This post is not what I thought it would be when I began writing it. I started out with the intention of summarizing all of the research data I’ve gathered since Thursday when I found out this pregnancy was not viable and I was to wait for a natural miscarriage to begin. It was meant to be helpful to other women who have not only suffered recurrent pregnancy loss – including recurrent secondary pregancy loss (losses after having a live birth) – but women who continue on that trajectory even after opting to use oocytes (eggs) from a proven donor. This is not that post.
Instead, this post is written from my heart, my memories and a pool of grief I’ve been drawing on for as long as I can remember (a pool I wish would start waning instead of swelling). This will be a long post and filled with sad facts that have been ruminating inside me for some time. Feel free to disengage, skip it or come back later if you wish. I wrote this for me, for the spirit baby I was once so certain was going to come home to us, for my mother and her family and for the one living child I have successfully birthed. I will not be offended if you need or choose to tune out.
Since finding out on Thursday (May 29th) that our first donor egg pregnancy was not viable, I have been waiting for the natural miscarriage to begin. One never hopes for these things but in the past when I knew a pregnancy was not going to succeed, I just wanted it all to be over. The waiting for that to happen – so we could move on to another attempt at having a first or, later, a second child – was agonizing and a painful daily reminder of yet another failure.
Somehow, this time was different. I have been hoping that my body would recognize the loss of this baby on her own, without further medical intervention. But I don’t really want this pregnancy to be over, either, because the ending means so much more than the past endings – when, each time, I felt underneath all of the grief a certainty that I was meant to try one more time. I was certain that baby was just around the next corner. I no longer know if that is true.
I do know that I don’t want a third surgery and I am even more reluctant to undergo a second treatment with misoprostyl (cytotec) to end pregnancy number 9. Even those words – pregnancy number 9 – rip a new hole or pour salt into the existing holes in my heart every time I think, hear, feel them. And so, as the miscarriage is finally beginning, I can breathe a sigh of grieving relief. My body has found her way to bring this to a natural end after all.
Out of my 9 pregnancies, we have been blessed with one living, amazing, change-my-life-forever child. I should be grateful, I’m told. But I don’t need to be told. And when I am, I find it deeply offensive. When someone responds to my suffering by saying something stupid, insensitive and offensive like this, it takes all I have not to lash out and rip them a new one or die a little more inside.
The truth is, I am unspeakably grateful for the one living child I have the privilege of raising. My heart bursts with love and exploded in my chest this morning when I awoke (from one of my worst sleeps ever despite the melatonin I took so I could maybe have a good one for the first time in a week) to a nightmare of our child’s weekday caregiver opening a tearful telephone call to me with “Listen, I am so sorry…” I have had two of those phone calls before, both leading to emergency medical attention, both thankfully ending with our Miracle Toddler being given an all-clear and me thanking God and the Guardian Angel who saved me from my worst nightmare.
That leads me to a recurring thought I have had over the past few days. Far worse than losing the 8 babies my body has expelled (or had to have removed because my body insisted she was still pregnant despite our babies’ deaths) would be for us to lose the Miracle Toddler. I am not dramatizing when I acknowledge that I could not go on if that happened. In my heart, I know I would be done. There would be no point for me in carrying on.
This is a difficult thing for me to say, knowing that this is exactly what happened to my own mother. She lost her first-born child at the age of 8. He drowned in a tragic accident and it took some time for police to find his body after the friend he was with denied having seen anything, denied the boys had even been together (despite clear evidence to the contrary). It’s a long story, one I heard when I interviewed my mother for a university course I took almost two decades ago. I knew her son had drowned – I did not know the painful additional details until I was an adult myself.
Nor did I know about the terrible depression that ensued – the first time my Mom was medicated for depression. The second was after she was cut down to one-tenth of the woman she was by a joint diagnosis of stage four cancer and congestive heart failure (suspected to have been brought on by the failure into which her body entered when the cancer had gone undiagnosed and untreated for as long as it had). There was another time when my mother should probably have been treated for depression – if not with medication then at least with therapy but preferably both – and that was when my “uncle” died.
Although not really our biological uncle, that man was the man my brother and I grew up relating to as a father. Until he died when I was 9, my brother 10. I watched him dying. I mopped his forehead as his enlarged heart struggled to keep him alive a few more days. I did not fully understand death then, though it had been a presence in my life from a very early age and I had suffered tremendously over animals who had died before that time. But I understood when he was gone that he would never come back. And over the years that followed, I came to realize that part of my mother died with him and the history they shared.
That man had been the father of the boy who drowned. And the daughter that was stillborn (because the doctors ignored my mother’s desperate pleas when she knew something was going wrong as the little girl’s umbilical cord had tangled around her neck). Both parents of these lost children became clinically depressed. How could one not? And then they divorced. How could they not? But they could not sever their lives. And so they emigrated to the country in which I live now, divorced but friends until death separated them anew.
I never tell this story. My brother did not know the story until after our mother died. I did not know he did not know. He lived with and then near our parents for almost a decade after I left home (young – because I have often leapt before looking and because if I was going to survive at all I had to escape a family history of sexual abuse and the myriad harms it left in its wake). I assumed he knew everything Mom told me in that interview. And I suppose there was a part of me – not conscious, but present, I suspect, knowing me as I now do – that assumed that if she did not tell him, it was not my story to tell so long as she remained alive. In fact, had I realized she had not told my brother, I likely never would have done so.
When I did, he was furious. Furious that no one told him, furious that we were deceived as children into accepting this man as our uncle when he was so much more than that to our mother and to our two half-siblings we never got to meet. I was stunned by his anger. I do not judge that reaction, it was just baffling to me at the time. I can rationalize it now, as I did then, but I cannot relate.
I had felt none of that when my mother had shared those stories with me. My heart had broken – repeatedly – and the compassion I felt for my mother grew with each passing year and my own maturation. And it leaps to the forefront of my mind now, as I contemplate our lost babies and the one living child we have.
What also leaps to mind are thoughts of my Mom’s first son. I have always felt connected to him in a way I cannot explain. I carried photos of that little boy with me. I still have those photos. In recent weeks and particularly while I was pregnant with this lost little baby I have felt him and my Mom near me. I had a startling thought that led me to wonder if the spirit of that little boy who died too soon could be Azulito (the spirit baby with whom I’ve been “communicating” since last year), returning home to the LP and I after he left my mother and my “uncle”.
And now, as I gratefully embrace the one living child that the LP and I are so blessed to have, I think about whether this is the only living child I will ever raise. I wonder if I have been mistaken in believing Azulito is destined to be a part of our family in this lifetime or if perhaps that fate has changed. And I think about what is next for us. Frankly, I do not know. What I do know is that when the Miracle Toddler finds me crying and asks me “what happened?” and “why” when I say “Mommy is sad”, I am introducing death into the life of my one living child, just as my mother did with me.
I will not lie to the Miracle Toddler about why I am sad. And it breaks my heart afresh when echoed back are my own explanation for my tears: “Baby died.” The toddler even knows what to say in response – “I sorry, Mommy.” “Me, too” is my recurring response. So am I. Deeply sorry.
I wish it were otherwise. And I wonder about at what point I put an end to the legacy of death and grief that has plagued my family – my mother’s family – before it plagues my own child’s future. I do not want him to remember his mother as the woman who cried herself to sleep regularly or awoke, night after night, unable to sleep. At some point, there has to be an end to all of this so I can go back to living and showing my child the mother I want to be.
I do not know when that point will be, but I can feel it circling. It is drawing close. And whether it ends with a healthy pregnancy or more loss(es) is not for me to decide. That much is clearly out of my control. For although I am becoming resigned to the reality that I may never carry another pregnancy to term and may never birth another living child, I am still not ready to give up while we have two frozen embryos with which to try one or two last times. If those babies die inside my womb, too, then my journey will be over. And if one of them survives… well, I cannot go there. It hurts just thinking about that today.
perhaps then I can offer our living child, in time, a whole-hearted mother again. In the meantime, I will keep trying to do the best I can.