Just before my son’s second birthday I took off on what I called a Mommie Moon. For me, this was a break, a reprieve, from my husband and my child. Now, my husband and child are fabulous. It was not them, per se, that I needed a break from – it was from motherhood. It was from the stress of raising my son in a way I had not planned, with trips to doctors and therapists, with worry, with grief. But now we were all getting stronger, finding our way, settling into our routine with our child who needed extra care and I knew that if I didn’t take this time for myself now then I never would. The topic of conversation lately had been having another baby and I knew I needed to do this before I did that.
And so Jay dropped me at the airport on my way to my solo adventure – a writer’s retreat in Guatemala of all places. I kissed him goodbye and then whispered in his ear, “When I come back we’ll make a baby.” It was a perfect movie scene, our last words as I traipsed inside, off to find strength – to eventually return a better me, a better us. As I stood in the bathroom of my lakefront room and threw away my birth control pills, it all felt very predestined and neat. We’d had so much struggle for the last two years and now we were better. Now, we were ready.
Even though we had talked about having another baby for awhile, even though I went to therapy for those who have had a traumatic birth but want to have another baby, to prepare my mind, my body, my womb, even through all of that, to be honest, I wasn’t sure. See, Jay and I, though I did not know how much until I stood in that bathroom by the lake, had been muddling through ourselves. I knew I would miss my son while I was away, but it was Jay that I longed for. It was Jay that I heard crying through the phone. It was Jay that I needed. And it took me by surprise. I knew that we had been through so much and had floated slightly away from each other and now I knew that we had not drowned. And I knew when we came back together, that we would add to our family, we would grow.
And so, it was decided. I was ready. We were ready. It was all planned.
A few months later I sat with my son in my lap swinging on a swing in Douglas Park and I immediately felt nauseous. Now, we swing like that all the time, but this feeling was new, different. Could it be? And it was! Later that day, I wrapped the test in wrapping paper and Benjamin put stickers all over it and we presented it to Jay as his Chanukah gift when he got home. Yay for us, I remember thinking.
But at the eight-week ultrasound, it was apparent even before the doctor said anything definitive.
I looked at the monitor and there was just a space in a little black hole. I kept hoping as she moved the wand that she would stumble upon our child hiding, but no. No heartbeat I heard her say. I must have turned pale because she told me to lean back. I held my husband’s hand and then buried my head in his shoulder.
“It’s called a missed miscarriage,” she said. “Your body still thinks it is pregnant.”
“Are you sure?” I asked her too many times.
And she was.
I had gotten ahead of myself. I was trying out names, pricing double strollers, measuring my son’s room to fit another crib. At night when I put him into his pajamas, I’d lean in and ask him if he wanted a baby brother or sister, as if he had a say.
“Baby sister!!!” he’d say every time. Then he’d squeal the name he had decided for her.
I’d squeal it back and we’d both laugh. And I believed in that moment he had brought ‘her’ to us. In short, I was dancing with happiness.
Though one day while taking him for a walk I was overwhelmed by a really strong sense of sadness. I did not know why. It came from nowhere. I kept walking, hoping it would pass.
So I think perhaps I knew. Perhaps, even though my body still thought I was pregnant, at that moment when I was walking down the street stirred by sadness, my soul knew I was not.
The four days until my D&C on Tuesday seemed like an eternity. I wanted it done with and out of me, but I didn’t want anyone to take ‘her’ away from me yet. ‘She’ was still mine.
There is something about miscarriage that makes people awkward and uncomfortable. It is secretive and hidden, as if it is shameful. It is not discussed as easily as other life disappointments. As one friend told me that weekend, it is the only death where you don’t get flowers.
When it is discussed, often people stumble and search for something helpful to say, like it was meant to be or there must have been something wrong. It was god’s way. And perhaps all those things are true, but I am here to say, the only thing worth saying is a simple I am so sorry.
Sunday, we headed to Malibu. Our son played in the sand. We rested on a blanket underneath the California winter sun. I leaned back, listening to the ocean and the sounds of my family playing around me. Instinctively, I placed my hands on my belly. Right then, we were a family, all four of us.
My son chased a dog, which happened to be named the same name he would squeal for the baby sister he wanted. My husband and I looked at each other. I smiled, thinking, this is a nice way for us to say goodbye.
Tuesday arrived, and so it was done. And it was just as awful as it should be.
And so soon enough we tried again. And soon enough I was pregnant. Yay. I was excited, but cautious. After all, friends were miscarrying all around me, like it was catching or something. I tried to do what I could to be supportive, picking friends up after D&C’s, listening as they cried, offering up my own story as solidarity. I remember being terrified to tell my best friend I was pregnant because she had just miscarried the month before. So I kept it a secret. But she and I were away for a girl’s weekend together with our sons and I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore.
And like a good best friend, she was thrilled for me. And I was grateful when I woke up the next morning bleeding that she was with me and already knew. The only other relief was that this one happened naturally.
As did the third a few months later.
How silly that I thought We’ll have a baby when we are ready, how silly to think that I just had to get my mind settled. How silly that I thought just because I was invested enough to go to therapy that this would work. Just because I was ready, just because I loved my husband and wanted my child to have a sibling did not mean my body would cooperate or that the stars were aligned.
Before I miscarried that third time in less than the time it would take to have a pregnancy, the joy I had had when I found out I was pregnant 8 months earlier on that swing had been replaced by anxiety and dread. I knew it wouldn’t work. My belief had been diminished. And that was almost the worst part of all.
Eventually we headed to a fertility clinic. I felt bad every time I walked in there. I felt the failure of my body. I felt old, constantly reminded of my geriatric status, all of 38.
But still I gave myself shots until my stomach was black and blue, still I raced there almost daily, still I studied our bank statements looking to make this astronomically expensive option work.
But when my period arrived we decided to take a break.
I am sure we will return. I barely gave it a chance. Or perhaps we will adopt; that is a lovely option.
It’s hard not to blame yourself. It’s hard not to think, but this is the most natural thing in the world – people do it all the time. It’s hard not to take note of the months I would have been due as they pass. August. January. May.
It is not that I want a redo, though perhaps there is a little part of me that would like to have a pregnancy end with champagne and kisses and balloons and smiles, instead of NICU machines and terror. But there are no guarantees. It is not a given that all will go well if I have another baby, but what I know now is that I can handle it. What I know now is that motherhood is more than just the happy parts, more than just the moments you take pictures of and put out for all to see. In fact, I want another child because of what I have learned from my son. That little boy has shown me it is okay to believe and strive and to hope.
Perhaps it is selfish, but the joy Benjamin has given to me is like a drug. I want another fix.
This is not something I need. I have what I need. I have my husband. I have my son. This is something I want. And I think it is okay to want things. I think it is okay to try. And I am not ready to cross into the other side of the things I dreamed about when I was a girl.
It may take a miracle for me to have another baby, but if I have learned anything from being a mother to my son, my son who entered this world with one foot towards the exit, my son who showed me how to not only survive but to thrive, it is that hope is necessary, to believe in the future is sustenance. He showed me through his own example that I believe in miracles. And maybe we as a family are only allowed one miracle, and if that is all we are given then we are the truly lucky ones. And I will keep trying for another, because maybe, just maybe, miracles are catching too.
Writer’s note: Since writing this piece and performing it in the Los Angeles show Expressing Motherhood, I am happy to report I am expecting my second child in September 2010.