CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.
By Erin Ritch
They say that when the egg and sperm collide, sometimes things go wrong in that moment of magic. For me, as the doctor explained it, the part that formed the womb went right but the part that formed the baby went wrong. A simple answer to a complex problem. A faulty spell, perhaps, missing some key part of the enchantment. Laying on the elevated bed of the dim ultrasound room, the thin tissue paper crinkled and ripped loudly beneath my weight. Cold lube covered my abdomen as the tech searched my new belly. She combed the dark void of space, looking for any flash of starlight. And she searched. And she searched. But it was silent as a tomb.
“Sometimes it’s just too early,” the tech suggested. “Your doctor will tell you more.”
She did tell us more. More about how I could clean this up nice and tidy. Through my tears, I heard her words. We should have seen something by now. She wants me to have surgery but I can’t do it. I can’t. I wonder if my baby has found some hidden passageway in the walls of my uterus, merrily waiting to make an appearance right when no one expects it. What a grand idea! my baby foolishly believes. So I ask for another chance and am allowed an ultrasound two weeks later, as though my doctor is a genie in a bottle granting me my last wish. I cried into the counter as my husband booked the appointment, the receptionist discreetly canceling everything afterward. I couldn’t meet the eyes of the other women in the waiting room who guarded their bellies with their swollen hands. Maybe I would pass my brokenness onto them if they caught my eye. Maybe their baby would come under this spell, too.
Then I waited. And I waited. At first, my body felt no different, encouraging my wild ideas of being a medical miracle. My breasts were still tellingly sore and my stomach firm in secret places. But then I felt a slow retreat. A daily withdraw like a receding tide, leaving me bare and dry. Speckles of myself began to appear in the toilet, red stars and nebulas and solar systems that I had to just flush away.
The outright gore of it convinced me the pregnancy had ended. I tried to cancel my ultrasound but the doctor convinced me otherwise. Just to check, you know. A mix of horror and wonder filled me at that appointment, as though I was watching a nature documentary play out on the flat ultrasound screen. My womb had grown but it was crumbling down, as though its poor construction was finally catching up with it, teetering on the edge of destruction. Fervent cells vibrated and lashed against the defenses of my uterine walls, visibly pounding it into inevitable disintegration. Maybe they believed they were tasked with a mission, to search beyond the ramparts for the baby that, unbeknownst to them, still wasn’t there.
“Your body simply hasn’t got the message yet,” my doctor explained. “The elevated hormone levels are the issue. But one day your body will realize there is no baby.” She paused. “I know, it’s a bit cruel.”
And I will hemorrhage. And I could die. So I waited. And I waited.
I already had a child. A beautiful toddler that lit up every room with the most gorgeous energy known to this lovely little green and blue planet. I felt selfish in my grief. I knew I was not the only woman who had stood in a tiny stall and watched a part of her swirl away, but yet I still felt like a strange island in a very big sea. So I waited. And I waited.
Then one day I woke up in a sweat. A violent, chilling sweat that would cycle over and over again as the day progressed. Do this thing, do it now! My body screamed. This is your last warning! I schedule the surgery and they quickly fit me in the next day, relieved, I’m sure, to finally silence my ticking time bomb. I cry at the reception desk, shaking as I write my co-pay check so they can remove what I desperately want to keep. I kept the pen from that day, printed with the name of the clinic like a strange sort of swag.
I was told I woke up after the procedure and had to be sedated again. I had asked them over and over, Did you find my baby? Did you find it? I don’t remember this. I don’t remember it at all. But I feel such sadness for that woman who feared they had found her baby’s secret hiding place, after all.
“Here are the keys,” my husband said, dropping them in the cup holder of our car. “In case you need the air conditioner.”
We were at the pharmacy, there to pick up my short regimen of pain meds. It was July, this had all been in July, and the heat in that silent car healed me. As I waited for him, I leaned my forehead against the searing glass, glorious sweat beading at my hairline. I wanted to cook from the inside out, to be cleansed by fire and retreat like molten lava. I prayed that pharmacy line would take forever. Maybe I would burn. Maybe I would rise again like a phoenix.
The days went by and I became swept away in a dark sea of blankets, rising only to feed my child and then retreat back to my ship of sorrows. My dog stayed beside me, a sympathetic passenger on that doomed voyage into the long night. I Googled How to remember a miscarriage? Jewelry for miscarriage? Ways to remember lost baby? Nothing fit me. No plant or charm or verse or memory frame captured my little eight weeks of extra life that was now neatly cleansed from inside of me.
One bleak afternoon within my web of blankets, I asked myself a question. What else in my life had I started and never finished? And the only thing was my book. A novel I had started over ten years before, stuffed away during college and dating and living life, gathering dust as my dreams of being a writer faded and became forgotten. I had notebooks full of unkempt words, scrawl I was afraid I’d never decipher even if I tried. The paperclips that held my notes had rusted with age, leaving brown stains on the soft cream paper. The characters were frozen, forever looking into the horizon, waiting for my return.
So I returned. I rose from the sweaty bed and sat at the computer, typing up those handwritten notebooks of yore. I was swept away by the story, back in that land of fantasy, far from the reality that was spelled out on the insurance statement. That story saved me. It took me away and brought me back at the same time.
Two years later, that book was finished. Two years of writing on my lunch breaks. Writing late into the night after my toddler went to sleep. Writing on vacation and writing on my days off. I had finished that book for myself and for one other. There was no dedication besides the one written with invisible ink for my eyes only. For the one I didn’t finish. It was my own version of a locket around my neck meant for only me to understand.
That July, I took a pregnancy test, as I did regularly. I was an irregular person, a woman of strange cycles that routinely had to keep herself in check. My husband was in the shower when I brought him the pregnancy test, pressing it against the steamy glass.
“Positive,” I repeated since I had already said the word to myself. “It’s positive.”
It did not go unnoticed by me that this pregnancy was two years later, almost to the day. It did not go unnoticed by me that it appeared after my book was finished, after I had appeared on the horizon and returned to myself. I knew it was preposterous. I knew it was insane. But maybe my baby had hidden away somewhere else. Maybe it had taken residence somewhere in the cosmos, losing track of time, finding it a safer place instead of inhospitable me. And now there it was, making that entrance it had so grandly planned, after all.
Nine months later, in the early morning hours, I laid on a hospital bed. Hours before my C-section, I was a swollen blub that needed help just to roll to one side. The nurse, a kind woman who said she was stationed from South Carolina, was strapping monitors to my belly. She searched for the heartbeat. And she searched. And she searched.
I knew everything was fine. I could feel the baby stirring inside of me, unaware of her imminent pilgrimage into the light. The nurse knew I was watching her face very carefully, noticing the slight change in her breath as a tiny panic caught in her throat. Maybe she had been in this situation before. So she searched. And she searched. But I had been in this situation before too, just on a different bed and as a different person. Finally, there was the heartbeat. Echoing and faint at first, growing stronger and fiercer like the beating of a drum as the monitor drew closer and closer.
“There she is,” the nurse announced as her long drawl mixed with a pent up exhale. She wrapped the monitor tightly around me. “Sometimes they like to hide, you know?”
“Yes,” I answer, watching the other nurses file into the room. It was almost time. “I know.”
Erin Ritch am an indie author and founder of No Wyverns Publishing, living in rural Oregon with her two daughters and husband. Information on her books and short stories can be found at erinritch.com.