ABOUT WHAT WAS LOST

I excerpted the following passages from the collection of essays About What Was Lost: Twenty Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope, edited by Jessica Berger Gross.

This book was incredibly validating of my experience and made me feel less isolated. It also gave me a sense of motivation and hope, and the sense, as one writer puts it, of having joined a “sad but wise tribe.”

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– Highlight on Page 39

I waited through the night, cramping, and throughout the next day, the word “blighted” knocking around in my head. I felt limp and angry. Miscarriage was the shadow to a brightly lit subject. People didn’t like to talk about shadows. They liked to talk about hope, and the unraveled pregnancy had no language, wasn’t suitable for discussion. With nothing except the wait to occupy us, Christopher and I went to a movie. Right away it was the wrong movie for me, harsh sounds, lurid colors. How handsome and foolish the leading man looked, how superb and invincible the woman. The cramps worsened, Christopher seeming smaller and unreal next to me as the physical thunder took over my belly. I went out into the empty lobby, the muffled stupor of the movie coming from behind the closed doors. In the ladies’ room the sweat from pain prickled my face, and I drank warmish water from a paper cup. The mirror was spotted and dull. I pulled down my pants in a stall to look at the heavy blood, as rich as cream, like something that should be good. My eyes traced the jagged lines between the small tiles on the floor. Other women had come in here and sat in this stall to contemplate some turn in their lives. They had stared at this floor. Stop, stop, stop, I willed my body, and went back to my seat, the dead thing inside me dying more each minute, inviting the rest of me to die, too. Each cramp washed over me like a life lived and ended, lived and ended, over and over. “Please, let’s leave,” I whispered.

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“Give yourself a couple of healthy periods,” the doctor told us as we left. “Then try again.” Hope, I saw, was back with its pushy agenda and wouldn’t allow me to spend one day talking about my miscarriage.

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Why choose videos, why make beds or send letters or put on sunscreen? Voices pulsed and blared over by the cashier’s counter—Due back Monday, receipt’s in the bag—and everyone was busy with acts and plans that overlooked my miscarriage. I felt dismal with isolation.

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I woke up Sunday to a gray morning and the sharp sounds of children’s voices over water. “Marco.” “Polo.” Call, answer, call, answer. Everything felt thin and tight. We decided to soak in the steaming water, something I couldn’t have done a week earlier.

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The miscarriage wound together with the abortion, pregnancy being about loss now, only loss, a big setup and a giant fake. Wherever I went, women appeared around corners, led by their pregnant bellies. Women stood up from loading groceries into cars and were hugely pregnant or dripping with children, the reminder of something I was meant to be doing, something I had failed to do.

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Christopher and I hardly spoke, because I couldn’t think of anything to talk about besides pregnancy—getting, choosing, keeping, losing—and only women seemed to get it. Christopher wasn’t counting cycle days or sensing ovulation twinges. I just wanted a donor by then, and he knew it. He didn’t want to make love that way, but I didn’t care what he wanted. A cruel force came over me, the bitter, selfish intent to make him give up something huge in himself as I had given up.

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The long, cobbled road after the miscarriage. While I wasn’t pregnant Christopher just seemed stupid, and I watched for him to make mistakes. His only one was in not being able to lose as much as I had, and I was mean and raw and didn’t feel the generous arc of love, the wish to protect him. I wanted it to be him passing the clots threaded through with dead hope. He should feel it, instead of me. That way I could be the one sitting at the end of the bed, staring numb and helpless at the other grieving person, keeping something of myself intact.

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anthropologist Linda Layne says of her own seven miscarriages, in her book Motherhood Lost, “I experienced these losses as an assault on my sense of self,”

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Mis-carry: The word itself creeps with guilty error, as if you’ve carelessly dropped something you were meant to hold. Pregnancy comes with a list of dos and don’ts, and doctors and the women’s health movement like to emphasize the responsibility we have for our bodies. So, when you miscarry, it’s hard not to feel like you did something wrong.

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When people tried to comfort me with some version of “It’s all for the best,” I wanted to scream. I knew that most miscarriages involve a chromosomal defect, but the statistics weren’t me. I didn’t want to hear that my babies were better off not having been born.

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As I unraveled—there was a long time when I didn’t think about anything else—I held on to the idea that I was joining a sad but wise tribe.

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Which makes me wonder why the common assumption persists that it’s better, or in better taste, to grieve for the loss of a pregnancy in private. I wonder if the politics of reproduction have made feminists lose sight of what should be just as important a concern—the effect a miscarriage has on many women’s psyches. Pro-choice women have trained themselves to think that life begins at viability; when we miscarry, we’re disturbed to find ourselves mourning a child rather than a mass of developing cells.

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Between 20 and 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, 3 percent of them after sixteen weeks. That’s a lot of awkward hush. Shouldn’t we be talking openly about this much more often, so that we’re better prepared for the grief when it hits us?

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Motherhood Lost, is the author’s chilling description of forcing herself to give a speech at a conference just as one of those seven miscarriages was actually in progress, “so my personal loss would not be compounded by a professional loss.” It never occurred to me until I read this that my own act of filing a story a year ago last December—the very same day an ultrasound revealed, like yours, that my pregnancy was over, and in the hours before a harrowing D and C—was similarly an attempt to show my colleagues and myself that my professional life would not be compromised by a dead baby in my womb. I’d have taken the day off for a broken leg or bronchitis. But something about having a miscarriage made it imperative that I never break professional stride.

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the shame surrounding pregnancy loss predates even feminist politics. I think we all falter around miscarriage because society has no scripts for dealing with it, and never has. There are no rituals, no expectations, no Hallmark cards for miscarriage—as there are in abundance for illness, death, even the loss of a pet. For the lack of such scripts, women who miscarry endure most of it in silence and solitude. “My Own Private Elba,” I called it, as I lay in bed after my D and C, wondering why I was being doubly punished: first by the death of this first baby we already loved so desperately, and then by all the friends and relatives working so hard to erase all traces of it.

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But the implication of all this “be careful” advice is that the shocking risk of pregnancy loss can be controlled. And I think ours is a generation of women who are uniquely captive to the illusion of control: If you study for the test, you’ll do well. If you take the Kaplan class, you’ll get into the good schools. If you drink your V-8, the baby will be fine. That’s how we run our whole lives. But pregnancy doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t. And later, when it’s not fine, you have two choices: Blame yourself, or lean hard on your spiritual life.

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Mostly, I was nearly debilitated by the number-one symptom of life after miscarriage: blinding jealousy of anyone pregnant, recently delivered, or who even appeared to be ovulating. (Don’t ask how I thought I could tell who was ovulating. Miscarriage-related insanity is a terrifying thing.) A friend who’d miscarried years earlier warned me candidly that you really never are quite okay until you get pregnant again, and, at least in my case, she was right. Which probably answers your question about whether my sense of self was assaulted. My sense of self was flattened. I became unrecognizable to me.

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Could you and I have read these pregnancy loss books at all—could we have written even one line of this dialogue—if we hadn’t managed to become pregnant again?

My note: But I am not pregnant and am writing this blog. Does this make me somehow stronger than them?

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I couldn’t slog through nausea and exhaustion and take vitamins and stop drinking wine and coffee while fooling myself into believing that I’d be just fine if the whole thing fell apart again.

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My baby needs me to take care of him and to anticipate his birth. My baby may not be born. 

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I’m not into drawings of angel babies or poems about flowers and butterflies. But the chat rooms are full of them, I think, because of the cultural and ritual vacuum you identified.

My note: I agree!

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Layne’s pregnancy-loss book quotes someone as saying that “hospitals seem to have no physical or psychological space” for women who have lost babies, and describes a woman left alone for hours after such a loss, because she was suddenly neither a mother, nor a patient, but just kind of a big medical bummer. Allowing all the women who miscarry into the world of obstetrics is like letting Dracula into the Enchanted Castle.

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Miscarriage is nothing if not a festival of ironies.

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hospitals, which thoughtfully offer massages and hot tubs and music for the new mommies, could also provide spaces—both physical and psychological—for the almost-mommies as well.

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But if you’re the woman who has lost one or more pregnancies and is frantically wondering whether you’re fated to become a “serial miscarrier” (another unfortunate, heart-sinking term), every piece of take-it-easy, wait-and-see advice is a torment.

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“I went out full, but empty has God returned me,” Naomi tells the women of Bethlehem when she returns to their city after a long absence.

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There is no reason to keep your pregnancy secret from those people who will be your best supports if something does go wrong. Telling no one for the statutory twelve weeks ensures only that you suffer alone.

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Both of these comments tried to erase the existence of that first deep love; like trying to set a widower up on a foxy new blind date at his wife’s funeral.

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There is another, far more rational part of me that understands that I have simply traded one very valuable set of life experiences for a different set, that are probably equally valuable, and regardless of their value, they make up the path I am walking this time around.

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I knew it was wrong to put so much stock in having a baby, but I couldn’t help myself. I fantasized about knitting baby scarves and making fresh-baked bread, about having some reason beyond myself to get up in the morning and put the kettle on.

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Where we’d expected to see a fetus, there was nothing but a perfectly round, completely empty, placental sac. Despite my morning sickness and swelling tummy, the fetus had stopped developing days or weeks earlier. “I’m so sorry,” said the doctor. “Oh my God,” said Neil. I was shaking, in shock. I was sweating. The air around my ears had stopped working properly. Neil came toward me, wanting to hold me. This couldn’t be happening. The what-if was real. I should never have hoped in the first place. I pushed Neil away.

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I couldn’t connect with Neil. He could never understand what I was going through. Something in me was dead.

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There was no baby in the sac. Still, we’d wait for the results of one last blood test. That was the worst part, the waiting. I returned home and collapsed into bed, sobbing and holding Neil’s hand, drinking ginger ale and eating toast to counteract the continuing nausea of morning sickness—never pleasant but now too much to bear.

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But this time natural wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted it all to be over. I couldn’t stand another minute, much less a day or week of feeling pregnant when there was no baby.

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Putting my feet up into the cold stirrups, it was all I could do to hold my arm out for a shot of Valium and wordlessly make note of the vacuum-like device that would take from me the last of my pregnancy.

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I was suffering from a form of postpartum depression, the doctor said, a chemical reshuffling of hormones.

My note: This has happened to me four times now.

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There was so much sadness that lingered during those first few weeks. And the deep disappointment of watching the cycle of my body prepare itself for a new life and then shut down for death.

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Even the miscarriage took on an almost rosy patina—it was an awful, unfortunate thing, but one that we’d pulled through together. In retrospect, there was only so much sadness I could bear.

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The belief that all you need is someone to love you, close friends to support you, and sustaining work. I had all that, but still it wasn’t enough.

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More and more, Neil and I came to feel that the pain of the miscarriage and our struggles with infertility were clues pointing us toward what we were meant to do all along. A year and a half after my miscarriage, we walked into a sunny social service agency in Boston and began collecting information about adoption.

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The doctor came in, holding the printout of the images. “Have you had any bleeding?” she asked. “No,” I answered. Her expression remained professional and prepared, as if what she was about to tell us was as unremarkable as explaining why a knee aches. “What I think has happened is something called a ‘missed abortion.’ The embryo implanted and started to grow, but then stopped. At six and a half weeks, we should see at least a fetal pole and a yolk in the gestational sac, maybe even a heartbeat. But the sac we saw today is completely empty. This happens in nature more often than you might think. Your body should have expelled it by now. You’ll probably start bleeding any day. If for some reason you don’t, or you can’t wait for a natural miscarriage, we can provide medical intervention.” Miscarriage? How could I be sitting in an infertility clinic, having to hear that word after all of the other hard words I’d had to listen to in order to make it even this far? It wasn’t fair. For the first time in my life, I wanted to destroy the room I was in. Upend the exam table, knock the specula and jars of cotton swabs to the floor, and, especially, tear into teeny-tiny pieces the calendar on the wall that illustrated the stages of pregnancy.

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the monthly cycle of hope and disappointment that I’d grown so familiar with while trying to conceive naturally was a thousand times worse when infertility treatments were added to the mix.

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panic and despair seemed to ratchet up a notch with each failed attempt. I wasn’t in this to lose my mind.

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There is a chance that the ovaries might not respond to the stimulation drugs, that estrogen levels might get too high and cause serious complications, that once the eggs are retrieved they might not fertilize and begin forming embryos, that after the embryos form they might not live long enough or be healthy enough for the transfer. Simply making it to the day of transfer with a few viable embryos is a victory.

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The vast, blinding grief I felt when the doctor at the infertility clinic explained that we wouldn’t be having a baby next October after all took me completely by surprise. I didn’t know I had that many tears in me. Or that nightmares could be so vivid. In the days and weeks that followed, I dreamed repeatedly of a small, muck-covered coffin being raised from a pond by police officers. I stood by the shore, terrified. My baby, a little girl named Charlotte Jane, was in that coffin and I had come to say good-bye to her. Of course, my miscarriage happened much too early to know whether we would have had a daughter or son. But that fact didn’t stop the dream from happening night after night. Another unsettling aspect of miscarriage was how fundamentally it changed the way I felt about my body. I had always thought of my body as a miraculously good thing, a vessel emphatically, joyously of life. I never considered that it was equally capable of holding death, except, quite naturally, one day my own. That sort of physical confidence sings with life so loudly that it’s a hard shock to confront other, darker possibilities. In the time that passed between the terrible doctor’s visit and the actual miscarriage, I felt like a coffin on legs.

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As I waited to miscarry and worried that I’d never, ever be a mom, even just looking at a picture of a baby or talking about a baby was torture. Pregnant women on the street (and there are never so many as when you can’t have a baby of your own) drove me to new lows of jealous despair. I didn’t want to hear about or see any of that. Didn’t everyone know how sad and frightened I was?

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Her ultrasound could not have been more unlike the devastating picture of my fading pregnancy I had seen barely a week ago. What was she thinking? Maybe the same thing that my mother was when she called to tell me that although I wasn’t pregnant anymore right now, she still planned to continue acquiring items for the Alice in Wonderland-themed baby shower that she’d be throwing for me one day. Would I like to hear about the coordinating party napkin and figurine set she found online?

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I have to remember that I once thought of miscarriage as a “vague, bad thing” and as for infertility, well, I never thought it would happen to me and therefore, I never gave it much thought at all.

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I called my doctor to let her know I’d be coming in the following day to get a prescription for Misoprostol. I couldn’t stand the deathwatch wait any longer.

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As soon as I saw her, I broke down and begged for the drugs. I could hardly speak through my sobs. My overwhelming impulse was to get the miscarriage over with,

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They told me stories of their own lost pregnancies (one thing you find out after having a miscarriage is that you’ve joined a secret club of sorts) and I knew I wasn’t alone. They went to the movies with me when I wanted to escape. They didn’t let me hate myself when the inevitable and terrible feelings of jealousy arose toward other women with healthy pregnancies and babies.

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That attempt ended in an ectopic pregnancy, internal bleeding, and emergency surgery to save my life. I was devastated all over again, but not in exactly the same way. I felt mostly fear—fear that I’d never shake infertility, that I’d continue to lose pregnancies and go mad with grief, and that my efforts to have children might seriously injure me or worse. Despite all that, I had it in me to try one more time. That sounds more than a little insane, I know, but I wasn’t ready to accept the possibility that infertility treatments might not work for us, and neither was Doug. We wanted to be parents more than anything else. My shrink said I’d know when enough was enough, when I couldn’t face one more needle or test—that a feeling of certainty similar to peace would come over me. I didn’t feel that way yet. Instead, I felt like an exhausted but determined mountain climber who thought she’d finally made it to the top, only to have the clouds clear and reveal a new slope rearing high with its peak just out of sight. I wasn’t about to turn back. I had also started to collect information on adoptions both domestic and international. The file filled me with as much trepidation as it did hope. Adoptions cost a minimum of several thousand dollars and often many times that. I didn’t know where we’d get the money. And the average wait for a child was long—about two years, from what I read. Plus, adoption would mean really and truly starting over, with a whole new set of hopes raised and lost along the way. The thought of that made me tired in my bones. I’d already put almost two far from easy years into trying to get pregnant. If I was ever going to find the energy to wholeheartedly pursue adoption, I knew I couldn’t be looking over my shoulder for the infertility treatment that might have succeeded.

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Denver, Colorado, about fifteen hundred miles away—for our third and most likely final attempt.

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Shortly after beginning IVF treatment with the doctor in Denver, I became pregnant with twin boys. The first several weeks of the pregnancy passed without any cause for alarm, and Doug and I began, tentatively, to try on the names “Mom” and “Dad.”

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At sixteen weeks my belly began to contract mightily, making even the simplest daily activities difficult. I knew these weren’t the harmless “practice contractions” that happen much later in a normal pregnancy. My obstetrician back in Massachusetts sat me down to have the “if they come now there is nothing we can do” talk after he diagnosed the problem as preterm labor, not uncommon with a twin pregnancy.

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And now to be told it might not happen. That in its place might be a scene far more horrifying than any I’d encountered so far. Nevertheless, I made myself remember that these babies were still alive inside of me and that I was their mother. The worst hadn’t happened and it very well might not. No matter what, I am holding you now even if you can’t see my face or feel my arms. I am holding you now, I whispered to my boys, day and night, as a comfort to myself and to them.

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If staying in bed for a few months meant a chance at healthy babies, it was a small price to pay. How truly inconsequential, I wouldn’t know until July 2, 2005, when our beautiful sons, John and Reid, were born at full term by Cesarean section. I hadn’t even seen my babies yet—only heard their cries, because I was pinned down to the table while being sewn up—and already I knew that there was nothing, nothing I would not do for these two tiny boys. And that this day was not only the apex of happiness, but the beginning of a new life for all four of us as a family.

My note: I want this to happen when I go to Denver. I want this more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life. It feels dangerous to want something so much. I tamp it down and put it away. I remind myself that good things like this do not happen to me.

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I was diagnosed with a severe case of a pregnancy-related disease called pre-eclampsia, a mysterious, little understood disease characterized by a sudden and dramatic increase in blood pressure that can lead to seizure, or even death. I vaguely remembered seeing the syndrome mentioned in the “complications” section of my pregnancy advice books but I hadn’t bothered to pay it any attention. In my mind, sickness was something that happened to other people.

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The next thing I knew, he was gone, hooked up to a phalanx of machines at a hospital fifty miles away. After struggling to live for four days, he died in a plastic incubator, an oxygen tube taped to his nose.

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panicky jack-knife of his body when he was wrested from the womb, the burned red of his skin in the intensive care unit and then, later, the purple hue of death?

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It may even be that we let ourselves love our children as unconditionally as we do because we believe we won’t have to watch them die.

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Before Luke died, I used to look forward to the machine and the tantalizing puzzle of its snowy image—is that a foot or a head?—but ever since the last one, I had come to fear the machine and its ability to foretell disaster. Lying on the gurney, holding my husband’s hand, I kept my eyes glued to the screen watching for the frantic pulse of an early heartbeat in the gray fuzz of the image. Nothing was moving. “There’s no heartbeat,” I said. “Yes, there is!” my husband answered, disbelieving. The young woman performing the test looked at me blankly and said she’d be right back.

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“Nature is extraordinarily wasteful when it comes to reproduction—look at all the acorns on the forest floor.”

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I loved being pregnant. It was so easy to be good to myself when that meant being good to my baby. I had developed the wintertime ritual of settling in by the fireplace after dinner to sip cognac and have one cigarette while I read.

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I loved myself while I was pregnant.

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I remember feeling utterly, perfectly fulfilled. Carrying a child didn’t merely alter my experience of my body. Carrying a child opened my eyes to a reality greater than myself. I had felt loved—honestly and deeply and unreservedly—before I got pregnant, but now I felt something more. I didn’t just feel loved—I felt like I was inside love. I did not comprehend this feeling as God, but as Life. It was as if I looked around myself—outside myself, beyond myself—and said, “Ah, yes. Now I get it.”

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I told her to fuck off. I told them all to fuck off, to leave me alone. My baby was dead. How was I overreacting? I got dressed, still crying and cursing, and I went to the hospital lobby.

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He had said it would be like a bad case of cramps, like intense menstrual discomfort. It was not like that at all. It was much worse, and each time the pain came, I felt the urge to push, and this travesty of labor was worse than any physical hurt.

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I recognized the gestational sac when I saw it—after I felt the last, fierce, clenching wave of pain, after I gave a final, terrible push. I held it in the palm of my hand. It was small and round and dark, like a plum. That was the last I saw of my baby.

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I lost a future that I had wanted more than I’ve ever wanted anything.

My note: This is what other people do not seem to understand. It is the loss of an entire future, a path you were gleefully on—whoosh!—erased and you are left in no-man’s land.

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I retreated from life for a long time after my miscarriage. I took a leave of absence from my job. Grieving became my only occupation. I stopped talking to friends and family. I isolated myself, but, even when I was around other people, I felt disconnected.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered intense bouts of baby lust. A pregnant woman passing by on the street was enough to make me lose my train of thought. I stared at women’s bellies the way some people stare at models’ bodies: I wanted what they had, and I wanted it badly.

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“Air travel is extremely dehydrating,” she explained to us, “and I really would not recommend a trip right now.”

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I asked her whether a multiple pregnancy was more or less high-risk than a vanishing twin pregnancy. “Look,” she said, “I’ve done enough hand-holding for one day. You’re going to have to trust me. Everything is fine.” Clearly, my pregnancy was no longer a piece of cake.

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I thought about the dissolving fetal tissue inside me being reabsorbed by my body, by the living fetus, and tried to keep everything—life, death—inside me.

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I lay on the couch and tried not to think, “I have a dead baby inside me.”

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“Perhaps when the baby heard all the people around me using stupid, trite clichés like things happen for a reason the baby thought life wasn’t worth living.” As a joke my husband and I started using the phrase at inappropriate times. If my husband said he couldn’t find the Scotch tape, I would say, with a look of grave concern, my voice dripping with false sympathy, “These things happen for a reason.” After a while the refrain “these things happen for a reason” led to a free-for-all of miscarriage-related clichés. I’d come home to find a note from my husband by the phone: “Tom called to say he’s sorry about the baby and suggests we remember that a stitch in time does indeed save nine.” Late at night I’d whisper to my husband, “You know, I was feeling really freaked out about what’s going on but then I called Joan and she said, ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,’ and I felt much better.”

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One woman said, “Are you sure? You’re so big!”

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At night, though, I still dreamed about my son’s “lost” twin. In one variation of the recurring dreams I have, I take my son to visit his grandmother. When I arrive at my mother’s brownstone apartment I find the other baby. Another baby? I’m confused. All this time I left this second baby with my mother? How could I have done such a thing? I realize, to my horror, that I’d forgotten about this baby and now there he is: big, pale, angry, abandoned. In all my dreams the “lost” child is male, highly verbal, bigger than my tiny son. He is always angry. I am always ashamed.

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I was angry with the dead baby because he (both his life and death) threatened my living child. Yet I felt ashamed of my anger at this blameless fetus, and horribly guilty for having failed to keep them both alive.

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My beautiful, brilliant son is perfect, whole, and more than enough to make us a family. He is also, though I have spent more than five years caring for him and loving him, ultimately as unknowable and strange to me as he was when I first saw his shadowy shape on the monitor. I know, too, that while I will always try to keep him safe I am incapable of protecting him from the all the dangers and grief of the world. Of course, I know how lucky I am.

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I wanted to fast-forward past this time in my life, for it to be over with. I wanted to be unconscious, asleep, to wake up again somewhere else, as someone else. I remember surfacing from the general anesthetic after the procedure in a cold hospital bed, a tired-voiced Jamaican nurse chiding me not to cry. I didn’t realize I was crying. I was crying in my sleep, but I woke up hearing someone else, another one of the younger patients, crying in a bed near mine. When I finally got out of bed, on wobbly legs, to use the bathroom, I remember the flooding—bright red splotches of blood on the bathroom floor. I leaned against the tile wall, nauseous and dizzy, and sobbed like a child, my childhood done.

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Two weeks after the D and C, I sit surrounded by pregnant women, waiting to see my midwife for a post-op examination. I feel indescribably wrong in the presence of all these hugely rounded bellies.

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Such intensely private fixation on a loved one who is and always was invisible, unverifiable; so much unexplained, strange mourning behavior in the absence of a funeral. All this makes the mother grieving for her unborn child seem a little deranged to the world that keeps looking away, pretending nothing’s happened, or otherwise claims over and over it wishes it could understand.

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One aspect of miscarriage that’s seldom discussed is what happens when a suddenly supercharged sense of self-confidence is precipitously reversed. How it can hit the woman with a shocking, vertiginous crisis of identity. Miscarriage does this to me, deals me something of an existential blow.

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– Highlight on Page 209

I wake up in a panic in the black middle of the night, several weeks after the miscarriage, recalling the clinic’s Pine-Sol smell, the face of the anesthetist telling me to count backward from ten to nothing, the curious, useless paper shoes I’d woken up wearing in the recovery room. Then it hits, in the middle of all these shaken-loose details, the sudden realization that my child’s body (and it was a body, though no one ever said that word, only “matter” and “tissue,” rendered shapeless, ungraspable) had simply been discarded along with all the clinic’s “medical waste” of that day.

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– Highlight on Page 210

But the memory garden for miscarried, stillborn and aborted children (in a province just outside Kyoto, I think), is filled not with explanations or justifications, not with politics or polemics, but with private missives written on the folds of fluttering paper sleeves, by women, men, mothers, fathers. No one’s story, no one’s account of grief or sorrow or relief is questioned or held to account.

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– Highlight on Page 211

The puzzle you’re left with is how to assimilate this turn of events: the death of someone who never lived but was all in your imagination; who was real, and who opened up an enormous space inside you, but will never fill it.

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– Highlight on Page 212

number of pregnancies—four; number of births—two. The question, the imbalanced equation, which the gynecologist jots down in shorthand figures and symbols, always sends a tiny shock through me. Makes me think of the disparity between my two crazy, amazing children, and my other two, the phantom siblings.

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– Highlight Loc. 74-76

unsure of myself in my new career as a writer, I had hung all my hopes on motherhood. The baby and I would spend our days together, making art, hanging out in the park, visiting my professor husband on campus during lunchtime, and developing the sort of intense bond I never had with my own mother.

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– Highlight Loc. 83-88

It was a hard subject to discuss. Somewhere along the way we’d all picked up the idea that this wasn’t something we should be so upset about. Our doctors had told us the same thing, that miscarriage was nature’s way of ending a doomed pregnancy gracefully. The fact that we’d gotten pregnant in the first place meant that we could again. The best way to get over miscarriage, they advised, was to start trying to have another baby. But while both of my friends had gone on to have children, neither had finished grieving her miscarriage. Although Neil and I would start trying again a month later, my grief, too, remained, becoming a part of me. How long would the sadness last? Were we making too much of this?

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– Highlight Loc. 92-95

In fact, the one piece of advice pertaining to miscarriage that these books do offer is that newly pregnant women should wait until the end of the tenuous first trimester to announce their pregnancy so that they will be spared the possible “embarrassment” and discomfort of sharing the sad news of a miscarriage. People, I’ve noticed, have taken this advice to heart, even developing superstitions around it.

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– Highlight Loc. 97-99

But here’s the problem with keeping pregnancy a secret: If friends and relatives and coworkers and neighbors don’t know about your pregnancy, how will they provide support if the worst does happen? And, besides, women who make it to their second trimester aren’t protected from miscarriage occurring later on, or from the tragic loss of a baby during labor or soon afterward.

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– Highlight Loc. 100-105

the notion of keeping one’s pregnancy a secret for the first three months is just one aspect of a wider veil of secrecy surrounding miscarriage and pregnancy loss. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about women’s bodies—I’d taken my share of women’s studies courses in college—but was shocked to discover that 20 to 25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Why, then, doesn’t anyone talk about it? Is it because we believe, somewhere deep down, that the inability to carry a baby to term reflects a moral failing on the part of the mother, as if she were somehow undeserving of motherhood? Was I less than fully feminine because I’d lost my baby? Was I in some way defective?

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– Highlight Loc. 106-9

I wondered whether the lack of conversation about miscarriage might be a necessary by-product of the heated debate on abortion, with feminists like myself unwilling to publicly mourn the loss of a fetus for fear of giving legitimacy to pro-life views, and pro-lifers incapable of seeing miscarriage as anything other than God’s plan? Or is it, more simply, part of a larger Western cultural pattern of avoiding any head-on confrontation with death and its emotional aftermath?

My note: We are afraid of death.

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– Highlight Loc. 113

Really, I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone.

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– Highlight Loc. 154-57

I found myself going through a similar process of self-discovery after my miscarriage. Forced to postpone motherhood, I threw myself into my work, my yoga practice, and learning how to be happy. As I wrap up work on this collection, I am excitedly awaiting news about the little girl my husband and I are adopting from India.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you. I read all of these excerpts and will look for the book.

    Reply
  2. I loved this book too. Of the dozen or so books I read about miscarriage, this one was the best because it was the one I could most relate to. (I also liked Coming to Term.)

    Reply

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