By the summer of 2003, I had my whole life figured out.
I would graduate college in a handful of months, I was newly wed, preparing to move into a small house, my body was thin and strong - I felt invincible. Of course, these things never last.
It came crashing down the day pain took my body. Huddled in agony, I sat in the bathroom, the door locked. My body felt light, as if it hovered in the air, while my head spun. The clot laid in my underwear, thin strands of mucus and blood wrapped around it.
Only, it wasn’t a clot.
The tears came unbidden, and my forehead furrowed, stretching my skin and pushing the muscles of my brows together in a painful grimace. I reached down and picked up the tiny clot that wasn’t a clot, and held it in my hands. My eyes strained to verify what I saw. Searching for tell-tale signs of the tiny thing who was never-to-be, cross-referencing with images that I remembered from books and the documentaries on television. The tiny shape curved, like a pale pink lima bean, and could there be tiny limbs, or was it a trick of my cruel imagination?
I tried desperately to remember how this could have happened. I had recently been diagnosed and treated for Grave’s disease, and had reported nausea, a not-uncommon reaction to the radiation therapy. I flew to the medicine cabinet mounted to the wall of the bathroom, opening the mirror-faced door, and grabbed the medication. The letters on the bottle label swam before my eyes, and I felt blood trickle down my legs.
Do not take if you believe you are pregnant.
I sat down again, this time heavy with sorrow, and I grieved my miscarriage.
More than a decade passed after that. That first marriage crumbled and dried up, the memory did, too. Pushed away to the background while my life continued, only to be remembered during occasional visits to a new doctor, when the medical history form would stare back at me in stark black and white, as my pen hovered over that cruel checkbox.
Have you experienced any miscarriages?
I wanted to forget. To pretend it was a momentary blip in my past - the tiniest of inconsequential happenings in a lifetime. I wanted to laugh and shoo it away with the flick of my hand - good-bye, Pain, good-bye, Memories, good-bye, All the Nights I Slept With My Hands Covering My Womb As If In Protection. I wanted it to be another person, not me. Never me.
We sat in the fertility clinic together, my new husband and I. We had agreed to this visit after several years of trying for a child on our own. We clasped hands tightly, our fingers intertwined as a force of habit, and as a source of strength. I ran my thumb idly along his fingernail, feeling the silky smoothness of it, lightly noticing the ridges of the nail’s texture. He looked at me, searching my face for any hint of the buried memory.
I feared it was me. That I was the reason for the first miscarriage. I wondered if I had others that I hadn’t realized. Other tiny possibilities that disappeared before I was even aware. Was my womb broken? Was I broken? I was already so late in life, was this a Punishment for some wrong I had done in life?
The door handle shimmied and turned as the dark wooden door opened toward us. Our test results were in the doctor’s hand, and he reached out with his other to shake ours.
I did not want to cry in front of him.
He sat across from us, his hands resting on his knees. My eyes went back to the papers in his hands, then to his face, searching for some emotion - some hint of the truth on those papers.
He smiled warmly at us. There was no reason for any concern, he assured us. We had only to be patient. We could begin treatments in a few weeks. These would improve our chances, he smiled again.
Not even a week later, we were in the hospital. I lay on a gurney in the aisle - the hospital overfull that evening - and my husband sat at my feet, his hands pressing on my legs. We were always touching. Strangers hurried past us, and their movement caught the thin sheet that hung around us, making it billow with each moment. It was a tenuous cocoon. I shivered in pain, and tried to deny pain medication, worried about cost, but he could read my face and begged me to reconsider.
This was not the time to pretend to be stronger than I was.
The medication surged through my veins, at first a fire that burned into the top of my head, and just when I was going to cry out, the cold followed.
I had been bleeding for three weeks.
Tears stung at my eyes, threatening to pour out as the doctor approached our gurney. His large hand pushed aside the curtain of our cocoon, exposing us to the strangers around us, as he shrugged and informed us that we were having a miscarriage.
How could he be so calm when I was screaming inside so loudly?
He suggested that I would be safe to leave once I felt pain-free, but offered no other instructions or assistance. He mentioned that my body would pass it on its own.
My mind once more went to that night with the small clot-that-wasn’t-a-clot, and I was once again as scared and breathless as that moment.
Only, this time, we had been trying for so very long.
I started a new job that week. The job was temporary, and required a bus ride downtown, and a brisk walk of a quarter mile. I was bleeding as I was shown my desk, and bleeding as I met my other coworkers. Bleeding as I ran out for lunch at the corner store below, and bleeding as I fulfilled the tasks given to me, determined to prove my worth to this new company. All the while, a pain continued to blossom in my belly, growing stronger by the day.
By the end of the second week, the walk to the bus stop had become excruciating, my hand grasping my lower abdomen, limping, groaning out loud - no longer able to keep the expression of agony under my breath. I believed I would faint, and I only hoped that I could make it to the bus before I did. My bus was late that night, and all I wanted was to go home and lie down. It was hours before I got to the final stop, where I called a car service to drive me the last few miles to my house. I clutched my belly the entire ride, my hand sealed in a tight first, pressed against my abdomen.
That hospital doctor never told me that the pain would get so much worse, growing more painful each day. Something was terribly wrong.
The next day I went into work, as usual. The walk from the bus to the office was the worst yet. Before lunchtime I called my gynecologist, explaining my pain and informing them of the hospital visit.
“We need you to come in as soon as possible. When can you get here?”
I looked at my watch. I could take my lunch break to see the doctor, but it would require calling a car service there and back, and I desperately needed this job.
My husband came to pick me up, instead. I cried as I walked to meet him, and, whether because I was in pain and delirious, or because my eyes were filled with tears, I went the wrong direction. He tried guiding me over the phone, but my sense of direction was muddled, bleary and uncertain, and I stumbled for another mile, each step heavy and filled with pain, my fist gripping my abdomen in its now-familiar position. When I at last found the car, I stumbled into the passeger seat, tears streaming down my face, gasps no longer quieted.
I don’t recall the drive.
I recall my doctor, hovering over me, the nurse reaching for my hand, gentle presses on my belly that felt like fire from inside. I screamed, and they began to rush around me, whispering soft coos to gentle calm. I tried to sit up, but stayed laying on the table as the doctor explained what she believed was happening to my body.
I had heard that word before, in a podcast where the woman explained how it led to the removal of one of her fallopian tubes. Would that fate be mine as well? Or was my body about to burst? The tiny organs stretched to the point of breaking? My eyes searched for my husband, and he was there, gripping my hand in his, his face white and intense as he watched me.
I signed a paper, but my hand could barely hold the pen as I scribbled a faint facsimile of my usual signature. My head rolled back. My strength was almost gone.
The medication was administered, a needle prick on the top part of my bottom.
“This will sting a bit,” the nurse warned, but I felt nothing. All feeling had gone to the molten liquid agony in my abdomen. There was nothing left.
My body remained stretched out on that table for almost an hour afterward, my first clenched at my belly, my jaw tight as my teeth clenched. My mind went in and out, lucid then lost. And my husband watched me, his blue eyes reddened and moist. I reached out for him, and we clasped hands, our fingers intertwining in our familiar pattern. I tightened as another wave of pain racked through me, and the fire in my belly exploded once more. I wondered briefly what I would see if the skin were stripped away. Would my fallopian tube be distended? Was the source of the pain a mere speck that was amplified by the tenderness of the delicate organ? Would I be able to look at the tiny human that now threatened my life, its only crime being in the wrong place?
We went home that night, carefully and slowly, and I laid out on the couch, sweating in pain. The medicine worked by stopping the growth of cells, and the pain was two-fold - physical and emotional. We held each other that night, as I cried into his shoulder.
We would get through this together. And we would find a way to try again.