Friday, May 20, 2011

Anatomy of a Miscarriage

                It starts with the cramping, the blood, the sickening feeling of contractions come far too soon for your baby to be brought into this world. Whether spontaneously or with due warning, your whole heart screams with agony at the knowledge that this child you’ve been carrying is no longer with you. Sometimes, you’re able to hold the fetus in your hands. Sometimes, it’s so small, you can hold the little thing in the palm of one hand and have plenty of room to spare. Other times, it’s almost the size of a full term infant. If only it would open its little rosebud mouth and let out that cry. But that wailing in your soul is ringing in your ears, echoing off the walls.
                You mourn. You cry for the lost child, for the lost of hopes and fears that envelop every day of parenthood. You have crazy, heart wracking dreams that cause you to sweat your sheets. Watching a diaper commercial or seeing a mother pick out formula in the grocery store causes you to break down and lash out at the ones that have what you don’t. If you’re really unlucky, irrational thoughts enter your head. The little worm digs around in your brain: I want to die so that I can follow my child and make sure she is okay. I’m her Mom and it’s my duty.
                Everyone that knows, tries to offer some sort of consolation. They tell you it wasn’t meant to be.  They say stupid things if you were very early on in your pregnancy like “At least you weren’t further along.” No matter how far along it is, everyone repeats “You can try again,” “Are you going to adopt?” or “It’s God’s plan.” They look at you like you’re a stranger. Yesterday, your friend would have hugged you. Today, she’s biting her lip and shuffling her feet like a toddler, uncomfortable with the burden of grief. If you have any pregnant ones, for a while some of them might avoid you as if your miscarriage is contagious. You are a leper in their eyes. The ones that have suffered as you do, know what to say and do. They stand by you and hold your hand. They say they love you and ask for nothing in return. This is actually good. This shows you who your friends are.
                After a time, you are expected to move on. You go back to work. You suffer through the first few really uncomfortable dinners with people who have continued living while you’ve been shrouded in mourning. They laugh lightly about silly little things you’d once have found amusing, too, until the observant one notices that your lips twitch with every smile that never reaches your eyes. Oh, and then that person has to ask how you are really doing.
                I feel like a failure. I lost my little baby and she visits me every night in my dreams and I just want to cry and scream and punch the walls. I want to beat my husband for not understanding what it’s like to not be a mother-to-be any longer. I saw a child that looks the way I imagine my baby to look had she turned three and I spent fifteen minutes attempting to control my breathing so that I wouldn’t have a complete meltdown downtown.  I tried to return that layette I bought but can’t bring myself to touch the bag it came in. My baby is dead!
                Twitch. Smile. Take a drink or two of the wine. Smile just a little too wide now. You’re overcompensating on your expression in hopes that it will help to deflect attention from the madness swelling inside. “I’m fine.” This happens often enough and you start believing it. You’ll even have a genuine laugh again.
                Then, someone will announce their pregnancy. Depending on how strong you are and how well you’re coping, you might be able to hold back the tears until you get home. Maybe you’ll hold them back for the whole evening, into the week, or well into your friend’s second trimester. No matter, though. Those tears will come. You’ll spend a day wallowing in self pity and crying for your baby once again. It’s okay to skip out on baby showers and first birthday parties for a good, long while.
In time, the people around you will give birth. You’ll be forced to go into the baby section of Target and pick out something for the new arrival. You’ll manage just fine. You’ll coo over the miniature dresses and pint sized sleepers. You might feel a little melancholy but you’ll be able to make it through. You’ll go to the hospital, hug your friend, and hold that baby. You’ll feel positively happy for your friends. A tiny voice is going to ask if your baby would have been this wrinkled or bald or ruddy.
One night, you’ll tell your husband you want to start trying again. He is going to baulk. You’ll fight over it. He’ll tell you how horrible it was watching you suffer, how terrified he is that this is going to happen again, how he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stand it if you get so low, so dark again. You will argue. You’ll go to bed angry and feeling more hollow than ever. Hot tears are going to soak your pillow again. Where is the man that vowed to stand by you through everything?
You will bring it up again and again and again. The arguing will continue in this wretchedly circular fashion of wants and fears. A cold and lonely distance will isolate you from your spouse. He’ll withdraw into himself. You’ll continue that pressing crusade for motherhood until you wear him down or he comes around. He’ll stumble upon you sitting alone on your bed one day, crying bitter tears over this path your life has taken. When he asks what’s bothering you, you’ll have the good sense to leave the sarcasm aside, lay all your cards out and pray for the best.
If luck has abandoned you, you’re getting a divorce. If, however, she’s shined her light upon you, you’ll agree to give this whole parenthood bit one more stab. You’ll read every article you can on getting pregnant. You’ll eat your leafy greens. You’ll time your sex. You’ll lie on your bed with a baby name book on your chest, your buttocks resting on three stacked pillows and your feet propped on the headboard. If you could, you’d study for the pregnancy tests that follow at weekly intervals.
Every negative is going to haunt you. Will you ever get pregnant again? Why is it taking so long this time? Is there something wrong with you that’s making it so you can’t get pregnant again? Is that what caused the miscarriage in the first place? Did the miscarriage cause this?
Then, there will be that one night when you let your guard down. You drink a little too much wine. You have sex on the wrong night and, for the first time since before the miscarriage, it actually feels good. Instead of spending the evening attempting to funnel as much semen towards your womb as possible, you fall asleep in his arms with a slick mess dirtying your thighs.
When you wake up, you are pregnant again. Of course, you don’t know right away. You’re back to doing your math, contorting the tilt of your pelvis, and wondering if you’re doing it right. It’s a full two weeks or more before you take a test and get that little positive sign. Congratulations.
This pregnancy isn’t like the first one, though. You don’t run out and buy a shopping cart full of gender neutral items this time. You’ve been bitten and now you’re shy. Even when the doctor confirms it, you still step gingerly. It’s harder to grow attached to this one like you did with her. You count down the days until your first trimester is over. Even then, you only gently prod at the prospects of motherhood. There is still so much that could go wrong.
When your doctor checks for a heartbeat, you hold your breath every time until you hear the comfortingly swift rhythm you’ve committed to precious memory. And those tears will flow hot and heavy if, for even a moment, it’s a bit difficult to find. The ultrasounds fill you with conflicted excitement and fear and if you ever go a day without feeling a kick or flutter, your nerves fray just a bit.
The pain of childbirth is easy compared to what you’ve been through. Seventeen, twenty, thirty six hours of labor are like a walk in the park compared to the months you’ve been through. Finally, after all the pushing and screaming and tears, this wrinkled, bald, ruddy baby is placed on your chest. It looks at you with the most beautiful face you’ve ever seen and lets out a cry that fills your heart with something new that wells up inside of you, bursting forth in loud gushes and sobs. You cry right along with your baby as your husband holds his new family close.
I wish I could tell you that the worry you first felt when you found out you were pregnant with your son ends or that the pain over your miscarriage disappears. It doesn’t. Whether you think about it or not, your miscarriage has left its mark on your child. No child is going to be more special, more loved, nor more fragile than the one that followed your miscarriage. He is the one you fought for, cried for, begged and pleaded and bargained with the Gods for. The ghost of his lost sister will always hang over him, growing fainter and fainter as he grows up but will never quite disappear.

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