I can’t see. I’m trying to lean up to look at the screen. “Lay back, lay back, give me a minute,” the doctor commands. I force myself to hold still, envisioning my back glued to the bed and fixate on the farcical posters on the wall. Each has a corny saying about shaving, painting your toes, and other preparations done before a woman walks into her gynecologist’s office to have her vagina stretched by evil metal duck lips and looked through like it’s a telescope.
The exam room smells like a pool, but it’s just the medical-grade sterilizers. The lights above me are burning into my subconscious. My senses are bombarded with triggers to that god-awful day. I’m avoiding my husband’s eyes. His fear is as potent as the disinfectant. My heart is racing; it has been racing for the last eight weeks. My palms are sweating. My body is trembling; I’m holding my breath. Tears are brimming; they’re just waiting to decide if they’ll fall with joy or devastation. Dear, God, please not another gummy bear.
My mind plummeted back into the nightmare of losing my first child. It began with a single drop of red on toilet paper. A drop that could have come from nicking my vagina when I shaved. It didn’t. The nurse’s hotline wasn’t concerned. I was twelve weeks along, and they said to not worry about spotting; they suggested I take a nap. However, my dad and my husband’s mother were concerned. Cool as a cucumber, my mother-in-law called me and calmly suggested that she pick me up and take me to the ER. Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Christian, pushed his old Chevy pedal flat to the floor. His white-knuckle driving endangered the lives of everyone on Highway 36.
I’ve never made it back into an ER so fast in my life. Maybe it was the quiver in my voice when I reiterated why we were there to the nurse. Perhaps she had experienced a miscarriage and knew what lay ahead for me. Maybe it was a kindness she gave me, mother to mother. She would never tell, and I would never ask. All I know is that I was thankful.
My brain was scattered. It erratically jumped to each possible reason I was bleeding. Every hope and dream I had had about my baby flashed through my mind. An emotional tornado was ravaging everything inside of me. I couldn’t handle it, so I shut down. Everyone was talking. They were trying to disguise the room’s anxiety with small talk and jokes that would typically fall flat. The voices were trying to slither into my subconscious, but I couldn’t acknowledge the useless banter. I stared at the lights, letting them create spots in my vision. I knew they were taking my vitals, pushing on my pelvis, asking questions, and I know I responded. Then finally, the tenacious calm to my harrowing storm breezed in; Christian, my husband, was finally by my side. I blinked, and my mind plunged back into reality. Then his presence gently released the emotions I was subduing. He held me, and I began to weep. Now, it was time for the ultrasound.
The oblong sack appeared on the dark screen—a sigh of relief from my husband, Christian. My eyes still fixated on the monitor. The technician wanted to do an intravaginal ultrasound for some measurements. “Might as well,” she expressed with a cheery grin plastered on her face. Christian’s eyes glittered with hope.
His hands never left me. One secured to mine and the other on my stomach, trying to rub away my apprehension. The ultrasound probe entered me, and a moment later, a shady grey gummy bear appeared on the monitor. Christian gasped with excitement. I tore my eyes from the screen to see his face illuminated with joy. “There’s our baby, Jana,” he exclaimed. The lights from the monitor danced her image across his face in the darkened room. The monitor’s silence was deafening to me, but I couldn’t bear to steal that joy from him yet. I knew my body killed his child, and I wouldn’t get to bask in his pure elation for much longer. Our baby joined the other 10-20% of pregnancies that never make it to birth. As this set in, my heartache mutated into anger. I directed my fury at the ultrasound technician.
“Are you done yet? Get it out of me,” I griped impatiently. I shoved her arm, and the scope out of my body like a bully pushes an innocent child. While I got up to storm to the bathroom, Christian’s face turned to mine, visibly trying to understand my anger. “There’s no heartbeat. The baby’s dead,” I spat out. He shook his head, puzzled; he just saw his gummy bear floating on the screen. He turned to the woman, and his eyes begged her to proclaim me a liar. With her eyes downcast, she informed him the doctor would consult us back in the room.
Just like that, despair gorged all hope we had. I bawled half-naked on that bathroom floor, trying to push Christian away from me; I couldn’t look him in the eye. The grand finale was when the doctor finally arrived. She was on the verge of maternity leave. I wailed, “Are you kidding me? GET OUT!” Her flawlessly round belly taunted me.
The baby was still inside me. The doctor had refused to remove it. They wanted me to abort naturally; it was “healthier.” According to the American Pregnancy Association, a natural miscarriage has the risks of not everything being expelled from the uterus resulting in an infection and having a D&C anyway. Also, having a D&C risks scarring could (in rare cases) inhibit future fertility. However, the D&C manages the miscarriage right then, and natural abortion can last for weeks. But the doctor could not fathom the mental distress experienced.
My mind had rot with self-hatred. I could not bear to look in a mirror. I sobbed when I showered, hating everything about myself, mind, body, and spirit. I would’ve sold my soul for a body strong enough to nourish my child instead of one that had been incubating the dead secretly. My body was a failure and a morgue.
“Miscarriage: A Dream Interrupted,” an article from the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, put it this way: “The implications of an interrupted pregnancy can reach down deep into a woman’s self-concept, her psyche, the very core of her being.” I housed a corpse for five more days, and it had ruined my self-perception. I was getting ready to call the doctor and inform them of their stupidity, that the five days were up, and I wanted that baby out now, but at the last moment, egression began.
Not only my womb but my entire being fell into a state of desolation. I did not use a single pain pill that the doctor had prescribed to alleviate my penance. I accepted the punishment, my child’s retribution against my deficient uterus. Although it is normal for parents to feel responsible, guilty, and ashamed in response, unless a person actually experiences it, they cannot fathom how soul-crushing it is. My baby never took its first breath, and I felt like a part of me died.
Christian and I had both dreamt of a little girl with black curls that dangled over almond-shaped mossy green eyes. The Journal of Creativity in Mental Health captures how I felt: “maternal identity development includes dreams and fantasies that a woman has while pregnant; dreams and fantasies that continue even after the child is born.” I spent many nights with that little girl; I dreamt of brushing knots out of her, jumping into her father’s arms, cuddling on the couch, watching “The Little Mermaid.” A few nights before we went to the hospital, I had my last dream with that little girl. She was telling me goodbye and that she was sorry. I kept asking her why and when I went to hug her, I couldn’t grab her. Her body wasn’t solid. My arms continuously flailed through her until I woke up. I know in every fiber of being that was my little girl, Selena.
Selena passed through my cervix all at once. I felt immense pain like someone was pushing my cervix down, and my cervix was trying to fight back. Then I felt that my vaginal canal was filling. I ran to the bathroom. Now, sinking to the bottom of the toilet was the tangible proof of my dead baby. Christian asked what I wanted to do. I could not flush her, and yet I could barely, as the extra blood began to settle at the bottom of the toilet. Finally, I asked him to rescue her from the commode. He obliged and proceeded to wrap her in a receiving blanket and put her in a box. He buried her for me. He did everything he could for me.
I know he quelled his emotional pain for me. “A Dream Interrupted” explains this reaction is due to men’s expectations not to react emotionally but to stay strong for their female partners. Since they want to continue to support and protect their wives, they cannot talk to them about their grief, and they typically do not have someone else to turn to for support. I will always be thankful for his selflessness; I don’t know that I would’ve made it through the grief without his sacrifice.
I bled off and on for a month. It took even longer for my daily spells of sobbing to stop. Eventually, I could internalize all the triggers I experienced throughout my day, come home, and cry into my husband’s chest every night. An article in The Professional Counselor, “Miscarriage: An Ecological Examination,” reports that “15-30% of women that have major psychological after losing a pregnancy and that 10% of the reactions may be classified as diagnosable, including anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, acute stress disorder, substance abuse disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Besides substance abuse, I was feeling the effects of all other disorders stated. Cultivating death inside yourself leaves a grease-like stain; there will always be a trace. No matter how much time passes, no matter how many people console you.
I had told everyone and anyone who would listen to me babble about being pregnant—making my pregnancy public knowledge also meant making my turmoil general knowledge. A few literally referenced me as “the girl who had a miscarriage,” and it took every drop of my willpower not to knock them flat on their ass. Some people tiptoed around me and never acknowledged my pain. Most people tried their hardest to say the right thing, and they consistently failed.
“A Dream Interrupted” warns that “without realizing, family and friends can be doing more harm than good when they try to help by using clichés.” Every time I heard, “It wasn’t meant to be, your baby is in Heaven, and God has a plan,” I wanted to rip the person’s throat out. I wanted to scream in their face, “Why wasn’t MY baby meant to be? I don’t care that she’s in Heaven; I’d rather have her in my goddamn arms! Fuck God’s plan.” No one said the right thing. The worst, however, was what my dad said to me.
Four months had passed, and Christian had asked me to have another baby. I confided in my dad that I was still grieving, and I didn’t know how long it would be before I was ready to try. My dad seemed annoyed, and I asked what his deal was.
“Are you guys done with this pity party yet? You’re not the only person in the world to have a miscarriage. Leave it in the past, and be thankful you can try for another.” His words stabbed me in the heart.
I was so distraught; I cried, yelled, and cursed at him without any thought process behind it, nor do I remember what I even said to him. I only remember his words that belittled my child, made me feel guilty for grieving, and assaulted me. I did not speak to him for months.
Four months passed, and we decided to have unprotected sex but not to monitor my periods or try to plan the subsequent pregnancy. One morning I woke up with this unexplainable need to take a pregnancy test. The positive line came up right away. I gazed at that plus sign for what felt like hours. Not realizing I had stopped breathing, I took a big breath, turned to the door, and looked at Christian.
“Baby, I’m pregnant.” His head jolted up from his pillow and his mouth dangled open in shock.
“Nuh-uh,” he replied. I nodded, and he continued with, “Oh my god, come over here, babe.” I slid back into bed, and we enveloped each other in our love. If only we could’ve stayed in that cocoon until the baby was born. That moment was pure. As time passed, we knew we would have to leave. His arms had felt like a warm sweater, then slowly but surely, they began to transform into armor. The sweet chocolate melting with joy in his eyes began to harden as he recollected the outcome of our first pregnancy.
My subsequent pregnancy made me feel like a ball of knotted yarn. I was unable to unwind and relax. I was battling my feelings of joy, anxiety, and guilt. I loved my first child so much, and I never met her. Every hope and dream I had for her was never going to happen, and yet I couldn’t stop wondering about what might have been. As “An Ecological Examination” states, “Although grief following early pregnancy loss mirrors other grief response in intensity and duration, it is unique in its focus on the demise of an anticipate future rather than on memories of the past, leaving the griever to create a narrative of this ambiguous loss.”
This kind of grief made me feel like I was betraying Selena by being excited for a new baby. How could I be happy about my recent pregnancy when I should be preparing to give birth to my dead child? I should’ve been finishing the final touches on her nursery and nesting as her due date grew closer. It felt like I was replacing her, and it felt like a sin. My new pregnancy was filled with anxiety and depression.
I could not convince myself that this baby would make it to full term. I believed karma was going to take this baby, too. To avoid becoming “the girl that had two miscarriages,” Christian and I decided to keep the knowledge of our pregnancy limited to our immediate family. Our decision incited many quarrels between us and Christian’s mother.
We wanted to proceed with caution, while she wanted to shout her excitement to the world. Although she felt her first grandchild’s death, it did not dilute her glee for the new baby. If anything, it made her want to expose and cherish my pregnancy even more. I envied her bliss. However, her lack of understanding and the arguing added even more stress to my pregnancy. It was a constant battle of trying to stifle her proclamations of love while we waited for an unattainable guarantee our child would be born.
As I was begging God not to burden me with another gummy bear, the rapid thump of my child’s heartbeat began to fill the room. My tears fell with joy, and my heart became padded with a little bit of hope. I could’ve listened to his heart beating forever. However, hope is frail.
At fourteen weeks, I began to bleed. At that moment, I decided I must’ve been evil in a past life, and karma was finally collecting my dues. The doctor found a tear on my uterus and asked if I’d fallen or something. I hadn’t, so she looked back through my blood pressure vitals, and they were perfect. There was no reason for me to have a tear on my uterus. She ran multiple tests, asked many questions, and kept checking the ultrasound. Without any definite reason for the tear, she put me on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy in hopes it wouldn’t get any worse. Between my grief, the pregnancy’s added hormones, and then going to a single income household, I was in a perpetual state of turmoil.
At 25 weeks, I explained to her that I was a nail technician and needed to get back to the salon or my baby would not have a roof over his head by the time he arrived. She advised me not to perform any pedicures, and between each of my nail appointments, I had to lie down for an hour. I laid on one of the couches we had for clients to sit at while they waited. Since the owner was the grandma to this child, no one dared complain. I only worked three days a week to keep us financially afloat and try to put as little stress on my baby as possible. Then, at 33 weeks, I was lying down at home after work and realized I had not felt my baby move at all that day.
Crying until I was dehydrated and hours of a “stress test” in the ER later, they sent us home and said we would have to come twice a week from now on for these regular tests. My son’s, Allen, heart rate and movement was irregular. At 39 weeks, my last stress test showed I was in labor and having constant contractions, but I felt nothing more than a bit of cramping here and there, and my water never broke. However, I was bleeding. The doctor examined me, and karma came with another blow.
The doctor claimed I had cephalopelvic disproportion; my pelvis couldn’t expand enough for our baby to drop; he said it explained the active labor, the bleeding, and the lack of pain. He advised a cesarean birth. All I could do was cry.
Christian listened to the list of possible complications and the doctor’s concern about Allen’s irregular stress test results. We had the option of seeing a specialist in Kansas City for verification, but the revelation of another dysfunction of my body that could lead to me bleeding out and dying catapulted my husband’s teetering anxiety into a heinous fright. With pronounced resolution, his eyes focused on me. He looked solemn.
“We lost Selena. If we lose Allen, I won’t survive if I lose you too. I can’t do this without you, Jana. We are having a c-section today,” he declared.
Paralyzed, all I could do was pester Christian for a play-by-play of what the doctors were doing to my body. His eyes bulged, rife with tears, and they fervently darted between my face and the gory surgical birth. He incessantly asked if I was okay and all I could do was incessantly question why I could not hear my baby cry. Finally, Allen’s wail pierced through a haze of trepidation that followed wherever we went. At last, tears cascaded, but this time they released the ambivalence I had been living with during this pregnancy.
It was fortuitous that I had a cesarean birth. Allen’s umbilical cord was only 4 inches long. They are supposed to be 18 to 23 inches long. It explains Allen’s irregular heartbeats and his random bouts of distress. If I had delivered him vaginally, his umbilical cord would’ve snapped, and he would’ve died. The doctor was dumbfounded again because I did not have any associated risk factors for the cord to be underdeveloped.
As they reconstructed my body, Christian cradled our beautiful baby in the solitude of the nursery, occasionally showcasing the baby for the family to admire through the window, flaunting his newfound pride and joy. He reveled in his privilege to hoard quality time with Allen without intrusion. He knew the feeling of tranquility was finite.
The loss of Selena festered throughout my pregnancy. I am not a doctor, and I don’t have any medical training. However, it is doubtful that the emotional state I was in from my miscarriage did not affect my pregnancy with Allen. After I gave birth, I thought my husband and my fears would subside. I was wrong.
In the fantasy of our first child, we imagined she would stay with our parents regularly, and we would be cool, relaxed parents. We vowed never to co-sleep and promised to go on dates still and prioritize each other. However, the day Allen was born launched two more helicopter parents into the world. His father had a panic attack the second day we came home from the hospital. I didn’t sleep for days at a time because I was sure he was going to stop breathing if I took my eyes off of him. We never had him stay the night with anyone; we always went and picked him up. The longest we were away from him was a few hours, and it was rare. We refused to put him into daycare out of fear that something could happen to him. We literally could not let him out of our sight.
If I hadn’t miscarried Selena, would being pregnant with Allen been so stressful? Would I have any complications? Would she have gotten to spend one or two nights every week with her grandparents as an infant? Allen never did. Would she get to stay at her favorite cousin’s house during the summer? Allen is four and has never stayed anywhere without his father or me. I’ll always wonder, but I’ll never know.
Although my sorrow is no longer debilitating, the tragedy of losing Selena will never fade. My miscarriage affected my following pregnancy. No matter how much time passes, and although she was only part of me for a short time, she still has lingering effects on my parenting. The anxiety and fear that a miscarriage comes with are hard to withstand. However, losing her has made me cherish every moment I have with my son. Sarah Richards said it best, writing about a woman who miscarried her daughter three years prior: “She still gets choked up. But the sorrow occupies a smaller corner of her heart now.”