A couple of weeks ago I found a vintage copy of Elisabeth Bing’s “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” in the mixed-paper bin at the recycling center. It made me smile, and not just because of the awful 1970s hairstyles and maternity clothes. After four pregnancies in a row had stopped developing, my daughter was expecting again and this time a heartbeat was detected.
An omen, I thought.
Except that it wasn’t. At a second appointment on June 5, no heartbeat could be found. This embryo, too, had stopped developing, probably the previous week. Except for a very brief spell of crying as she got dressed, Abby described her reaction as “numb, with a slight underlying sadness.”
After all, she’d been through this four times already. Who wouldn’t want to numb herself?
I’d tried it myself, in fact. Tried not to hope too hard, tried not to make too many plans. Yet of course I did. I looked up the costs of those cribs that turn into toddler beds. Thought about what names Abby and Tim might consider. Planned to use the buddy pass a friend gave me to get myself to Phoenix before the Jan. 14 due date.
Upon hearing the news, I went numb again. So did Abby. In a blog post called “Inducing miscarriages and other DIY projects” – typical of her at-times grim humor – Abby said she was still “floating on a bubble of something between denial and weariness. It hit me briefly on Saturday, and I cried for a few minutes.
“But that was more the idea that we’re just not going to have kids at all. And I suspect there’s far more water in that well.”
Eggshells and air
The DIY plan worked, by the way: Doing some heavy lifting started her body’s process of shedding the tissue that for a little while had us all walking on both eggshells and air. This time around she knew enough to ask the doctor for a prescription before the pain got too severe, and to lay in a supply of some of her favorite comfort foods.
I talked with her yesterday and she sounded as well as someone could be who was still in the process of miscarrying. Instead, we talked about practical matters and work-related matters and, yes, some personal matters.
But not too personal. While we did touch on our dashed hopes, neither of us addressed the loss deeply enough to lose control. Sure, there’s probably still lots of water in that well. But perhaps she can’t afford to break down right now. Or perhaps she doesn’t want her grief to take the form of hiccupping sobs over the phone.
I’ll be seeing her briefly at the end of July, on my way to a conference in Austin, Texas. When I booked the ticket I arranged for a stopover in Phoenix so that we could hang out, have dinner at Bobby Q’s, binge-watch some TV series on Hulu.
Abby and Tim also had planned to show me the CD of the first ultrasound. It was too early to hear anything, but you could see a tiny spot that flashed 108 times per minute. “Surreal,” she’d marveled as the cold wand glided over her belly.
I don’t know what would be worse: Seeing it, or not seeing it. I’m going for “not,” because I haven’t yet allowed my own sorrow to come to bear.
A sense of helplessness
When she was a toddler, she pulled too hard on a doll’s arm and it came off. I saw it happen because our Philly apartment had only two rooms and we mostly lived in the kitchen. Abby’s brown eyes widened in shock and the corners of her mouth turned down. She came over to me and proffered the doll and its limb.
I popped the arm back into its socket. Happy again, Abby returned to her play. I watched, a little shaken by her utter confidence that Mommy would fix it. I thought, Can I really do this? What will happen when I can’t fix things for her? What then?
Now I know what will happen, because this is something I can’t fix.
I’m feeling the same sense of helplessness I felt when she was in the intensive care unit at age 19, paralyzed and on a ventilator due to Guillain-Barre syndrome. Oh, I did what I could – reading, massage, advocating with the medical types – but it felt like nothing at all.
Then there were the silent prayers, when I asked God if Abby could be raised up, whole, and I could be put down in her place. I knew even as I prayed that this was ludicrous. Didn’t stop me from trying, because I couldn’t face the truth: That she was gravely ill and there wasn’t anything I could do about it except hope she got better.
Not ready to trust
Lately I’ve been sending up more of those anguished prayers, except that this time they sound like denunciations. Why is this happening to her? Hasn’t she gone through enough? How come people who don’t even WANT kids get to throw litters of them? Can’t she have just one happy, healthy pregnancy?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe after rest, healing and more consultations with more doctors, they’ll try again. Maybe they’ll decide they are physically and emotionally unable to risk more heartbreak.
I threw away that Elisabeth Bing paperback. Not because I saw it as a reminder of our family’s loss, but rather because I saw it as a failure of my faith. We would have been so ready to love a child but once again it didn’t happen – and I’m not ready to let that go. I’m angry. I’m not ready to trust God’s plan for the universe.
I’m back where I was 16 years ago. My daughter is suffering, and there’s not a damned thing I can do except hope that she gets better. That, and shout prayers that sound more like recriminations.