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miscarriage

Grief, Guest Posts

Time, Touch, and a Whale’s Grief

January 19, 2021
Tahlequah

By Lori Tucker-Sullivan

For weeks in 2018, much of the world was focused on a killer whale, an orca, swimming off the coast of Washington State, with her dead calf across her forehead. It is typical, say those who study whales, for the mother of a dead calf to carry the carcass for a day or two, then drop it to the bottom of the ocean and swim off. But this mother whale wasn’t doing that, and no one understood why. Was it a reaction to the changes in the whales’ habitat, caused in part by water pollution? Did it have to do with a lack of food as a result of overfishing? Or was it a mother’s grief and inability to let go?

There were times when the whale, named Tahlequah, lost her daughter from her forehead, and went diving after her. Down into the ink-black waters of the ocean she dove, nudging her calf back up to the sunlight and air above.

* *  *

My grandmother, Blanche Huskey, was born in a small town in East Tennessee called Tellico. Cherokee settled in the area and named it for the red-hued grass, or tahlequah, that grew in the fields. Tellico is the Anglicized version of the Cherokee name for the town. When I saw that the orca was named Tahlequah by the Lummi Nation tribe that monitors the whale pod, I immediately thought of my mother and grandmother. Descended from both Scottish immigrants and Cherokee, these earlier generations of my family settled into the rust-colored hills of East Tennessee until my parents came north searching: my father for good paying work, my mother for freedom from servitude to her mother’s disability. They migrated, as children do.

* *  *

Last year, I returned my daughter to Chicago for her senior year of college. She had spent four months studying in Italy, and then remained in Chicago for the summer, coming home to Detroit to visit for a week before classes began. She managed school, a job, travel, internships and relationships with ease, despite loss and emotional challenges. She was already looking for a post-school job, one that would probably take her away from home.

An environmental science major, she worries about the damage being done to our planet. We talked about the plight of Tahlequah and she explained that it is but one more indication of significant trouble—a harbinger sounded by a mother in pain. We discuss the understandable reasons for Tahlequah’s behavior: overfishing and ecosystem impact on the Chinook salmon, disruption caused by increased shipping traffic, pollution in the seas. Together, my daughter and I have marched for change, our fingers and voices woven together, our pink hats matching, holding each other as we shouted. Back in Chicago, she marches for environmental causes, for dominion over her body, in support of BLM.

She is my youngest. Her older brother makes his way closer to home. Unknown to them both is the sibling they never met. The middle child. The child lost to miscarriage at fourteen weeks, just as we would have announced their impending arrival to friends and family. The pregnancy was a surprise. It happened when our son was just ten months old. It was a hectic time of home renovations, completing advanced degrees, working high-pressure jobs, and caring for a toddler. Where, in all of that, was there focus enough to remember a daily pill that would prevent us from getting pregnant again too soon?

My husband came from a family of stairsteps—three children so close in age they all came within two years, then two more close behind. He didn’t want that for us. We discussed abortion but couldn’t do it. We had room and resources, after all. We sat on the sofa while our toddler son stacked plastic blocks and decided we’d figure it out. Three weeks later I began to bleed. Two days after that, we were in the doctor’s office, hearing no heartbeat, making plans for a D&C. After the surgery, we spoke of the preganancy one time when, near the holidays, I became despondent, overcome by guilt and grief that had previously felt the size of a pumpkin seed. “I feel sometimes that the baby is still here, somewhere, but I can’t figure out where,” I explained. “There were times when I didn’t want it. How could that be?”

Kevin struggled to understand. “It was for the best,” he said. “It was no one’s fault. We need to let it go.” We waited three more years to get pregnant again.

* *  *

Surprisingly, after losing the calf that had taken seventeen months of gestation, Tahlequah was able to keep up with the rest of her pod as they swam northword from San Juan Island to Vancouver. Holding the calf on her forehead meant Tahlequah had to swim for long periods above water, then dip below, drop the calf, take a breath and find her again, bring her to the surface and begin the cycle anew. As exhausting and heartbreaking as labor itself. Swimming sixty or seventy miles each day, the orca maintained commitments to her larger family, all while bringing along the daughter she couldn’t leave behind.

* *  *

My grandmother Blanche was sent away from Tellico to the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville after being blinded as a six-year-old by her older brother, Charlie. A branch slipped from his hands while the two were hanging a tree swing. The branch blinded my grandmother in one eye; infection caused the other eye to lose vision as well. Her eyes were surgically removed and she went off to learn a new life. At the boarding school, where she lived ten months of each year, she flourished, memorizing Shakespeare, learning Latin and trigonometry. She played piano, wrote letters on a typewriter, and took dictation as a stenographer.

She returned to Tellico at age twenty after graduating from the school in a class with nine others. Back home, she helped her mother run a boarding house where she met my grandfather Carlton, a traveling salesman. The two married and lived nearby so Charlie, who never married, could check in when my grandfather was away, which was frequent. Within six years of marriage, my blind grandmother had four children—stairsteps of her own.

Sometimes the family packed up my grandfather’s 1928 Buick and spend a few weeks with his family in Newport, along the North Carolina border. With my grandfather away, I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandmother to be in strange surroundings with in-laws she barely knew. She was never a trusting person, the school having told her many times that her disability allowed others to take advantage.

My mother and her sister were pressed into service to their mother at a very young age and were never able to be around her without that sense of duty, as though their roles had flipped, the daughters always caring for the mother. As a child, I was never close to my grandmother. I understand more about my grandmother’s childhood now, how difficult it must have been for her to leave her family and live apart from them; how she must have felt a stranger in her own family. I now regard her much differently. But it confused my childhood self and caused me to become defensive because of her treatment of my mother. I wished for her to stand up to my grandmother’s constant, impossible demands. I wished she hadn’t remained silent.

* *  *

After my daughter’s college graduation, I helped her move into a new apartment. I am in awe of her confidence, knowing there were recent times when she was overcome by grief and loss. I remember nights, barely asleep myself, when she would climb into my bed to cry herself to sleep, her hand reaching out to find my shoulder, my hand wiping her tears. “This isn’t fair,” she once said, mostly into her pillow. “You are right,” I responded, stroking her hair.

At thirteen, she lost her father. At fourteen, her best friend committed suicide. On the verge of adulthood, at that precious time when each step forward should bring excitement and promise, my daughter was stopped in her tracks. Together, we huddled under blankets as though adrift in an ocean that neither of us quite understood. I held her close during that time, trying to find the right balance of comfort and security and release. She is armed for life’s realities now, with a deeper understanding of its fragility. I know she loves deeply.

It has now been ten years since my daughter lost her father. My husband Kevin died in my arms when a tumor on his spine suddenly ruptured, pressed against his trachea, and, within minutes, caused him to suffocate. Through an interminable two years of cancer diagnoses and treatments, of long hopeful days followed by longer hopeless nights, death, when it came, was frightening and swift. I knew as I held him that no matter how tightly I clung, no matter how long, nothing in that moment would change and yet everything in my life would be different. As paramedics pulled me away, I understood fully that breaking that bond would create an immeasurable chasm: a terrible demarcation of before and after that I could not abide.

Two years after Kevin’s death, I lost my mother. By then, she was in a nursing home, needing the type of care she had often offered her mother. At Kevin’s funeral, she was already confused. “Isn’t this terrible?” she kept repeating. Near the end, I sat with her, helping her eat. She had suffered several bouts of pneumonia and was weak. I think of her and the role she played as advice-giver to me and Kevin when we first started out. I can’t understand how it is that I am now the advisor, encouraging my daughter to fight for her beliefs, to hold fast to her memories. Accepting that role means accepting this passage of time, this loss of my own role models, of those upon whom I relied to help with decisions.

* *  *

After seventeen days, Tahlequah gave up her baby to the depths of the Pacific. When finally she swam off alone to join her pod, my eyes welled with tears. A combination of happiness that she had survived, but also a deep sorrow for understanding what it is like to give someone up for one last time, to admit that they will take no further breaths, and that you must leave them in this spot, whether earthen ground or ocean water, forever. Knowing of  her only through her acts of mourning, I continued to hold her in my heart. I found strength from her strength. Over the past two years, I’ve visited the website that tracks the pod to check in on her. I imagine that grief-filled memories, like ocean waves, still lap at her skin from time to time.

* *  *

In 1931, Blanche and her family spent the winter in Newport with her in-laws, but while my grandfather was on the road, all four of the children—Vivian, my mom Lillian, Carlton Jr, and Marshall—became ill with measles. The doctor was summoned, though nothing could be done. One-by-one, the older children shook off the virus. But Marshall was just an infant and his small body could not fight. And so, early in the morning of February 3rd, as my grandmother held him in her arms, Marshall passed away.

Blanche, however, would not let Marshall go. Perhaps at first she didn’t realize her baby was dead. Within a few hours, her mother-in-law understood and tried to take the child. My grandmother held fast and fought. Without her eyesight, all she had was touch; once this child was removed from her arms, she would never know him again. She would lose her only connection and she couldn’t let that happen. Irrational, perhaps, but any mother would understand. It wasn’t until my grandfather returned some four hours later that my grandmother would be coaxed into letting Marshall go. Even then, she insisted on being the one to wash his body.

Marshall was buried in an unmarked grave in a plot along a two-track road beside a barn. The family couldn’t afford to transport him to Tellico, so he remained in Newport, much to my grandmother’s great pain. To her, it must have seemed she had to keep letting him go, again and again. She would have held him for seventeen days and more if possible, I’m sure.

* *  *

Months after his passing, Kevin’s ashes were spread at the graves of his father, my father, an uncle, along his favorite running path, and among the wildflowers in a memorial garden. A bench with his name inscribed sits adjacent to a stone labyrinth near a river in a park that was a favorite family picnic spot. There is no one place where he has been interred. In each of these separate places, I feel his presence.

When my mother was healthy and active, we once visited her brother Marshall’s grave in Newport—nothing more than a tiny indentation in a field of raspberry brambles. A small, crooked stone the size of a brick marks its place. He is buried next to his father, my grandfather, who contracted Typhoid two years after Marshall died of measles. My mother, by then the only sibling remaining, needed to find this small spot of ground to prove that her father and brother weren’t forgotten. I held her arthritic hand as we hiked the path behind a deserted barn. We took this trip, the two of us, mother and daughter, tracking down family history and gravesites.

* *  *

In the years since Kevin’s death, I have found comfort in books that deal with grief. Many have helped me to feel that my experience is more universal than I sometimes believe. Losing myself in these stories has made me realize that time does not fade memories. Descriptions of illness or treatment shake me back to that place at the University of Michigan where Kevin spent so much time. I hear the sounds, smell the odors, re-live the emotions. I will always be able to conjure those memories of warm sunny moments spent in the hospital courtyard, or the feeling of his hand holding mine as we lay in bed bracing for what was to come after hearing the words “stage four.” It’s all still there, ten years later, this painful muscle memory. I can reach out and touch it as though there’s no distance at all.

Books on grief sit in piles on my bookshelf, pages marked by notecards and colored slips of paper. I’ve underlined many passages in my reading, understanding that commiting memories to the page creates a sense of permanence, both for the writer and the reader. I refer many times to this passage from Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir, The Long Goodbye about her mother’s death from breast cancer and her time of grieving:

“I went to the pond for her. Diving in, I felt for a moment that I was my mother. But I was aware that she was dead; I could feel it in the shadows in the green leaves. This is where the dead live, I thought, in the holes in the leaves where the insects are biting through.”

O’Rourke admits, “After a loss, you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead. It doesn’t come naturally.” I too, have felt that resistance to understanding the loss of my husband and my parents, the growing and moving away of my children, and the child I never held. Like my mother, I too have felt the need for confirmation that they were here, our connections real. Where do the people we cherish go once we put down our memories, or our burdens, or our love? Once we drop that all into the sea?

We want to touch again the life we’ve known and the people we’ve loved, whether those relationships have ended or just changed with time. I have moved on in life, the yearning is not so  strong as it once was. I have a new home, new relationships, new outlooks. And yet, I don’t want my memories, regardless of how painful they may be, to crumble on the ocean floor, abandoned. I don’t want to lose the feel of that touch my grandmother knew not to relinquish.

* *  *

Word has just come that Tahlequah is pregnant again. Drone photos show her wide belly moving through the waters of the Pacific with her pod. Researchers are cautiously optimistic there will be babies given that multiple orcas are pregnant. But sustaining the pregnancy will require plenty of food, which is, two years later, an even more fragile situation. I imagine Tahlequah, slowed by her new girth, feeling this life inside, unfurling old memories. I call my daughter, now part of an environmental start-up and celebrating with her boyfriend the first anniversary of their first date. We talk briefly about Tahlequah and what a new baby orca might mean for a world turned upside down and desperately in need of good news. Despite our times, my daughter tells me she is happy.

As we both move on, me through life and Tahlequah through bright cerulean ocean waters, I send my thoughts to her across the universe—the universe of my mother and grandmother, of my husband and all three of my children; the universe that holds our fears, our grand efforts and our mistakes; the universe that pushes us forward and that cradles the remains of those we’ve lost and have had to leave behind. The universe of possibility and second chances. I send her my thanks, for helping us understand that, in life, and loss, seventeen days is nothing, but holding on is everything.

Lori Tucker-Sullivan is a published writer whose essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Midwestern Gothic, Passages North, The Sun, The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook, Red State Blues, The Cancer Poetry Project, and others. Her essay, “Detroit, 2015,” which was published in Midwestern Gothic, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and selected as a Notable Essay of 2015 in “Best American Essays 2016.” Her book, I Can’t Remember if I Cried: Rock Widows on Life, Love and Legacy, forthcoming from BMG Books in 2021, profiles the widows of rock stars that died young and how they helped her through grief. Lori holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Spalding University, and currently teaches writing at Wayne State University in Detroit.

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Anxiety, Fear, Guest Posts

Paranoid Anxiety

August 12, 2019
gut

By Stephanie Scott

My grandma said, don’t ever come back to her house. She said she’ll defend the son she birthed; “parí” is the word she used, specifically. She said in all the history of our family names no one had ever been a criminal and the first one wasn’t going to be a son she birthed, “parí,” again. It’s the same word used for animals, I use that word because I’m not the delicate type. But I’ve always heard my grandma use the delicate, upper-class term: “dar a luz”. It means to give to the light. I guess even she realizes her son is a creature of the shadows. But that won’t stop her from defending the family name. What she means is no one has ever been formally accused. There’s been no record. No files at the prosecutor’s office thicker than my Master’s Degree portfolio. For generations there were only whispers and warnings; gasps and forced smiles at gatherings; years that passed by until it was “forgotten,” perhaps by the conscious mind, but not by the body. Certainly not by the body of us women, the clan of anxious worriers. I’ve sinned against our name. I’ve formally accused my uncle of “Intimidación.”

I walk into my apartment and leave the door open. First, I check my daughter’s room and look at the terrace through her window. It’s dark outside and no one’s there. Then, I look inside the bathroom—I leave that door open when I leave the house. Next, I forcefully push the closet door—I leave that door closed every morning. Then, I go back and close the door to the apartment. Last, I look out at the terrace through my window and close the window, which I leave open all day to air out the tiny, cramped apartment.

As I hang my keys up next to where the chalinas are hanging, I think to myself: this is my new routine. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Letters to a Lost Child

March 26, 2019
baby

By April Vázquez

June 23rd

Dear New Baby,

I’m writing this within days of your conception, if it’s worked. We had talked about trying for another child next year, I’d thought in January or so, but something just came over me. It’s exactly like when we tried for Dani: we had a plan (to wait until Daisy was a year old, in July), but I felt something indescribable, in February of all months, and just knew it was time. And it was. Dani came along the first time we tried. Then this month it happened that way again; if anything, I’d been slightly nervous about having THREE little ones. But then boom, I just knew. And I was able to convince your daddy, I suppose because it all worked out so beautifully last time, with healthy little Dani. You’ll come in the spring, March if it worked on the first try. And if not, well, then later, in April or May…

I put my Virgin Mary necklace on again, the one I wore through my previous pregnancies, and I’m going to do a test around July 10th, the day of Daisy’s birthday party. You’ll be Scarlett Fiona or Saul Francisco, and I think I’ll call you Cisco if you’re a boy. Cisco Houston is one of my heroes. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, No Bullshit Motherhood

Things Unseen

July 25, 2018
exhausted

By Amanda E. Snyder

I’ve never done things in my life the way you’re supposed to. Or when you’re supposed to.

As an undergrad, I majored in fiction writing. (Seriously.) Then, after acing my first Big-Time Job Interview post graduation, which was as a copywriter for a restaurant food supplier in Chicago, I turned down the job because I knew that I’d be unhappy. I was 21 and financial stability wasn’t something I cared about.

Having a family wasn’t on the radar, either. In my 20s, it was always so distant; the idea of a family was nice, but I knew I wasn’t even close to ready. Dating in my 30s I had thought would be easier (aren’t we all supposed to be getting more mature by now?) but it proved just as difficult as ever. As for that far-away image of kids, that only diminished in my 30s. I loved being an aunt and I loved my freedom. I did want a partner, sure. But kids were not something I needed.

But then…oh, but then. At 39, I met a tall, dark, and handsome 27-year-old Brazilian man named Davi who remarkably had gone to college near my ultra-rural western Illinois hometown. We felt terrifically familiar to one another and less than three months after meeting, moved in together. One day when discussing our future, we broached the subject of children. We were at an Irish bar in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. We hadn’t moved in together yet. It was the 4th of July and we were creating our own pub crawl. It was early afternoon and we were two or three beers in. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

How To Lose A Pregnancy

May 6, 2018
ultrasound

By Susan Moshofsky

I birthed my second pregnancy into a toilet. Cramps came in waves, crested, doubled me over until I’d hunch my way from my bed where I’d been grading papers to the bathroom a few feet away where, bare feet on the cold linoleum floor, I sat and turned the toilet water red. I bled fetus, tissue, death, 12 weeks of anticipation, trip after trip, bed to toilet: bright red blood filling the bowl, plus a shaggy clot or two, every other trip. Flush and repeat.

The OB’s office said they were sorry, there was nothing they could do. Don’t exert yourself. Take ibuprofen. Lie down. Don’t soak more than a pad an hour, or you’ll have to come in.

This, then, became my task: do this right, this miscarriage. Oh, and grade 164 essays in between trips to the toilet. Quarter grades were due in two days. Two deadlines. Dead lines. I’d wait as long as I could, lying on the bed while I graded so as not to overexert. I lay next to my husband as he kept me company reading Annie Dillard’s The Living. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

My Pregnancy Journey: A Leap of Faith

April 11, 2018
fertility

By Dana Mich

I glanced down at the two pink lines gazing up at me from their glossy plastic eyelets. I set the First Response test on my bathroom sink and bit my lip as I ran the tap. It felt too good to be true.

It was the day of my thirtieth birthday, and Mother’s Day. May fourteenth, twenty-seventeen. The previous evening’s cake and candles, and that morning’s sunlit family brunch—gilded with yogurt parfaits and a medley of quiches—hovered in my peripheral view. If anything, those two little tick-marks should have been the cherry on top of an already serendipitous twenty-four hours in my life. But this was my third positive test in nine months with no baby or expectant bump to show for it. Instead of rejoicing on that first day of the decade I’d slated to be my parenting years, I pleaded to the universe: “Please just let me have this baby. I swear, I’ll be so careful.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, infertility

Five Years and a Baby’s Life Ago

February 28, 2018
infertility

By Jennifer Roberts

Josh and I got married in November of 2012. We’ve been married for 5 years now. In a way I feel like we met yesterday, and in a way I feel like it could have been a lifetime ago.

I grew up in Florida and Josh and I met there in early 2009. When I met him, I had just gotten over one of those “friends with benefits” things that women get into at one point or another of their single years. I wasn’t looking for a serious boyfriend at the time, especially one who was 6 years younger than me who played professional baseball. There were many pro athletes in that area, and because I lived there I made a few friends that played sports professionally over the years, so I knew the stigma attached to dating one of them and that sometimes stereotypes are true.

Needless to say, I ignored my somewhat bitter thoughts and let Josh charm me into what became a relationship worth more than I could have ever dreamed. I knew from the very beginning that when Josh was done playing professionally, he would prefer to move back to the Pacific Northwest permanently. After we got engaged, I finally made up my mind to leave everyone I knew and give the PNW a fair chance to ‘wow’ me and become my home. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, motherhood

Just a Miscarriage

February 9, 2018
miscarriage

By Jill Goldberg

When I finally felt well enough to venture outside, after many months of self-induced seclusion, I took a short walk to the drugstore around the corner. I was hoping I wouldn’t see anyone, but Carla was there. I didn’t know her very well. She was older than me, with grown children close to my age. She knew I had been ill for a long time, and when she saw me she put her arm around my shoulders in a way that should have been comforting. Carla then pulled me aside and asked with great condescension, “So really, what was the big deal? I mean, a miscarriage is just a miscarriage.” Suddenly it was hard to breathe. I felt as though I’d been hit. I reached out for the wall to steady myself and mumbled to her that there were complications. Then I walked home and cried. I didn’t go out in public again for several more weeks.

My first miscarriage nearly killed me. I bled for weeks, not realizing how dangerous that was and how much blood I was really losing. My doctor kept telling me that some women bleed for a while after miscarrying, and I didn’t understand that she meant light spotting, not passing large clots that looked like small placentas and soaked the sheets every night. I had planned to have an intervention-free birth, and now I wanted an intervention-free miscarriage. My doctor honored my wishes and trusted me. She didn’t have me come in to see her, we only spoke on the phone. Then finally, nearly a month after it began, I fainted in the shower. I’d lost too much blood from weeks and weeks of continuous heavy bleeding. I remember being so cold in the shower, so, so cold, and I was dizzy, and crying, and confused. I reached back to turn the water hotter, though I knew it was already so hot that I should have felt it burning me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, Pregnancy

The Day Before You Will Be Born

January 29, 2018
pregnancy

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Anna Burgess Yang

Dear Baby,

This is it. The day before you will be born.

I sometimes feel guilty for my feelings toward you over the past nine months.  Detachment, fear, anxiety… that these will hurt you in some unforeseen way in the future.

How could I avoid these feelings?  When we lost your sister, Nelle, at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I thought that I would split open with grief.  We had no answers as to what happened – why I inexplicably lost a baby after two previous uneventful pregnancies with your older brothers.  Without any reason, we were told that we could try again right away.  Then we lost your sister, Iris, not even six months later.  Going through labor and delivery, twice, to give birth to your sisters when they had already left the world were the worst experiences of my life.  It traumatized me.  Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, No Bullshit Motherhood

New Baby Smell

September 22, 2017

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Sami Peil

It was 8:52 on a Wednesday morning. Wednesday, December 11, 2013 was the first time I heard her heartbeat. Seeing her tiny heart beating as she wiggled around was the biggest relief of my life. It was too soon to determine her sex, but I had a guess that we were having a daughter. When I got to my car I burst into tears—thankful, prayerful tears of relief and love and joy. I hadn’t realized that I was so worried until after. Baby had just been hiding when the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat two days before.

Since that day exactly one year ago, I have looked at my little girl’s picture every morning. I have the image memorized: At the top it says 12/11/13 8:52 AM 12w5d, and below is the only picture we’ll ever have of our Alaska Eileen—her profile in the grainy grays of the ultrasound. The hospital didn’t offer pictures from the scan 19 days later when we discovered, on the same black and white screen, that our baby had died. No heartbeat. We waited three weeks for the pathology report that confirmed my feeling that she was a girl and left us with no answers about why she died. We received her ashes a few days later. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

The Unfinished

September 8, 2017
ultrasound

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. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Water Baby

May 19, 2017
MISCARRIAGE

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Hanna Bartels

It started with red and it ended with water. And in between, I waited at the Starbucks counter and I rested my fingertips on the contour of the beginning. A habit, a protective hand. But the baby beneath that barely there bump stopped growing the day before. My baby was now just my pregnancy and the next day would be just blood and tissue.

I rubbed my thumb against an angel pinned to an impossibly small blanket in my pocket. Over a bead of blistered plastic at the bottom of the left wing where the mold opened too soon and hot resin seeped out.

When someone you know dies, you mourn the loss of them. Their smell, the sound of their voice, how your days transform without them. But when you lose a pregnancy, your life doesn’t change at all. Your belly should swell, your house should fill with bouncers and swings and carriers and bottles and dirty diapers. But instead, you drink your coffee and the world spins on its axis.

The warped angel was a reminder: I was pregnant once, and now I am not.

***

Four days before, I’d noticed a spot of red on my toilet paper.

I rummaged through my medical file, searching for the number the nurse had first starred and then circled at my first prenatal appointment.

My mother-in-law called down the hall, good morning and cheerful, asked if she should make coffee. She was in town for a cousin’s wedding and my husband, a surgical resident, was at the hospital.

Just one second, I told her, I’ll make it.

I pushed aside flour and sugar in my cabinet to reach the coffee I hadn’t touched in months.

I just had some spotting, I told her as I scooped ground beans into the filter. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

What Is Grief?

October 7, 2016
grief

TW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Kate Kane

I hate the spring. All that sunlight and daylight and exposure; shocking and achy. All that light exposing the world.  Poor little buds trying with all their might to push out of the cold, icy dirt.  It’s so bright, the colors and clarity; it startles and hurts.  I want winter to keep on going.  The dark evenings and the cold nights. I am never ready for the spring.  The pressure of it all.

I remember I was wearing a bright orange skirt when I told you. And I remember you turning to straddle the concrete bench where we were sitting so you could look squarely at me; absorbing the news. And then you taking my hips gently between your hands and kissing the low part of my belly. Leaning your forehead against it.

Weeks later there we would be in the waiting room; you nuzzling my neck, and me having a distinct feeling that none of this was actually happening.  I remember you folding the white jeans that I had dropped on the floor while we were waiting for the doctor to come in. You, folding my white jeans. The irony of it all.  You, tidying up the mess.

“Is this your significant other,” the doctor asked with a casual gaze in your direction. We look at one another. “Yes,” I finally say.  Then the white, fuzzy image of the baby on that machine and both of us simultaneously straining to see it.  The monitor was a little behind me and I couldn’t really see the screen from where I was lying. But I could see you.  You. Looking intently with an expression I couldn’t quite pin down.  Those beautiful dark eyes narrowing. Leaning forward with your strong, tan forearms, resting on your legs. Squinting to see your baby. What were you thinking then?  I still long to know.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor says.  And everything fades to black.

I won’t forgive you for what you said to me later in the car. Because, no, I was not even a little relieved. We spent that afternoon together. Me feeling faint and dizzy, you managing to lose your phone, your house keys and your car keys in the span of a few hours.  The metaphor is not lost on me.  We went to your classroom to drop something off.  The window was broken – glass in the shape of a spider web.  It looked so violent and harsh. The sight of it made me cry.  You were busy emptying boxes of books. When you looked up, you looked pained for me, came to me fast and hugged me too hard but then went back to your work. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

The Real Horrors

August 7, 2016
miscarriage

By Lisa Quigley

“Write about what scares you.”

I like the way this sounds, what it implies. But there’s a problem: I don’t know how to write about the real horrors.

If I did, I might tell you that we lost a baby. Not a real baby, not one that we ever got to touch or name or smell or kiss. I was eleven weeks pregnant when I started to bleed.

At the hospital, I watched the doctor’s brow furrow while she performed the ultrasound. She pressed the instrument into my belly, so hard it hurt, but I didn’t care. I was watching the screen. I was watching because I knew where to look for the baby, and I was waiting to see the round shape of the head, maybe the briefest suggestion of limbs, something that would let me breathe a sigh of relief. But I just saw black in the circle, no white blob where the baby should be. Her words confirmed what I already knew: “I see the gestational sac…but no baby.” Continue Reading…