Content warning: Mentions of miscarriage
"You should read The Light Between Oceans," someone will tell you, six months after you miscarry. They won't know what you know now, the myriad ways your own minefield of a body can betray you. You'll stand by the stove preparing dinner, the landline cradled between your shoulder and ear, and feel the steam from the boiling water scald your face. You'll watch the bubbles rise from the bottom to kiss the surface while your friend goes into detail about the novel.
"The couple in that book had two miscarriages and a stillbirth," she'll say, as though it's some kind of competition, as though the book isn't fictional, as though grief can be quantified. "Can you imagine that?"
Begrudgingly, half of you will pay attention to your friend; the other half will be listening—though you'll never admit it to yourself, to anyone—for the frenzied footfalls on the other side of the phone, the lively lilts of lullabies, the sibilant sounds of someone practicing their ABCs. The last time you spoke with your friend, just as you were preheating the oven to cook garlic bread, you heard that coveted word in the background, high-pitched and desperate: Mama. It hit you like a hurricane, made you recoil. The landline landed in a pot of pasta sauce. You picked it up, red and dripping, apologized to your friend, told her you had to get dinner started for your husband. That night, the two of you ate takeout.
"You should talk to someone," a different friend is going to say, three months after it happens. You'll both be sitting at the local coffeehouse, inhaling the aroma of dark roast and watching the rain sluice down on pedestrians. By then, you'll already be an expert at reading between the lines, well-versed in finding the subtext in people's well-intentioned advice. You'll know what your friend means: You should talk to someone else.
"It's been three months," he'll say, as though grief can be quantified. He'll take a gulp of his double-shot espresso and you'll take a sip of your fruit juice. A force of habit—sometimes you'll forget you're back to drinking for one, that it's fine to have caffeine, if you want. You won't ever want to.
The last time you drank caffeine was at your baby shower. When your friend offers the name of his therapist, that's what you'll be thinking about—the cupcakes and the balloons and the decorations, all hot pink. You'll spend countless nights thinking about that day, remembering how everyone raised their wine glasses, so sure of something so uncertain, when your husband proposed a toast. "To baby Ava," he said, and everyone drank. You smiled, because the name was your idea, and took a sip of Coca-Cola, the closest drink to you at the time. The bubbles burned your throat and tingled your gums and filled your stomach. You swore you felt the baby kick.
You'll wonder, later, about things. If that sugar-sweet sip of soda, your one transgression in the months of water and juice and milk, was what did it. You'll wonder how something could take up so much space inside you, in your body and your mind and your heart, and then, one month later, leave you hollow. Empty.
Before you leave the coffeehouse, before you throw half your juice in the trashcan, your friend will scribble the therapist's information down on his receipt and pass it to you. Thanking him, you'll offer a broken smile as you glance at the name on the paper: Ava Brooks.
"You shouldn't blame yourself for it," your doctor will say during your follow up appointment, a month after it happens. Her words will sound hopeful, but you won't feel uplifted. She'll scoot her rolling stool closer to you and touch your arm and look you in the eye.
"Listen, you did nothing wrong. These things can just happen. For women your age, it's about a fifteen percent chance," she'll assure you, as though grief can be quantified.
Still, she'll run some tests, do an ultrasound, have your blood drawn. You won't mind the phlebotomist's needle as it lances your vein. You won't feel a thing. You'll be too busy remembering the blood and the cramping on the day your life changed. The way you thought you were being punished for something, and the price you paid for the pain to stop.
"You should take the rest of the week off," your boss will say when you call him the morning after it happens, a Thursday. Then he'll regrettably apprise you of the fact that the company doesn't do bereavement for this type of circumstance, so he can't pay you if you do. As though grief can be quantified.
"Take it easy and try to enjoy yourself." You'll cringe when he says that, like you're going on a vacation.
It's only two days off work, but you'll take it. You'll make plans to go shopping, catch a matinee, take a walk in the park to clear your head. You can imagine it: Strolling through the shopaholic streets of downtown, seeing everything and buying nothing. Watching a Nicholas Sparks movie alone in the theater, ensconced in darkness and heartbreak. Sitting on the edge of the park's fountain, feeling the water spurt up and mist over your body.
Instead, you'll actually spend those two days, and the rest of that weekend, sequestered inside your house. The only shopping you'll do is picking out different television networks. There will be no Nicholas Sparks movies to choose from, no running water strong enough to cleanse you.
But you will try. All of it.
You'll try the book your friend recommended, but put it back on the shelf before the stillbirth part, unable to differentiate yourself from the childless heroine.
You'll try meeting with Ava Brooks, the therapist, sprawl out on her lumpy chaise lounge, and even manage to last a few sessions before proclaiming yourself to be miraculously cured and cancelling all future appointments.
You'll try not blaming yourself, but it wasn't your husband's fault and you stopped believing in God long ago, so somebody will have to take the fall.
You'll try enjoying yourself, but realize that it's harder than it looks now. You will go shopping, but you'll find yourself drawn to the maternity clothes. You will go to the theater, but leave halfway through the movie when you sense a happy ending coming. You'll visit the park too late in the year and find the fountain dry.
But you will try it all because, on the day your lives were upended, your husband helped you into bed, and when you woke up, the bathroom floor was spotless and lemon-scented.
Because he bought you your favorite gourmet chocolates and takeout and a Nicholas Sparks movie, and anything else you asked of him.
Because the only thing he said that day was: "You should tell me how I can help you."
Because, unlike everyone else, he wasn't giving you advice when he told you that. He was waiting for you to help him so he could help you.
Maybe you were waiting too.