Are you the type of person that is fight or flight? Well, I flee. I know that running away is not always the best option, but that is my first instinct. If there is a large bug in the office I run far away until a co-worker assures me the situation has been taken care of. I usually flee unless someone needs help and then I am usually right there because compassion outweighs my fear.
The year of 2017 was a time I wanted to flee. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. Part of me didn’t care while the other part cared too much. All I wanted to do was run, but how do you escape yourself? I couldn’t breathe for a long time. I’d lost something and unexpectedly also lost part of myself.
When you look back on a year, do you think of it as a chronological timeline? Or floating memories that come in and out like bubbles drifting through the air? Do you go back and review everything that happened by skimming your journal? Maybe you have a jar stored with cards containing the memorable moments in the year. I tend to look at my phone and see all the photos I’ve taken. If it was momentous enough for a photo, then it meant something to me.
As I scroll through the photos, it appears I had a good year. I saw comedians, Brian Regan and Joe Zimmerman give a stellar performance to a packed-out show in Dallas. In Houston, I met bestselling fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, and he signed a copy of his new book, The Oathbringer. My husband and I saw Perfect Circle in concert in Oklahoma. Alton Brown performed food science on a stage in Dallas. We flew to South Carolina for my cousin’s incredible wedding at the Citadel.
These memories were all overshadowed by events beginning the month before the new year. Moments of grief happen chronologically, but in my memory they stand out differently as a series of events. The photos on my phone didn’t capture the feelings of silence, anguish, isolation, and the act of finding myself again.
The First Moments
December 13th 2016, I slipped out a pregnancy test and waited. My mouth was dry, my heart was beating fast, my face was flushed. I washed my hands and drank water out of the sink, which I never do. I glanced over and my heart beat faster and faster.
I took a photo.
I walked out of the bathroom towards the kitchen where my husband was sitting, enjoying a cup of coffee. I had tears in my eyes and before I could control my breathing, I blurted out, “I’m pregnant”. My husband brightened and gathered me in his arms. He hugged me close whispered how happy he was.
We’d waited seven years, but in July of 2016 we finally decided we were ready to have a child. I was elated and felt a sense of euphoria. It’s like the feeling of falling in love. I was confident in the fact that a woman is wonderful and complete on her own, but I wanted a husband and a child or two. I was so thankful when I found my Love. Now, I wanted a child and was thrilled it was happening. I could hardly contain my excitement.
A couple of weeks later, I came down with a terrible cold and asthma symptoms. I went to the doctor and they confirmed I was pregnant, and I had strep throat. I went home with antibiotics and rested instead of working.
On Christmas, we announced to our family and friends our good news. I couldn’t hide it because I was dealing with intense morning sickness. I could’ve lied, but I’m the worst liar. My husband I were so excited we could barely contain ourselves. When we told our family they rejoiced in screaming and well wishes. We went ahead and posted it on social media and over a thousand people wished us the best.
January 4th , 2017 came and we heard the sound of silence on the sonogram. Our doctor said it wasn’t the medicine nor the herbal teas nor anything I did or didn’t do. This happens 1 in 4 pregnancies. I stayed silent, nodding my head, until he left them room. Then I melted.
I went back to the doctor again later in the month just to make for sure. I’d had some spotting, but my levels were still high. I hoped. I prayed, but in vain. It wasn’t happening. One of the worst parts, was that my body was still hanging onto the pregnancy. I had no idea when it would happen. I was scared to go anywhere because I wanted things to happen at home. Every time I went to the bathroom at work, I looked. There was some blood, but nothing else. This went on for 26 days.
The Physical Toll
The week starting January 30th 2017, I stayed home from work and took the medication to make everything pass. The physical pain was excruciating at times, but I was weirdly glad I was in physical pain too. It needed to hurt, because nothing hurt as much as my heart. I was so disappointed. I was so full of shame. I felt it was all my fault. Had the antibiotics caused this? Was it my fault for taking my normal asthma and allergy medicine? I’d had a few drinks the month before and always drank my weight in hibiscus and green tea. My husband tried to reassure me that it wasn’t anything I’d done, but I secretly didn’t believe him. He told me he knew several people that lived like there was no tomorrow and they’d had healthy children. I half-heartedly listened, but it would be a long time before I released myself from the guilt that it was my fault.
I stayed in bed that week and didn’t care to get up. I didn’t care if I got up ever again. I wasn’t unaccustomed to grief. My beloved grandpa died of a heart attack when I was nine years old. Both of my grandmothers died a week apart a few years ago. My 18-year-old step-brother-in-law and my husband’s boss died from cancer during the same year. This was different though. It was personal. I didn’t know what to do with my grief. How do you grief a life that never fully lived?
The first coping mechanism I decided to put in place was to remove myself from social media because I didn’t want to read the cliché responses. I didn’t want to hear anything about trying again because I wasn’t sure I would ever want to do anything again. If grieving the loss of an 8-week-old fetus shattered me this bad, how in the world could I stand it if I had another miscarriage or loss of a child? I didn’t want to feel this way, but I didn’t want to let go of the grief because I didn’t want to act as if nothing had happened. This was one of the deepest things that had happened to be emotionally and physically. I’d not prepared myself for the heartache, but more importantly I didn’t realize I’d feel like I’d lost part of myself.
The Lack of Reason
My husband tried his best to comfort me and he was saddened by the loss. I think more than anything he was more scared about losing me. The situation rattled both of us. He began wrestling with the foundations of his belief’s about when life starts and the essence of the soul. He told me he’d read in Jewish theology that God takes the soul and gives it to a body when a baby is born. Although the idea of this sounded nice in theory, using this logic meant that if I never had another child then the soul of my child would belong to someone else. I didn’t like it. I was uncomfortable. We shared our thoughts in some conversations, but I finally told him that I had to believe this meant there was life at some point and that I will hold my baby in heaven. I won’t know differently, but believing that there was a baby and believing the baby is in heaven was enough for me to pick myself up by the end of the week. If I am wrong, then so be it.
I don’t feel as if this comforted me completely, but it was a start. I started working through my doubts with this belief, but I decided I must think that to go on. That is what would somehow push me forward. Typically, I consider myself a logical person. I have an MBA in Management. I’ve worked in fields of management, marketing, human resources and accounting. I have an incredibly melancholy personality. This was a time where I chose to wrap myself up in a belief that somehow this grief wasn’t all for nothing.
My second coping mechanism was buying a birthstone ring in memory. I started reading about the August birthstone. I’ve never been mystical with gemstones, but I appreciate the meaning behind how the stones are formed and what they represent. I walked into a local department store and asked the clerk at the jewelry counter to see the peridot rings. There was a heart shaped ring with the peridot in the form of a teardrop. I thought it was perfect symbolizing the love and tears I felt. I bought it and somehow felt a bit of peace wash over me. There is something that helps the process of grieving by doing. Our baby’s due date was August 9th, so I chose to wear the birthstone as a symbol of remembrance.
Getting Back to “Normal”
My third coping mechanism was getting out for the first time after it happened. I felt weird like I was betraying myself or betraying the grief. Part of me wanted to isolate myself from the rest of the world, while the other part wanted to blend in with the world again. I wanted to be apart. I didn’t want this to define all of who I am. My sister and I went to see “La La Land” in theatres. I was fine until Emma sang, “here’s to the one’s who dream”. I dug my nail into my thumb and focused on the physical pain to keep from bawling my eyes out in the theatre.
The days passed and time moved from January to February. I quit crying every day, but the tears would hit at different times. I did things every month to help entertain my thoughts and keep me busy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to deal with the grief, but I didn’t know how to completely handle it. I had experienced the greatest loss of my life and in the torrents of grief I felt lost.
When I got back to work, my office mate came over and gave me a hug. She whispered, “I’m sorry. I love you.” I cried again and I told her I love her too. She was a tremendous help in helping me maintain composure and grieving when I needed. She’s experienced the loss of her husband and had the wisdom to be present without saying cliché things to comfort. She let me go into her office and shut the door if I needed a minute. I am forever thankful for her kindness.
The Uncomfortable Questions
It was getting easier to breathe, but I still felt like a shadow was over my entire being. I laughed, I decorated my house, I painted an old dresser, etc… None of the actions helped the lingering thought that I had no baby. It didn’t help that a colleague in another office announced her pregnancy. When I went to see one of my friends in another office, she asked me, “Well, when are you and James going to try again?” I felt all oxygen leave my lungs. “Um, I don’t know. I need time for my body to heal.” And I need time for me. I don’t know if I ever want to try again. I didn’t say these things.
When we were on a cruise, an ugly old woman on the elevator asked when I was due. Again, the wind was gone from my lungs. I stammered something about “it’s just a billowy dress”. She said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.” If she’d only known. I cried hot tears in the shower for about twenty minutes.
I know people usually don’t mean to be unkind, but I seriously had enough of the comments. Thankfully, I was sheltered from most, but when it happened, I could barely handle things. Again, I had to remember how to breathe.
I think it was the third week of July 2016 when my husband and I decided to start trying to have a baby. That same week we’d made the decision, my sister sent me a message showing a positive pregnancy test. I told her I was so happy for her and I meant it. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be the firstborn having the first grandbaby in our immediate family. I know that is silly, but I had been the first to do everything. Now, my sister was having a baby. I told my mom I couldn’t emotionally handle going to a baby shower in February of 2017 since it was just weeks after my loss.
On March 22nd, my nephew was born. I was so happy for my sister, but I was terrified to hold him for fear I would end up sobbing uncontrollably. I told one of my co-workers who was also a mentor about my fear. She’d experienced a miscarriage before and gave me a tiny box containing a pin with tiny baby feet. She said she’d not wanted to offend me but wanted me to know she loved me and knew that this was no insignificant thing. I somehow managed to plaster on a smile and not cry at the hospital when meeting and holding my nephew. I maintained composure until the evening and then soaked my pillow. If there were a quota for tears, I should have reached it by this point. They weren’t over. I still felt like I was wandering through life instead of living it.
The Due Date
One of my co-workers was pregnant at the same time I was. Again, I didn’t begrudge her at all. I was happy for her. As the time got closer, I really hoped she wouldn’t have her baby on my due date. That would crush me. When my would have been due date came around, I slipped out of the office and wandered around shops downtown. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t eat. I didn’t cry. I just wanted to be alone. I realized that I needed to do these things for me.
One of the things that I didn’t think or read about was what to do with all the stuff related to the pregnancy. I had the announcement, a bib, a sweet card from my husband, all the cards sending condolences and bills from the doctor. I didn’t want to throw them away, but I didn’t want to see them all the time. I went to the store and bought a beautiful antique looking book box. I placed the items inside, including the box with the pendant of tiny baby feet. I shut the lid and remembered to breathe in and out. In and out, over and over until I could breathe normally.
The Rose Garden at Notre Dame
On October 1st, my husband and I took a flight to London and spent a week there. We decided to make a day trip to Paris on October 3rd. It was an incredible trip and I could live there! I’d always wanted to see Paris and now that dream was a reality.
We walked through the Notre Dame and words don’t give justice to the feelings of awe when standing in the middle of a grand architectural work that contains such history. My husband went to the restroom and I wandered into the rose garden located outside at the back of the cathedral. The sun was shining, and I looked up and saw the lush roses growing higher than my head. I was filled with peace. I was going to be okay. I’d known that in my head, but it took a while to get there. I was reminded of the dream I’d had the night before the miscarriage.
I slept soundly. It was likely pure exhaustion because I hadn’t been sleeping well. In my dream, I was sitting down waiting for everything to spill out. My hope of a child was gone. My body waited. I held my abdomen in agony feeling both physical pain and heartache. I wanted it to start so it could end. I didn’t want it to start because that would be finality. I felt a heavy weight on my back. I tried to straighten, but it was like having a heavy quilt on top of me. I felt behind me and my hand brushed against long feathers. I looked at my back and they were pure white. I couldn’t tell if I had wings or there was something on me that had wings. I stroked the feathers therapeutically. I couldn’t fly. They stayed on me, weighing me down. They were warm like a blanket. A sign of hope. It was if I knew somehow that I would get through it. It would always be a part of me, forever imprinted on my heartstrings. I still had wings and eventually I would fly again, but I wasn't meant to flee.