I had been right in the middle of writing a breezy post on our debate over whether or not to have a second kid when I was semi-surprised to find out I was pregnant again.
I say semi because we had been discussing it, but it wasn’t on the agenda for that month, or even necessarily any of the months immediately following. Sure, we’d had The Sex the one time, but I thought we’d timed it so as to avoid that outcome. I thought we had nothing to worry about.
So when my period was a little bit late I blamed it on stress, because I’d been feeling very stressed out about how undecorated my house was. This should have been my first clue something was up, when five days before I even took the test I found myself driving to suburban Denver to visit a Michaels craft store, which is so far out of character for me that it may as well have been a scene from Body Snatchers. I was so intensely preoccupied with putting some stuff up on the walls that I cried about it more than was strictly necessary, which it wasn’t at all. In my defense, however, the beau could have been slightly more supportive of my goals. Sir, it would behoove you to stop asking why I’m hammering nails in the walls after midnight and just fucking help me hammer.
My period was one day late, then two, then three. Day three was Good Friday and that night I waited until the visiting in-laws went to bed, took a pregnancy test, capped it, and thrust it under a pillow where I couldn’t see it. Then I went downstairs and mixed myself a whiskey drink, because I’d begun to wonder if it might be my last full-sized whiskey drink for quite a while.
Well, by now it’s no secret that it would!
I was incredibly upset at the test results, which seemed crazy even in that moment. I mean, we had discussed two kids as an option? In my mind, that meant I had nothing to complain about. I had entertained it as a future choice, so I wasn’t allowed to feel upset that it was my current reality. Even so, I spent the next few days metaphorically wearing black and grieving my future plans, which had included everything from enjoying mimosas on Easter to being able to fit into my summer clothes. Here I was, back at day zero of the rest of forever, and I was feeling miserable and ungrateful about it.
An online calculator gave me an estimated due date of November 30, which was exactly a week after my birthday and a week before Vera’s. Who the fuck is so dumb as to jam a full three quarters of their family’s birthdates into two weeks of the busiest, most expensive time of the year? I was so dumb. I tried to imagine introducing a sibling to Vera right around the time she turned two; I tried to imagine the pain and fog and stress of balancing an emotionally needy toddler with a physically needy newborn. I tried to imagine what my own birthday would be like from now on, probably a mostly-ignored annual blip on the calendar. I tried to imagine the “right” way to be feeling about all this.
I was mostly feeling really, really dumb.
The days went slowly; I counted them. On day zero I’d figured out there were 252 more days until my due date, and every night I subtracted one. Somewhere after 235 I stopped counting as often, but it didn’t make the days go any faster. Each one unfolded in slow, deliberate steps, like intensely intricate origami.
I called and made an appointment for my initial scan on May 9. After I hung up it struck me that my initial scan with Vera had been on May 12 — almost exactly two years earlier. I still remembered that date. I still remembered all the dates of all my appointments from my first pregnancy because I’d counted down to each of them, one day at a time.
This was starting to feel very familiar. I was starting to feel like I could handle that.
Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all? We had been trying to answer the question of whether or not to have a second kid, anyway, and this was certainly one way to answer it!
We could get #2 popped and locked before 2016 was over and out. It would be hectic but it would be done, and we would be done for good after that. No more questioning, no more wondering, no more waiting. No more crying over decorating.
(Fine, some crying over decorating.)
They’d be almost exactly two years apart and the younger one could wear all the same clothes for all the same seasons. Summer babies are understandably popular but a benefit of winter is that you get the shittiest weather over with at the same time as the shittiest weeks of infanthood. Spring waxes just as the darkness wanes, and by the time summer hits everything is golden and warm and you’ve got a grinning Gerber-esque baby rolling around on the floor, gumming your laptop wires. It’s great timing. It’s almost perfect.
Maybe it was meant to be.
The weekend after I took the test, I tried to go for a run and I didn’t run very well. My back hurt, I felt winded, I felt tired, I was done. The nausea came again that afternoon, like it had the few previous days. It wasn’t debilitating but it did mean feeling kind of hungover from about noon to 9:00 pm, only with none of the blurry Instagrams from the bar the night before to show for it. I’d heard that second pregnancies could sometimes be far worse than first ones, so I mentally strapped in.
Then, right around week six, the daily nausea disappeared. Once again I felt fine. I ran fine. Everything was fine. Pregnant women often say they’re thankful to be sick, because that means the pregnancy is going well. And I always hated hearing this, because I’d only been sick for one week with Vera, too, and the concept of having to worry about feeling good is outrageously abusive. There’s already enough that can go wrong in a pregnancy. I either had to shrug stuff like this off or give in and let the fear and anxiety pull me under.
I shrugged it off. Everything had been fine the last time. By my count there were five more weeks left until May 9, when I could be reassured that everything was fine this time, too.
It was slow and rocky going, but a reliable rhythm developed. One, two, three, four, five, six, week seven. One, two, three, four, five, six, week eight. I began looking ahead in the calendar. June would bring the start of my second trimester — if only June wasn’t so far away! One, two, three, four, five, six, week nine.
Two days before week ten I started spotting; very light streaks of pink and orange accompanied by very mild cramps. I hadn’t spotted at all with Vera but I’d heard enough anecdata to know that to a degree it was normal. I continued shrugging it off — what else could I do?
The next morning the spotting was punctuated with a couple streaks of bright red, and I finally let myself give in to the fear and anxiety. If I wasn’t pregnant anymore then everything I knew would change; my whole timeline and my future plans would be undone. I didn’t want that to happen again! I called my doctor’s office as soon as it opened, hoping someone would tell me to come in for a scan so I could know for sure what was going on in there. But when the doctor called me back she said I didn’t need to come in. She said that even bright red was still within the range of normal and that I was probably fine. She said to wait and watch, and to call again if it got worse.
If I shrugged any harder, I was gonna fracture something.
It didn’t get worse that day, and I gradually relaxed. My understanding of the world sorted itself back into the proper bins. It looked like I was still pregnant. Everything was fine.
But the next morning, things became undeniably not fine. Shortly after I’d finished my workout, there was a sudden small gush of blood, this time with clots. “Shit,” I said to the bathroom walls. Just like that, all my bins had been dumped out again.
I got the doctor on the phone and told her what had happened. She agreed it didn’t sound good, but when she asked if I was having contractions I had to say no. In fact, I was still barely having any cramps at all. Could this be a glimmer of hope? It was impossible to tell without, you know, actually coming in and getting looked at. “Well, it’s totally safe for you to miscarry at home,” she said, launching into the opening lines of her Miscarriage Spiel, and I sensed the door closing again. “How far along are you, five, six weeks?”
“Nine, wait, I think ten,” I replied. Her voice changed, the door swung open. “Oh. We need to get you in here right away, then. Can you make it before noon?”
At the doctor’s office they didn’t weigh me, or take my blood pressure, or make me pee in a cup. The nurse simply brought me straight to the ultrasound room and told me to take off everything below my waist. Good morning to you, too.
They’d gotten a new scan machine since the first time I was pregnant. There was a 3D button on the keyboard, which meant that maybe one day I’d finally get to take home creepily detailed in-utero photos of my alien offspring. On the monitor I could see some screen grabs from the previous patient’s appointment. 19 weeks, four days. It looked like it had been an anatomy scan. In one frame you could make out an arcing row of spinal bones like tiny teeth, in another the perfect curvature of the skull. It looked like everything was progressing just fine.
Minutes pass slowly when you’re wearing a paper skirt. I kept wanting to get up and grab my phone from my bag, but I knew that as soon as I stood the door would swing open and I’d be outed as a person incapable of entertaining herself without a handheld device. Not only that, but then I’d have to crab-shuffle shamefacedly back to the exam table and try to clamber back on with one hand while holding the tent flap to my nethers closed with the other, all within full view of an audience. So I kept on sitting there, staring around at the rainbow-colored uterine diagrams on the wall.
The doctor finally breezed in and got to work diagramming my own uterus. I watched the onscreen sea of gray and black intently. She swept the wand front to back and side to side, and side to side and front to back, before a tiny clump of white finally revealed itself. “This may be the embryo here,” she said, “but it’s very small. In fact, it doesn’t look like it ever progressed past five or six weeks.”
She paused and looked at the screen again, and then looked back at me. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Is there anything weirder than a medical professional hugging you? Yes, of course there is, but it felt pretty weird at the time.
Back in my car I wore the hot, still air like a heavy coat. I sat there with the windows rolled up for several moments, waiting to draw some kind of final conclusion, but nothing came.
It’s crazy how knowledge can shift inside the space of one second. You’re not pregnant until you read the results in a tiny test window. You’re pregnant up until one scan. I was technically pregnant before the test, and I was technically not pregnant before the scan, but I didn’t know that until I knew that. And once you know it changes everything; all your actions and perceptions and thoughts. You begin rewriting a new present and a new future, only to flip the pencil over and begin erasing it all again.
I was back to a totally blank page.
Was this maybe one of the worst human tricks ever? That you can go on believing a thing even when it turns untrue? That you can lose so much time for absolutely zero reason?
I was angry at the time lost to untrue things. I spent six weeks of my life getting catfished, and I was never getting those weeks back.
I’d gotten sent home from the doctor’s office with a plan. If I didn’t fully miscarry on my own within a few days, I’d need to come back in for a D&C. My doctor warned me that if I did miscarry on my own I’d experience some contractions, but since I hadn’t labored before my scheduled c-section, I had nothing with which to fill in that contraction blank besides “general cramping.” She then followed up the warning with a suggestion to get myself a heating pad and a glass of wine, which only reinforced my assumption that it would be like a bad period. I envisioned my miscarriage unfolding with me curled up on the couch, a rice sock slung across my abdomen, occasionally pausing to grimace at a Property Brothers rerun on TV before calling for more wine.
And honestly, that’s almost exactly how it started. Later that same night we were sitting on the couch eating dinner, HGTV on low in the background, and I had just gotten done telling the beau that I didn’t know when or if the miscarriage was going to happen when I felt an ominous thunk-thunk down below, like my uterus had unexpectedly downshifted on a steep grade.
Imagine it wearing a trucker’s hat for a better visual.
After that things started happening quickly. I went upstairs to put on my pajamas and wash my face but these basic tasks took forever because I kept having to crouch on the floor to collect myself. I came back downstairs gripping the rail with both hands, practically on my knees, and it occurred to me that I was being overdramatic but I didn’t know how to stop. I was stuck in drama overdrive. Cramps began rolling up through my pelvis into my hips and back until my whole middle became fused into a single unit of searing pain. A cartoon caricature of myself in that moment would have depicted everything between my knees and chest as a dark cloud of scribbles.
Once, in a galaxy far, far away, when I thought I might be giving birth the normal old-fashioned way, the beau and I had taken a class where we practiced labor positions. One of the positions had me on my hands and knees while the beau pushed on my lower back, and whether on memory or instinct, I found myself somehow going straight back to this. The beau took longer to arrive, but that was mainly due to the fact that I could only communicate what I wanted in guttural monosyllables and angry gestures.
I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. When the contractions came I draped myself over the coffee table and moaned while the beau leaned on my hips. Between contractions, I lay in Child’s Pose on the floor and rocked. Faint transmissions from the world I had left behind occasionally pierced my consciousness: the big reveal on the home renovation show, the forgotten glass of wine sitting on the countertop. But mostly all I heard and saw was a wall of static. I was an untethered astronaut floating in the deep black universe of myself.
I made the beau go to bed at midnight, and I went to labor on the spare room bed in hopes that it might be more comfortable than the floor. Around 1:00 am some kind of eye of the storm must have passed over, because the pain receded enough for me to actually doze off. About 20 minutes later I awoke with a start. Disoriented, I stood up and touched my pants. They were wet. I looked at the bed and saw a large spot on the duvet — dark on dark. I went to the bathroom and pulled my pants down and whoosh, a torrent of blood went rushing down the toilet and swept across the tile floor.
I sat there for a long time contemplating the enormity of the cleanup duty before me. I mean, it was funny when you thought about it hard enough. Maybe I should put on a prom gown and call it a tribute to Carrie. On the other hand, it was also remarkably unfunny. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did neither. Instead I got to work.
I considered waking the beau up to help, but we’d decided he’d sleep now and then get up early with the baby so that I could hopefully sleep later, when this was all over. But was it ever going to be over? I didn’t know. Maybe this was just forever now. Maybe the rest of my life was going to be cleaning up blood in the dark. It had soaked through every layer of the bed, down to the fitted sheet, and I wanted to get it in the wash before it set. But the contractions had come back with a fierceness and they made for very slow work. I’d wrestle one corner of a blanket out from under the mattress, then lie down on the floor to rock and howl, then get back up and peel another corner out.
The night went on like this. I cleaned and rocked, and rocked and cleaned.
By dawn I felt like I’d threaded the needle of myself 1,000 times and I was never going to be the same.
I miscarried because I wasn’t grateful enough, right?
A few days following the physical crash, the emotional one came. It happened to be Mother’s Day, because the universe is irony’s number one fan. The day started off on the wrong foot when I cried because I didn’t get to sleep in and it only went downhill from there. I cried because I felt guilty about the beau driving the baby to my parents’ by himself, I cried because all the galleries in the funky art district we tried to visit were closed, I cried because I was worried that the new sushi place we’d thought about trying for lunch might turn out to only be average.
I cried because I was crying.
Some hours into this I realized it wasn’t really the sushi that was giving me grief.
One of the things I was grieving the most was the progress. I’d really thought I was powering through the first trimester. I’d thought I was on schedule to hit the midway mark in July. That knowledge had been helping me through the trenches of the early weeks. There’s nothing like having a finish line in sight! Now I’d been sent all the way back to the beginning of the race. Scratch that, the race had been cancelled. I was out there staggering around at dawn with a bib tacked to my shirt, wondering where the fuck everyone went.
Another thing I was grieving was my vision of the future. I’d just settled into the comfortable certainty that we’d be having a second kid right around the end of November. It had become my reality. Now, there would be no early winter baby. There would be no small army of Sagittarians for me to raise. I was no closer to the Next Life Phase than I was a year and a half ago.
I knew these were ridiculous things to feel sad about, in the wider scope of Things To Feel Sad About. Oh, my timeline got pushed back? Fuck me.
But that day, I couldn’t stop feeling sad.
Fuck “it was meant to be.”
After it was over, I spent a few days walking around life with my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t believe women did this all the time, since the beginning of time. I mean, I’d always thought miscarriages sounded terrible and I always felt sorry when they happened to other people. But I didn’t really know until I knew. I didn’t know they could hurt that bad! Part of that is my own dopey cluelessness, and part of that is our culture’s collective willful ignorance about female bodies. Still, I was floored. Stunned. I wanted to grab the hands of every lady I met and just… I don’t know. Never let go? Only let go when they got sweaty or we needed to eat?
Not everyone’s miscarriage experience is the same, and not everyone wants to talk about it. But I found myself wanting to talk about it and not knowing how. What was there to say? “Buncha blood came out of my crotch the other night, boy was that a trip!” I mean, what? It’s not an easy topic to volunteer information on, so I said nothing. And no one asked, because why would they? And I began to see how we got here; why miscarriages remain shadowy, nebulous concepts. Because even when there is a conversation, it usually goes like this:
Woman: “I had a miscarriage.”
Everyone else: “Oh no, that sucks.”
And then no one talks about it again. The whole thing may as well have happened to a stranger on a remote island.
Maybe talking isn’t a solution. I don’t really have a solution here.
I just wish women had to feel like islands only when they wanted to.
After all the fervent hand-wringing and fence-sitting I did for years before even trying for the first kid, I’d assumed the decision to have a second would come easier. I thought it would be either, “Yes, there were ups and downs but this has been overall net positive, let’s expand our brand with a second franchise,” or, “HELL DAMN FUCKING NO.” I didn’t realize there might be a third option, which was: “Let’s wring our hands and sit on fences over whether #2 is a good or a bad idea.” And I sure as fuck didn’t realize there might be a fourth option, which was: “Let’s get semi-surprise pregnant and then miscarry and then be like, ‘Wait, what?'”
So I’m back here at square one, and I still have the numbers question staring me in the face. But for the first time, I think I feel like we need to try again. I guess if there’s anything remotely positive to come out of this experience, it’s knowing that — because I never fucking knew, before.
And I still don’t know know. I have all the same worries about the impact a second kid would have on our family dynamic, our time and energy, and our finances. I continue to dread being pregnant, because in my heart of hearts I’ll always be an ungrateful asshole who can’t bring myself to appreciate the miracle of life. More than that, though, the very idea feels fraught with vulnerability and anxiety this time around, I guess for obvious reasons.
After so much time spent weighing good and bad choices, I figured out there are no good or bad choices. There’s just the path you’ve taken up to where you’re standing right now. And I’m tired of standing here. I just want to get going again.
I’m feeling better lately. I still get this urge to punch pregnant people, and I’m still mad that if I got pregnant again in the next six months, I’d have to be pregnant at Christmas, and the last thing I wanted was to be pregnant at Christmas for some reason?
I said I was feeling better but I didn’t say I was feeling rational.