I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo.
I’ve never wanted one before, and honestly, I’m not completely sure I want one now. But I feel like I need to do something to help me grieve. I’ve always sucked at grieving. It would probably help if I believed in god, but I don’t. And if I did, I’d hate him.
When my Grandma died, I wasn’t there. I was five hours away visiting my then fiance (my now husband). We had gone to the mall and I had forgotten my cell phone. When we got back I had something like 8 voicemails, that started out with my mom and sister telling me to come home, she wasn’t doing well, and ended with them crying into the phone and asking me to call them. There was no way for me to get back in time. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I hate myself for not being there.
When my Grandfather died, I was there. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced, at the time. After his small, inadequate memorial service at the cemetery, I remember getting drunk on white wine at my parents’ house and losing it at the dinner table, screaming about how unfair it was.
On my 32nd birthday, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. It was December 3, 2011. In January, I lost the baby. I took that Friday off for the D&C, and the following Monday, and went back to work on Tuesday. I didn’t want to cry about it in front of Piper, so I didn’t. I cried by myself, in the shower and in the car on the way to work after dropping her off, every day, for weeks. When I got to work I parked at the end of the row, where no one would see me cleaning the mascara off my cheeks. Like I said, I suck at grieving.
Recently, my husband started talking about how we never really talked about it that much. Our sweet baby Jack was conceived a few months later, and we turned our attention to that instead. We’ve started talking about it more, but it comes in fits and starts, and ends in tears and detours into other conversations, or a dog that needs to be walked, a baby to be fed, sleep. Part of the problem is, I’ve never been much of a talker, especially about things as painful as this. I’m a writer, not a talker. So here’s my long and detailed story. You may want to grab your tissue box before getting started.
It was a planned pregnancy, and we were overjoyed. We’re lucky in that we’ve never had trouble trying to conceive. Still, we told family but waited a while to make the official announcement to friends. We told Piper, then 3, that she would be a big sister, and she was as excited as we were. In January, about a month later, with all going well (or so I thought), I announced the pregnancy at work.
I ate right, kept an extremely close eye on my blood sugars, and even started wearing my CGM (continuous glucose monitor) again to get advance warning of the early pregnancy lows I had read about. I hated wearing it; the large insertion needle tended to hurt going in, usually drew blood when withdrawn, and was difficult to place in a convenient spot on my abdomen or upper thighs without catching it on my clothes. Plus, I always found it difficult to calibrate. Still, I wore it faithfully.
On January 18th, I had my 11-week checkup at the OB’s office. Knowing there was a chance I would get to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, I went into the office with happy anticipation. Justin had to work, but I couldn’t wait to call him and hold the phone out so he could hear the heartbeat on the doppler.
In the span of a few short minutes, the day turned from excitement to heartbreak. The doctor, who had bragged beforehand that she was pretty good at finding heartbeats, couldn’t find one. She sent me into the ultrasound room “just to check things out.” This didn’t alarm me at first. In fact, I remember thinking it was a bonus, because I would get to hear the heartbeat, and maybe get a picture to take home. When the ultrasound technician couldn’t see what she needed to see with the typical tummy wand, she tried a transvaginal ultrasound instead. She repeatedly made discouraging sounds as she worked, and with each second that went by without seeing anything save a small black hole on the screen, fear finally set in and began growing exponentially. By the time I got the courage to speak to the technician, who was not explaining anything to me, my voice cracked and she finally realized I was crying.
Choking back tears, I think I asked something like, “Was there ever actually a pregnancy, then?” She assured me that yes, there was, or had been, asked me if I was sure about when we conceived, and the rest of our conversation is somewhat a blur. After that, there was a conversation with the doctor. She explained they wanted to run a blood test to find out if perhaps I was just wrong on when we conceived. I knew I wasn’t, but I’ve never wanted to be wrong about something more in my life. I would have blood drawn that day, and again the following day, to determine if the hCG levels in my blood were increasing.
I called my husband from the tiny consultation room where I’d been speaking to the doctor. He at first mistook my tears and high-pitched tone for laughter. I’m sure he was expecting a much different sort of phone call.
I seem to remember glancing down at the paperwork they handed me for the checkout desk that day, and seeing a box checked off for “threatened viability” or something close to that. I also had to pay a $40 copay on my way out the door, for the extra, transvaginal ultrasound they performed.
I got the first round of bloodwork done at the lab downstairs, and called my mother before driving home, to tell her what happened, and that Justin would pick Piper up later. Then I cried the entire way home in the car.
When Justin got home, I tried to explain everything that had happened at the appointment. We tried to remain hopeful about what the bloodwork would show, but all I could think about was the black hole on the ultrasound screen. The next day was a Thursday. While at work, I got the call from the doctor. No more bloodwork would be needed. They wanted to schedule me for a D&C as soon as possible. After reminding them I was diabetic (something they always seem to overlook), they agreed to schedule it for first thing the following morning, Friday, January 20, 2012, so I wouldn’t have to fast very long beforehand.
That Thursday I stayed at work for most of the afternoon after scheduling the D&C, I guess needing some sort of distraction. I cried on the shoulder of a good friend behind her closed office door, and made arrangements for Piper, our daughter, to spend the night at my parents’ house, since we had to get up early the next day for the procedure. We didn’t tell her why she was sleeping over, and she was just excited to be spending the night at Grandma & Grandpa’s house. On the way over, I think she was probably asking us questions about her new “baby sister,” since she had her mind made up it would be a girl. We didn’t know how to tell her.
The next morning, after removing the loathsome CGM from my thigh for the last time, we drove to the hospital. It was dark, cold and snowy. It would be an outpatient procedure, but before being taken to pre-op, we had to go to Registration or Admissions or whatever they were calling the department, to fill out paperwork and, of course, pay for the procedure. I knew “Complications of Pregnancy” were covered in full under my insurance plan, and the woman behind the desk agreed she would submit the claim. Months later, when I was already pregnant again, I was still “working with” the hospital and the insurance company to sort out the bill for a $150 copay they mistakenly thought I owed them.
Triage was difficult. We arrived to a packed waiting room, and being first up I was quickly ushered into the back so they could get me ready. It took the nurses three (or four?) tries to get my IV right; even the “expert” who came last failed. Each attempt was extremely painful, and soon I was crying even though I was trying my hardest not to, despite being asked multiple times what I was there for.
The tears came for real again in the actual Pre-op suite, when it was finally time to kiss my husband and head into the OR. I was scared and devastated as they wheeled me into the OR, with its bright white lights and stainless steel sterility. The tears continued to roll down my cheeks as we went, forming wet puddles under my ears. Devastated this was the end for baby number two, scared to be going into an OR, because I’m scared whenever I get rolled into an OR. Counting our son Jack’s C-section this past January, I’ve been in ORs 4 times total (once for Piper, once for a serious skin infection in my lower back, then baby number two, then Jack), and I’ve been scared every time. I’m not sure if it’s TV shows, movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, or simply my over-active writer’s imagination, but my mind works in an almost constant “what if” mode; what if something goes wrong and I can’t have any more children? what if they were wrong, and there’s a baby in there after all, and not just a black hole, like on the ultrasound screen? what if I die in there?
I woke up back in Recovery in what seemed like seconds, with Justin by my side. I expected pain or something physical to signal the end of the pregnancy, but there was none. They let me go home shortly after that. It was all done in a matter of a couple of hours. I went home feeling completely numb. All I wanted to do was (finally) have something to eat, and curl up in bed, and that’s exactly what I did. I slept most of the day.
Later, Justin went to pick up Piper, and my in-laws stopped over with dinner and flowers. One thing my mother-in-law said that stuck with me was that I had to grieve. She said not to listen to the people who said it “wasn’t meant to be,” and I loved her for saying that. I always kept that in my mind, that I had to grieve, and I think I thought I was, in my own way. I cried so much that I had to be grieving, right?
That night we told Piper why she had spent the night with Grandma and Grandpa. We felt we had to be honest and answer any questions she had. We sat her down on the couch and explained it in the simplest way we could. Sweet 3-year-old Piper, who had been convinced all along she would have a baby sister, looked at us and said, “My baby sister died?” and started to cry. We cried with her and held her and tried to answer whatever she asked us.
The weekend ended, I took a sick day on Monday, and went back to work on Tuesday, with strict instructions that no one was to utter a word about what I had been through – I didn’t want any hugs, any “How are you feeling?”s, or any mention of why I was out for two days. I wanted to go back to work for the distraction, but looking back I know it wasn’t enough time. I should have taken more time. Even if it meant doing nothing but curling up in a ball, or getting stupid drunk all by myself, or going through boxes and boxes of tissues, or raising my blood sugar to dangerous levels eating ice cream out of the carton and peanut butter right out of the jar. I should have taken that time to really grieve, to really get down deep into the dark, painful, messy, raw emotion of it all. Kind of like I’m doing now. Sitting at my kitchen table, at 11:17pm on a weeknight (gasp!) crying snotty tears and pouring my guts out before this shit eats a whole through my heart permanently.
Anyway, I went back to work. Every morning after I dropped Piper off, I cried most of the way to work. For probably a couple of months. Some days I’d even lose it for a couple of minutes at my desk, if a song caught me in just the right way (Bruce Springsteen’s “You’re Missing” in particular, which started up on my laptop just now, as I began typing the title, if you can believe that), or if someone happened to announce a pregnancy or a birth via email or facebook. Life goes on, but it didn’t make any of that joyous news sting me any less. I was/am depressed, angry, confused, and there was nothing I could do about it. The two poems below pretty much capture how I was feeling for a long time.
Where Once There Was Life
I’m obsessing over photos of abandoned places.
I search for them online,
These abandoned homes, forgotten spaces,
These places where once there were people and life
And now there is only
Chunks of fallen plaster.
Cast aside family photos.
Trees growing through floor boards.
Second and third floors lost to broken staircases.
The Winter That Wasn’t
It was the Winter that wasn’t.
No pristine white landscapes.
No endless blank canvas.
No fresh start.
If you remember anything about the winter of 2011 to 2012, we hardly had any snow in Upstate New York, which is pretty unheard of. It only added to my feelings of being stuck, of being unable to move forward, of being in the worst possible types of limbo. It was hard not to think back to that black hole on the ultrasound monitor and not think I was also trapped in one.
Physically, things happened to my body after the C-section that I wish someone had warned me about beforehand. The first was extreme bloating. I wasn’t pregnant anymore, but I felt like I looked more pregnant than before I lost the baby. I wasn’t pregnant, but my regular clothes didn’t fit quite right. The second, and much crueler, physical side effect came a little later. When my uterus started shrinking back down, the feeling, to me, was so very similar to being kicked by baby feet. Ghost feet was my name for it. I could be having a great day, and be crushed in seconds by that feeling. I wrote a poem about it called Unsung Lullaby. Then I thought I lost it when my computer somehow deleted the file. I found it later, mixed in with a collection of poems I was putting together in a larger document:
I lost you.
The feeling of my
Shrinking back to shape
Go to sleep, little baby.
Go to sleep.
I think losing a baby is one of the loneliest things I have ever experienced. Obviously it’s a very common thing, but the hardest part is that I’m the only one who had this connection, physical and emotional, with this person who would never…get to be. For 11 weeks, I daydreamed about what he or she (she, according to Piper) would look like, about holding them, about loving them. And every day since, it’s like something is…missing, I guess.
I wish I at least had a picture to hold – even a grainy, tiny ultrasound blob. But all I ever got to see on the ultrasound screen was that ominous black hole. The empty sac where a baby was supposed to be. I remember that afternoon so vividly. Holding my breath in the dimly lit room, waiting for the ultrasound wand to reveal my baby to me, a cute button nose in profile to bring home on glossy photo paper. To show off. To daydream over. This is the only picture I have, taken on Christmas Eve, 2011:
It should have been the first of 9 photos, but it ended up being the only one. It never made it to facebook – I’ve kept it buried in a folder instead. Buried right along with this whole story.
I feel extremely lucky we were able to conceive our son, Jack, so soon after losing Baby Two. He’s our rainbow baby, a child conceived after a loss. Had we suffered another loss, I’m certain I would not have had the strength, or the courage to try again. I’m just not that strong. Some women are, but I’m not.
And now we’ve come full circle back to the tattoo thing. My husband hates them, and doesn’t want me to get one. I think I want one to memorialize Baby Two, for lack of a better name. Lately I’ve been fond of thinking of Baby Two as Ruby, Piper’s sister, since she was so very sure. Little Ruby Blue. I also think on some level I’d welcome the pain that comes with getting a tattoo. I expected there to be pain after the d&c, but instead there was simply a complete numbness that I wasn’t expecting. The tattoo I’m thinking of might be some variation of a celtic motherhood tattoo, with symbols representing each of my three babies.
Just some way to say I carried three children, even if one was only in my heart.