*Trigger Warning: Pregnancy Loss*
It was my birthday last week. Which is not something I’m telling you because I expect fanfare or gifts, but rather as recognition of the familiar marker that confirms yes, more time has passed.
And we are still here.
If you’ve been here for a while you may remember that I chose to celebrate my birthday two years ago with my family in tow at an ultrasound appointment to see our newest member, who should have been at about 12 weeks gestation at the time.
I remember the appointment clear as day. I was so excited, hand already naturally cradling my stomach protectively wherever I went, the soft smile that told the world I was expecting creeping across my lips each time I held her in her home. My daughter, who was three, so eager to see her baby sister, destroying the waiting room peace with her baby brother (who wasn’t quite two), while my husband looked on in what can probably be described as an uneasy, quiet panic.
Three babies. How were we going to manage?
I was so excited that I disregarded the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. The whispered concern that I was feeling a little too well for the past few weeks, that my anticipated second trimester relief from the all day sickness had arrived too soon.
So excited that I ignored the change in demeanour from the ultrasound tech as she explored my womb with her sound waves. The tension in her voice when I asked if “the baby is cooperating” disregarded when she gave me a cautious “yes, so far.”
I even ignored the dread that started to rise and threatened to choke when she brought me back out to the waiting room to await a call from my doctor, rather than allowing my family to come in and see the miracle inside.
My doctor didn’t call. I say “my” doctor loosely because this particular experience was the nail in the proverbial coffin for my life here in this town. I knew that I could never be at home in a place with medical care that didn’t actually give a f*ck and no other options.
After about an hour the clinic was closing and the ultrasound tech was forced to bring us back to that small, suffocating room and tell us the devastatingly clinical news: “the fetus has no heart beat.”
I know she said other things too, perhaps more comforting or more clinical, I couldn’t tell you. My heart was pumping so fast that I couldn’t hear anything but the pounding in my ears that seemed to get louder as the panic rose.
“But, it’s my birthday,” I managed to squeak out in confusion as my tears started leaking. Like this fact made any other less true.
The minutes and months that followed are a blur. After leaving the appointment I asked my husband to stop at a convenience store so I could buy a pack of cigarettes. Of all the vices I had fallen into in previous years, I knew smoking to be one of the worst, and I was ready to feel the worst.
(always outside, never near my children, hands and mouth washed and clothing removed before I got close to them)
It took me 6 months to get free of the addiction. Again. The worst.
I had a bottle of wine waiting at home that had been earmarked for after the birth, and I knew I would find the bottom of it sooner than later.
I detachedly made a post on both my personal and RRM Facebook page about our loss, and was already receiving well meaning but misguided stories of hope…like if I just prayed hard enough that heartbeat she had searched so thoroughly and diligently for would somehow start again.
I knew the truth.
My body knew too, as soon as my brain accepted what was happening it started doing the work of the flush. My in-laws showed up early the next day, not the first or last time they’ve showed up for me but the first time I fully realized that their definition of family includes me wholeheartedly. The philosophy is so simple and so hard: you show up.
No matter what, you show up and hold space.
Within a couple of days what started as light spotting turned into a tidal wave, filling postpartum pads in minutes. I was feeling weak and losing more blood than expected so my husband rushed me to the hospital. My question to “my” doctor about what was happening was met with a cold, deadpan answer of “spontaneous abortion.”
That simple sentence rang in my ears for months. I still hear it.
Because the blood came hard and fast and after the doctor’s regular hours he had to be called in from home to check me out. And I guess he was in a rush to get back home because he told me he needed to see my cervix, but couldn’t because of all the blood, so he manually removed the tissue from my vagina (without warning or pain killers) to clear a path.
It took about 15 minutes of excavating life and home lost to find what he was looking for. It was painful and humiliating, with echoes of other trauma that rang out under the harsh fluorescent lights.
I was naked from the waist down; drifting out of my body to escape what was happening inside of it. More proof my body had betrayed me. More proof that this doctor was not mine.
The hospital bed, room, and bathroom looked like an accident scene, which I guess was fitting. The elderly nurse (who was lovely, btw) told me she “had never seen it happen this way” amongst her assurances that it was all completely normal. Just, uncommon. A unicorn miscarriage or something.
The physical trauma would take months to heal, the emotional, mental, and hormonal, much longer. I still feel at times as though I’m a walking wound. Raw.
A reminder I am alive.
I had some amazing friends offer support during this time. Women I knew, women I didn’t, all reaching out with some of the most comforting words in the English language: “me too” and, “I’m here.”
More than a few told me that however I needed to heal was exactly what I should do, but that naming her (I was always so sure she was a girl) might help.
So when I was ready and convinced it would help me I named her Clover, a name that my sister-in-law had suggested months before that always felt right. It started with a C and ended with an ‘r’ sound just like my other two children’s names. Robin wasn’t crazy about it but I thought I had time to sway him.
I have all the time.
Clover was the name of the daughter of George and Louise Boldt, a couple whose tragic love story had captured the imaginations and hearts of Robin and I so much years before that we were married in their castle.
Clover. I wonder if in my mind’s eye she will always be a pigtailed toddler running through a grassy meadow filled with daisies? From the moment I learned she was gone that is the picture I’ve painted. Will it last? Time will tell.
Today, two years later, I still feel a hole in my life where she would have fit perfectly. We decided in the months that followed that my childbearing days were over. Honestly, this experience broke my heart and my body and it took a long time to heal (still counting). I can’t risk having to live through it again. I don’t want to risk it.
My daughter still asks questions about her sister (she was also convinced we were having a girl) and what happened and where she is now. These are usually the times the grief sneaks up on me and I suppose I am ok with that in some sort of masochistic sense.
I do and don’t regret telling my three year old about the baby that went to the angels early. I wish I could have spared her the confusion and pain, but I’m glad she had a little understanding about why I was grieving. I think it may have been more confusing to her if mommy just suddenly got weird for unexplained reasons.
This was one of my first opportunities to show her that life is hard but we will feel the feelings and hug the hugs and be ok on the other end. And as one of my new favourite writers Glennon Doyle Melton says, grief is proof that we loved.
Both of my children soothed my soul. Their little hearts held space and their little arms held me and I am so incredibly blessed to be their mama.
I apologize if this piece finds you and causes any sort of pain. It is certainly not my intention. But when I asked my inner circle about which stories I’ve told that impacted them most, a few women reached out and said that my honesty about my miscarriage helped them to not feel so alone. Which is pretty much the biggest compliment I can get about this written catharsis I find myself compelled (inspired?) to share.
That I can give other people the small comfort of “me too,” and “I’m here” when they feel alone is a gift I don’t take lightly. I know the peace that can be found in being seen.
So every year on my birthday I will honour the life inside me that was not to be, along with my own life in years on this planet. It feels right. Today I shed tears as I wrote but most of the time I don’t anymore, which is a type of progress I suppose but not one that came easily or quickly. I know without doubt that I love her and will always ache for her.
We don’t talk about her much. But I do remember, show up and hold space, especially on this day but really whenever she’s in my thoughts. Because that is what family has come to mean to me, and she will always be part of our family.
Thank you for reading,