My worst year was not 2020. 2020 was a hard year with a pandemic and fires and Kobe dying and not seeing 85% of my friends since last March. That’s been rough. But it hasn’t been the worst. We still have jobs, a home, food, and maybe a few more trauma responses, but overall we’re all right. 2020 was not the worst. 2015 was.
2015 was year three of Operation: Have Another Baby, and we were over it. Anyone who has dealt with infertility knows the constant cycle of hope and disappointment that comes from trying to get pregnant. It’s exhausting. I was diagnosed with Idiosyncratic Secondary Infertility, which is just medical jargon for “Well, you had one baby but I don’t know why you can’t seem to get knocked up again.” I felt like my body just really let me down. Biologically, it has two jobs: keep me alive and replicate. It was keeping me alive but really falling down on the make a baby thing. And it kept failing. Over and over and over for years.
The day before my 30th birthday, I did what I did almost every month. I peed on a stick. Well, really, I mean that colloquially. When you’re trying to get pregnant for that long, the price of the stick pregnancy tests adds up so I started buying them at Dollar Tree. So I was peeing in a cup and using a little dropper to do the test. But the stick thing is more iconic. So the point is, I was seeing if this was the month we finally got to tell our daughter that her status as an only child was coming to an end. And it was. It was positive!
Overjoyed is the word used most often here but it’s an understatement. We were fucking ecstatic. It had finally happened. We called our parents and coyly asked what their plans were in February and telling them to clear their calendars because they would be meeting their new grandbaby. We bought a little baby key fob and wrapped it up and gave it to Lorelai, clearing up her confusion as to why in the world would we give her a baby toy when she was clearly too old for it at 8 years old by telling her that it was to play with her little brother or sister. We looked at baby clothes. I signed up for formula rewards and coupons and mailing lists. We nicknamed our little baby Blueberry since that’s about how big they were.
Around this time, my mom and I were planning a trip to see my grandmother. The grandmother that understood me the most. I called her a few times a week and we would talk and laugh together. I hated being so far away from her and I was deeply afraid that if I didn’t get to Kentucky to see her I would never get to see her again. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 but had been doing pretty well. Earlier in 2015, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was clear that it was going to be the end for her. Our trip was planned for August. We didn’t make it. July 10, 2015, the 64th anniversary of the day she stepped into the role she was best at, a mother, my Mema Frances left this world. The last thing I got to tell her was that I was finally pregnant and I couldn’t wait for her to meet the baby.
I was overcome with grief but was terrified that if I got too sad my body would let go of the pregnancy. I felt in my bones that something wasn’t right but I wanted so badly to be wrong. I didn’t have any symptoms, just a nagging sense of unease that I chalked up to anxiety. I couldn’t let myself be the kind of sad that my heart wanted to be. I needed to make sure that this baby stayed safe.
A couple of weeks later, I had some spotting. I went to the ER where my friend Kate was a nurse. She took care of me while they drew blood and made sure everything looked good. It did. I was told to follow up with my OBGYN but that my hormone levels looked like they should. Two days later, I walked into my doctor’s office for my first ultrasound and a checkup. My doctor had been treating me for a while and knew the struggle we were going through. I half-stripped and hopped up on the exam table and Judy, a very sweet ultrasound tech sat next to me in the dim room and got all the equipment ready.
For the uninitiated, the first ultrasound is not the cute little on-the-belly one they show in movies. (That one is later.) This one is internal, so just by design you are kind of in a vulnerable spot: pantless and spread eagle while a nice stranger probes your insides with a wand. My doctor decided to come in and in real-time look at how things were going. Maybe he saw that I was in the ER. Maybe he wanted to go to lunch early. Who knows? He came in and looked over the scan.
The first thing he remarked on was the lack of heartbeat. Then the fact that Blueberry was too small, indicating that they had died sometime before. He then casually told me that the baby was really little and that a miscarriage doesn’t hurt too much because the baby is so small. All pretty heartless things to say, but extra cold-hearted points go to the guy who said them to me while I was mid-invasive ultrasound and not wearing pants. He left and Judy stepped out to let me get dressed. I pulled on my jeans and started sobbing. Judy met me at the door and gently walked me out, saying words I don’t remember but I know were kind.
I got in my car and called my husband Jason and choked out the words to tell him the doctor said our baby died. We lived down the street from the hospital the doctor’s office was in, but I couldn’t be alone at that time, so I drove to his work while he stayed on the phone with me to keep me calm enough to not sob my way into oncoming traffic. He told his boss he was leaving while I waited in the parking lot and then he followed me home. On the way, the first stage of grief set in: denial. I called my old OB-GYN who delivered our daughter and demanded an appointment for a second opinion. I explained what my doctor had said and the nurse agreed that 6 weeks was too early to call no heartbeat a miscarriage, probably in an attempt to calm a very upset and crying woman in pain. I got my appointment set for Aug 4th.
Around 10 that night the bleeding started. Not spotting but bleeding. I called my sister who was at a poker game a few blocks away and told her to get to my house ASAP because I was going to the hospital. She walked in and we left. Jason and I drove the mile down the street in heavy silence because we knew whatever was going to happen over the next few hours was not going to be good. The finality of our worst fears becoming real hung over us. We walked into the ER and I told them I was having a miscarriage. They asked some questions and told me to have a seat. Nope. I had put on a pad before we left the house maybe 10 minutes before then but I was bleeding through it already. Sitting wasn’t a thing I was going to be doing in a waiting room. So I went to the bathroom to try to clean up. I changed my pad, ended up with blood up to my elbows and all over the floor, which I tearfully wiped up, then I walked back out into the waiting room. When I started dripping blood onto the floor a few minutes later, I demanded a bed. I was brought back pretty soon after that.
Every ER has what Jason and I came to call a sad room. The one that is closed off from the other beds. At ours, it was the last room on the right, the only one with a door and not a curtain. Over the years of going in for various things, we saw people ushered into that room and felt that they were going through the worst reasons to be in an ER. I got the sad room that night. I was brought in, given a gown, set up on a bed, and Jason and I were left alone. I learned then that miscarriages are not painless, no matter how big the fetus is. They’re like mini labor, cramps, and contractions are very real. So here we are, in this cold room in the ER, dealing with this huge loss, while I am cramping and crying and Jason does the best he can to comfort me. At some point a tech came in and changed out the pads on the bed. My nurse came in and prepped things for the doctor and then was never seen again. I saw my doctor twice, once when she examined me, once when she discharged me. I was there for hours and we were left alone almost the whole time.
I was offered Lortabs to manage my pain, which was surprising because they offered no pain management while I was actually in the hospital. I surprised myself when I accepted them because my anxiety up until then was so bad that even taking a Tylenol was a big ask of my brain to be OK with. I was given no real instructions on what was going to happen next; I guess they wanted to let me have my biggest trauma in the privacy of my own home.
We got home, I took a pill, and we climbed into bed as the sun came up. When we woke up I groggily went to the bathroom and felt something fall out of me. There, in the toilet, was Blueberry. I panicked and cried and called for Jason, who looked sadly into the bowl and flushed. I hated him for it. I don’t know what I wanted but the magnitude of the loss I felt justified more than a goldfish level service. He didn’t know what to do either and did the only thing he really could have but it still was awful. I felt alone and unprepared for what just happened. I was angry at Jason for the toilet, and the doctor for not telling me what to do, the nurse who just decided that he didn’t need to do his job with me, and my OBGYN for just so casually wrecking my life. I was really angry at my body for failing me again but for really putting in the extra effort of giving me something and then taking it away.
I stayed really sad and drugged up on Lortabs for 3 days. Our amazing friends brought us food and gave us the love and space we needed. On the 4th day, we went for pizza and I made myself stop wallowing. I told myself that I could be sad, but I couldn’t be paralyzed by the pain. So we ate and talked and cried and were supported by the friends we loved and who loved us. I will be forever grateful to them for the cushion they gave us during those horrible days. Years later, when we finally were getting ready for our younger daughter’s arrival, I was incredibly sad that those friends weren’t with us to celebrate.
2020 has been a year of systemic losses for us. We lost our workplace and our alone time and our normalcy but it doesn’t even register on the scale of loss next to 2015. Jason and I survived that. I made it through that shitstorm one day at a time until I got to today. I learned that year how to fight my way through the hardest things I have ever faced and I have had to use those skills this past year. Every time I find a way to make things better and life strikes me down, I remember that I didn’t die when I lost my Mema, or Blueberry, or the other losses we endured that awful year. Those things hurt me horribly but I didn’t die. So if I can keep waking up every day since then, I can make it through today.