October 6th was the due date for what would have been my third child.
I always wanted three children–my mom has three, my sister has three–it felt like a perfectly odd number for ending tie games and deadlocked family votes.
The night it began, I was working late at my office in midtown Manhattan–at the time I was a senior editor at Essence. At 15 weeks, I had yet to reveal the big news to my colleagues, so I walked around with a lot of files or papers in front of my belly. (oh, the things we do!) I went into the bathroom and saw what no expecting mothers wants to see. Blood. I quickly took the car service straight to the hospital in Long Island near my home and my husband met me there. After the exam, internal and external sonogram they told us my pregnancy “had terminated.” I remember thinking–What does that mean? By what? By whom?? They spoke of it as some spontaneous act caused by external factors. When this baby was very much an internal matter being directly affected by all of my physical and environmental factors. I cried. My husband cried. Then they told me to go home and wait.
The next morning, my husband went to work leaving me alone with my fear. It was the longest day ever. By the next, the process began and I was back at the hospital. It is generally accepted that no one should have to watch the end of life, but with a miscarriage it is a process that is happening in your body and leaves you with a barrage of mental images and deep emotional scars. Miscarriage is a whole body and visual experience–and it is hard to every be fully the same ever again. You are forced to watch a life that you created end in bold, bright colors. They never fade. By the time the wheelchair rolled me into a surgical suite, I was sitting in a pool of my own blood. My last memory that night was laying on the table and hearing the sound of blood coming out of me and hitting the floor. It sounded like someone was emptying buckets. The splatters seemed so loud–with the acoustics of an operating room it was more like thunder. I’ll never forget that sound. I looked to my husband in confusion and asked weerily, “Is that me?” He squeezed my hand. I woke up in the recovery room.
For weeks, the failure cloaked me like a heavy blanket I could not get out from under. How does the woman who wrote a book on successful pregnancy fail at pregnancy? It took a very long time for me to share my story. I blamed myself, my work schedule, my husband for all the reasons why my body failed this baby. I didn’t know how to recover. I wrote a poem then a good bye letter that is buried in a jar in my backyard. I went back to work never sharing what happened because I hadn’t shared my pregnancy news.
Less than a year later, I was in the middle of a divorce–another loss. Another failure. Yet every year, I tried to honor my child I did not get to meet by volunteering– trying to replace with pain with an act of service. Hold sick babies. Read at a school. One year, I volunteered twice, marking the day of loss and my presumed due date. But ultimately I have learned to sit with the pain and be comfortable with the void and the loss and the shame. I handle it.
Every day, millions of women miscarry and we are told that we should carry on, focus on the children we do have, get over it, understand that it happens a lot and all sorts of things that do not really help. We grieve hard for babies we’ve never seen because from the moment we learned we were pregnant, we’ve had thoughts and plans and dreams for that child. And even if we only kept them to ourselves, thoughts are powerful. Thoughts are energy. Thoughts are alive. And to watch them all die and then exit your body in a painful, bloody mess seems inhumane.
I don’t know how I will honor this date this year. I wrote this piece looking for help. Instead of an act of service I thought of just trying to have a “normal” day, maybe with some quiet reflection. But attempting normalcy doesn’t feel right either. Every time I try to think of having a normal day–the thunderous sounds of blood splattering replay in my head. When will it go away?
Friends, I am open to suggestions.