Grieving in Private: No More
I’d always been pretty ambivalent about becoming a mother. It sounded like a nice idea and all, but I just wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do. Changing my whole life around for some other person? Eh. I wasn’t convinced.
That is, until the day I peed on the stick and saw the plus sign. “I’m pregnant!” I declared to my empty bathroom and immediately started giggling and crying. My reaction surprised me. Jeremy and I hadn’t exactly been trying to conceive. But, we decided just to see what would happen if we stopped trying not to conceive. And that first time around, I got pregnant.
EVERYTHING about me changed. Suddenly, without reservation, doubt, or fear I knew at the very core of my being that I was someone’s mommy. And oh, how I was going to love it. I already loved it and all I had to show at that point was a pee stick with a plus sign on it.
I ran out to our local drug store and bought a gift box. When Jeremy got home that evening, grumbling about something that had happened at the office, I just smiled and handed him the box. He opened it and saw a positive pregnancy test.
“Oh shit!” he said, smiling. Then, his eyes welled up and he grabbed me and hugged me. We sat there, on the couch, giggling and giddy. Without reservation, doubt or fear. We were going to be somebody’s parents.
I can’t quite articulate how we both changed that night. But suddenly, we were full of optimism. We were surrounded by possibility. We began dreaming wildly about who we’d be as parents and what we’d teach our children and we realized as the hours ticked away that we’d be damn good at this!
Over the next few weeks, we told only a smattering of people. Mostly people who’d go out to dinner with us and eye me suspiciously when I opted for water and they were drinking whiskey. But for the most part, this was our wonderful, delicious little secret and we couldn’t wait to tell the world.
I planned to approach everything with cautious optimism. Such is the way of pregnancy. I knew, of course, logically that plenty can go wrong in those early weeks. So, when we went for our 7 week sonogram and saw a little flickering heartbeat, I got giddy all over again. There it was. Our baby. INSIDE ME. It was bizarre and surreal and strange and wonderful. So, so wonderful.
Soon enough, my cautious optimism turned into raging joy. I let every spare thought move to fantasizing about my baby shower, planning what the baby’s room would look like, finalizing name selections, and smiling to myself. A wonderful, delicious secret.
And then, the 11 week sonogram. We waited patiently in the waiting room, looking at all the beautiful pregnant bellies, further along than we were and seeming just as full of joy and promise as us. The technician finally called us in. We sat in the dark room, while she snapped pictures of our baby in utero. I could see the outline of it’s face now. It’s arms and legs were moving. There was my baby. I smiled so wide I could hardly believe it.
The technician left the room with the pictures, without saying anything. She returned a few minutes later with a doctor. My heart immediately started pounding.
The next 30 minutes of my life are a horrible blur, that even now, I only remember in flashes. The words “a problem” and “heart defect” and “will not survive,” are the only ones I remember.
I took out the picture that I’d been carrying in my purse of the 7 week sonogram and handed it to the doctor. I didn’t want this anymore. It was over. My baby was going to die and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Here was this little thing growing inside me and I couldn’t even protect it. I was so powerless. That afternoon we saw my OB/GYN who confirmed what the sonogram doctor had told us. Usually, he had told us, a situation like mine ends fairly early in miscarriage. The chances, though, of even making it to term were miniscule. My baby was going to die. I hadn’t even gotten to hold it and my baby was going to die. It became this awful sing-song parody of a horror movie tune in my head.
For days I just cried and cried. I cried while we were going through test after test to see if we could figure out some genetic reason for what was wrong. I cried at sad songs. I cried at happy songs. I cried at the sound of the wind. I cried because just a few days earlier, I had been full of hope and promise. I cried because it was the only fucking thing that made any sense. I did everything right. I racked my brain to remember if I’d had food I shouldn’t have had before I knew I was pregnant, or what was the dinner where I had that glass of wine? But there was nothing I did to cause this.
I had visualized all the wonderful things I would get to do with my baby, and the lifetime of special moments we would share, starting with that first one where I looked upon it’s face for the first time.
My baby died. At 12 weeks and 2 days old.
The day before I had to go to the hospital to have a D&C to remove the dead baby and tissue, I was inconsolable. Crying so hard, my whole body shook with great, heaving sobs. I felt so out of control, so horribly, shamefully out of control that I had to go do something. I got in the car and drove up to the mountains. I stopped and bought a bottle of water and a granola bar on the way. I hiked and hiked for hours, until I reached the top of a mountain. I sat down and began sobbing again.
I put my hand on my belly and said,
“I’m sorry I don’t get to meet you this time. I hope next time will be better. I already love you so much. I’m sorry.”
The feelings of powerlessness continued, through the procedure, in the recovery room where it took longer than normal to recover from my anesthesia and I ended up in the hospital for 12 hours.
Over the next few days, I slowly started reaching out to a few close friends and family members. This wasn’t something I was ready to talk about widely yet, I thought. Colleagues who worried when I wasn’t at work for a week started texting and calling. “I’ll be okay. Don’t worry,” I’d tell them.
A few more weeks have passed. 8 of them, to be precise. Some days are okay. Some days, I still cry so hard my whole body shakes. Some days, I just cry. I’ll be fine, laughing in a conversation and then the thoughts creep in “I’d be 20 weeks pregnant today,” or “I wonder how big my belly would be now?” or, “I miss being pregnant.” The worst of the thoughts that creep in is the nagging refrain, which logically I know to be untrue, but there is little logic in grief. The, horrible resonant sound of the words, “I am empty. There is nothing inside me anymore.”
I can’t grieve in private anymore. I have to blow the doors open on this. It might be the only way I can let the joy in again. I have to share what I’ve been through so people know. So I can connect again. So when people say to me, with all good intentions, but quizzical looks, “Are you okay?” they’ll understand when I respond with “I’m having a bad day today.”
I feel ashamed for not being pregnant. I feel embarrassed for having lost a child. I remember the way I felt when I was pregnant, hopeful, joyous, so light in spirit because nothing else mattered but the baby inside me… and then it was gone.
I’m writing this not as a plea for sympathy. I’ve had all the sympathy I can handle. I’m writing this because I need to get these thoughts out of my head and put them somewhere. I need to heal. I need to move on.
I need my friends to understand why I’ve been so absent.
I need my colleagues to understand why I’ve not been the best version of myself.
I need everyone to understand that I am not okay.
I need everyone to know why I look away when I see a pregnant belly.
I need people to know that I am disconnected and don’t know how to connect again.
I am grieving, so deeply, for a person I have not met.
I am grieving for a loss I cannot articulate, because it’s existence was still surreal. But it was real. It happened. And it is gone.
I have been grieving, not alone, but in private. Behind closed doors. I can’t do that anymore. It’s too big.
I am grieving.
But, I am strong, in spite of how I feel now.
I am someone’s mommy.
I just didn’t get to meet them this time around.