A sad little box o’ cake

Anna Cook
6 min readFeb 28, 2024
Ultrasound photo courtesy of Bruno Di Muzio, Radiopaedia.org from the case ID: 31750

The ultrasound tech told us she had to get the radiologist.

The screen was turned away from us, but I could see the reflection in the TV screen in front of me. I could see something… or rather I could see that there wasn’t much to see.

The excitement of finally seeing the little creature growing inside, of hearing a heartbeat, of finally really knowing that there was a heart doing the beating started to fade.

I grab for M’s hand and nervously laugh… “Well, that’s not a great sign.”

The radiologist comes in and tells us that the embryo stopped growing at about 7 weeks and there’s no heartbeat. I nod. I kinda knew it… I’m not shocked.

He says that it’s a miracle that embryos are ever viable… so many things have to be just right.

He tells us to take all the time we need.

I wipe the gel off my stomach, get my jacket and leave. No use waiting around.

It’s sad, it’s disappointing, it’s really weird… and it’s also ok [is that alright to say?].

We hug in stunned silence and then start processing all at once: “I felt off the past few weeks; we never heard a heartbeat; better to know now that it’s not viable, better sooner rather than later; oh fuck, this means I’m not on mat leave in the fall and I have to teach that new course.”

I text “no baby” to the friend group chat.

“Let’s go for a walk by the ocean” … “Actually, it’s freezing with this wind, let’s just watch the ocean from the car.”

“Ok, let’s go for a drive… but let’s get a coffee and treat first.”

I go to the bakery and look for something that will fill the ‘I was looking forward to having a baby/ no longer have a viable embryo inside/ I guess I’m no longer pregnant… and how long was I really pregnant anyway?’ hole inside… Like a brownie or something.

They’re out of brownies but then I see something even better: ‘A sad little box o’ cake’.

“It’s the remnants of the cake that we cut off before decorating… and then we add a bunch of frosting and sprinkles.”

It’s perfect: A sad little box o’ cake for a sad little uterus o’ nothing.

We drive around the shoreline and marvel at the birds swaying in the strong wind. M decides that he wants to make lasagna (his version of what will fill the ‘We were going to do this thing, but now I guess not, I guess we have to wait some more’ hole).

I get a call from the hospital. “How are you doing?” in an over-the-top caring tone… “Oh, are you asking because you heard about the ultrasound?” and then I laugh… “it’s been a weird day.” I almost want to say “Oh I’m fine, it’s ok,” but that’s not quite right, but breaking down and crying “I’m devastated” isn’t quite right either.

I feel myself wanting to match her tone and then also feel myself laughing sardonically… it’s just all so fucking weird.

She’s calling to set up an appointment with the Women’s Clinic to talk about options to induce a miscarriage/abortion.

I started the day by asking “How do I do this day?” while waiting to leave the house to get the ultrasound. I was so restless in anticipation. The night before we went over the possibilities—“Well, it’s either zero, 1, or 2” and then we ranked the options: 1, 2, zero. [***note: I saw an astrologer once who said I was going to have twins… but I guess just not anytime soon].

Well, it was a zero.

I ask again a few hours later: “How do I do this day?.” I guess a mini walk along the ocean, stare at the birds, eat a sad box o’ cake, drink some scotch, and start a puzzle is how I did the day.

It’s sad, disappointing, and also ok.

Over the next two days, I finish the puzzle and talk to too many people saying the exact same things: “I don’t feel like I lost anything because I never really had something to lose… What I lost was the imagined future I was living in, a future of setting up the office as a nursery and picking out maternity leggings because all my pants were starting to feel too tight and going through my clothes and putting those that were too small away, and reorganizing the Fall timetable to account for my mat leave.”

It’s the emotional and mental whiplash of it all.

I went from feeling pregnant (with my hair elastic to stretch out my jeans) to then feeling not pregnant (and like I was never pregnant).

I was living in a floaty bubble, and it just popped.

I was going to have a baby at the end of July, so I couldn’t go to the conference in June and then I’d be on mat leave starting in the Fall term. I was about to buy a changing table on Facebook marketplace. I was reading about how to introduce the baby to the dog, about sleep training and elimination communication; looking up cotton diaper services nearby; considering where the baby would sleep for the first few months; and thinking about how I’ll dance at the family wedding when I’m 8 months pregnant; and then what about names… and what about this and what about that? and what about this AND that???

And then it all grinds to a halt. It’s over, all that mental energy just goes away—kaboom, all at once.

And I guess I just keep going… as if nothing happened?

But I was pregnant for a while… right?? The puking in the car (which meant I always kept an empty yoghurt container nearby), the heartburn, the breast tenderness were real… right? I didn’t just dream it all?

And then it’s the realization that the summer is now totally open-ended and there’s no need to buy a changing table or the maternity leggings… I just gained some weight, the belly will slowly shrink.

I tell people. I even tell work colleagues who didn’t know I was pregnant.

“This was the meeting where I was going to tell you that I’m pregnant… but I’ve just had a miscarriage.” One colleague has an excited face and then I realized that I delivered the news in the wrong order… Oops, sorry.

I email the yoga instructor for a refund on the pre-natal classes, “I won’t be taking the pre-natal yoga class because… well… I am no longer pre-natal.” Could this be any more awkward?

I guess I’ll go to the conference this summer. “Sorry it took me a long time to respond to the invitation, I was just about to let you know that I couldn’t go because it was too close to my due date, but I’ve just had a miscarriage, so my summer is wide open now.”

I guess my life is wide open now, I guess I enjoy this time of eating raw fish and drinking scotch while I can… I guess we just do this whole thing again? Get back on the rollercoaster and hope we don’t fall off?

I guess I just take it one day at a time… with a sad little box o’ cake by my side to soften the blow.

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Anna Cook

Philosophy professor. Thinker and overthinker. I’m an ambivalent academic and an academic of ambivalence. Happiest when dancing or starting a puzzle annacook.ca