I know what I’m seeing before she tells me.
I knew when the midwife excused herself from the examination room, claiming not to be an ultrasound expert. I knew when the ultrasound tech looked at the screen and recommended we move to her room, where the machinery is more advanced. I knew when I saw her face, and the tiny white figure hanging motionless on the monitor.
I knew the night before, even before Googling, that no blood is good blood when you’re pregnant.
My father once described the ultrasound photos I provided of Ralph as “an invasion of a baby’s privacy.” Babies dance along with the ultrasound machine, like a little alien trying to avoid detection, like a little white whale darting around your uterus hiding from Captain Ahab, like a little marionette.
But not this baby.
“I’m sorry,” she said between her own sobs, “your baby just isn’t alive.”
Alive is a very important aspect of being a baby, and I hoped she had a really good “but” to follow that sentence…“but it will be! Just let me see here…”
There was no but.
There were many women in and out of that room. Perfect strangers, these medical professionals, hugging me closely, their tears finally turning on my own emotions until my cheeks are in their full Irish mode: red and splotchy, hot to the touch.
I don’t know when it happened, when the butterfly heart I’d seen at 8 weeks turned to the ghost inside of me. What was I doing to not notice something so monumental? Driving my car, shopping for groceries, eating a bowl of cereal in bed, none of these seem like the things that should keep a mother from noticing her baby no longer is.
It’s a new kind of sadness to feel. It’s not for myself, and it’s not a typical brand of mourning, either. It’s a cold comfort to know how many women have been here before. How many women I know. How many women around the world heard the same news on that same day, felt the same perceptible loss of something that almost was. Almost is always the hardest.
We’ve all felt the throatful of jagged glass, the boiling tears, a mysterious, age-old sorrow that stitched us together into the invisible patchwork quilt of love and loss. I hope they all have a child at home to cling to, though I know many of them do not, and for those women I cry just a little bit more and whisper the only prayer that makes sense “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
I reason it out all night long. Maybe we wanted too much, one miracle after another. Maybe I didn’t need to go running, even if the doctor said it was okay. But really, there is no reason. There is nothing to understand. There is no could have or should have because there is only what is. What happened is the only thing that could have happened: this little human was not meant for this world, but they gave it a try anyway. Our child’s arms looked like little fists, tucked up against it’s giant shrimp head. A little fighter. That’s just how the Irish are.
Culturally, we train ourselves not to speak of pregnancies before the 12 week mark. It’s like we’ve all bought into the power of the jinx, and the only way to usher a baby safely into this world is to make sure you just don’t get your hopes up too high. But 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriages, and carrying the joy of a secret baby within you doesn’t prepare you for the sorrow of a secret loss. If you lose a baby, and nobody knew about it in the first place, does it make a sound? You’re damn right it does. And when you are brave, when you open your mouth and tell people about that hole that was punched through the center of your heart, you’ll be surprised at who comes to fill it, at how many women raise their hands and say “me, too.”
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the 80% of zygotes who made it all the way into this world. Do you know what that means? It means you did it! You are supposed to be here. You’re incredible. You’re a fucking miracle. Try every day to remember that, when you are confronted with jerks or people who don’t use their turn signals. We all got here. We’re alive on this planet, this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, against all odds. And also, please use your turn signal.
Earlier this week I was reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, unknowingly preparing myself for heartbreak. This was a week when I was caught in a gentle game of emotional ping-pong between two selfless men that I love, each in different hospitals with different cancers, each urging me to focus my love and attention on the other. The night before I would lose this baby, this paragraph would leap from the page and embed itself in my brain.
“…when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born-and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”
Someday, I will see where this led me, and it will make a little more sense, but it will always, always be sad, and I will never forget that wraith of a figure, still as stone, a little shadow within me.