Once Upon a Child
I can remember what life was like before the reality of my miscarriage set in. I was a young bride, living life on the beaches of California. My husband had just returned home from his second deployment. We couldn’t wait to start “growing” our family. I was happy. Then one day, it all changed. I lost my unborn child. Having my miscarriage was a physically and emotionally difficult experience. That day will stick with me forever.
As I sit on the toilet waiting for the results, I think of all the fun ways I can tell my husband that he is going to be a father. I can wrap the test in a box and let him open it, create a puzzle for him to solve or a treasure hunt to go on. My thoughts are interrupted by the buzzing of the timer. I look over at the stick sitting on the edge of the bathtub and I see that two pink lines have appeared. I take a picture and text it to sister, “Looks like I’m not the only one getting a niece or nephew this year!” I was thrilled that our babies were going to be the same age.
When my husband came home for lunch I could barely contain my excitement. Hiding the pregnancy test behind my back, I lead my husband into the living room. I jump on the couch and hand him the test that is wrapped in toilet paper. Unwrapping it, he does a double take, “Is this- are we- does this mean what I think it means?” I scream, “I’m pregnant!” Gleaming with joy, he kisses me.
A few hours pass and I start to feel a light cramping in my lower abdomen. I go to the bathroom and that’s where I see it. The thick bright blood on the toilet paper. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. My palms are sweaty. I can’t handle this. I can’t lose my baby. Please don’t let this be real. I wipe my nose on a piece of toilet paper. I’m a good person. I’m nice to people. Why in the hell is this happening?
I pull generous amounts of toilet paper off the roll and wipe several times to soak up the flowing stream of blood. When I stand up, a sharp, intense pain runs through my belly. The pain is too much, I fall to the floor. I stare at a Q tip that has found its way underneath the bathroom sink as tears roll down the side of my face. Just breathe. Don’t stress. This is normal. We’re going to be okay.
I find the strength to pull myself up. Leaning against the sink, I gaze at my pale, tear stained face in the mirror. The pain has become unbearable. I am now dizzy and sweating. I stumble my way to the kitchen and call my husband. It goes to voicemail. Not able to handle the pain any longer, I decide that I need to drive myself to the hospital.
A nurse calls my name and walks me to a cubicle, gesturing to the chair beside her desk. She wraps a blood pressure cuff around my arm. As the cuff squeezes, I feel tightness in my chest and throat. Tears pool in my eyes. This is utterly sad and terrible, I think. Sad and terrible things aren’t supposed to happen to me. I’m a good person.
She asks me questions and records the information on a clipboard. “Okay, let’s get you into a room.” The hallway is spotless and bright. The nurse opens a door swiftly and hands me a hospital gown. I undress, put the gown on and carefully climb onto the bed. As I lay back, the paper pillowcase crinkles under my head. Time stands still. I hear the voice of a different nurse. “Honey, your husband is here. Can I bring him back?” I nod my head, yes.
I can’t look at him. A combination of anger, sadness, and fear tangle up inside me. I feel like a failure. He asks me why I didn’t wait for him. Unable to answer, I just stare at a stain on my hospital gown, trying my best to hold back my tears. A nurse enters the room with a wheelchair, and announces I need a pelvic exam and ultrasound. My husband helps me into the wheelchair and we head into an exam room. Room 3. My heart sinks. The number 3, my unlucky number. This is not happening.
I lay down on the bed and put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor, trying to lighten the mood, holds the speculum up and tells my husband, “I’m going to insert thing that looks like a gun into your wife to help me see what is going on.” My husbands face turns pale and he squeezes my sweaty hand. Next, we have the ultrasound. I stare at the black and gray lines that swirl around the monitor. I watch as the technician takes measurements of what looks like a black hole. Is that my baby? Where is the heartbeat? I think. Please show us the heartbeat. But the room stays silent.
After the exams, we wait for the results. The medicine in my IV has made the contractions stop and my body cold. I work on convincing myself that everything was just fine as we waited in that dark room. Finally, the doctor returns. The first thing he says is “I’m sorry”. I lean all the way back in the exam chair. My face becomes hot and my hands are numb. At this moment, time itself split into two paths. The timeline I was supposed to follow veered one way, and I went in the other, the road in which I wouldn’t have a baby in December. Two roads diverged, and I took the one I didn’t want to travel. I continue farther and farther down this road, and the longer I go, the angrier I get. But, of course, there is no way back. Travis’s hand reaches out for mine and I take it, even though I can’t bring myself to look at him. The doctor kept talking, but his words didn’t register.
The doctor left, and Travis and I stare mutely at each other. I sit up, now that I can without fear of fainting. An eternity passes while we waited for the nurse to take us to a new room. I had the feeling that if we stayed in this room any longer, it could contain our bad news. We spent the night on the OB floor. It was a sleepless night. If we weren’t woken up by the nurse that came in every few hours to change my IV bag, then it was the lullaby that played over the intercom every time a baby was born. My tears soak into my husband’s shirt as he holds me tight, trying to protect me from the rest of the world.
As the sun came up, I stared out my window at the strawberry fields across the street. The early morning fog is rolling in from the ocean. My husband, pacing back and forth, speaks to his boss on the phone. The doctor walks in and peers at me over his clipboard. “Either you can have surgery, or you can go home and miscarry naturally.” Holding back my tears I whisper, “I just want to go home.”
Minutes later, an older nurse walks into the room. She hands me my discharge papers and information about having a miscarriage at home. She helps us gather up our things and as we walk out the door, she says, “Congratulations, it’s the most rewarding thing to be a mother.” In that instant I hated her. I knew that she didn’t mean it. It was the beginning of her shift and she didn’t realize that I had just lost my baby. It was probably something that she said to every woman that stayed on this floor. But I didn’t care. I hated her. Not having the strength to look at her, I buried my face into my husband’s chest, tears pooling in my eyes. I just wanted this dreadful day to be over.
The pain and bleeding continued throughout the next several weeks. Moving on was almost impossible. Every time I went to the bathroom, I was reminded of my loss. Is this little clump of blood my baby? Is today going to be the day? My visits to the doctor’s office became part of my routine. There were subsequent needle pricks and lab results as the doctor tracked the progressive drop in my hormone levels and my pregnancy slowly faded away. I learn that a miscarriage isn’t a black and white kind of thing. It’s a continuum: you’re pregnant, then you’re sort of pregnant, then you’re not so pregnant, then you’re not pregnant at all. During this time, the doctor offers no conclusive answers or explanations about why this has happened.
It’s been six years and I think I’m better. I don’t want to say that I am, though, because I do not want to get better. The physical pain is gone but the emotional pain will always be there. When someone you know and love dies, your life changes, and it is the change that fuels your grief. You can’t call them or see them like you used to; you can smell their scent on their clothes or look at them in old photographs. But when it’s an unborn child that dies, your life doesn’t change, and that’s the strange part – because it was supposed to. The sadness is in how things stay the same.
Once Upon a Child