Attendance at meetings has been sparse lately. Sometimes that’s a good thing; it can be less intimidating to share your feelings when there are fewer people in the room. But, I fear our recent members are missing out on the sheer volume of stories I experienced in my early days of Empty Arms. One of the most helpful aspects of our group is hearing a range of stories from other parents. It helps so much to hear multiple people talk about what they felt, when their loss was fresh, and as they began to heal. It brings hope to listen to others talk about what has changed, and what has stayed the same. It makes us feel less alone to know that others have had some of the same thoughts and feelings that we are having. There are so many universal aspects to grief. We always introduce ourselves at meetings, give the bare bones of our stories. But, it’s been awhile since many of us have described our early pain in detail. In an effort to help those dealing with fresh loss, I’ve decided to share my own stories in greater detail here. I hope that some of you will consider doing so as well. Please, if you would like to contribute your story, advice, struggles, poetry, or anything else to this blog, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Thank you.
Angel Noel, December 20, 2003:
Christmas fell in the middle of the week that year. Since it was Chris’s turn to spend it with his parents, we decided to have my family at our house the Saturday before, December 20, Yule, rather than try to rush from Christmas Eve in Attica back to Christmas Day in Girard. The week before, we had just found out we were pregnant. It was our first time actually trying to conceive, since Ethan had been a case of, we think we’re ready, so let’s see what happens. I was barely pregnant, really. Most women wouldn’t have even noticed they were late yet. But we were trying. We had a plan. Ethan had just turned two. He would be almost three when the baby was born. It would be the perfect spacing, we thought. So I knew, and I couldn’t wait to share the news with my Mom. I had this great plan to give her an early Christmas present. An angel pin with an August birthstone. When she asked why August…you get the picture. When she came over the night of my holiday party for work to babysit, I did just that. I’d also told my bosses, John and Carol, and their mother, Helen, who worked with us. I knew I could never keep it to myself, and they’d need to know, anyway. At the party, I discovered that Helen had let the news slip to her youngest daughter, who had also just revealed she was pregnant, also due in August. Everyone was happy. Nobody was worried.
That week I started spotting. Nothing significant, but enough that I was worried. I had told myself that no matter what happened with this pregnancy, I wouldn’t worry. I’d cramped and spotted with Ethan, and everything had been fine. Implantation cramps, normal bleeding, nothing to worry about. I’d panicked. It had been fine. No reason for me to be paranoid. But I was. My doctor, who hadn’t even planned to see me until my eighth week (this was five) told me to go the emergency room, since she was at the hospital, and they could do a sonogram. I went, by myself, thinking it would be silly to have Chris come in and meet me, dragging Ethan, or alarming my mother.
Emergency rooms are hellish when you’re scared. Somehow I’d thought that I’d see my doctor since she was in the hospital at the time, but I saw an ER doctor instead. All he seemed concerned about was ruling out an ectopic pregnancy. I had no pain that would indicate an ectopic. He didn’t think a sono was necessary, especially at this early stage. “If you are miscarrying, there’s nothing we can do anyway. You’ll just have to wait and see.”
Nothing we can do. In the 21st century, it seems ridiculous to hear those words. What do you mean, nothing we can do? No drugs to stop this from happening? No tests to find out what’s wrong? No way to even tell me if I should or shouldn’t be scared? They did bloodwork, but it didn’t mean anything unless they did more in a day or two. Nothing to do, but go home, continue with everyday life, and see if your world would come apart or continue as expected.
I went home. I went to work the next day. Nothing worse seemed to be happening. Maybe everything would be fine. Maybe I was just overreacting. It was Friday, the day before our big Christmas. We put up our Christmas tree with our precious two year old son–the first one he was really interested in. It was while we were hanging ornaments that the bleeding started.
I put on a maxi pad and tried not to panic. It might still be nothing. Some women spotted heavily throughout their pregnancies. It might be nothing. Sleep on it. See how it goes.
Christmas morning. No longer just spotting. A full period, maybe a little heavier than usual. Undeniably bad. I called the doctor as Ethan sat on the floor, playing with his stocking. I told her what was happening, that I thought I was miscarrying. She agreed, said she was sorry, gave me a pep talk. This happened in one in four pregnancies. No one knows why. Something just wasn’t right this time. We knew we could do this; we had Ethan as proof. There was no reason to think this would ever happen again. She talked about enjoying Ethan, letting him cheer us up. I laughed through my tears, telling her we were celebrating Christmas, how much fun he was having already. She was wonderful.
I hung up and got back to Christmas with my son. I didn’t want to disrupt his fun. And, I had people coming over. I had cleaning, cooking, baking to do. I threw myself into it all with a vengeance. I called my mother, told her the bad news before she’d really had time to absorb the good news. I told her not to mention it to anyone else. No one else knew about the pregnancy. I didn’t want to spoil their holiday by telling them this.
I don’t know on what strange plain of existence I spent that day. I outran my grief for the day, charging through it all out. I don’t think anyone noticed anything was wrong. I didn’t want them to feel bad, or awkward, or to not know what to say. My job was to do Christmas, and I was going to do it, well and thoroughly.
Later, after it was all over, after everyone went home, later I cried. For months, I found myself lying across my bed, tears flowing all on their own, or not flowing at all. I lay there, staring at the wall, not sleeping, not crying, not doing anything at all. Just feeling. Numb. Hurt. Empty. Strange. Hopeless. Helpless. I don’t remember ever lying like that before. I didn’t care what position I was in–if I was comfortable or uncomfortable, warm or cold. I didn’t sleep. I just hurt. Most of the time I didn’t even think. Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was depression. I don’t know what to call it. I only know how it felt.
Miscarriage. It conjures up these images of blood, puddles of blood. I always thought it was something that happens suddenly, quickly, usually by accident. Too many soap operas probably. A pregnant woman falls off a ladder, is pushed down the stairs. A pool of blood spreads around her and it’s over. Her baby is gone. It’s not like that. It’s not like that at all. Angel went slowly, undramatically. I had a period, like any other period, like every other period I’d ever had. Perhaps a the bleeding was a bit heavier at times, the cramping a bit stronger. But it lasted for days, just like any other period. A constant reminder of what no longer was–for days. And I went to work. And I did Christmas. And I walked through the days like a zombie, but a zombie who put up a darn good front. Only five people in the whole world knew there was anything wrong. And none of them wanted to talk about it.
And I still felt pregnant. That’s the weirdest thing, I think. I knew I wasn’t. I knew the biology. You bleed, you’re not pregnant. Incontrovertible proof. What every woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant celebrates when it arrives. But I felt pregnant. I was supposed to be pregnant! I’d have to consciously remind myself, over and over, that I wasn’t. No baby to protect from caffeine, or Nutrasweet, or second hand smoke. Just me. Nobody in this body but me.