Tagged miscarriage

Miscarriage

From the editors: We’re happy to welcome back writer and artist Joyce Hayden. Her poem “Miscarriage” appears in her chapbook Lost Handprint, published by the Dandelion Review. You can read an excerpt from her memoir The Out of Body Girl here

Miscarriage

Yours is the death the tribe doesn’t recognize,
the death I witnessed alone.

By the time you hit the sheet,
you were ashes. I won’t forget

how cold that summer turned after
you melted or how my days developed

No Witness by Joyce Hayden

sharp edges or how, with time passing,
you grow older. You’re the girl I wasn’t

convinced I wanted, and there’s no
name for the landscape I stand on.

 

 

 

 

Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is available from Dandelion Review. Joyce writes the weekly column “Must Reads” for Roar. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.

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The Facts of Life: an Interview with Paula Knight

Editors’ note: Dr. Elizabeth Starr recently interviewed graphic memoirist Paula Knight about her new book. Read on to learn more!

Paula Knight’s graphic memoir The Facts of Life is a powerful example of women’s work in autobiographical comics.  Recounting her childhood in Northeast England, The Facts of Life explores how we form expectations about fertility that then shape our adult lives.  Knight’s work illustrates the experience of miscarriage and living with ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia and offers alternative ways of valuing women’s lives beyond motherhood.  We’re grateful that she took the time to talk with MotherShould?.

ES: You studied Graphic Design and Illustration in college and have been writing and drawing professionally for many years. Did applying those skills to a graphic memoir about fertility and womanhood seem like a natural step—how did that come about?

PK: It was perhaps an odd step to go from illustrating children’s books to writing a book about not having children. Of course, some of those skills were transferable – certainly in terms of being able to structure and craft a cohesive narrative with so much information to juggle. My growing interest in graphic novels just so happened to coincide with the time in my life when I was trying for children (and ensuing problems), and it soon became the medium I wanted to use to tell my story, especially when I realised that other women my age were creating autobiographical comics. I began to read many more graphic novels about tricky autobiographical subject matter, especially health-related, and this made me feel that there might be an audience for my work in this medium. I also entered Myriad Editions’ (my UK publisher) First Graphic Novel Competition in 2011, and an extract from my book reached the shortlist the following year. This gave me the confidence to get on with the job after many years of ‘starting’ my book!

from “The Facts of Life” by Paula Knight, 2017

ES: There is so much silence surrounding the experiences both of dealing with miscarriage and living with a chronic illness, and there seems to be a lot of blame assigned to bodies when they aren’t working perfectly.  Your comics, for example, draw our attention to the language of carelessness or failure that is often used to describe miscarriage.  Chronic illness can also bring on feelings of self-condemnation or doubt, especially when there’s a delay in getting a clear diagnosis.  Do you think we tend to treat miscarriage and chronic illness in similar ways?  What was difficult or liberating in trying to break these silences?

PK: Yes, there appears to be just as much stigma surrounding the illness ME/CFS as there is around miscarriage, although the roots of the stigma are different. ME is a highly misunderstood invisible illness and miscarriage suffers its shroud of silence – possibly connected to shame around women’s bodily functions, and our fear of blood and death. There are also similarities such as feeling desperate to know the cause, and wanting a cure, when medicine can’t tell you what’s wrong or provide treatment, for example. Then, in absence of a satisfactory answer, the next step is to blame oneself. That vacuum also serves as a gaping receptacle for ignorant unsolicited opinions of others, unfortunately – if there is any room left in there alongside all the self-blame: Everyone gets tired; You can always try again, etc. It’s safe to say that neither miscarriage nor ME/CFS are patients’ fault – they are health issues that medicine doesn’t (yet) know how to treat fully. I try to fill some of that vacuum with comics, which, with its unique interplay of words, pictures and panels, is a medium well-placed to tackle subject matter that has traditionally been unspoken. I felt tentative about sharing the work online at first, but ultimately it was very connecting, and it encouraged conversations I would never have had otherwise. It felt very gratifying to receive emails telling me that my work has expressed something on behalf of people who was unable to.

ES: The Facts of Life makes such a persuasive argument that we could all benefit from getting out from under the sway of pronatalism: what are the things that help you do that?

PK: I’m interested in wildlife and the natural world. Environmental issues and the idea of the Anthropocene (the point in time at which human existence on earth is said to have caused ecological damage beyond repair) go a long way to comfort me over the fact that I didn’t have children. Human population growth is the greatest threat to the wellbeing of our planet and to our very own existence on it. I have a growing interest in organisations such as Population Matters and Eradicating Ecocide. Having said that, I’m not anti-natal either – I think extreme policies either way are a threat to reproductive rights (extreme pronatal policy might involve limiting access to abortion and contraception, for example). Of course I still have times of grief over not having children, and no doubt my child would surely have been a brilliant scientist who discovered new ways to feed everyone without harming ecosystems…. I also planted some trees as a memorial to the child I didn’t have. It seemed like a positive thing to do – trees last longer than people and are far more beneficial to the environment. The ritual of doing this helped immensely in our grief, too, so win-win!

ES: Some of the most powerful visual scenes in this graphic memoir depict how the ability or the inability to have children shapes the way people talk to you at parties or at work.  These casual encounters can happen so quickly, but can be so traumatic.  What do you want to say about how to talk to people who don’t or can’t have children?

EK: Perhaps we could try to steer clear of the more direct and intrusive questions. I understand that for people with children these conversations can be very connecting, but you don’t need a degree in psychology to read between the lines. Perhaps try more open-ended ice-breakers, such as: How are you?; What have you been up to recently?; Did you see Game of Thrones this week?; Where do you come from?; or How do you know *person*? This gives more scope to steer a conversation away from talk about children and avoid the risk of opening up raw wounds for someone who is hoping to have a nice relaxing evening out. Never ask why someone didn’t have children, or offer unsolicited advice. I wouldn’t ask someone why they didn’t ever do X job; or why they don’t own a bigger house, or have a partner, for example. Why didn’t you ever succeed in becoming an astronaut – whatever went wrong there? Why don’t you try buying a space suit and jumping up and down on a trampoline instead? Having said that, there was a very clever lad at my school who wanted to be an astronomer, and I would really like to know if he made it. It’s natural to be curious, but you don’t have the right to know personal details about someone’s fertility problems – and that’s what you might find yourself inadvertently poking around in when you ask someone if they have children.

ES: Do you have any advice for women who “can’t draw” but might want to after reading your book?

PK: I don’t believe in ‘can’t draw’ – anyone can! You don’t have to be a trained artist to draw – you weren’t when you were a child, after all. You didn’t care if it looked right then, so why now? It’s still possible to communicate an idea or emotion using stick figures or very simple drawings. Don’t let draughtsmanship, and not being able to represent subject matter accurately, put you off. It’s good to carry a small sketchbook and pen/pencil around at all times and that way you can fit in some drawing whenever the opportunity arises – in a café, work canteen, or on the train etc. Drawing from observation in this way is great practice, and you’ll never forget an idea if you always have a sketchbook or notebook with you.

Learn more about Paula’s work at her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Elizabeth Starr teaches writing and literary study at Westfield State University. Her academic work brings nineteenth-century narrative techniques into conversation with contemporary literature, specifically in terms of how we tell stories about illness. She is especially interested in writers who open up new ways of thinking about illness and health in their creative work.

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The Blame and the Shame of Miscarriages

I had my first miscarriage when I was 37. When I found out I was pregnant, I felt so intensely special. I was proud of myself for getting pregnant  so easily after 35. Less than two months into the pregnancy, I started spotting, and when I went to get my HCG levels tested for a second time, I learned that I was miscarrying.

That weekend, I was supposed to travel a few hours east to my hometown to celebrate my mom’s birthday. My mom, who developed a degenerative brain disease at 60, was turning 64.  I felt too fragile to go. I couldn’t imagine hiding my sadness and it didn’t occur to me that I could tell people. I had internalized the commandments of womanhood: you shall not divulge that you are pregnant before you and your fetus have made it through the first three months. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions, so I made up an excuse and skipped my mom’s birthday party.

In a recent interview on this site, a 57-year-old woman describes her miscarriage to her daughter. When her daughter, a millennial, curious about her mother’s reproductive history, asks her what she thinks caused the miscarriage, she responds, “It was not my fault.” When we were ready to publish the interview, this mom of two successful daughters asked that we use a pseudonym.

Why did this mom feel the need, twenty years later, to say that her miscarriage wasn’t her fault? Why did she insist we use a pseudonym? Why did I feel like I couldn’t just call my family and say, “I had a miscarriage. I’m sad. I’m coming to mom’s party.”

Here are some synonyms of the word miscarriage: failure, foundering, ruin, ruination, collapse, breakdown, thwarting.

She miscarried; she carried it wrong. She lost the baby. How reckless.

I guess it’s pretty easy to see why she felt she needed to explain, twenty years later, that it wasn’t her fault. I guess it’s pretty clear why I hid out after my miscarriage. Paula Knight, a graphic illustrator and writer, captures all the shame and blame associated with miscarriage in her powerful comics and drawings, which explore miscarriage and childlessness:

“Failed” by Paula Knight, 2012

What if men had miscarriages? Would they be called miscarriages? My guess is that the word for miscarriage would imply less blame. The fetus died? Spontaneous abortion?

We are taught from a young age to whisper and hide: we whisper about our first periods; we hide our tampons, shoving them in a pocket as we walk to the bathroom. I remember a salesperson at CVS being appalled when I didn’t want a bag to carry my tampon box out of the store. I was a twenty-something-year-old woman. Yes, I menstruated. Why should I hide it?

Maybe it shouldn’t be the woman who is pregnant and then not pregnant who is so responsible for everything, for the secrecy, for the carrying the burden of a loss, etc. Maybe others can learn how to respond to the loss of a fetus. Maybe people could just agree not to grill pregnant women or women who are in their childbearing years, not  to ask so many questions, and if someone has a miscarriage they can tell you or not tell you, and you can respond by saying, “I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”

It wasn’t until I had a miscarriage that the miscarriage narratives came pouring in. Hearing about others’ miscarriages made me feel less doomed, less broken, less of a failure. This is why it’s so important that 57-year-old mom shared her experiences with her daughter, even if she was not comfortable associating herself publicly with miscarriage. By sharing her miscarriage narrative, she normalized miscarriage for her daughter. Hearing others’ stories and knowing that miscarriage is fairly common (as many as 50% of all pregnancies) does not eliminate the pain that accompanies miscarriages, especially for women who’ve undergone multiple, but it does  go a long way in helping women feel less isolated, less ashamed, and less guilty.

The miserable feelings that accompanied my first miscarriage were compounded by my age at the time (37), by my childlessness, and by the fact that I didn’t know miscarriages were extremely common. What a relief it would’ve been for me to hear the miscarriage narratives before I miscarried. Maybe I would’ve been able to go to my mom’s birthday party.

Have a miscarriage narrative? A better term for miscarriage?  Share with us in the comments, write an essay, or be interviewed.

Read previous MotherShould? essays about miscarriage here.

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Mourning a Miscarriage After an Unwanted Pregnancy

There was something about my period that wasn’t right. Having an IUD, it was usually much lighter than this. My womb felt emptier than usual. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. After a few moments of denial, I finally allowed myself to accept that I was having a miscarriage.

I was in my senior year of college, two weeks away from my 22nd birthday, and I was alone. Having suffered from depression since childhood, I struggled with what was happening. I was glad to not be pregnant, but realizing what I had lost hurt. I cried for my unborn child. I wasn’t certain if I ever wanted a child, and I certainly didn’t want one my senior year , but I still grieved for this unborn child.

Something in me decided it was a boy, and I was sorry for the life he would never live. I told him it was probably best, as I wouldn’t be able to provide a good life for a child. I was young, still in school, and only working seasonally. Even if I had given him up for adoption, I worried that he have a poor quality of life: I had read that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy have an affect on the child’s personality, and I probably would have spent those 9 months feeling extremely depressed. That coupled with the high chance he would inherit my depression made me fear he would feel miserable for much of his life.

I skipped the rest of my classes that day, barely able to leave my bed, arguing with myself that I shouldn’t be so distraught about this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. But there was something in that emptiness that made me yearn to be a mother.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened, he apologized for my having to go through the miscarriage, but also pointed out that it didn’t feel like a loss of a child. He reminded me of his mother who, before he was born, had a miscarriage. His parents had been trying for a child, but never considered themselves parents to that child.

“My mom has always seen herself as a mother of two, not three,” he said.

We were sitting in his parked car in the driveway of his parents’ house, silent for a moment. I wondered if his mother had felt the way I was feeling now. She had wanted the child, so she must have mourned it. The miscarriage was still fresh in my mind, but his mother’s miscarriage had happened over 25 years prior and before he was born.

He stepped out of the car and I waited for a moment, wondering if it was worth pointing out that my experience of loss was still valid.

I felt petty for being as upset as I was, seeing as we didn’t want the child anyway. I thought of the women who are struggling to get pregnant and resented myself for having, if only for a moment, been pregnant despite using the most effective birth control available.

Still, I resolved that this was more my miscarriage than it was ours. He didn’t experience it or have the same attachment to our would-be child. The child hadn’t been within him.

Now, it all seems like a strange dream I had a long time ago. Though it feels as if it’s part of the distant past, I try not to completely detach from it. It was an important moment in time that taught me a lot about myself. I realized I’d be okay with having an abortion because it’d be best for all involved. I was also able to give motherhood more contemplation.

I don’t know if my yearning to be a mother was a feeling I could trust or if it was actually a case of me wanting something I couldn’t have. The yearning was strong but, I’m still not sure if I want to ever be a parent but, for a moment, I was one. I loved my child, I mourned my child, but I knew this was better for him. If I ever have a child, it will be when I can give them the happy life they deserve.

Emily Demone is the pseudonym of a New England based writer and, like so many in her peer group, social media manager. She loves nature and the outdoors, but prefers watching it through a window as she cuddles on the couch with her four dogs. She tries her best to navigate the chaos that is being a 20-something in the early 21st-century and wants to let everything happen as it may, but spends most of her time trying to guess what the future has in store.

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In the Waiting Room

From the editors: In this beautiful essay, Tara Parmiter, writer and writing instructor, explores the emotional landscape of infertility.

The official term she used was “missed abortion.” Five minutes earlier we had been sitting in the scanning room, the technician gliding her ultrasound wand through the sticky gel on my abdomen and broadcasting grainy black and white blurs on the computer monitor. It was the day of our nuchal transparency test, about 10 weeks into the pregnancy, and we nervously but giddily waited to learn about that mysterious fold on the back of baby’s neck and whether it warned of any chromosomal abnormalities. I knew our chances for such problems were increasing—I was already 34, after all, just a year shy of the dreaded 35 mark—but it hadn’t occurred to me to think the test could reveal anything worse. Suddenly, we were learning a whole other story about pregnancy, about miscarriages that occur in silence, about clinical procedures to empty out the remains of our hopes.

Since by profession I am a writing teacher, that afternoon I started a pregnancy journal and for the next five years I recorded our disappointments, longings, confusions, and failed attempts to recreate what had happened so simply that first time. “Everywhere I look I see women with bulging abdomens, birds nesting, trees blossoming, fathers snuggling a baby against their chests, and I felt so wonderfully connected to it all, “ I wrote that afternoon. “I had a second heart beating inside of me, and now it’s stopped.”

Two days later we were in a very different waiting room, the waiting room of an abortion clinic where the doctors were going to perform a “D&C,” or dilation and curettage, to remove the contents of my uterus. Wrapped up in my own grief, I didn’t give much thought to the other patients in the room or what had brought them there; I supposed we were all sitting on those uncomfortable seats because we had to be. My husband witnessed one woman, though, who must have been in our situation and a bit more fragile. After slogging through all the paperwork, probably landing on the form that painfully asked you to sign that you agreed to have an abortion, she accosted the ladies at the front desk. “Do I have to be here?” she cried, loudly enough for all her fellow patients to hear. “My baby died, I’m not killing it.” I’m glad I wasn’t there at that point, for I’m not sure I could have held it together. I too wanted to ask, “Do I have to be here,” not just in the clinic, but in this situation. I didn’t want to be experiencing this pain, and as the years passed and we seemed forever stalled in the waiting room, I kept returning to that question: Why do we have to be here?

My husband and I had consciously chosen to wait to have children. Though we had met in college—we even lived on the same floor freshman year—we had waited five years before dating and then ten more before marrying. Waiting was an essential part of our romance, a story line I loved to retell when others asked how we got together. When we finally did try to conceive, we lucked out so quickly that I assumed all we had to wait for was that happy due date nine months down the road. The missed AB shook us of our complacency, however. In the months and then years to follow, I finally had to acknowledge that clichéd ticking clock: what if we had waited too long? What if my body could no longer produce a viable life? What about those frightening health risks that multiplied for both baby and mother at a staggering rate once you passed that 35th year? I found myself thinking wistfully of all the periods I had grumbled about in my lifetime, wondering if my ovaries had already squandered the best I had to offer. After all these years of waiting, could there be any Faberges left in those baskets?

I cannot say whether this experience is necessarily different for younger women—even if you have years to try, the desire for something now is undeniably powerful—but I can say that because of my age I was intensely aware of the passage of time. Each month started a new cycle of hope and possibility, ending with the depressing red proof that we needed to try again. As an academic, I thought research might help me cope with my anxiety, so I started scouring the Internet and library shelves for insights on how to help us conceive. I turned to nutrition and altered my eating habits, grabbing more leafy greens, choosing the organic strawberries to avoid pesticides and increase my intake of iron—I even considered swallowing those slimy-looking oysters for their amazing doses of zinc. I turned to science and learned how to listen to my body, charting cervical fluid to maximize our peek conception days, peering at saliva under a tiny microscope to judge by the ferning patterns when I would be ovulating, starting each morning with a thermometer under my tongue to count the twelve days of elevated temperature in my luteal phase (the time between ovulation and the start of menstruation). When I grew tired of playing science fair, I read through on-line forums written by other women trying to conceive (or TTC, as they put it), and as I learned to decipher their comments about their DHs (dear husbands), the abhorrent AF (Aunt Flow), and their “angel babies” (miscarriages, like mine), I found myself wishing them “sticky thoughts” (i.e., hoping that a fertilized egg would implant). But none of this research got us any closer to success—instead of sticky thoughts we were just stuck.

The other downside of my obsessive researching was that it made me hyper-vigilant, prompting me to analyze each little creak in the settling house of my body and to wonder, “Could that be a sign that I’m pregnant?” It is amazing how many pregnancy symptoms the imagination can conjure in the two week wait between ovulation and menstruation, particularly considering that few women actually sense any definitive symptoms at such an early stage. Rationally I knew I couldn’t know anything until I menstruated or not in roughly two weeks, but that didn’t keep me from spending the intervening days reading pregnancy web sites to review, yet again, those indeterminate early signs.

What I hated was being on the far side of the moon; in those early years of space exploration, the astronaut’s wives had had to wait forty-five heart-rending minutes to hear whether their husbands would return triumphant to earth or shoot off into space. I knew I shouldn’t compare my uncertainty to theirs (if it doesn’t work this month, we would always say, at least we can try again!) but being out of communication range with my uterus for two whole weeks was almost too much to bear. My body couldn’t divulge its secrets yet, and so I would have to wait, wait for a chemical message to leak its way out and eventually whisper its news to the smiling face on the pee stick. If only conception could be like one of those carnival games, I wrote in my journal, something that flashes neon and immediately blares a congratulatory siren to announce that you’ve won—bull’s eye! You flipped the frog onto the lily pad, you whacked the mole, you toppled the cans, you smacked that yellow haired clown in the kisser, you scored big! Winner! Winner! Winner! But instead, you have to sit in the silence of the waiting room, trying to get your mind off your body, and preparing yourself for good or ill. My research had told me there’s a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant each month you try, and suddenly I found those odds remarkably slim.

This sobering realization did not take long to impress itself on us. In the months after the missed AB, we kept trying to conceive, but I seemed burdened by the feeling that I needed to make up for lost time. I think I had placed too much emphasis on a single square on the calendar: I was determined to be pregnant again by my original due date, for if not, what was the point of having lost the first pregnancy? I had some sort of idea about the balance of the universe, the fairness of things: well of course I needed to be pregnant by the due date, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any reason for the first pregnancy to have ended. But there was no point to the missed AB, I reminded myself; it happened, without malicious intent, without the desire to punish us or hurt us or make room for someone else.

We even learned that the missed AB was caused by a chromosomal abnormality called Turner syndrome, in which a misalignment in early cell division leaves the baby with only one set of chromosomes instead of the usual two, one each from mom and dad. Turner syndrome is not related to maternal age and does not suggest any problem with the parents’ ability to conceive again; it just happens, and most of the time, as with us, these babies spontaneously abort. All this information was mildly encouraging—the loss was still hard to bear, but at least I understood the science behind it and that science suggested we still had hope of conceiving a healthy child.

I found myself thinking of the mother goose in E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: when asked why she had seven chicks but eight eggs, the goose simply replies that the last one hadn’t hatched. “I guess it was a dud,” she says and lets Templeton the rat take it off to add to his horde of random treasures. It may sound a bit callous to shrug off that unhatched egg as a dud, but at the same time there’s an honest recognition of life in that statement. I wouldn’t call our first time around a dud, but I did realize that I had to accept the loss and move on with life. I had placed too much significance on getting pregnant by my due date, as if that would negate the pain. My deadline, though understandable emotionally, was arbitrary, and I hoped that once it was passed, I could relax and trust nature to do its work.

But no, soon years had gone by and with conception still evading us, I began to marvel that anyone ever makes it through to birth. The alchemy of our existence is mind-boggling. Just think of all the complications that can happen in that rapid nine-month growth spurt, not to mention the odds of starting the journey in the first place—transmuting lead into gold seems a much more likely prospect. I couldn’t help thinking of all the warnings we had been told as teenage girls that it only takes one time… Twenty years later, I wished pregnancy would be that inevitable!

I finally had to confront another unsympathetic medical term: infertility. Just writing that ugly word brings up images of barren, blighted landscapes in my mind when I had hopes, instead, of being a lush and green earth mama. The medical profession doesn’t mince with words: if you’ve tried to conceive for a year without success, you are infertile. That doesn’t mean you’re incapable of conceiving, but it sure sounds like that to a frustrated layperson. At first I couldn’t bring myself to accept such a damning diagnosis; in one of my lower moments, I spent an afternoon in the stacks of the public library reading a book on infertility—I couldn’t bear to check the book out, or even take it to a chair to read in a more comfortable spot, for that would require admitting that I needed such a book. So instead I leaned against the cold metal shelves, turning through the pages and silently crying. What if all our waiting was for naught?  Each year of trying our chances of conceiving were probably plummeting, and perhaps some day all the obsessive scrawlings in my pregnancy journal would amount to nothing more than a record of frustrations and lost hopes.

Given my intense longing, it surprises me how long we waited to visit fertility specialists. Perhaps our optimism kept us pushing off that trip, hoping that this last try would be the one; we both believed that what would be would be, and we told ourselves that if we never managed to conceive, we would find another way to have children in our lives. I liked to joke about a baby dropping from the sky, our own little Kryptonian we could raise as our own and whose secret powers we would hide from the world; a tiny part of me held out hope that perhaps that’s how this quest would truly end! But perhaps we were also frightened off by that bleak word “infertile,” unwilling to claim that name for ourselves.

We waited a year after I got a referral from my OB-GYN, treating that little slip of paper like an emergency button, a last resort, something we would only press when all our other hopes were dashed. When we finally did seek help, we were relieved to find out that nothing was actually “wrong” physically, so the doctors set out instead to speed our chances of fertilization. At first they gave me Clomid, an ingestible medication that stimulates the growth of multiple eggs instead of the usual one per month; when that didn’t work, they upped the dosage, and when that still didn’t work we moved on to Follistim, a more aggressive injectable medication. Every month we’d go through a new cycle of blood tests, fertility drugs, ultrasound, IUI (intrauterine insemination), and then a two-week wait before we started again. It finally felt like we were gaining some traction, but it still took a year of these medical interventions before the wait was over: for the first time since the missed AB, I was pregnant.

Of course, that’s when I remembered that in life the wait is never really over; we just move from waiting for one thing to waiting for the next. In the first few months of pregnancy my anxiety did not subside; if anything, the waiting between doctor’s appointments became even more intense. Perhaps I was still so shaken by the missed AB that I could not wrap my head around the idea that a baby could thrive inside of me. All my earlier research had consoled me with the assurance that many fetuses spontaneously abort in the first trimester; before the days of home pregnancy tests, many women wouldn’t even know for certain if they had been pregnant or if their cycle was just off. Though this information had been mildly comforting the first time around, I did not want that kind of consolatory comfort now. Every time we went to the doctor in the first few weeks I had a nagging fear that the baby would be gone; the first one had slipped silently away, what was to stop this second one from doing the same?

I was in a new kind of waiting zone, wanting to leap up and down with joy but still unwilling to let myself get my hopes up too high. I must have been one of the only crazy pregnant women longing for unpleasant symptoms rather than the subtle “maybe I am, maybe I’m not” discomforts I was experiencing. Why couldn’t I just do something dramatic, I wondered, like throw up in the middle of class? That would be pretty solid evidence that the baby was still there, and would certainly give my students an interesting story to write about.

But though my symptoms were relatively mild, this pregnancy stuck, and soon we had passed the day of the infamous nuchal transparency test, the one that had sent us spiraling all those years ago, and then the day of the full body scan, where we could see a little well-formed skeleton and a blithely beating heart. With each new scan the baby grew bigger, and with each new week its movements became more pronounced, more reliable, more like the blaring carnival games I had mused about years before as we struggled to conceive. Those nine months were still a long wait, but the nagging doubts gradually gave way to more hopeful anticipations. Our daughter even kept us waiting in the end, arriving a week after her due date, but by that point I was more than willing to overlook the slight delay.

Looking back over my journals I vividly remember the strain of our continual wait; as a woman steadily getting closer to 40 and thinking that her chances of conceiving were slipping away, my voice in those journals sways back and forth between optimism and dejection, between a Pollyanna-ish determination that all would work out well to an angry resentment that everyone on the planet seemed to be popping out babies except us.

Now that we’re out of the waiting room, it would seem like I could just close that book and move on—our daughter is a gift who keeps surprising us with joy every day and we’re so delighted we kept trying through all the disappointments. But that is all the more reason to share the story, because these stories are the often unspoken histories behind the children we bring into the world. My mother told me at one point that we don’t usually hear about the long struggle couples go through to have a baby; those stories can be full of pain and longing, uncertainty and embarrassment, jealousy and despair, and if we’re lucky enough to conceive and bring a healthy child to term, we focus on that shining narrative, not the murky days before. But just as our long years of waiting are an essential part of my husband’s and my romance, the long years of waiting are also an essential part of my daughter’s story, one that I plan to tell her and that I want to share with others who may be struggling through their own waits. Perhaps we need more often to break the silence of the waiting room, turning to face those couples sitting by us and remembering that while we were all brought here by our private woes, our stories might bring each other solace while we puzzle out why we have to be here and why we choose to stay.

parmiter_taraTara Parmiter received her B.A. in English from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from New York University, where she teaches in the Expository Writing Program. Her research interests include literature and the environment, urban nature writing, children’s literature, and popular culture. She has published on topics ranging from the imagined landscapes of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels to the green gothic landscapes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga to journey narratives in the Muppet movies.

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Choosing My Choices and Stuff

From the editors: in this week’s essay, adventurer Ada Kenney takes a humorous look at pregnancy loss and being on the fence about motherhood.

“Everything happens for a reason,” say stupid people, in a world where there are starving orphans, kicked puppies, and Justin Bieber. I usually respond to their cliche with my own: “I’m sure you mean well.” Reasons are innate, but lessons are created as they are learned, so instead of looking for the reason implanted in traumatic and unnecessary events, I try to draw a lesson. At least that way I’m in charge.

It was Wednesday, and I was working. While struggling with a free downloadable worksheet that refused to be downloaded, saved, printed, or copied and pasted, the thought sprang into my mind that I was supposed to have gotten my period around Christmas. I remembered packing for my pilgrimage to my parents’ house and noting that I’d have to buy tampons when I got there. In all the holiday cheer, I had forgotten to note that I hadn’t needed them. I’m pretty sure the clock in my classroom slowed to a halt as I waited for dismissal.

I had never bought a pregnancy test before. Usually a comparison shopper to the point of neurosis, I immediately chose a two-pack of the only brand whose commercials I hadn’t hated. When I took it to the register, along with an Arizona Iced Tea, the cashier told me, “Be well.” I stared at her, trying to divine her intent, and then left, confused, panicking. What could she mean by this? It was weeks before I found out that it was a corporate slogan she was required to say to every customer.

In the bathroom, waiting: not me. Not this. Not now. And not with him.

But it was. Faint but positive.

He texted while I was on the phone with my best friend, numbly saying all the same things as all the other women who’ve gotten this same surprise. He suggested dinner at our favorite restaurant. I accepted, always having been one to get things over with. The sooner he arrived at my house, the sooner I could tell him and not be alone with it.

Divorced, he already had three kids, not a single one planned. As a veteran of this conversation, he reacted with impressive stoicism until I confessed that this was the last thing I wanted. We both assured each other that this wouldn’t change anything between us, that this was nothing, it was a blip. On the way to the restaurant, relief bubbled between us until we were positively buoyant over the kebabs.

The next morning at 5:45, I took the other test. I knew, the way that you know these things in your thirties, that pregnancy tests are more accurate first thing in the morning. All of your friends are trying to get pregnant now, so you know this without ever having tried to find out, just like you know about perineal massage and meconium and diaper blowouts. The test was positive. Strongly, solidly positive.

At work, I asked a coworker to watch my classroom so I could run to the ladies’ room between first and second period. And there was blood. I gasped out loud. “This is some prank, uterus!” I felt like yelling. “Way to scare me!” I shook my fist at it. In response, it cramped.

Back in my classroom, the cramps intensified. I’ve always been kind of a jerk about period pain. I go running during my period, I would say to other women. I go snowboarding. I go to the beach. You can’t just give in and lie down. Go kick biology’s ass! In karmic retribution, biology kicked mine. My momentary elation in the bathroom became ridiculous. Of course this was no period. This was a miscarriage.

Somehow I survived the teaching portion of my day, white-knuckling the desks as I bent over to inspect student work, leaning against the bookcase as I addressed the room. The students left and I collapsed on the carpet of my classroom. Sweating through my teacherly cardigan, I made a desperate phone call to my primary care provider, whose receptionist told me to call 911. Even in my haze of panic and pain, I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for an ambulance ride, so I called the only person possible.

Romantic comedies will have informed you that nothing is more clarifying to a relationship’s status than a positive pregnancy test. They are wrong. It is the emergency room visit that is the true test. In the waiting room, he told me about the kidney stones he had once, so that I would know that he knew what this was like. We sat without touching or looking at each other. When they called my name, he escorted me to the desk, and then stayed in the waiting room.

It’s a frightening thing to be a confident, adventurous person and suddenly be completely at the mercy of strangers in scrubs. Although they gave me some pregnancy-safe painkillers and the pain began to abate, I was still helpless as only fear can make a person. Was it ectopic? Was I going to die? Was I going to be able to pay this bill? I once moved to a foreign country where I didn’t speak a word of the language, and went to a coed public bath; here I was unable to bear being seen by a student nurse because he was a man. I went camping alone, even after seeing that movie where James Franco cuts off his arm, and here I was cringing at the sight of blood. Enduring a catheter, a blood draw, a transvaginal ultrasound, and worst of all, the kindhearted congratulations and comfort of every staff member I encountered, all for the sake of a baby I didn’t want, I lost the shape of my self and became a whimpering blob.

After five hours, I hobbled, bloblike, to the waiting area, where he was reading NBA.com on his phone on the hospital’s free wifi. He looked up. “Let’s go,” I said, and walked away.

In the car, I explained what the nurse practitioner had told me. Blood and urine tests had been positive for pregnancy. But there had been nothing on the ultrasound, although it could be too early to see yet. I didn’t mention what I had seen just before the ultrasound. In the toilet. It would be kindest to call it “tissue.” I would have to go back for another blood test in three days’ time.

“So we just spent five hours there to find that out?”

Like I said, clarity.

Coworkers called and emailed to ask how I was, and I ducked them. What do you say? “Well, I might still be pregnant, or maybe not. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess!”

Three days of couch and Netflix later, I wasn’t. I returned to work with a brisk none-of-your-business tone to my “thank you for your concern”.

Voice mail has never been my forte. Speaking into a void and knowing I’m being recorded is apparently my kryptonite. At the beep, I turn into a babbling moron with no awareness of social niceties or normal human speech patterns. But no message I’ve ever left has been more awkward than, “Hello, Planned Parenthood, I will not be needing my appointment on the 29th because I have had a miscarriage.” It’s like the setup of a sick joke. But worst of all, it robbed me of the chance to choose whether I would go through with it. I wasn’t a proud, bold feminist choosing her choice and keeping the government out of her body, but I wasn’t a proud, bold New Woman discovering the glory and power of motherhood either. I was just empty. I hadn’t even known I was a vessel.

Everything happens for a reason, idiots say. Find your lesson, I say. But what could I learn from this? I could live in fear of my body and its functions, building a impregnable castle of mistrust around myself. But hermitage isn’t for me, and risk is far too attractive. I could decide not to have sex again until marriage, but then I would have to find and marry a man who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, and they all seem to be really interested in the word “dominion.”

I never planned to have children, but I never planned not to. I figured it would happen if it happened, and if it wasn’t meant to be, it wouldn’t. As it turns out, this is like going to the grocery store, hungry, without a list. You grab whatever looks good, thinking that in this way, you’ll be fulfilling your desires and really living, instead of what is sustaining, what is vital, what could possibly be your last meal. You overspend and end up with junk food and random luxuries, because YOLO! But since you do, in fact, only live once, maybe a list would’ve been better. It may be as risky to admit you want to find love as it is to move to a country where you don’t speak the language, and it may be as daring to admit you feel joy listening to a baby giggle as it is to snowboard your cramps away.

And if you can’t find everything on your list, that’s okay. At least you looked.
AdaAda Kenney is the pseudonym of a lonely liberal in the Bible Belt. She enjoys the great outdoors, microbrews, creativity, and anonymity. She still hasn’t decided about motherhood; maybe she’ll adopt from the next big trendy country.

 

 

 

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