Three days before Mother’s Day, I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen as I was making oatmeal. A few minutes later, a trickle of fluid on my underwear. Stay calm, I thought. Pregnancy symptoms are varied and cramps and discharge are completely normal at eight weeks. I removed stems from a handful of blueberries. I debated whether to walk to Third Avenue to buy another carton of almonds.
But something told me these cramps were different, that this sudden rush of discharge, which felt warmer and thinner, wouldn’t be the same white fluid I had come to love for being the closest example of life inside of me I could get during those first few weeks.
The cramps didn’t subside. When I broke down and let myself use the bathroom after squeezing in my urine for what must have been an hour, my heart sank. A patch of pink-red fluid had stained my underwear. It was too dark to allow me to fool myself into thinking it was normal. Trust me, I tried.
The second my doctor hopped on the phone and instructed me to come to his office early that afternoon I knew it was over.
As I waited in the examining office, I thought about the first pregnancy rule I broke three weeks before: Don’t tell anyone until you’re at least 12 weeks along. Maybe I was overconfident — it was my first pregnancy and two bright blue lines instantly popped up on the test mere weeks after my husband and I began trying. For the first time in my life, I was head over heels in love with myself. I was in awe of what my until-then ordinary body had been capable of producing with only an ounce of effort on my part. Wearing a white slip and sitting on a closed cold toilet that April morning, I kept a tight grip on the test and began imagining the way my baby’s silk-black hair would feel against my cheek. My husband had already left for work and I relished the chance to know my secret before anyone else in the world. I let my mind wander to beautiful places that had been roped off until that moment. I had been humming Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona” to myself for at least 10 years and now the reason for it finally made sense. It would be her song too. I’d whisper, “everything passes, everything changes” in her ear the moment she cried. She would grow up respecting chaos because she understood that song.
But a second later, the tide of an unexpected memory rolled in and crashed around my baby’s dark hair. There was an impatient doctor once who had tried to scare me into eating when I was 19 by warning me I’d never be able to have children. I only ever saw him while I clung to the paper napkin they make you wear when you already feel as naked as a baby bird. The robe chafed my breasts. I never understood why I couldn’t wear socks. I imagined myself taking a train to that doctor’s office that morning, slipping the pregnancy test under his door and watching him analyze those confident lines with the same dead, chalky eyes that told teen me I’d probably never produce life. Fuck off, doctor. Who says women can’t have everything?
Only, no, we can’t. As I sat in the office of a different doctor, a good doctor, I realized this miscarriage is proof that some part of me will always have to pay.
Of course, I had told everyone. Everyone. Our parents, friends, cousins, the receptionist at my job who hugged me and told me not to spend a fortune on “stupid” baby clothes.
“I just thought you should know because…” I said to my boss at the time in private. I can’t remember how I finished that sentence but I’m certain I wasn’t honest. I’m sure I didn’t admit that pregnancy was the most confounding and surreal thing to ever happen to me and if the world didn’t acknowledge it, how could I be sure it was happening?
Aside from some noticeable changes in discharge, I felt few pregnancy symptoms, which I later found out was because my embryo had stopped growing very early on. I took at least three tests, and one week later, my doctor confirmed the pregnancy. I remember thinking there would be more fanfare at my gyno appointment, but he delivered the news like he was telling us it was a partly cloudy day.
“See you in one month.” No instructions on how to keep my baby growing. How could a girl who was so good at destroying her body be trusted to keep a collection of delicate tissue alive? One month seemed like a lifetime.
With Mother’s Day a few weeks away, I passed the time wondering whether I qualified as a mom. I imagined my husband heaping roses at my feet, but knew he was too pragmatic and scared to jump the gun like that. Nobody explains to you that early pregnancy, before you begin to show and everyone wants to rub your belly, is like traveling alone in a country and not speaking the language. You experience some bodily changes and mood shifts. You don’t have the words to explain it to those around you and you can’t understand how it’s possible to fall in love with your symptoms, but they’re all you have and you cling to them for dear life.
My husband was by my side holding my hand when my doctor examined me and confirmed the baby didn’t have a heartbeat. The good news, if you can find a silver lining in the blackest cloud, was that my body was flushing everything out naturally and there would be no need for a dilatation and curettage procedure. I wish I could say I felt gratitude, but all I felt was extreme guilt.
I had questions that I knew my doctor couldn’t answer and none of them had to do with my ovaries or uterus. I wanted to ask if losing my period when I was a teen because of an eating disorder had come back to haunt me. I wanted to ask what to do when you’re not ready to stop loving your baby yet. I yearned for instructions on how to keep myself from blaming myself for this loss. And now that I knew how much I could love myself, would that flush right out of my body too?
I wish I could say it took a few days to get over my miscarriage or that everyone I confided in understood why it felt like such a devastating loss. I had to remind myself that the people who assured me I was “lucky” because I could always get pregnant again were just trying to be helpful. Mother’s Day was particularly brutal and it took about two months for me to shake the feeling that something sacred had been stolen from me.
I’m not religious, but I believe in fate. My fate was to have a miscarriage and then go on to give birth to two healthy children. My fate was also to confront unresolved feelings I had about my eating disorder that broke through the surface when I got pregnant and get myself back into therapy to deal with them. As painful as it was to go through, my miscarriage taught me that I deserve to love myself, pregnant or not.