Finally, we felt some internal pressure. It was time.
I went off the pill and began charting. I started preparing my body — and Sam's, as much as he would let me. Boxers, I told him, and no hot showers, and here, take these supplements. We stopped drinking alcohol and caffeine, and I switched to natural cleaning and toiletry products. I was determined: We were going to get pregnant, and this baby was going to be safe.
I was 29 and a half and Sam was 30 when we started trying, which was a little behind my schedule, but we could still have a baby at 30, if not by anymore. Somehow this seemed important to me.
The first month, we decided to try all those old wives' methods for conceiving a girl, and nothing happened. After one unsuccessful try — yes, one — I was antsy. We threw those methods out the window and went all out.
Two cycles later, I was pregnant.
See? That was easy.
We were feeling all superior and DINKsy to the people we knew who were obsessed with pregnancy and children and parenting (um, you might be able to tell I've turned around on this by now), so we didn't really tell anyone around us. We thought we'd wait past the magical first-trimester mark when risk of miscarriage decreases. We did tell our parents, who immediately started buying baby clothes and giving us ideas for names and arguing with our decision not to have an ultrasound to find out the gender even though that was months off.
At six weeks, I went to my ballet class as usual (because I wasn't going to let this baby business interfere with my regularly scheduled life), and I was horrified to see spotting when I came home. I lay down on my left side (the side that's supposed to be most protective) and crossed my fingers and my legs. The next day, I called the midwives we'd settled on but hadn't yet seen for an official appointment. The one I talked to was reassuring on the phone but couldn't tell me much other than to keep an eye on it. If it subsided, it was probably nothing. If not, well, sometimes that happened.
A few days later, the spotting stopped. I checked nervously at every pee break for the faintest tinges of pink on the toilet paper, but there was nothing more. In retrospect, I realize I subconsciously decided not to get too attached to this baby, just in case.
As a last hurrah, and even though we had absolutely no money for it, we jetted off to London for a short vacation. We figured it would be our last child- and fancy-free time. I was ten weeks along.
I hadn't been feeling morning sick. I hadn't really been feeling much at all, apart from some soreness in my breasts. I had continued temping for a little bit after my pregnancy test came back positive, until a slightly lower temperature — not under my coverline but enough of a dip to spook me — made me back off and put the thermometer away. I took a couple pregnancy tests, but the second wasn't quite as dark, so those, too, I had sworn off. The early spotting was another sign something was wrong, but I didn't want to believe it.
On our flight back from London, I started feeling crampy. I think I began spotting in the airplane bathroom. The next day, as we were back in our swing of cat sitting (our home business at the time), the spotting continued and got worse, and the cramps became nearly unbearable. It was the weekend, and our first prenatal appointment was Monday. I bled all that weekend and knew — I had lost the baby.
I couldn't believe how hard it hit me. I couldn't talk without sobbing. I tried telling my parents on the phone and broke down about the second word in. There was more blood than I imagined possible, and it hurt — a lot.
Sam and I wallowed. We drove to the store and picked up some caffeinated soda, then drove to the liquor store and stocked up on several assorted bottles for good measure. What had been the point of all that good behavior?
On Monday, we drove to our first prenatal appointment and told our midwives the sad news. They were astonished we had come in at all and told us we could have called to cancel. Somehow, I needed to see someone in person, though, to be reassured that all this bleeding and pain were normal, if not welcome, and that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me and my reproductive abilities.
We started the process of explaining to our friends why I couldn't be bothered to go out and see them, and why, when I finally did, I was depressed and blotchy and apt to burst into tears at any moment. It was awkward, considering we hadn't told our friends we were pregnant, to tell them we'd lost the pregnancy. But I lost my concern about appearing strong and stoic and only wished they'd been in on it all with us the whole time. I decided that any future pregnancies would be announced right away, not despite the threat of loss, but because of it.
I started telling strangers, too. It was all I could think about, after all. And I found out that I was not alone, not by a long shot. I was part of a vast sisterhood of grieving mothers, and many had far sadder stories than mine. Not that it was a contest — they all welcomed me in, and we commiserated together. I found out that behind the facades of even the largest and most fertile families often lay heartbreak. I found out both my grandmothers (with four and five living children each) had had miscarriages, and that my aunt had had several between her two boys.
I heard a range of reactions to losing a pregnancy, as well. Some women were casual about it, particularly if they had other children to care for or had not even known they were pregnant. But if the baby had been dearly wanted and there had been no other successful pregnancies, like with mine, women were most apt to be upset. It's a betrayal of your body, and it bodes ill for the future. I knew now I could get pregnant, but I had no idea whether my body could be trusted to sustain life. It had royally failed me in its first attempt. I didn't know what stretched out before me — would it be a string of losses? Was this just the first crushing blow in a series?
I went back to church tentatively, and wouldn't you know? The first Sunday back, they were introducing the new elder board. One of the prospective elders stood up and cheerfully pointed out his wife and two daughters and then announced, "And we're having a third, due in October!" I burst out sobbing and had to leave for the bathroom. Our baby would have been due in October. This man had stolen my baby. And he already had two! Why did he need ours? I knew it was irrational, but I couldn't get over how jealous I was. When I'd see a pregnant woman at the store, I would have a mean and hidden desire to run over and kick her in the stomach. Hideous, I know, and don't worry — I never acted on it. The worst was when people would talk without any fear at all about how they were planning their pregnancies and how their baby was due on such and such a date, and I'd think, You don't know that! It could all turn upside-down for you, too. And then I'd get even madder thinking, it probably wouldn't. Probably all their plans would work out perfectly on the first try, and they'd think that was normal.
My looming 30th birthday was even more horrifically mocking than I'd anticipated. I had no baby, and now not even a promise of one. I had optimistically signed myself up for email and mailing lists, and I kept receiving callously chipper reminders that "You are now in your second trimester! Congratulations for making it this far." I boxed up all the maternity clothes I'd bought and shoved them into the farthest reaches of the closet (so well hidden that I didn't find all of them until after Mikko was born).
I also belatedly became attached to the baby I'd lost. I named him (and decided it was a he). I buried some of what I believed to be him in a plant that has great meaning for me. I wrote a lot of poetry. A lot. I resolved to love any future baby starting the minute after conception. I'd rather love recklessly and freely than withhold and be stingy and feel like I'd missed my opportunity — again. But I felt, somehow, that this baby forgave me my detachment and released me of any guilt surrounding this, my first attempt to be motherly.
I decided to miscarry naturally, which was part philosophical, part penance, and part financial. My miscarriage ended up lasting five long, bloody months, which I realize in hindsight was a wee bit too long. That last month, finally, a retained piece of tissue was birthed in a pain-wracked night, and I was at long last fertile again. I became pregnant the next month.
That pregnancy? Mikko.
I tell this story not to garner sympathy, because I honestly don't feel in need of it anymore. I'm not upset that I was at the old, old age of 31 when he was born. I didn't have that string of miscarriages, and my heart aches for the women who do. Losing a pregnancy at ten weeks is nothing compared to … etc., etc.
I tell this story so anyone who's going through this and is in the stage of wanting to kick women who are pregnant will know: You're not alone. Even that tauntingly pregnant woman might have had five miscarriages up until this point, and if she didn't — well, sucks to be you, but you're part of a large coterie of suckiness. It's a sad communion, but it's real. Also? It gets better. The pain is never taken away, but you eventually heal. Miscarriage is normal, it's common (oh, so very common), and it is not easy. I know this.
I send my deepest sympathies to any of you dealing with loss, and I hope you can share your stories and find comfort as well.
If you're in the mood for some miscarriage poetry, I posted some of my stock over at my writing blog, LaurenWayne.com.