A Short Story About Miscarriage Based on My Personal Experience
Today the wind is like liquid through the trees, so fluid it leaves a trace. Juliet is at the park watching Stella who is playing with three boys and a girl. The girl wins the race to the top of the climbing structure. She beats a little boy named “Emanuel”
“Emanuel!” His mother hollers “get over here, NOW!” He is getting in trouble for ignoring his mother.
“I’m in a race right NOW!” he yells, just as impatient with her as she was with him. The little girl with the blonde pageboy hair cut is standing at the top. The climbing structure is a tall web made of rope, like four pirate nets forming a large three-dimensional triangle. The little girl is high up, probably fifteen feet, at least. She is jumping up and down, “I won, I won, I won,” she yells.
Juliet looks up. Stella is half way down the jungle gym, content to find a spot where she is still safe. Juliet’s stomach feels like it is going to burst. It is a time bomb: both numb and fleshy.
Not that far along…
Whose voice was that? Her own, the doctor’s? The nurse’s? The lady at the pharmacy’s?
Necrotic: that word had bored its way into her every experience for two days. “Necrotic” whatever it meant. Juliet had never heard the word before, but there it was an invasive little, penetrating, little thought. Finally, two nights ago, she looked it up.
“Necrotic: synonymous with dead. Dead tissue.” For a fleeting second — less than that — she knew what it had meant for her to have been obsessively thinking that particular word. She must have heard it somewhere. She must have known, intuitively, that she had miscarried. But, then she rationalized “So what? So what if a word pops up in my head. It doesn’t mean I’ve lost the baby.”
The baby. That is how it is in your mind. The baby. And, the idea of the baby begins to take up the space that the baby will eventually occupy — not all of it, just enough to create an opening in an already full life.
But there was that thought. Necrotic and it was invading the baby’s space. In her mind.
So, for two days, she had ignored it. Ignored it like one of those little cartoon devils sitting on the shoulder, tempting, prodding, reminding, nudging. So for two days:
doing the dishes, necrotic,
swallowing down prenatal horse pills, necrotic,
on a conference call with the marketing team in New York,
“Not this time” she had whispered to God while driving. REO Speed Wagon was playing on some oldies station and she drove and cried and sang along between sobs “keep on lovin you…” The song was so cheesy, but accepting it, singing it to the baby was a humbling, stupid compromise that didn’t make any sense except for right at that moment.
Stella comes over and sits down.
“Snack” she says holding out a hand.
‘You could say please.”
Juliet removes a plastic bag of cereal out of her purse. She hands it to Stella.
Stella munches and Juliet stares out into the playground that has emptied out except for the girl with the pageboy hair cut.
“Puffins are deceptively good” Stella says without smiling, without realizing how adult like that sounds on a little girl. It makes it cute.
“Yeah?” Juliet says and puts her large, dark sunglasses on. Her eyes fill. “That’s good.”
The little girl with the pageboy is standing in front of the play structure with her hands on her hips. “Come on Stella. Stella!” She jumps up and down for emphasis.
Juliet thinks of Tennessee Williams’ Stanley. Stella! Stella! This couldn’t be the first time she has thought of her daughter’s name that way.
“Go play” Juliet says.
“You said I can’t play while eating my snack.”
“It’s ok,” Juliet whispers, “Just don’t hang upside down while you’re eating.”
“What?” Stella scrunches up her nose and Juliet examines her freckled face and pug nose, curly red hair.
“Just don’t, ok? Go on,” Juliet says again, now irritated.
Stella stands up and runs over to the girl. Juliet watches her open the bag and the other girl sticks her dirty hand inside and grabs some pieces of cereal. Juliet feels the warm tears run down her face and she wipes her eyes inconspicuously under her glasses. She wants the tears to stop and, at the same time, she wants to keep crying. She looks out over the expansive field of clover. They are at the playground at the Waldorf School. School is now out for summer and so the playground is open to the public.
“It’s growing normally, but it’s too small.”
Small. So what? Juliet was little too. She was only 5'3" Stella was only 6lbs 4 oz when she was born, but when she thought about it, even she knew that rule didn’t apply to embryos.
The bees now flutter over the little round, white flowers. Stella climbs the giant rope jungle gym. She hangs upside down by her knees. Juliet has the urge to yell “I told you not to do that with cereal in your mouth!” But, she is so numb and she doesn’t want to be a helicopter mom. She imagines the puffin melting into chocolate goo. How could you choke upside down anyway? It is counterintuitive. The little girl with the pageboy hair cut hangs next to her, and together they are somehow sharing the bag of puffins. Juliet raises her eyebrows and looks down. Her shirt is loose and she purses her lips and smoothes the fabric over her jeans. What? She thinks. What now? She looks up at Stella and the sun is bright. She squints and thinks, what if Stella falls? Falls right now? And it is a kind of stream of consciousness thought. It maybe is anger. Maybe she wants Stella to fall. And, she can run save her. Brush off her child. She can have a way to make it better.
“What?” Stella yells and does some kind of flip off of the jungle gym.
Juliet shakes her head. Nothing.
The little necrotic thing was there still suspended in the sac the size of a quarter. Juliet saw it on the dark screen and she felt the gravity of the silence and stillness on the monitor. No thumpthumpthumpthump in a matter of seconds. No little bird black and gray flashing from the sac. Juliet knew even before the doctor’s gentle eyes looked at Juliet, “a no go,” he had whispered clicking some keys on a keyboard attached to the monitor. And when he did he zoomed in closer. And when he did Juliet saw what looked like a grainy, white tadpole. It was so magnified it looked blurry, a blurry white tadpole in a small circle of black. And there was no rhythm of life. No little beating heart.
“Oh well,” Juliet had said, but her voice had trembled, “I wasn’t trying. It just happened.” The opposite of a teenager. She had felt foolish for being so old.
“It was 50/50,” he had told her all along. But when it died he had made a sad, sympathetic frown. Juliet felt undeserving of even that: a doctor’s bedside kindness. Sensitivity training, Juliet thought.
A group of four or five young, pudgy Waldorf moms arrive and sit down in the grassy, clovery field. Waldorf Moms. Juliet thinks, now feeling justified in her judgment. Under other circumstances she would have reserved her disdain for very close friends. Allies in motherhood. To everyone else she would have said, “I think it is great for everyone to raise their kids the way they want.” Juliet shakes her head. No she doesn’t think that. At this moment, she thinks that these mothers are self-righteous and raising little self righteous children with their long, drawn out explanations of organic cotton diapers, wearing babies on form fitting slings, no make up, clogs. They sit down in a circle. Breast-feeding, almost immediately. Changing soiled diapers. One woman opens a bell jar of water and takes a giant, satisfying gulp. Juliet thinks as she watches them that she could have developed a marketing strategy and predicted the green revolution, postured general mills for a planned transition to “organic.”
She has the skills.
She didn’t need this little necrotic thing inside of her to make her life any more complete. It had been completely complete with Stella and the career. She inhales a deep breath and watches the wind rush through the large cherry tree. The kids are now in the little enclosed farm area. Stella is sitting with her new friend on a bale of hay. A little boy has joined them now, one of the Waldorf kids. Juliet looks around at the farm play area. It is nice, designed to look like a place out in the country: big open space, shaded by large cherry trees, bales of hay piled in several different areas. A garden overgrown with grapes and fennel.
The moms are still sitting on the large quit blankets. Hippies were what her father used to call people like that. Anne pushes back her sunglasses and she lets the tears fall down her cheeks, She pulls her glasses back down as she gently wipes her face.
It was horrible. Dark, private and horrible. The room was almost black with the glow and hum of the ultrasound monitor. She had been laying on the table in just a jonny, naked underneath. What Juliet had thought about — in that moment — was how much better this was than the first miscarriage, almost a year before. Almost exactly. That was worse. Some obstetrician she had found on an Internet site. She had googled “feminist OBGYN, Portland.” It was a link on a site called” urban mammas.” It sounded feminist to Juliet: Every woman’s Health Center. And they were horrible. So with this pregnancy, she did her research. She found “The Fertility Clinic” at the University Hospital. Any indulgence for high-risk pregnancy, which being “advanced maternal age” Juliet was. She got as many HCG level blood tests as she requited (Juliet had requested seven in those six weeks). A few hours after each blood test, she took the numbers over the phone and plugged them into a spreadsheet and calculated their rate of increase. Graphed it. Just like with the markets. The data tells the story. Not profits but Profit Margins. Not HCG level increases but rate of increases. It was supposed to double every day. But, it was not doubling. It went from 2300 to 3500. At five weeks the range was supposed to be 2,580–6,530, at six weeks the range was supposed to be: 11,230–25,640, not 3500. “Did you say 3500 or 35,000?” Juliet had asked. 35,000 could have been twins. A little excitement leapt in her heart. Twins? She hadn’t considered that before.
“No dear, it is 3500.”
“That’s not good.”
“It’s not bad. It’s still rising. It’s hard waiting. Isn’t it?” The nurse’s voice over the phone had asked Juliet.
And, because she was so vulnerable. Juliet had said, “It is really hard this time. I was pregnant before and I didn’t want it. But, I want this one.” The confession felt like a stone had been surgically removed from her chest. But, it didn’t change the fear and doubt. The wish. The wish that against the odds, she would be one of those women she had read about on the Internet. “I had a HEALTHY baby at 44! My baby measured small until the 12th week! She was fine!”
There was no logical reason for God to answer her prayer. She was 42. She hadn’t been trying: hadn’t prepared her body, never taken the fertility drugs, she hadn’t even really wanted a baby — at first. And the truth is. She wasn’t even that nice of a person. That is the part she thought God was taking into account — for sure. In her own opinion, she wasn’t the best mother she could be to Stella. The biggest confession: she was divorced, and the baby was the result of a really stupid two-week relationship. She was the anti-mother. Why would God move forward on this one?
Then she became attached to the idea. It wouldbe different than with Stella —
Juliet is frozen, sitting here between now and what to do next. Why doesn’t she just start bleeding? Go through a night of excruciating pain — like the other women like her on the internet had described — a cleansing, a release, an ending.
Stella and her friend are laughing and Juliet thinks, “Life goes on.” This day isn’t any different just because she found out this morning that she lost the baby.
Had a miscarriage. Not a baby yet. In her mind, maybe, but not according to the doctor. In fact, it was hardly even an embryo anymore. It had already started shrinking back into Juliet.
“It dissolves back into the mother. Or, it becomes infected. Necrotic.”
“Maybe that little guy had a reason for only staying a short while” the woman at the pharmacy had said when she filled her prescription for Cytotec the medicine to induce a miscarriage.
“Yeah,” Juliet said, at first almost condescendingly. As if she might say, “yeah, that little guy wanted to be around for the batmitvah I attended last week.” But, instead, Juliet started crying and nodded. “I was thinking that too. Maybe this was a message for me. Some kind of gift.”
“It’s so hard,” the pharmacy clerk said. “I know.” And, the lady’s eyes were wet and the wrinkles around her fleshy face made her seem grandmotherly. And, it touched Juliet’s heart. She needed the kindness.
Juliet notices that the two girls have removed their shoes and are filing the them with sand and putting the sand down their shirts and pants. Filling their clothes up.
“It’s hard to let them be kids,” a tender voice says. “Not to stop them from filling their clothes up with sand.”
Juliet turns to see one of the chubby Waldorf moms standing next to her. The woman looks and seems youthful with brown hair and rosy cheeks. Skin that was olive and young with elasticity still in it. She has deep blue eyes, the color of the sky. She is holding a baby that is maybe eight months old. The baby is round and fat. Blowing bubbles with its tongue. One little hand on the mother’s ear.
“That’s a really beautiful baby,” Juliet says softly.
“He’s my little Buddha baby. He’s all fattened up on mama’s milk.” The woman squeezes the baby tight and kisses his cheeks. The baby laughs. The mama lifts the baby and blows a raspberry into his belly.
Juliet looks back at Stella for a moment. Then she turns to the woman next to her. “My little girl wasn’t a Buddha. I pumped milk and she drank it from a bottle. She didn’t really like breast milk that much. She loved rice cereal. For some reason.” Juliet pulls her large sunglasses on.
The Waldorf mother seemed unfazed. “Kids are unpredictable.”
“Yeah,” Juliet says, “they are. I brought her to work with me most of the time and I carried her around in a Bjorn and she napped during my meetings. I scheduled my life around her naps.”
The woman’s face softens a little. “That must have been nice. That is a really cool way to do it.”
“Yeah,” Juliet said softly, “it is.”
The woman nods her head slowly and an awkwardness descends. The baby starts pulling the woman’s hair, locks tangled in spit-covered fingers. He is putting his lips on his mama’s cheeks.
Juliet walks closer to Stella. “Let’s go Stella.”
“You are not serious.” Stella says and stares at Juliet, eyebrows raised in disbelief. For some reason, Juliet wishes her daughter’s manner wasn’t so adult like at this moment. It seems conspicuous.
“I am serious.” Juliet says, “put your shoes on and we’ll go to Dairy queen on the way home.”
After saying it, Juliet freezes. Juliet imagines that Dairy Queen is the ultimate evidence against her ability to parent healthily and green: artificial flavoring, fast food, exploiting workers, raping the land.
“Can I have chocolate and vanilla mixed, dipped in butterscotch?” Stella negotiates.
“OK,” Juliet says. She turns back to the woman with the baby and waves goodbye.
The young woman raises her hand and waves a friendly wave back. “See you.”
Juliet feels small under the large cherry trees. She looks down at all the fruit on the ground, squishes a fat overripe cherry with her black pump.
She doesn’t want to think about motherhood anymore today. She wants to lay down in her bed, in the dark and quiet. She wants to let the heaviness over take her. But she can’t, it is just her. And Stella.