I hadn’t thought about this blog post in years until my last doctor’s visit. That’s not to say that I didn’t think about it at all. One day, shortly after the miscarriage, I was at a family member’s home. I was the largest I had ever been in my life. It wasn’t just a big boned or “thick” kind of fat. Toad-ish is the only way I could describe it. My face was swollen, my belly was swollen, I was swollen. I hadn’t shared what had happened with anyone other than my best friends – not even my kids. I sat there… profoundly sad, and hopelessly fat. My body thought we were having a baby.
Then she did it. She snuck a photo of me. I saw her do it in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t believe it. She didn’t see me look at her because she was busy checking it on the screen of her digital camera. I looked to my right and my left to see if the kids were there doing something cute. They were nowhere near the frame. It was just me… sitting on the couch in my PJ’s looking like a lump. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to push myself off of the couch and lunge at her. But the pad reminded me that I couldn’t make any sudden moves or there could be an accident. I was still bleeding.
I already knew where the photo was going. “Look. Donnie’s wife is fat now, see?” I wanted to explain myself. I didn’t. I just sat. So impossibly sad that I couldn’t even cry. I wanted to say all kinds of terrible things, but that wouldn’t erase that picture or erase the memory of her taking it. So I just sat. I didn’t want my kids to see me upset. I didn’t want them to know what happened. And the one with the camera, she didn’t deserve to know. I never told her that I saw what she did. Every time I see her, or that couch, I think about it – otherwise, I don’t think about it much anymore. I keep telling myself that maybe I was mistaken, that no one is that terrible, but… alas… they are.
After this last visit to the doctor, I was forced to think about it once again. I had written about it years ago with the full intention of starting a conversation about pregnancy and loss in our community. I sent it to a few people who knew about it. They encouraged me to share it when I was ready. My husband refused to read it back then. I read it to him today. Here is the post that I wrote more than five and a half years ago, about the child I thought I would meet the year before that. It was in my “sent” email folder, waiting patiently to be shared. I don’t know if I was a better or worse writer back then, but here are my words exactly as they were in 2012.
I thought my womb was lined with gold. I’ll admit that I loved that series of questions they’d ask during the check in with the nurse at the gynecologist.
“How many pregnancies?”
“How many live births?”
“How many full term?”
“How many children do you have living now?”
I liked how the nurse asking the questions would look at me all wide eyed and surprised. That’s right – I had the golden womb. The platinum punany that produced three of the finest children a crotch could produce.
My first child was born while I was single. The cord was wrapped around him, and they had to use suction and forceps to get him out, but aside from the lump on the top of his head and the facial palsy – both temporary – he was perfect. My second child was born when I was married, and gave me a way to go. I was in the house or in the bed most of the time, since fluorescent lights would make me pass out. I got some mysterious illness that made me the subject of the studies the interns and residents at the hospital making their morning rounds (it was all very House like), and I credit my middle son with making the first and hopefully the last anal swab of my life necessary. My husband likes to say that my daughter tried to take everything with her when she left. You know how when a house gets foreclosed on, and the owners get mad and take everything out, sometimes even the kitchen sink? She had no intention of anyone inhabiting her house after her. I never actually went into labor with her. I just had intense pain – apparently my placenta started coming off and bleeding into my uterus. So they induced labor, and she came on out. They told me that the whole ordeal could have killed us both. At that point, my husband said, “that’s it – no more kids.” I was fine with that, until I wasn’t.
I missed my period, and remember thinking – “What. On. Earth.”
I was 35, had 3 kids, and I was pregnant again? Really? I immediately started thinking mini-van, pediatrician appointments, OBGyn visits, all that. My insurance didn’t cover any of that, so this was going to be an out of pocket baby. I was getting used to the idea in the waiting room of the doctor’s office… I was happy by the time they took my blood… I was excited putting on the paper gown and stepping out of my shoes….
“Are you sure you’ve only missed one month?”
“I am sure, “ I said.
“Well, how do you know? Your uterus is pretty large for just 6 weeks. What do you use for birth control?”
“We have an app for that.” I said matter of factly. She actually doubled over laughing. Apparently she had – at that very minute – heard it all.
I was thrilled when she wheeled the ultrasound machine in – I was really doing this again… I could hardly contain my joy when the cold gel hit my belly. Then there it was. The unfamiliar sound of – nothing. There was all the stuff I was used to seeing… the sack, the yolk that would become the placenta, but no baby bear. No little bean with arm buds and leg buds. No flickering dot of a heart. No sound. Nothing. Not even the whish of my heart… I think it had stopped. She would find it. I just knew she would. She didn’t. She called a specialist two floors up. The specialist didn’t find it either.
As I sat in her office waiting for the specialist to talk to me about what was likely happening, she got a call from her daughter.
“I’ve been calling you!” she yelled into the phone. “Well, if you don’t want to talk to anyone, take out your hearing aid, and you won’t hear the phone ring – then you won’t have to answer!” I am not sure what the expression on my face said, but she felt the need to give me a brief explanation. “That’s was my deaf daughter.”
She picked up my paperwork and said, “There’s a sixty percent chance that you are no longer pregnant. Each day that passes that we don’t hear a heartbeat, that percentage rises.”
“Okay.” I said matter-of-factly, like I always do.
“Do you need tissue?” she said, matter-of -factly, like I am guessing she always did too. I didn’t even realize I was crying.
“Most of the time, if these pregnancies are successful, the babies are born with all kinds of problems. Sometimes, God cuts these things short before they have a chance. These pregnancies that are unsuccessful are usually that way because of serious abnormalities. Some women don’t even miss a period. The baby just goes away when their period comes. You are hurt now, but He has a way of working these things out.”
I was waiting for her to say, “I have a deaf daughter – I know these things, “ but she didn’t. I still feel like she was thinking it.
I had never had a doctor talk about God’s will during a consultation. I had also never had one of these “bad news” conversations with a doctor before. It was all new – and it sucked. I hated her use of “successful” and “unsuccessful” when she referred to pregnancy. I was raised by two Caribbean parents, a doctor and a lawyer. Unsuccessful was unacceptable. West Indian people don’t lose. If we do, we definitely don’t talk about it. I wanted to leave.
I sat in the car and cried for a couple of hours. I was glad that my husband had a meeting and couldn’t make it. My empty uterus and I needed some time alone. I prayed for the baby’s soul, if he or she ever got issued one, so that it could rest in peace – and so that I could too.
My blood work said I was still very pregnant, and I felt it. The hormone levels refused to drop – like my body just wouldn’t give up. For months I stayed this way. No period, just sickness. I asked the doctor for a D and C so that it would just be over. They said it would be better if it just came out naturally. Well damn.
Eventually there was a cramp. I think I was actually happy. Then days of bleeding – like a terrible period. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t ever REALLY pregnant in the first place. Not really. The process had started, and stopped before it ever got anywhere. That is what I was going with. I only saw the very beginning of life. The house was all set up, but no one ever moved in.
If I convinced myself that no one moved in, then no one had died there. Then it happened. Something that no book, website, or friend had ever told me was even a remote possibility. The clots were getting bigger, that I expected. I got a really bad cramp, sat up in the bed to get ready to go to the bathroom, and as I inched toward the edge of the bed, I felt a release. I watched what looked like urine trickle down my leg – then a big rush of fluid – then incredible pain.
I knew that smell. That sterile, biological, odorless, yet pungent smell of amniotic fluid. My water had broken. All I could say was, “are you kidding me?”
I had read everything, and no one said anything about this. The doctor did say my uterus was big, and that she found it hard to believe that it was only six weeks. She did say it was filled with amniotic fluid – so I guess it makes sense that it would have to come out, but I figured it would come out with the blood. It didn’t. I didn’t have time to think about what had just happened. I had three perfect kids to take care of, and for the next year I did exactly that.
Then it was back – out of the blue. “Mommy, I had a dream last night.”
“Really…” I said, without looking up.
“Yeah, I had a baby brother, and his name was Benjamin.”
I looked up, and looked over at my husband, who was wide eyed – staring at the windshield – he wanted to look at me, I know it, but he kept staring straight ahead. He doesn’t talk about it – ever.
If it had been a boy, that was what we were going to name him. There’s no way she could have known that. I never told the kids there was a chance that anyone was going to get any new siblings. My kids hold you to that kind of stuff.
“Oh, really?” I asked – inviting more of the story to be told, but not really wanting to hear it.
Once we reached the stoplight, the hubby looked at me. Gave me a look. An “I would shut her up if I could because I know you don’t want to hear this and frankly neither do I” look. I am not sure what she said next. But I do know that no matter how far I push it back in my mind – I can’t forget. It really did happen – my golden womb failed me.
If you believe that life begins at conception – then there was life. There was an egg, there was sperm, the two got together and started building a home for our baby… it isn’t that he never existed. He just never moved in. There was no fanfare – no hoopla – no joining online groups for women who have had miscarriages. As Black people, we don’t talk about these things. We don’t talk about the babies we have lost – we keep it so quiet, that I’ll bet people of other races assume that black folks don’t lose babies. Well, we do. We have miscarriages, our infants pass away suddenly, and some of us can’t have babies at all.
One day soon, I will have to answer those questions that I so looked forward to just a short while ago. I wonder how I will feel about the answers.
“How many pregnancies?”
“How many live births?”
“How many full term?”
“How many children do you have living now?”
There it is. That is my story. Everyone’s story is different… I encourage you to write yours. Share it or not, just write it. My husband asked me just now if I ever wondered what he would have been like. No, no I don’t. I believe that if I was supposed to meet him (or her) I would have. My mom was always very open about her miscarriage stories. She talked about how if she hadn’t had them, I wouldn’t be here because she only wanted two children. She talked about how shocked she was that I wasn’t the flu, and how her OB told her that it was a miracle that I was even able to be in her womb, let alone survive to term with all the fibroids in there.
This experience taught me that nothing, including my golden uterus, is perfect. I don’t sit and think about the “what ifs.” But every now and then… I am reminded that once upon a time, there were four.