When she says "I'm sorry honey there is no heartbeat," I am not surprised. I knew from the first ultrasound that something went wrong. I nod, brusquely and say "Well it's not as if we planned this pregnancy." And I tell myself that it's for the best, really. Then I go and sit among women who happily hold ultrasound pictures of their live babies. Babies who will likely continue to grow and be born. I feel the emptiness yawn up in me. My poor fetus didn't make it to six weeks. I hold it together until I hit the exam room where I proceed to sob silently as the nurse quietly takes my blood pressure and weighs me as if nothing is wrong. When the midwife arrives, I am relieved to find it to be the woman who delivered Jude. She holds me while I cry and I feel validated in the conflicting emotions between relief and a deep grief.
"You have some choices." she says. But none of the choices are the ones I want to make. I ask for a week.
The next few days are difficult. I have to tell everyone I am not pregnant. Not really. I shouldn't have told anyone. I end up being more public that many think is prudent but it's easier to tell a mass of people instead of waiting until I see someone or until I'm asked. Still there are many people who do not know and what follows is a awkward exchange where I have to explain that I have a missed miscarriage.
Perhaps that is part of the pain and the awkwardness. I haven't really miscarried. Nothing has come out of my body. Instead I still feel pregnant. I still have the bloated pregnant belly. I still have morning sickness. And when I tell people what happened they assumed I have miscarried. Not that I am still carrying something, what I don't really know, in my body.
Still everyone is kind. And women whisper to me that they too have visited this place. There are the warm touch of hugs and compassion. It keeps me moving through the daily rhythm of my life.
At night, I wake up on the edge of panic attacks. Dreams of doctors coming at me with knives. I hold Jude when I wake up and soak in her babyness.
During the day, my rational side keeps me afloat. We didn't plan this baby. Jude was supposed to be our last. We don't have the room or money for another baby. But deep down I still mourn what could have been. We would have made it work just as we made it work with them all.
As my week deadline draws closer, it's clear that I will need a D & C. I choose to not get an abortion and here I am basically walking into what is similar to an abortion. The universe sense of irony is cruel, I think.
On the day my week is up, H and I walk to the midwife clinic. I am tense and angry meaning we argue before we leave. As we get closer, I start to cry. I am not going to this place to hear a heartbeat as I did with Jude. When we arrive, I go through the routine as if I was pregnant. The wait is agonizing as I sit among pregnant women. I cry silent, burying my face into H's shoulder. When the newborns come in, I tell H that I am going to leave. Their tiny cries pierce through me. The thing in my womb will never cry these hungry cries. I carry something dead inside me, I think. I cry through the weighing, the blood pressure check and when the midwife comes in to talk to me. Again there is compassion and wisdom, and eventually there is nothing left.
The doctor arranges for a D & C the next day. It is so soon but I am glad. I need to be done. This half way road is not leading towards a good place. I need the completion so that I can began to process and heal. To put behind me my fertile years and focus on new stages of life. I am lucky I know to have five children at home.
The night is spent in nightmares again. The doctors tell me that there was something living inside me but they made a mistake and now it's gone. It is my biggest fear even though I know the fetus never even developed a heartbeat. I saw with my own eyes the lack of change in a two week period. But my subconscious plays tricks. I go into the hospital tired but resolved. Calm. Once again I am meet with gentleness and compassion. People are kind when they hear what I am there for. My friends love me and I feel their love and support as I wait to be put to sleep.
I wake up clam and alert. I even get into a debate about insurance with the nurses. H comes to me and we chat about the kids. I don't feel any pain. I feel almost high. I feel guilty like maybe I am betraying the future I just loss. The nurse gives me the care instructions and I say
"This is like when I gave birth." And it hits me just a little then.
"Kind of, " she says, "But it is different."
Different in that I am not coming home with a newborn in my arms.
We go home and I embrace the present in my children. I smell Jude's warm hair and laugh at Rowena's antics. I marvel at the man my son has become.
When I wake up from my nap, I notice that my stomach is no longer bloated. Then I feel the first twinge of grief. My stomach will no longer feel that swell of baby. The kicks and the flutterings. I realize I don't feel sick any longer. As I wobble around, I feel like I did after I gave birth but there is no gift for the pain. No sweet baby to hold to my breasts. I have given birth in a way but it's a birth that we only whisper about, that we pretend isn't a birth. A grief often dismissed because it was early on, because you already five children at home, because there was never a heartbeat.
But there was something. A flicker. A story. A future to imagine. And now that is gone. So while I mourn the end of my fertility, I will also give myself the space to mourn the baby I had began to want. The future I imagined in a tentative Amazon wish list and in the plans for a bigger van. I will hold this future with me forever really because even though that heart never developed it still is imprinted on my own cells.