wondered how I could tell them all that I'd failed. That's how I felt, as if I had failed. Fortunately, Jeff found a way to break the news to the kids, and I was greeted with love.
Caroline, in her sweet innocence, had drawn me a picture of four people smiling. "Mom," "Dad," "Caroline," and "Luke" floated above their heads. It was her way of telling me our family was still intact. I wanted to cry, knowing that her drawings, just a few days before, had included a fifth happy stick figure, much smaller than the rest. Luke just fidgeted in his seat and said nothing -- he was too young to understand.
I don't remember how I got through the bedtime rituals that night. I do, however, remember using every bit of motherly strength the next day to stand on the sidelines of a parade while Caroline and her Brownie troop waved at their fans.
I came home and dropped onto my couch. I was in labor, without the reward. I watched Jeff through the window as he washed the cars. (Doesn't he care that I am bleeding to death?) Then I saw him squirting the kids with the hose, and I heard their giggles, and I knew he was doing his best to keep them from seeing my pain. I called my doctor, whose overbooked schedule caused me to wait six hours (through several births) before he performed the D&C.
I would have given anything for Luke's birthday not to be the next day, but we had special plans that I could not ruin for him. So I stuck a gigantic hospital pad to my underwear and once again put on the happy face. But over the next couple of days, I found I had no more happy faces left. My hormones had become my enemy. No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop crying. With each well-meaning phone call from the people in my life, I sank further into depression.
"Everything happens for a reason," most people said to me. And what reason is that?
"It's probably a blessing," I heard from others. Funny, it doesn't feel like one.
Then there were the more creative comments. "At least now you can drink." "At least you won't be fat in a bathing suit this summer." "Think about how much more money you'll have to shop."
I could feel the unspoken expectation that I should "get over it." I was alone.
By the end of the week, my grief was compounded by guilt. Jeff told me to take as much time off from work as I needed, but I knew that my paycheck helped us survive. I knew Caroline didn't mind feeding the dog, emptying the dishwasher, and helping Luke with his bath, but I wasn't being fair to her. Those were my responsibilities, not hers. Luke had avoided me since I returned from the hospital. I hated seeing him confused by my sadness, but I didn't have the energy to change the situation. He's just too little to get this.
I had to get back into life. But how?
Then something happened. As I was tucking Luke into bed, in the quiet moments before sleep, he said he had something to tell me. Then he held my face in his little hands to be sure that I was listening.
"I love you," he whispered. "And I'm sorry that the baby died."
Those ten simple words took my breath away. They were the words I had waited a week to hear.
In that instant, my sadness was moved to another place. A place only I will know. And I thought about the women who have gone through miscarriages without ever having even one child. I had been blessed with the gift of two. And from these gifts, I have learned how to act and what to say if someone experiences this kind of loss.