What Is And What Might Have Been

I am very lucky. I have a smart, beautiful, hilarious child, and I am enjoying every minute that I get to spend with her.

But life hasn’t always been so easy and full to the brim with joy. Before there was Vivienne, there were others who I never got the chance to meet, and a very rocky road.

The first time I was pregnant, we were so excited that we told everyone as soon as the home kit tested positive.  I knew most people said it was a good idea to wait until 12 weeks had passed before letting the cat out of the bag, but my thinking was this: why wouldn’t I want to share such good news immediately? To be superstitious and worried about something bad happening seemed like a way of surrounding a wonderful time in our lives with a negative shadow.  Besides, *if* anything happened, I would want the support and help of the people I loved. I created a private website for friends and family where they could see updates and get information. I found myself suddenly very attracted to grape juice and bulgogi. I bought books and magazines about pregnancy and read, read, read. I went to pre-natal yoga classes and stretched and chanted.

I was still relatively new to L.A. at the time, and didn’t have an OB-GYN, so I called a doctor that a friend of mine recommended, and they told me to come in at 8 weeks. “There’s really nothing to look at before then,” they said. So at 8 weeks exactly, I went in for my first appointment. The doctor was a lovely woman, very friendly and chatty, and seemed genuinely excited for us. She said, “Okay, so let’s hop up on the table and see the little bean!”

I was still chatting when her face darkened. My husband noticed it before I did. She got very quiet, and then she explained that she was not finding a heartbeat. It’s all kind of a whoosh for me after that – she said she was sorry and hugged me fiercely and ran out of the room. They sent me to a specialist that same afternoon, and when I got there and sat on the table, the doctor said, “Okay, why are you here today?” and I said, “I am hoping you’ll tell ME! – I went in for my first sonogram and now, here I am.” Looking back I realize that I had convinced myself in the car on the way there, in the elevator, on the way up, and in the waiting room, that there was just a little something wrong – something they would fix, and it would make an amusing story for our little website.

They did a sonogram on me with a machine that was unbelievable. Any of you out there ever get one of these super-sonograms? You know how you look at those normal sonogram pictures and the technician is like “oh there’s the foot!” and  it’s those stupid Magic Picture books all over again – it doesn’t snap into focus and you can’t see anything, but you lie and say you see it? Well, with this – you could see EVERYTHING. There were two little circles, one that seemed broken. Then she said, “let’s take a quick look at your ovaries, and SCHWOOMP there was an ovary on the screen. Not what the Poltergeist kid was staring at – like, an actual ovary. Hi my ovary!

They told me that the baby had died at 6 weeks, and since I was at 8 weeks and my body still was acting pregnant, they wanted to do a D and C and get everything out of there. All of the ORs were booked for the next day so I had to wait until the day after that.

Which meant that I had to spend another day “pregnant.” With all of the morning sickness and cravings and wonky body things. All I could  hear in my head all day was, “Sorry. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here!!”

Hey, and by the way – THANKS body for betraying me! You didn’t want to give me a little heads up that things were amiss?

Here’s what could be the real reason people wait 12 weeks. Yes there is a stigma and some weird societal hush hush thing that surrounds it, but you know what sucks? Telling everyone that you aren’t pregnant anymore. Or running into someone much later on who hasn’t heard that things have changed. WOW that’s some awkward suckage.

When I was young and single and living in New York City, I was riding the subway home from my babysitting job, sitting, reading a book on the plastic bench of the 9 train. It was a hot day, so I was wearing a sundress, and it was a crowded, but air conditioned train. People were standing holding the straps in front of those of us on the bench, swaying back and forth as the train rocked along. Suddenly I felt something cold dripping on my leg, and I looked up and my brain told me: “someone is wearing a fanny pack and they have a water bottle in it, and the bottle is open and dripping out of the corner of it right onto your leg.”

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Then the next neural connection sent a telegram that said, “Right, nope, that’s a penis and it’s dripping semen on  you.”

As a New Yorker, I had two choices. I could either flip out and get in this guy’s face and make a big scene, or I could not dignify him with the response he was looking for or craved. I’ve done both, but close quarters like this I decided to ignore it. I carefully and deliberately looked out the window as we pulled into the next station, got up and waltzed out of the train as if everything was Totally Awesome And Great. Once I was out of sight of the train, I, how do you say? Freaked the F*** out. I ran home, scrubbed the hell out of my leg and called my friend to tell him the story. I was so upset and wigged out, and he listened to my story… and then in the most blase way possible said, “Oh yeah – that happened to my boss, but she got it in the face.” And it popped my balloon of trauma. I felt so much better! It was the best thing he could have said to me. Because if there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s that  as bad as things may get, someone always had it worse. At least I didn’t get it in the FACE. Good grief.

Why am I telling you this? Because the first phone call we made, that friend said, “Oh man, sorry – this happened to us too when my wife was 8 months pregnant.” And I reached a tiny oasis of relief. 8 months pregnant?! It can always be worse. In fact, if you want to read a truly well written, and believe it or not, occasionally funny account of this kind of advanced pregnancy loss, read Elizabeth McCracken’s “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.”

But then I returned to wandering in the desert. I had to rest for a few days after the operation, and thanks to the anesthesia and sorrow (also my new emo band name) I was pretty out of it. As an aside, the doctor who performed the D and C told me that the last thing I said before going under was “I can’t wait to have coffee cake!” I would be pretty happy if those had to have been my last words. I ate a lot of coffee cake.

It was then I discovered that many people think it’s comforting to tell you how common miscarriages are. For the most part, it is generally not women who have had miscarriages who rush to tell you this fun fact. But it’s true. Something like 1 in 4 women experience this — and yet, nobody talks about it. Well, they do once you join the club. They welcome you sadly, new member joining the sisterhood, to embrace and support you. I didn’t find any comfort in the numbers, but I did find some comfort in talking about it.

And it’s good to talk about – because some of the feelings that well up around miscarriages are genuine and some are totally crazy and they flit around like sparrows on the branches of a tree. I think it can be hard for people to talk about because you feel like you’ve *failed* at something. Even though you had NOTHING to do with it! All three doctors looked me right in the eye and said to me, “This is NOT your fault, this is NOT because of something you did, and this is NOT fair.”

Oh sure, intellectually I can comprehend that it’s not my fault, that it’s nature and something out of my control, realm, and league – but emotionally? Well, I personally found it so hard not to sob “I’m sorry” over and over to my husband. Does that make sense? No! It makes no sense! And THAT doesn’t help matters – waaaah!!! I make no sense! I can’t even make sense! How can I have a baby! You need sense to have a baby! (Turns out, no, you don’t.)

You know what else is totally partytown? All those hormones coursing through your body. Cause, yeah, those always help you weigh things in a sound and sensible manner.

Another cold comfort offered up by many well meaning folks: There was something wrong with the baby and this is nature’s way of dealing with it. Well, hey, those guys, – I got tests back from the first miscarriage (OOH SPOILER). There was nothing wrong with the baby. Did I say baby? I meant babies. It was twins, one of them died early on and that threw everything out of whack for number two. Arguably, yes, there was still something wrong – not as far as chromosomes go but still… Cold comfort and how about a nice glass of shut the f up while we’re at it. I prefer to look at the whole situation like this: Remember that Jane Seymour movie – It was called Dark Mirror and it was a terrible remake of an older movie with Olivia DeHaviland? She plays twins – one evil one good. That’s what happened – only teeny teeny tiny. Here’s the lesson I drew from it: There’s ALWAYS an evil twin. So see – it wasn’t my fault. It was Jane Seymour’s fault. The evil Jane Seymour not the good … oh wait, I’ve mixed up who is who again!

Mostly what I remember after that first miscarriage was the overwhelming feeling of being left out in the cold by my culture and my religion. I had people say to me, “Maybe next time you might want to wait before you tell people…”  and it made me so angry! Like I had done something wrong or brought this on myself. Me and my stupid laissez faire attitude about juju! I couldn’t figure out why it was that I had to be quiet! So I can suffer my loss in silence and grieve alone? So I wouldn’t inconvenience other people with my bad news? Are we as a culture so disturbed by death and pain that we ask our women to keep their sorrow to themselves? (and men too, let’s not forget them – they suffer this loss just as keenly and quietly.) Especially a sorrow, as, again, others were quick to point out, that is quite common? Does anyone else agree that it seems backwards to deny ourselves the support and love of the people who have walked the same path?

If a parent or friend died, I would be allowed to mourn them, wouldn’t I? If I looked kind of sad, and you said to me, “What’s going on?” – what’s the difference between, “I’m feeling really sad because my mom died” and “I’m feeling really sad because I lost a baby.” The only difference is the mourning of what has been and what you hoped would be.

I began to read about Mizuko Kuyo, a purely Japanese ritual created by women. Mizuko means “water child” or “deceased infant/foetus,” and kuyo means “memorial service.” Mizuko are miscarried, stillborn and aborted foetuses. There is a dark and controversial side to the Mizuko Kuyo, as there are many who feel that it preys on women who have had abortions by scaring them into forking over money for a ceremony in the hopes that the angry spirit of the aborted foetus won’t plague them in the material world. But in terms of closure for a miscarriage, it resounded within me, this idea of offering up a message:

Yasuraka ni nemutte kudasai. (Please sleep peacefully.)

Despite the fact that I did not have an abortion, I was still awash in the feeling of:

Gomen ne. (Please forgive me.)

They did tests on me and it turns out it was all about Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. Don’t even Google it if you don’t know what it is. Just bask in the glow of the very long word from science that means something was wrong and now we can fix it. It’s not my fault. It’s effin’ science! Okay, great. So next time I have to take super folic acid supplements and everything will be okay. In fact – the twins thing was really good news. My hormones were off the charts, and so naturally my body, being pregnant for the first time couldn’t handle it. But I can get pregnant. And that is a victory, as anyone who has struggled with infertility will tell you. In fact, having already been pregnant, I was now at my most fertile and should get right back on the horse. (With apologies to my husband for the reference, you are so much more than a horse.)

And it worked. I got pregnant again. But yeah, I decided – let’s wait until 12 weeks before we say anything. We’ll tell a few people, but keep the news under tight wraps. I went to the doctor again at 8 weeks and I was scared, but I knew this time everything would be okay. I even dared to go to the doctor while my husband was out of town. Everything was going to be okay. And there it was on the monitor – a little heartbeat! I suffered this terrible thing that women go through, but I got through it and things would be good now. Christmas came, and new year’s eve, and we toasted on new years eve to the big change that our lives would undergo that year. The 12 week mark came and went, and we started to tell people. We went back to the doctor again – this time my husband came, even though I told him he didn’t have to. I was looking at the monitor, and I said, “Oh! You can see little feet!” and then I noticed that there was no air in the room. No heartbeat. Gone at 9 weeks. Body still thinks it’s pregnant blah blah you know the story, see above. I do remember saying, “How can this be happening again?!?!” (Read: I thought we FIXED THIS!)

This go-round they wasted no time – they had an OR ready for me at 7am the next day. A small kindness that was much appreciated. Vinny and I went to the same diner that we went to the last time we got the news. Now we call it “Miscarriage diner.” Yes we still eat there. They make awesome pancakes.

The nurses at the OR recognized me when I walked in and said, “Oh no, honey.”

They couldn’t figure out what happened this time. The doctor asked me if I got sick a lot, and the answer is no. The theory was that I might have a body that sees a baby as INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT and attacks.

So I’ve got that going for me. I’m a babykiller. Feels good to be good at something.

The doctor who performed my D and C on both occasions took over as my OB-GYN. He explained that if I got pregnant again, I would go to him and not his partner, because “she gets too attached and emotional about these things, and can’t handle it.” He was pushing me to do IVF because I was a “perfect candidate.” He kept pointing at his watch and talking about my age. I just sat there in the chair and thought about nothing.

This time around, I didn’t want to talk about it, explore it, feel better about it, or figure things out and fix them. There is nothing to be fixed. Shit happens. I didn’t call or go to my doctor for months. What I wanted to do was go back to work, make sick jokes about dead babies with the other writers, surf the internet, play tower building games, and feel normal. I ate cardboard lean cuisines every day for lunch to lose weight because I was tired of having extra pounds on me that were not going to be used for a baby. I went to Tokyo for work and Italy for vacation. I went to acupuncture to do something for myself and get rebalanced. Wow, I guess I’ve assimilated into SoCal life, huh? Let me get the crystals off my keyboard so I can finish typing this.

Turned out I came back from Italy with a souvenir. It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2008 and I was at the acupuncturist. She was putting needles in my head and suddenly one hurt. She said, “Sorry!” and I said, “No, it’s okay – but that’s weird. It doesn’t usually hurt when you do that.” and she said, “maybe you’re pregnant.” and my brain said, “MAYBE YOU’RE PREGNANT.” She made me go home and take a test and promise to call her. Because, she said, if I was pregnant, she wanted me to take herbs, and get a blood test, and maybe some progesterone and of course, the folic acid, and with the holiday coming we didn’t have time to waste. And she was right – the test came out positive, and I went in for a blood test the next day.

The doctor called me and said he had some “surprising test results.” I called him back and he chastised me for not being in touch for months. I told him that I had honestly been scared to come back. He said, well, it’s too bad because – you know, we had lost SO MUCH TIME. Thanks, Dr. Jack Bauer. Hey, try not to cut my head off in a conference room okay? I went into his office for a sonogram immediately. My husband was out of town but we decided it was more important to get this done with than wait a week. The office is small. I was surrounded by heavily pregnant women. I was trying desperately not to cry. I waited a very, very, very long time. Did I mention it was an office where I had lost children before?  And the doctor seemed to have no sense of that fact. He leaned out the cashier window at one point, smiled and said, “do you feel pregnant?” and I thought, NO, I feel SCARED and ALONE.

When I finally got into the examining room – the very same one where I had been given bad news the previous two pregnancies, he opened up a folder, looked at it and said, “The problem with women your age is that they usually have multiples when they get pregnant.”

Let me just break this down. I am in a room where i have been given horrible news twice in the past. I am naked from the waist down. I am shaking, I am so scared. We have not done a sonogram yet. I don’t know if the baby in me is alive or dead. I don’t know what’s in your folder. And you start a sentence with THE PROBLEM WITH WOMEN YOUR AGE IS…. And bee tee dubs – why is having multiples a PROBLEM?!  After months of being in a zombie-like stage, I finally woke up and realized – NO WAIT. The PROBLEM is YOU. He made me feel like I had done something wrong – you know, by upsetting the other doctor! How inconsiderate of me! (Oh and by the way – nice way to malign your partner and basically call her – SUCH A GIRL for getting so EMOTIONAL.) He had been stressing me out with the TICK TOCK TICK TOCK TICK TOCK.  Look – he was a great doctor. Great at what he does – he’s helped many many women have babies who thought they would never have babies. He is their savior and a good man. But his bedside manner for me was not right.

I am telling you this long story because this is so important for me to tell you: Your doctor can be the best doctor in town. But if you don’t jibe with his/her bedside manner and you’re not comfortable, or they make you feel bad, or scolded or wrong — It’s okay to switch doctors. I walked out of that office and straight to another doctor and I didn’t look back. I walked away from a man that helped me through two very difficult times in my life, but he was not the person I needed to help me move on through the next part of the journey. It’s okay to walk away from your doctor and find someone else. You don’t owe them anything.

That baby was Vivienne. My new doctor was this hilarious young guy who was super laid-back and put me at ease in every phase of my pregnancy. He suggested I get a sonogram every week for the first trimester. Then we slowly weaned me off of them. I was sick as a dog for four months. I cried every week before the sonogram because I didn’t know if the baby was going to be alive or dead. I didn’t blog or journal about being pregnant. We didn’t tell anyone except my acupuncturist and doctor that I was pregnant until we got the CVS test back. I had to take progesterone, folic acid, tons of herbs, and baby aspirin every night and every morning even when I wanted to barf them all up. I would sob and sob while forcing them down because I couldn’t steel myself against the nausea by saying it was necessary for the baby because I had learned that I could do everything right and suffer through things and the baby could die anyway.

But she made it and she’s glorious. And we’re done. We talked about having another one, but I can’t do this again, the miscarriages, the D and Cs. I am backing away slowly and thanking God for the blessing of Vivienne.

If you have a friend that is going through this, just sit and listen. Just listen. Don’t say, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” Be specific. Offer to do laundry, ask if you can pick up or make food for them, maybe go to their bank and make a deposit for them, pick up some groceries.

And if you have been through this fire first hand and want to talk about it. Talk about it. Join support groups, reach out. You can email me. Things are not going to change unless we talk about it. (I don’t mean you and me – I mean people in general, though it would be nice to hear from you once in a while, would it kill you?) I am now that person that says in a crowded room – WELL, AFTER MY SECOND MISCARRIAGE blahblahblah.  I mean I’m not wearing a tee-shirt with an iron-on decal of my dead baby sonogram on it or getting in people’s faces about it. Again – I go back to the example of : why should that be any different than me saying WELL, AFTER MY MOTHER DIED…

(I don’t know why I write like I yell all the time. Wait. Do I yell all the time?)

People are totally freaky about death. And you know what? I don’t have time anymore to treat them with kid gloves when I am the one in mourning and need a little support. That’s energy I could be using eating the cookies someone sent with their condolences. Did you see the episode of Louis CK where his pregnant sister was screaming, and the neighbors offer to help and he’s hemming and hawing – and the neighbor says, “Brother, do not let your sister die from pain or lose her baby because you are awkward with strangers.” I feel like this applies – I have reached a point where I feel like it’s not my problem when someone is socially awkward and doesn’t know what to say or feels uncomfortable, and it’s not my responsibility to take care of them. Don’t blame me for being open about my miscarriages – I didn’t know them, but I loved them just the same.