Way back when, back when my life was so different, when my husband and I used to get up and go to work, spend eight to ten hours at the office before coming home and going to work out, then coming back home and eating a leisurely dinner, then watching movie or reading a book, or any number of other things to chill out and relax, back when I worked in an office in a corporate job, one of our administrative assistants announced her pregnancy. She was so happy. She’d taken a pee-stick test that morning, and she’d gotten two lines. She was glowing, gushing, already picking names and shopping for baby clothes. I was happy for her, but didn’t think much of it. A few weeks later, when she went in for her first prenatal appointment and discovered her baby had no heartbeat, I remember the mascara-smeared tears sliding down her pale face as she sat at her desk. I remember how withdrawn she was, how lifeless. I remember feeling sad for her, and I have to think I told her I was sorry, but I don’t remember that. I only remember thinking she’d get pregnant again and have another baby. And she did, a beautiful little girl who is now a student at the Coast Guard Academy.
Miscarriage, to me, was just one of those things that happened, kinda like a false start in a swim meet. Growing up I had an aunt who had repeated miscarriages between her two live births. We were always sad, but it wasn’t talked about much and my parents always said she could try again. Then, much later, one of my besties from forever was giddy happy to be pregnant, then she miscarried, too. I remember being on the phone with her and listening to her cry, listening to her agony and devastation, and again, I’m pretty sure I told her I was sorry, but I didn’t get it. I really, really didn’t get what she was going through. Not until it happened to me.
Pregnancy didn’t come easy to me. In fact, we were downright reproductively challenged. It took us ten years and a whole lot of intervention to conceive. After five or so years we consoled ourselves with a trip to Hawaii. Then another, and another. Before you knew it we’d become regulars. Then it happened. We did our first IVF cycle and we conceived. It was perfect, it was beautiful. Terrific HCG numbers. Strong heartbeat. Everything…perfect.
But I was scared. No one really understood why, because everything looked so good, but I was really scared that finally, finally our dreams were about to come true—what if something happened? But we cruised past twelve weeks. First trimester in the bag. All those screening tests aced. Thirteen weeks. Fourteen weeks. Fifteen weeks. A girl. We were having a girl, and she was perfect. Sixteen weeks. I started to show. We went furniture shopping. Seventeen weeks. Everyone was so happy. We started thinking names. Eighteen weeks. We were almost half way there. Nineteen weeks.
Then it happened. I woke up one morning and noticed a bit of dark blood. I wasn’t overly panicked, but called the doctor anyway, and they suggested I come in for a sono to just take a look. I did. My husband had a meeting, so I went alone, all decked out in my cute little early maternity outfit. I settled in on the sonogram table, all chatty with the technician, and we got started. And her face changed. I remember that so vividly. The chatting stopped. It was like everything stopped. The world…my life. The room got so quiet. She wasn’t saying anything, just running that little thingie over my belly, with the most serious expression on her face. And I knew. Before she said those words, “I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat,” I knew. And in those moments, those quiet, still, frozen moments alone on that exam table, everything about me, and everything about my life, changed. More than my baby died; the girl I’d been died, too.
Some memories of the ensuing days are incredibly vivid, like going in for the D&C and having the nurse ask me, “do you know why you’re here?” Yes. Yes! I knew why I was there, damn it. Other moments are a blur. My husband and sister were amazing. I remember that. My in-laws, who’d been waiting so patiently for so long were lovely, as well. Only later did I find out my mother-in-law had hung up the phone and cried her eyes out. My own parents…I don’t remember. I’m sure they were sad, but emotion is not my family’s thing, and I just don’t remember much about their reaction.
Other things stick out, most notably the kindness of people I barely knew, and relative, or at least seeming, indifference of people I’d considered close friends. People who behaved like I had before, when confronted with someone’s miscarriage. People who, despite how desperately I’d needed something else from them, I now realize just didn’t get it. Didn’t understand. Because they couldn’t. Sometimes you just don’t realize how hot the fire is, or bitterly cold the winter is, until you experience it yourself. I ended up calling my longtime bestie and apologizing to her, for not getting it, not understanding, not being the friend she needed during those dark days.
So much ensued. Another pregnancy, this one twins. Eighteen more weeks of relatively perfection, until another sonogram, also at nineteen weeks, but this time with a perinatologist rather than a technician, and the frozen look on his face as he lifted a hand to chin and told me that he was sorry, but Baby B had passed away. Baby A was fine, and she was born seventeen weeks later. Today she is nine, and the brightest light in my life.
More stuff. More pregnancies. Another miscarriage. An ectopic. A failed IVF. Another miscarriage. Then another pregnancy…and another frozen sonogram, this time at sixteen weeks. Except he wasn’t gone this time. We still had a heartbeat. But he was failing, and the well-meaning doctor, the same one who’d discovered Baby B was gone, advised us to prepare. And we did.
Today that baby is seven weeks shy of turning five, and if you follow me on Facebook, you know just how ALIVE he is. Come May, for his birthday, I’ll tell his story.
When I tell people my history, inevitably many of them tell me how sorry they are. Some cry…they’re usually the ones who have walked in similar shoes. Others mutter something polite or change the subject.
But you know, it’s strange. When I look back, I now see a journey. I see a path, a path that led through some dark, lonely, shattering times, but brought me to a place where the sun still shone. I can’t say I’m happy any of that happened…how could I? But I can look back and see life at work, transformation, like a stream working against rock. So many lessons learned, so many changes. But I’m so grateful for them, too. I’m grateful for all the things that I know now, that I didn’t before. I’m grateful for the pain that I feel when I hear about another woman’s miscarriage, and I’m grateful that I now know to open my arms and close them around her, hold on tight. I’m grateful that I can, because the person I was before…couldn’t.
Looking back, the road we walked taught me about highs and lows and hopes and dreams, about faith and fear, that kind of soul deep fear that gnaws away at you, about grief and sorrow. But it also taught me about humanity and compassion, and even forgiveness, because I realize now that sometimes when people disappoint you or let you down, it’s not because they want to, but because they don’t know. They don’t realize what you need or know how to give it to you. I’ve learned to never let my discomfort stand in the way of reaching out to someone, and that even if you don’t know the exact right thing to say, fumbling through something is better than dead silence.
I’ve learned that you can’t always change the road you walk, only how you respond to that road. That life isn’t a punishment, but a journey. That we’re not islands, not meant to be, that you can’t do everything alone. That it’s okay to hurt and be weak, to need help. That strangers can be unbelievably kind, and that crying is good for the soul. That sometimes you need to be broken, so you can be put back together and readied for what comes next.
And love. I learned to love in a way I never loved before, never even imagined, so bone-deep, so all-encompassing that it absolutely terrifies, even as it fills all these nooks and crannies inside you that you never knew were empty.
I’m often reminded of a parable I once heard:
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling.
It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.
Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its richness and savored its aroma.
The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water. Each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”
Before my miscarriages, I was the egg, tucked beneath a shell and kind of hard inside. During my miscarriages I was the carrot, so broken down and weakened. But I like to think that with time I’ve become more like the coffee bean, transformed by the boiling water, but neither hardened nor weakened, simply changed into something new and different and better than before, ready for what lay ahead. And for that, for the person I’ve become, or at least the person I now realize I want to be, the person I try to be—the wife, the mother, the friend—I finally have peace.