*TW for pregnancy and infant loss.
Usually I take one day a year to write about this. Usually on his birthday. But I’m feeling it today, and one thing I’ve learned is that when you’re feeling it is the right time to write about big, hard, things. So here goes. It’s something I hardly ever talk about, not because it’s hard or triggery, though it is. Not because I’m over it, because I’m not. I don’t talk about this usually because I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed that if I tell people, I’m somehow manipulating them into feeling sorry for me. Because some things should somehow be private. How I don’t deserve to grieve as much for the kid who I never got to know as other people do for the people they have in their lives outside of the uterus. It’s dumb to feel this way, and I acknowledge it’s my own shit coming to the forefront. All those little doubt squirrels I talked about in my last post telling me my loss isn’t worth talking about. Making sure I remember that telling people I was meant to have three and not two children makes me less somehow.
Well that’s bullshit.
I know it’s bullshit.
After a bazillion years of wanting a second kid we got pregnant in the fall of 2006. New babe was due to arrive in June of the next year. It wasn’t the perfect time to bring a new kid into the world. We were broke as fuck. I had a shitty job and husband had several shittier part time gigs. But my daughter was no longer a baby and I missed it and I longed for her to have the close in age sibling I’d never had. I packed so many hopes and dreams into that pregnancy. So many.
From the beginning it was fraught with troubles. I got hyperemesis gravidarum, or basically full pregnancy length morning sickness. All I had to do was look sideways at a piece of food funny and whoops. During this time I was a grocery story check out girl, so think about that for a moment. It was. . . terrible. I was tired, ill, miserable. But I told myself it was worth it because, hey, babies are awesome. We discussed names, house hunted for a bigger place to accommodate our growing family. We fought too. Who doesn’t? Things were stressful. We were broke. I wanted this baby more than my husband did and it showed. Not that he didn’t want our new child, but it had been my idea. I had pushed for it. I had wanted it so much more.
At twenty weeks we found out we were having a boy. We also found out that maybe something was wrong. Nothing big, they said, just an irregularity with one of his kidneys being bigger than the other. Something that *might* necessitate surgery after birth. I was scared, of course I was scared. We both were. But they continually said it wasn’t a huge deal but that they wanted to do a follow up ultrasound in three months to check the progress. In that intervening three months our genetic testing came back with a one in six chance our son would have down syndrome. I told myself, in fine self deluded fashion, how that was five chances our son, Owen we’d named him, would be fine. Just fine. Weirdo kidney red flag or no weirdo kidney red flag. I began to feel worse. And worse. I began to miss more work than I attended. The HG was pretty wretched. The depression and anxiety built from all the things I was refusing to admit might be real actual problems. I began to hope I’d go into preterm labor. That this pregnancy would just be over so I could have my life and body back. Okay, Owen might have to be in the NICU for a while but. . . I wasn’t terribly rational at this point.
The Sunday before that ultrasound I became convinced Owen had “dropped”. And it was nuts how relieved I was that maybe they’d tell us at the u/s that he was ready to be born. I was 32 weeks along. A big part of me knew this was me being a crazy-pants person. That secretly wishing he’d be born already was nutso, but the idea that *something* had changed wouldn’t leave me. I thought about calling my OB and asking to be seen. But they already saw me all the time. Listened to my concerns, my delusions, my fears, my hysteria. I knew what they’d say, you have an ultrasound tomorrow just wait it out. I try not to think about what would have happened if I’d made that call. If instead of spinning grim fantasies about how maybe the baby would be born early I done some goddam kick counts. . . If I’d done one or all of those things maybe it would have made a difference. Maybe not. Probably not. These are the things that keep me up at night.
The day of the ultrasound came. We did laundry that morning and a woman at the laundromat asked me how far along I was. Whether we were having a boy or a girl. All those questions you get when you’re seven months pregnant and looking like someone’s inflated your abdomen with a bicycle pump. We didn’t have a sitter for my daughter. We rarely did. Sitters cost and we could barely make rent half the time. So we brought her along. We waited in that dark room. Stared at the screen. Fuzzy black and white images swam into view.
“Is that a foot?” I asked the tech.
“No, a hand. ” He said, and his voice faltered. “I’m going to get the doctor. I’ll be right back.”
We waited. My husband held our bouncy, chattering daughter in his arms. The gel grew cold on my basketball belly. The doctor came in. No tech.
“I’m sorry I have some bad news.”
“Is it his kidney? Is it worse?”
He showed me a single line crossing the screen. No movement. No heartbeat. We’d had a checkup just the week before. His heartbeat had been fast and strong and regular.
He stared at me, the low light bouncing off his glasses. Humored me. Said words like fetal demise. Hydrops Fetalis. A whole lot of medical jargon that meant one thing. My baby, my son, was dead. I could go in labor on my own, or they could do a c-section.
I opted for the C. It took all of twenty minutes. They put him in my arms but I couldn’t look. I couldn’t look at my son. I can’t even remember what he looks like now.
So many questions. Why? He had a undetectable heart condition. His kidneys were fine. No down syndrome. No genetic abnormality of any kind. Just really, really bad luck. I combed the internet looking for answers I’d never find. Talked in monosyllables. Explained over and over again to my three year old daughter that we couldn’t take Owen to the doctor and make him better because he was dead. Dead. My son was dead before he’d even gotten a chance to live.
One aunt sent a rosebush. Another a hydrangea that sat on our porch and browned in the early spring heat. Another aunt payed our rent that month. My mother came and held my hand and said all the right things. She dyed my hair. Slept on my couch. Watched my daughter. My husband and I couldn’t even look at each other because I had wanted Owen too much and he hadn’t wanted him enough and now we’d both lost out. Lost our son. Lost ourselves.
I don’t know how we made it through that time? I honestly don’t. I barely remember anything except moments. Picking up his ashes. Spreading them in my favorite state park. Staring blankly at a life I could not recognize as my own. So I told the truth and watched the pity spread across people’s faces. Too much information. Right. Keep you’re gushy girl feelings to yourself. Lie to us so we don’t have to feel bad for you. Eventually, even though it wasn’t true. I told people I had one child. Just one. Hadn’t you been pregnant? No, that was someone else. That wasn’t me.
We bought a house. Not the best choice when you’re grieving, but we did. We got unexpectedly pregnant again in the late Summer of that year. I continued to work. I continued to not talk about it. Our younger son, Morgan, was born without incident the next Spring.
That was eight years ago. I am not that person anymore, but I am. That is not my life anymore, but it is. Someday it will stop hurting, but it won’t. So this is me, owning it, feeling it, living with something I almost forget some days but will never be forgotten. I don’t know if there’s really a point to this besides needing to write out my feelings. But here it is. Here is where it will always be.