Grief is a funny thing. It’s an actual weight that sits on your shoulders and pulls at your eyelids. It drains the color from the world and steals your sense of purpose. It changes shape and hides in dark corners. It breaks your heart and feels like it will kill you, but it doesn’t. It leaves you to suffer instead.
The last 11 days have been like a game of Chutes and Ladders from Hell. On that Friday we were two smiling cardboard people on little plastic stands, rolling the dice and moving up the ladders on our way to the top of the game board, towards the finish line and the start of our family. But our luck changed, and we landed on a slide instead of a ladder. It was like the bottom dropped out from under us and we just…fell. Since then, we’ve been laying on the ground under that damned slide, looking around and wondering what the hell happened.
We were up there, and now we’re down here – back at the start.
On that day, we were exhausted from moving, just waiting for 4pm to roll around so that we could meet our baby. Time dragged slowly by. Finally it was time to leave, and on the drive we were grinning like fools at each other and holding hands, discussing questions to ask the doctor. I don’t think there’s really any way to describe how it felt to lay there on the table, ultrasound in place, eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of our child on the screen – the child we planned for and hoped for, cried with joy when we knew he was really coming, talked about, dreamed about, wanted with every fiber of ourselves – to lay there and see the look on the doctor’s face as he searched for any sign of our baby. I tried to interpret his expression, wondering when he would speak, when he would turn the monitor so I could see the tiny heartbeat galloping on the screen. I saw Gray straining to see something, and the nurse in the background frowning. All three faces were puzzled and searching. It wasn’t until the nurse looked down at me, touched my arm and mouthed, “It will be okay” that I knew something was very wrong. The doctor turned the screen so that I could see it and proceeded to explain that everything had grown properly and was the right size for 11 weeks, but the baby was missing. The gestational sack was totally empty. There was no fetal pole, he said. It wasn’t that the baby had stopped growing along with everything else - it was that the baby wasn’t there at all. On the screen I saw a black oval the size of a grapefruit. It was empty, just blackness where there should have been a small light.
Could I have done something to cause this? They all say no, but the truth is that no one knows. I found out I was pregnant on August 15th. I quit smoking on the 17th. Could those two days have played a part? I wasn’t taking folic acid before conception. Is that lapse to blame? All of my symptoms of pregnancy were normal: I was gaining weight. The nausea, the hunger, the insomnia, everything was normal. No bleeding, no cramping, nothing to indicate that a miscarriage was eminent. Everything was so normal that my body didn’t seem to realize it was incubating a ghost. I’m struggling to forgive my body for its betrayal, for walking around all business as usual when something was very wrong. And I’m trying to reconcile the statistics that say it probably won’t happen again with the fear that it will – the horror that there’s no way to be sure.
Was the baby already gone in August when we made our midnight run to the emergency room? We won’t ever know if we lost him at 4 weeks or at 11. We won’t know if we’d been talking to our growing child all this time or to an empty tomb. I know it doesn’t matter in the end – knowing wouldn’t change a thing - but I feel like a mother should know when there is something wrong with her baby. She should know when he dies. It’s a loss so intangible that some have said it’s really not a big deal. That we can just try again. That it’s not like we lost a baby.
But the truth is that we did.
Gray says that maybe our child is just waiting for another body to come along – that his spirit didn’t die and he’ll join us again with the next pregnancy. That’s a thought that might just get us to put our feet back on those ladder rungs and try again someday.