Stories Part 2: River, March 29, 2004

I have had three miscarriages.  It sounds truly absurd to say this, but River’s was my favorite, for lack of a better term.  Can you have a favorite time that your life was torn apart?  Apparently.  Why was it my favorite?  Because there was blood, and gore, and pain.  Because there were obvious signs that something terrible was happening.  Nobody could ignore it.  Life could not go on uninterrupted.

It started with a bit of not-too-alarming spotting on Saturday night.  We had our dear friend, Jay, whom I consider my ‘adopted’ brother, over to celebrate his birthday.  We were thrilled to have this opportunity, since Jay had just recently moved back after living in Texas.  It was wonderful to get to celebrate with him again.  Yet again, here I was entertaining and wanting to make a holiday happy for loved ones, while thinking something terrible was happening.  I told myself it wasn’t anything to worry about.  I kept quiet about what was going on.  I tried to believe myself.

The bleeding stopped, hadn’t really been heavy, or scary, not the stroke of doom we’d had at Christmas.  Maybe everything really was all right.  I walked on eggshells through Sunday.  Monday, I had more spotting when I woke up.  I called in sick to work, called my doctor in a panic.  She sent me to the hospital for a sonogram.  Chris and Ethan waited for me in the hall.  The sonographer played dumb, as they are required to do, not showing or telling me what she was seeing, calling someone more experienced in to take a look as well.  They put us in a sort of cubicle with a phone, the sort of three walled space that reminded me of the testing spaces they put us in in kindergarten, to wait for the doctor to call to explain the results.  I was pretty sure I already knew what she’d say.  “I’m sorry, your baby died.”  That was what she said.  It was the kindest way she could have said it, and I will love her forever for it.

Because this qualified as a pregnancy complication, my family doctor was unable to handle it.  She referred me back to the obstetrician practice I’d been with when Ethan was born.  When I called to set up an appointment, I asked them if I could see one of the other two doctors in the practice, not the one who had delivered my son.  I had left the practice because I hadn’t been comfortable with the doctor who delivered Ethan.  My labor had progressed slowly, with my water breaking early in the morning, but nothing happening after that.  The nurses had been very laid back all day, assuring me that something would happen when it was time.  I wanted a natural birth, with as little interference as possible, and didn’t think there was any cause for alarm.  Later in the evening, a nurse wanted to put in an IV, but I wasn’t sure why it was necessary.  She said she would have the doctor talk to me and explain it.  The doctor, rather than coming in, called me on the phone to tell me that if labor didn’t progress, we would have to have a caesarean if my water had been broken more than 24 hours, due to a risk of infection.  This was the first I had heard of this, and it didn’t set well with me that it was dropped on my suddenly, over the phone.  It soured the experience for me, and left me so uncomfortable with the doctor that I left the practice for my next pregnancies, in favor of my family doctor.  (Ethan was delivered successfully, but with Pitocin, and antibiotics, and tubes inserted in uncomfortable places, which wasn’t exactly my dream delivery, but still as natural and unencumbered as possible, under the circumstances.  No caesarean necessary.)  Guess which doctor was the only one available?

Chris came with me to the appointment.  We were sad, and numb, and scared.  I had no idea what happened next.  I didn’t want a D&C, having read that they increased the risk of miscarriage  in subsequent pregnancies.  I didn’t know why the bleeding that had caused my alarm had stopped, why it was never of any significance.  What do you do when your body is a tomb, the dead unwilling to abandon it?  I felt even more uncomfortable at the prospect of seeing a doctor I’d admitted to not wanting to see.

She asked why I had not wanted to see her.  I explained.  She was genuinely sorry that she had upset me that way, and apologized profusely.  She couldn’t remember (it having been 4 years) why she had called me instead of speaking to me in person, but assured me that such a situation had only occurred a few times in her career, and only for good reason.  She then proceeded to tell me that she remembered my wanting things to be done as naturally as possible, and to offer me options, explaining which she thought would be best for me.  She was kind, and caring, and clearly sorry for what we were going through.  I forgave her immediately, and regained full confidence in her.  She explained that we could wait for nature to take its course, but there was no telling when that would happen.  Or we could speed things along with medication.  We chose the latter.

There are no words to describe how I felt, filling the prescription, when the pharmacist asked me if I was pregnant, because this drug wasn’t safe for pregnancy.  “I’m having a miscarriage,” I choked out.  Really?  Do you think my obstetrician would be prescribing this for me if I were healthily pregnant?  How do you answer that?  Yes, I’m pregnant.  I feel pregnant.  There’s a baby inside me.  But it’s not alive.  So, no, I’m not pregnant.  But I’m not not pregnant, either.  I’m a tomb.

The medication would induce contractions.  I wouldn’t have to wait until my body admitted defeat on its own.  So, on April Fools’ Day, I waited for the watered down labor it takes to give birth to a seven week old embryo.

My sister and nieces, who hardly ever visited, decided to drop in that day.  I hadn’t told anyone but my mother and a couple people at work, again, that I was pregnant.  They had no idea what was going on.  More awkward explanations.  Sometimes my ability to put on a normal everyday face in the midst of something truly awful absolutely horrifies me.  There I was, entertaining company in my kitchen, discussing my fertility or lack thereof as if it were an ordinary day.  I look back now and wonder if anyone else realized how surreal it was.  I wonder why I tried so hard to act normal, to not upset anyone.  That wasn’t what I wanted.

I wanted the soap opera scene.  The one where the bereaved mother stands in the hospital hallway and screams at the doctors, the nurses, the universe, God…”NO!”  I wanted the denial, I wanted to fight back against reality.  I wanted to scream and cry and not care about anybody else.  But, there i was, trying to make family feel less awkward in my kitchen for unknowingly walking into the middle of a death scene.

They left before the heavy bleeding started.  I was dozing on the couch.  Chris and Ethan had gone out, probably in search of something to comfort me.  I don’t remember why.  The blood soaked through the pad I was wearing, through my underwear and my jeans, and onto the couch.  I got up, found a laundry tub in the basement, threw everything into it and filled it with cold water, for bloodstains.  It was days later when I found the strength to rinse everything out.  The water was murky rust, everything was stained beyond repair.  I threw it all in the washer anyway.  I kept the panties for awhile, figuring I’d still wear them when they were in danger of being stained again anyway.  Until I was pregnant again and realized I was too afraid to wear them.  Bad luck panties.  So I threw them out.  I don’t remember what I did with the jeans.  The wash tub I set aside at first, not having the energy required to scrub it out in the bathtub.  Then, after awhile, I stuck it in a corner so I wouldn’t have to look at it.  Now, it sits in a corner of our laundry room, still stained with blood.  I will never throw away that laundry tub.  It will stay in that room until the day I die–maybe longer now I’m writing this.  It’s my proof.  River existed.  Something terrible happened to us that day.  It’s written in blood.  I wish I still had the panties and the jeans.  Mothers do strange things when they don’t have any pictures, any blankets, any tiny little clothes, or footprints, or locks of hair.  Mothers hold on to whatever they can.

I was alone, in the bathroom, when River was born.  Nothing but a blood clot, really.  Nothing to prove this was our baby, our dream.  Something so small, unrecognizable.  The doctor had offered to do genetic testing if we wanted, to see if there was something wrong that could be detected.  Unusual, since they normally won’t do that before you’ve had three losses.  I had intended to do it.  I couldn’t.  This was all we had.  We buried the remains in the front yard.  Planted a bleeding heart.

It was Spring.  The season of new life, of hope, of rebirth.  But for us, there had been loss, and emptiness, pain, and Rivers of blood.

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