I lay stretched out on the table, my hands tucked under my head like a pillow, my husband standing beside me. The torn curtain and the prayer flags hung perfectly still across from me while I waited. And waited.
The wait got harder. Tears came, unbidden, to my eyes. I knew where this was headed.
My midwife looked up at me with the kindest, most sympathetic eyes, full of love. At 13 weeks, the babe in my belly was without a heartbeat.
The baby had likely passed on weeks earlier, when I’d had a lot of spotting and a sudden change in pregnancy symptoms. But the spotting eventually stopped, the symptoms evened out and most clearly, there was no miscarriage.
I am struck by this. Struck by my body’s ongoing effort to support a life that had existed, but existed no more. As though Death’s appearance at my back door only required a shooing away. Weekend at Bernie’s comes to mind.
My midwife sent me to acupuncture to see if we could bring on the miscarriage.
This time I lay on another table with new expectations. No longer seeking to hold on, now I was actively seeking to let go.
During my treatment, I had a vision that reconnected me to a deeper truth: I have trouble distinguishing between life and death. I have trouble knowing what needs letting go and what needs holding close. My body’s reluctance to let the dead baby move through me revealed itself as a metaphor.
My body began tremoring, a normal state of release, of letting go. A state that finds me more easily as time goes on. I allowed my body to twitch and shake itself, letting go of tension and resistance. When it was over, I knew I got what I came for.
The bleeding began within a few hours and two days later, after the last of my primary work obligations was complete (this is no coincidence, I am sure), I - and this is because I am at a loss for more accurate words - went into labor.
It was a mild labor to be sure (although I did tell my husband at one point to remind me later to never get pregnant again). Unlike laboring for days with my full-sized, posterior, asynclitic son, I found this manageable. I stretched as I needed to, I rocked and squatted. I drank a lot of fluids.
But the bleeding intensified. And then really intensified. Because we were smack-dab in the middle of a blizzard and I was bleeding way more than the “recommended” amount, my midwife suggested we consider a trip to the Emergency Room, where they could monitor my red blood cell count, give fluids, etc. I didn’t want to be passing out at home, unable to easily get to a hospital.
So off we went, me yawning with increasing regularity, assuring my husband I wouldn’t pass out because the contractions were too strong, driving five miles an hour through the snowy city, blood pouring out of me.
This is not my first miscarriage. Several years ago, I had a very early miscarriage. Pregnant. Not pregnant. Almost in the same breath. But it wore me to the bone, physically, psychologically. I was utterly defeated, horrified at what my body did, filled with anger and a deep-seated fear that I was a very broken woman.
My son was born less than a year and a half later but it did not go well for me. I labored for over 45 hours at home and at a free-standing birth center before I consented to transfer to a hospital. Nine hours after that I consented to a cesarean section. This, too, wore me to the bone and, indeed, left me a broken woman.
At the hospital, the OB on call discussed options. She could see if there was a piece of tissue stuck in my cervix and manually pull it out or they could put me under general anaesthesia and do a dilation and evacuation. Also, did I know my blood type in case they needed to do a blood transfusion? In the meantime, did I want pain meds?
I did not. And yes, please, could they take a quick peek after the next contraction?
The quick peek revealed that, in fact, there was a piece of baby or placenta or uterine lining stuck in my cervix and my uterus had been working hard to expel it, releasing an exorbitant amount of blood with each contraction. Quickly and efficiently, the OB removed the “product of conception” and immediately the pain disappeared and the bleeding slowed.
I lay on yet another table, this time in that blissful state that accompanies the sudden end to significant pain. My body tremored some more, releasing the stress of the event, and my husband and I laughed easily and talked of where we could order takeout late on a Saturday night in a snowstorm.
It has now been five days since that event and I spent the first three mostly bedridden, absolutely exhausted. Anemia induced by blood loss will do that to you. The hormonal postpartum crash will also do that to you. Miscarriage will do that to you.
This pregnancy had come as a surprise to me. I knew my hormones weren’t well-balanced which I suspected was induced by the last few years of off-the-charts stressors and a lagging-if-growing capacity to integrate them. I figured I’d need to sort that out before I conceived. Plus, we weren’t quite ready for another child. Almost ready, maybe even a few-months-out ready. But not this ready.
Not that any of that matters.
Since the day there was no heartbeat, I have been sad. I have wept. I have felt grief and sorrow and disappointment. I have missed the life that was begun in me.
But I have not been broken.
I marvel at this simple fact. I marvel that my life could be so different in a span of a few short years. That my relationship with my body, my understanding of it, could have undergone such a transformation. My relationship with life and loss, too.
It is almost disconcerting to be sad without selfishness, to be sad without inflicting violence on myself or on others. I keep looking around, wondering where the devastation is. Shouldn’t I at least try to make meaning of this experience? Assign it some purpose to comfort me? Or better yet, shouldn’t I rage against the loss that has been inflicted upon me? Scowl at the unfairness of it and begrudge the pregnant women around me? Shouldn’t I look at my body with disgust and shame?
It's a new feeling, to experience something so big in a simpler, purer way. A relief.
The title of this post comes from Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
It is apt for obvious reasons at a time like this, when my mind and heart and body are focused on childbearing.
But today I read it and find a deeper truth. Deep inside me, Life longed for itself. I did not know that I was not fully alive. I did not know that I had strangled parts of me, cut off the blood supply, deprived them of oxygen. I did this to my soul. I did this to my body. This is what I am trying to say. I did not know.
And this: you may not know.
And this, too: there is more life ahead.
LIfe longed for itself. And a child was conceived.
And the child died.
And this time - and this is the miracle - I continue to feel steady in Life’s longing for itself within me. I continue to feel safe in my body. That woman who was brought so low by her first miscarriage, who felt so betrayed by her body? That woman who felt such shame and violation and fear after her son’s birth?
That woman has been transformed.