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The story of a miscarriage, part 1

The night before the ultrasound I add to my list of names: Ezra, Pip, Arlo, Fiona, Opal, Iris. I feel buoyant, thrilled, joyful: Huck will grow up with a sibling just 16 months apart from him. I keep fantasizing about Huck and his sibling playing together, napping together, bickering in the backseat over the last graham cracker. I can see myself with babies on both hips. I find myself obsessing over basic math: when Huck turns two, his sibling will be 8 months old. When Huck is in first grade, he will walk his little sibling to Kindergarten. In 3 years, both babies will be old enough to go on a kayaking trip. In 10 years, they will both be wildly changing tweens who can confide in each other.

With this second pregnancy, I feel a new sense of maternal confidence, ease, and knowing: my body will change and grow and expand to make room for this babe, and it will be a miracle, and I will be a home for it for the better part of a year. At 41, this feels like the most precious time of my life.

What felt scary and strange the first time around now feels exciting and clear. It will be wild, fun, hectic. Our table will be full of kids and friends and so much food.  Our family will be big and blended and wonderful. I can’t  stop thinking about how I will keep cool in the sweltering south Georgia summer, how to find a supportive doula, when to shop for new dresses that will flatter my soon to be baby bump.

I tell my closest friends and start thinking of how to joyfully share the news with our families. I begin placing my hands on my belly, talking to my tiny peanut of a baby in the shower. I imagine the baby in my arms, nursing, sleeping in my lap.

I am more ready for this second baby than I have ever been ready for anything. I am awestruck and grateful: life is opening up in ways I had only dreamed of.

The ultrasound tech didn’t seem to remember us (me, my husband, and our baby - we are all there) from the few weeks before, when she gave me a printout of the yolk sack and I was told if I’m 11 weeks along we should see the baby by now, but maybe I’m just 4 or 5 weeks along? I wasn’t sure, I could only be a month along, the holidays were crazy and I wasn’t tracking my cycle then. Yes, maybe that’s right.

The second ultrasound ends up being transvaginal, like the first. The tech is looking at her screen, angled away from me and my family, and as she begins to insert the instrument inside me, she directs it towards my butthole. I am about to say “that’s my butt” when she glances down, repositions the instrument and brusquely shoves it up my vagina. She says nothing but types furiously as she moves the instrument around inside me, pushing it forcefully to one side and the other, causing me to wince. She eventually removes the instrument, tells me to wipe down and that she’ll talk to the doctor and be back in a while.

In that while, my husband and I look at each other, take breaths and try to keep baby Huck entertained, try not to complain about the minutes crawling by. Half an hour later, the obgyn and the tech come in, the tech with a trail of ultrasound printouts in her fist. They don’t show us the pictures, but stand and crowd the doorway while I stay seated on the examining table and my husband and baby sit in the chair beside me.

“Soooo, unfortunately we cannot find a heartbeat. That means you have two choices. You can wait and just… relax for a week (she wiggles her hands in the air to emphasize relax) and we can have you back for another ultrasound to see how things are later, or you can go ahead and get a blood test to check your pregnancy hormones now. If you are still pregnant, they should increase rapidly in the next few days.”

I hear myself say, without making eye contact, I’ll take the blood test.

“I don’t blame you,” the doctor says.

We walk down the hallway; there is a group of nurses chatting in the lab where blood is taken.

“What in the world are y’all talking about?” the doctor asks as I stand in the threshold, waiting to be given instructions or to be acknowledged. It is noon; the smell of Mexican takeout drifts down the hallway.


“You know, my husband used to be a jeweler,” the doctor responds, folding her arms and leaning back against a counter, cotton swabs and biomedical hazard containers lined up behind her. She is wearing dark pink scrubs, smiling at the nurses and discussing some sort of ruby while I fumble my way to a chair and continue to wait to be spoken to. I hear the tech tell my husband and baby to wait in the hallway. The doctor tells a nurse to draw my blood; I ask what day I will come back.

“Hmmmm.” She says.

“What day is it again? You can come back on Friday.”

“You’re looking for these pregnancy hormones to increase a lot, so what if they don’t?” I ask.

“That would mean the pregnancy isn’t viable. I know that’s hard to hear but that’s what we are looking at, okay?”

The doctor is standing at the door as she says this; I am sitting in a chair, I’ve pushed the sleeve of my dress up to prepare for my blood being drawn. The doctor drifts out of sight down the hallway; the nurse pokes my arm with a needle and the blood drips into a vial. I feel nothing.

“Sorry,” she says, as my blood continues to drip. “Are you having any bleeding or do you think you’re still pregnant?”

“No. No bleeding. I am pregnant,” I hear myself say.

In a daze, I walk to the receptionist with my checkout paper; she wipes the corners of her mouth, folds her napkin and deposits it on top of her styrofoam container of Mexican food.

“Okay sugar, we have you scheduled for another appointment Friday. See you then!” she smiles.

An 80’s love song plays over the office speakers. It is a terrible song.

When we get to the car, I sob. My husband hugs me tightly, asks what I want for lunch, brings me tea with honey and ginger. Later that night we get into an earthshaking fight about nothing. I am laying on the bathroom floor howling. I am a rabid animal. There is spit flying out of my mouth as I wail, forehead touching cold tile. My husband cannot respond in any way that will calm me. I am anguished. I know what will happen.

Before the tech calls me Friday afternoon - your pregnancy hormones are actually decreasing, be on the lookout for bleeding and cramping, I am searching for the growing baby I thought I had been carrying and nourishing since the holidays. I am visualizing the empty circle of a yolk sac and the placenta with no baby inside.

I am an empty shell. I wonder what I did wrong. I did nothing wrong, but somehow it feels better to think I did, to indulge in making sense out of something you cannot make sense of.

There is no discussion about how long I may have to wait to miscarry, or if there are options other than waiting. No description of what I should do in the meantime. No instructions for how to treat my body or mind. I am told to come back next week for another blood sampling, and will continue to get blood drawn until the pregnancy hormone isn’t detected. I find myself thanking the tech who called me to deliver the news. I wonder what to do with myself. I roil in purgatory, waiting to no longer have these intense hormones coursing through my system, waiting to see blood and feel pain.

This loss happens to women all the time, all the world over, and I search fruitlessly for comfort in this commonality. When I find no comfort; I grieve. I grieve for this dissolving pregnancy. I grieve for myself, for my family, for every mother and every family who has lost a baby, for every miscarriage, for every woman who is mistreated or discounted by her doctor or her nurse, for every partner who bears witness to such an excruciatingly intimate trauma, for every woman who carries this weight in her heart and in her body.

The weight is invisible, but heavy as a cinder block. It is a mystery how we learn to swim with it tied to our ankles.

Self portrait, February 2022


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