I recently lost a pregnancy. I don't know why, or when my single embryo died. In fact, I don't even know if it was alive enough to die.
I don't know if rolled down my Fallopian tubes as a blastocyst, implanted in my uterus just long enough to make me feel sick and bloated, and then quietly stopped developing. I don't know if it made it to the tadpole/lizard stage, or if it made it all the way to the little alien stage, with arm buds and a heartbeat, and then died.
All I know is that it came, stayed about 11 weeks, and then died.
It would have been born August 12, or thereabouts, of this year. A little Leo maybe, with black hair like my husband, or curly hair like me. When I found out I was pregnant all I could think about was that it would interrupt my current attempts at getting a Master's degree; it might exhaust me and bring me to the brink of mental breakdown, it might have brought on divorce or destitution for our family, or both.
But then again, I also dreamed of another addition to my collection of persistently blonde children. It might have been the son my husband has yearned for all his life. I loved it instinctively,while also knowing it would be the last time I give life, as I am in my early 40s.
This was my second miscarriage and third pregnancy loss. I lost twin embryos in 2013. I wouldn't even have known they were twins if it weren't for the sinister magic of ultrasounds.
"There are two of them," the doctor told us, awkwardly. "But they have no heartbeats." In that darkened room, our faces lit by the blue light of the ultrasound machine, my husband and I reacted to the news in perfect accordance with our differing personalities.
Ever the pragmatist, I understood instantly that no heartbeats means no possibility of life. That was that, and I was ready to leave. But my husband, the analyst, wanted to discuss all the variables and possibilities:
Maybe one was dead, and the other a much younger embryo that was still alive? Then the first would compromise the second, said the doctor. Maybe the ultrasound technician had the embryos' developmental stages wrong? Unlikely, said the doctor. Maybe I had lost a first pregnancy and started a second? Also unlikely, said the doctor.
We stared at her, said a perfunctory thank you, and left the clinic.
It was Dec. 20, 2013. It was snowing out, and it was time to go get the kids. Despite the shock, we separated -- my husband to drive across town to get the kids at school, and I drove to their karate Dojo where we were all expected to attend their annual Christmas party.
Less than an hour after finding out I was carrying dead embryos, I found myself staring at a table covered in Christmas candy, surrounded by rambunctious kids and holiday joy. I escaped to the bathroom only once to transition from blankly social automaton to a broken mess, alone on a tile floor.
People inevitably tell you that it was a "good thing," that the fetus would have been ill, was defective or otherwise doomed, and besides that being a criminally insensitive thing to say, it is also no comfort at all.
The twins would have been born that June. I had miscarried; missed out on carrying them, but still miss and care for them.
Twins would have been exhausting, but I had wanted them, too. I don't know how I would have fed and cared for them,given my existing brood, but they would have been delightful nonetheless.
Maybe they would have been olive-skinned like their father, their bums stained with the same blue birthmarks my stepdaughters had when they were little. Or they might have had my mother's large blue eyes and pale skin.
I have to remind myself they weren't actually babies; they were little lumps, barely the size of an orange. But this dry little detail makes small difference.They were the mismatched and mis-connected pieces of a whole, but that whole was part of everything I have ever loved.
Every adult woman I know carries a memorial, a list of her unborn children, no matter what altar they were sacrificed on. The female body, idealized as perfect and wise, isn't always.
Umbilical cords twist into knots, cutting off the air supply of perfectly healthy, almost full-term babies. Blood pressure shoots up, causing premature labour, pre-ecclampsia and maternal death; placentas grow over cervixes and would bleed their hosts to death internally, if there are no hospitals around.
Wombs open and unceremoniously expel half-grown but otherwise healthy fetuses into the abyss. Their mothers remember them all, from the fertilized embryos at the fertility clinic to the spontaneous and therapeutic abortions, to the still births and premature births, the forced and freely chosen adoptions. Arranged in order, or by gender or date, named, unnamed, carried unseen in the background of a woman's lifeline, they are always there with her.
People like to paint pregnancy and birth into a powdered corner of soft edges and diffused lighting. I think we do all women a disservice when we don't challenge the "Disneyfication" of our reproductive experience.
Pregnancy is glorified as transcendent despite its many dark elements, like the feeling that your body has been taken over by a hostile parasite. Birth is similarly idealized despite being unabashedly gory, because it has transformative and symbolic power for those of us who survive it, plus you get a beautiful baby out of it.
But miscarriages resist beatification; at best, they are an extremely efficient expulsion of expired reproductive material by one's own body.
People don't know how to listen to you talk about them, and women don't know how to describe the emotional pain, compounded by severe uterine contractions, the frequent trips to the bathroom to pass giant clots or a naked fetus into a toilet, or the downward progression of bright red blood to blackened gunk that stains your underwear and lasts for weeks. Plus, there is all that discomfiting sadness that calls to other forms of sadness.
The whole thing can really suck the fun out of a room. People inevitably tell you that it was a "good thing," that the fetus would have been ill, was defective or otherwise doomed, and besides that being a criminally insensitive thing to say, it is also no comfort at all.
This last pregnancy was something of an unpleasant surprise, but despite my misgivings about my ability to carry it with anything resembling dignity, I would have had the baby. My belly rounded, I felt sick, anxious and irritable; all was progressing according to plan.
Then on January 17, I found myself at the hospital bathed in another darkened room bathing in the same blue light of an ultrasound screen, and then having a second version of that same awkward conversation with a doctor.
The only thing to do then is go home, to the familiar but unbearable feeling of carrying the dead, and waiting for the exorcism to come. And when it did, it came in such a torrent of agony I ended up back in the hospital.
If miscarriage has a patron deity, I would say it must be Kali, the Hindu goddess of liberation, death and wrath. She is the harbinger of sacrifice, slaying demons (pride, selfishness) with her bloodied sword. She has black skin, wears a neck ornament made of a garland of skulls.
The way adherents describe it, her intolerance for you is also her compassion. She is a destroyer of bullshit; she cuts your hand off when you won't let go; death of the ego and the excision of earthly attachments are her gifts to humanity. Kali is awesome, violent, as irresistible as a car crash. Kali would never accept a scented candle and a poem as a tribute, which may be why I continue to choose to mourn alone.
There are meetup groups of "pregnancy loss" moms, but they consistently trigger my gag reflex. Part of it is an allergic reaction to the little Frosted Flakes-style rituals these people organize, featuring lit candles, sweet-candied ceremonies, silent reverie and a lot of talk about "spirit"' that bely the passion and depth of my experiences.
They are trying to gloss these losses over through the redeeming power of poetic gobbledygook, which enrages me, and then makes me wonder what is wrong with me. This is not healing, and sends me deeper into my cave.
I have never lit any candles for them, I have never been to the riverside and thrown petals into the water, I have never named them or released them, I have never have let them go. Without little mounds, tombstones, birth dates or death dates, no little fingers, no faces to kiss goodbye, I am not sure how.
Kali would not approve, but I made them, cradled them in my body when they were alive and when they were dead; I loved and lost them and I will take them with me to my grave.
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