On May 10th, I had a D&C to remove the fetus I’d been carrying for almost 9 weeks. There was no heartbeat, and my body had yet to initiate a natural miscarriage, but I knew I’d go mad carrying around my dead baby, so I let the doctor talk me into removing it.
I don’t know how to start this story – it is one of the most heartbreaking periods of my life, and the hardest part is that I’ve largely been silent about it. Few people even knew that I was pregnant and very few know that Jon and I have been dealing with infertility for the last year and a half. At the beginning of this, we were silent about it because neither of us had the language to talk about it. I still feel like I’m struggling to explain it to the outside world, or even just to myself. The initial diagnosis came last year, and when it happened, it was such a sharp, world-changing moment that I still feel a deep inhibition about putting it into words. I’ve described it to a few people as a raw, animal grief – I feel as though I mourn it involuntarily sometimes, like my body just vibrates with sadness without my being able to control or predict it. I did not realize before it happened how much I wanted children, and how terrible the loss would feel when it appeared I could not have them.
Since the diagnosis, we have been through a special kind of hell – as one friend put it, “welcome to the club that no one wants to be in.” I’ve been through two uterine surgeries, both easy enough to deal with on the day of each surgery, but with complicated recoveries and the constant fear that the scarring from each procedure will make it impossible to conceive. I also live in constant fear that I’ll need an emergency hysterectomy and it will all be over. We’ve discovered that our families are not really able to understand our grief or support and comfort us very well, so this has only increased the sense of isolation we’re feeling. The culture we live in also has a variety of negative and insulting things to say about the infertile – I won’t repeat them all, but I’ve heard everything from “Maybe God doesn’t want you to have children” (meaning, I’m somehow less worthy than people who can conceive easily) to “Your problem is that you just can’t relax – relax and you’ll get pregnant” (meaning, this problem isn’t as big a deal as you think it is). Go to any infertility website and you’ll see a list of insensitive, cruel and hurtful remarks that people make to infertile couples – sometimes they come from members of your own family. And the worst thing you often get is silence and avoidance – I have one friend who changes the subject or abruptly ends the conversation when I bring up the subject of my struggle with infertility. In general, I feel like I’ve become the focal point for the unease, fear and hostility that surrounds the darker side of reproduction. I represent what a lot of women are afraid of, so afraid that they can’t even bring themselves to admit it, so they just want me gone, out of the room, off the screen, out of their lives, as soon as possible. I’ve had a lot of moments where I feel like I’ve been silenced, shunted aside, and pointedly ignored, for fear of what I might say or what I might make someone confront.
And then there was the pregnancy. It happened out of nowhere – first it appeared that I magically started ovulating again (after the doctor told me I had stopped some time ago, and if I didn’t start again, there was nothing she could do), and then while we were in the middle of testing and evaluation of our options for treatment, I discovered I was pregnant. It felt like the whirlwind inexplicably stopped, and we could see a way forward for the first time. I will also admit: I fell in love with that baby (to me it really was our baby), impossibly small as it was. We saw it on the ultrasound at 6 weeks and heard a heartbeat – that’s not something I think I will ever forget in my life. I tracked its progress every week, and even though I felt wretched, I welcomed it. I told myself I’d happily throw up for nine months if only the little tadpole would stick it out with us. I talked to it sometimes, telling it how much we wanted it, how loved it was and would be, thanking it for coming to us after all we’d been through. Feeling hope for the first time was very painful, but I let myself feel it – I would cry and talk to the baby, saying please stay. Please make it and live.
Around 8 weeks, I started to think it might just work out for us. We told our families. We picked out some names and dared to discuss what our child might be like. I scheduled a maternity tour and a birth class. It felt impossible, amazing even, that we’d had this lucky break after so many months of grief and disappointment.
And then, it just ended. When you work so hard to get pregnant, you take nothing for granted – every twinge, every change in your symptoms, every pain is examined in detail for any sign that something might be wrong. When my morning sickness abruptly stopped, I knew. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I called my OB’s triage nurse, “just in case” I told myself, and by the next day, I had an ultrasound and they confirmed that the heartbeat had stopped and the baby had died. I felt like such a fool, for hoping like that so early, for daring to believe it might actually work out, for loving something that much that was so small and fragile.
The actual process of removing the baby was a complete nightmare. I don’t even know that I can write it all down yet, but I will describe one moment: as they were wheeling me into the operating room, I began to panic. I had this wild feeling that there had been some terrible mistake, that they’d missed the heartbeat and we were about to destroy my child in a terrible error. I began to gasp and whimper, the whimpering became crying, and the crying turned into a small scream. Instead of stopping to let me recover, the nurses and doctor held me down. “This is for the best,” one of them said to me awkwardly, “Just let go of it.” They strapped me to the table and as I wept and thrashed around, they forced the oxygen mask over my mouth until I passed out. That’s the last memory I have until I woke up in the recovery room, the very last image of my pregnancy. Sometimes I don’t know how I am still walking around with that moment in my head, how I am not destroyed by that. Often I wonder if my pregnancy wasn’t some horrible dream or a joke someone played on me. How does a person hold that kind of thing inside her without flying apart?
In the two weeks since then, I realized immediately that silence was no longer possible. If only to save my life and preserve some sanity, I need to start talking about this. I don’t really have a great support system – a few dear, loyal women who know and keep me afloat, a therapist who props me up every week, and Jon, who is dealing with his own version of this devastation. Family members have really not offered us very much, and since the miscarriage, they’ve either ignored it or said the worst possible things. If I am going to move on from this and get pregnant ever again, or make my way through the landmines of adoption, I am going to have to find another means of coping. I am going to have to write my way through this, or else give up completely. So from here on out, we’re going to try this and see if it helps.
There’s an Emily Dickinson poem I’ve been reading, which I think explains better than I can, how I feel about the loss of our child. I’ll end this post with that:
Of all the Souls that stand create –
I have elected — One –
When Sense from Spirit — files away –
And Subterfuge — is done –
When that which is — and that which was –
Apart — intrinsic — stand –
And this brief Drama in the flesh –
Is shifted — like a Sand –
When Figures show their royal Front –
And Mists — are carved away,
Behold the Atom — I preferred –
To all the lists of Clay!