Chemical. Such an abrasive word, it immediately evokes the thought of harsh things, like cleaners for the bathroom or toxins meant to inflict harm; not a word used to describe the experience of carrying a life in your body. And yet, this was the word used to describe each of my failed pregnancies, a label placed on an event that was intended to bring my family joy, and caused immeasurable pain in it’s place.
I was a mother first. I sensed, almost immediately, no matter how ridiculous it may have sounded, that I was expecting our third child. Before I ever had a reason to take a pregnancy test, I noticed the subtle changes in my body. The way in which my pants were a bit more snug, how I tired more easily and how my stomach churned at the slightest whiff of an uninviting scent. I didn’t share my suspicions with my husband at that point. After all, in previous months, I had exhibited each of the same symptoms and was not pregnant. To suspect I may have been at this particular time may have been foolish on my part, but nevertheless, I purchased a test, prepared to finally confirm or deny the reality of the situation.
Determined, I strode past each aisle within the grocery store, bypassing sales for toilet paper, cereal and other commonly used items, to the aisle housing feminine products, including body washes, scented deodorants and razors for shaving in a variety of hues, ranging from pastel to neon pink. Amidst a sea of strawberry scented shampoo was a very discreet display housing brands of cardboards boxes, containing plastic sticks that would predict the outcome of my future, and the future of my family.
I stood in the same spot, rooted to the tile floor for what felt like eons but was likely only a matter of moments, before quickly retrieving two brands, a digital and a lined test version, and placing each in to my cart, disguising the boxes underneath other items. I was certainly of an age in which it was appropriate for me to be purchasing these, and yet I found that I felt a sense of shame, hiding a secret and a moment that I should be sharing with my husband. I wanted to surprise him with the news however, if we were in fact expecting, and that is why I choose to make my way toward the self checkout with my boxes stowed safely within my cart, scanning each barcode quickly and placing them in the plastic shopping bag, eager to go home and read the results.
The moment I arrived in the door of our home, I set my belongings down; my purse, lunch pail from work and navy wool coat discarded haphazardly in a heap in our entryway. I retrieved each box from the shopping bag, tossing the flimsy material aside, and made a bee-line for our bathroom, ripping the top of each test box as I walked. I followed the test instructions, and waited for the three agonizing minutes to pass, repeatedly refreshing the home screen of my smartphone, ensuring that it had in fact been only three minutes and that I had not miscalculated my wait. Finally, I dared to look at each test, each displaying the same result. PREGNANT appeared in the oval window of the digital test and two, albeit faint, pink lines graced the screen of the lined test. I drew in my breath, at once overjoyed and overwhelmed. I was the mother of two children and felt as if I were just beginning to be able to handle the demands of raising multiple children. How was I going to be a mother to a third child? What if I were doing a disservice to my youngest child, who was still such a baby himself? What about my oldest son…would he feel as if he were ignored between his brother, a middle child, and an infant? These thoughts raced through my head, quickly dampening the momentary joy I had allowed myself to experience. I worried about how my husband would react as well. Certainly, we weren’t trying to expand our family at that point..what if he were less than thrilled with the prospect of our family becoming larger, and a third child requiring more of our time? Hours separated ourselves from when he would be home, and I wasn’t certain I could wait to see him in person. Frantic, I called, knowing he would likely be occupied with a task at work, and shared with him our news. We were going to be parents yet again.
The following day, in hindsight, I should have suspected that something was wrong. Prior to that point, nausea had plagued me on a regular basis, creeping in at inopportune times during the day. On that morning, I recall feeling the best I had to that moment. I was not nauseated, nor tired, and my pants once again felt as they had before..not snug, and rather comfortable. I awoke that morning following my regular routine. Filling the diaper bag for my youngest child to take with him to my mother, our child care provider’s house, a bottle in each pocket, diapers and wipes, reviewing my eldest son’s backpack to make sure his lunchbox and homework folder were securely inside. I retrieved my name badge to clock in to work and my keychain, crossed off my mental checklist once more, and we departed, each headed to our separate locations for the day.
I was at work when it happened. As I sat at my desk, in the midst of a phone call, I felt a wave of nausea strike with a force so sudden that I was taken aback. Dizziness overwhelmed my body, and after the caller and I disconnected, I immediately blocked my line so that I could stop myself from receiving further calls. I stood on uneven legs and moved quickly through the aisles and rows of cubicles toward the nearest office restroom, frantic.
When attempting to prevent pregnancy, the sight of blood is a welcome one. When pregnant, blood of any kind is the absolute last thing you want to see. Though I had never experienced a miscarriage before this instance, the moment I saw the stain of blood lining my pants, I knew that something was absolutely, terrifyingly amiss. I moved through the next few moments as if on autopilot, washing my hands and returning to my work area, seeking my manager to inform him of what was happening. The moment he saw me, my face tightened in pain, he instructed me to go home. I grabbed my belongings from my work station and made my way down our flight of stairs towards the main lobby and out of the building, where I waited for my husband to come. The chill of the February air danced under the folds of my coat, threatening to bring a chill to my entire body, and yet I felt nothing. Finally he arrived, and we departed, spending the short length of our drive to my doctor’s office in complete silence, the gravity of the moments unfolding before us filling the space and stealing our words. I unbuckled my seat belt as he pulled in to our parking space, removing myself from the car and leaving him behind. I walked through the double doors of the doctor’s office and headed towards the receptionist, my words tumbling in a waterfall of emotion. “I’m not sure, yes, each test was positive, no, my symptoms seem to be fading.” My blood was drawn and I was asked to leave a urine sample. I was informed that I would receive a call shortly, and was sent home to wait.
The call came shortly after. The test had come back positive, but the line was faint. I was to have my blood drawn in two days, to determine if my HCG levels, the hormones which detected pregnancy, had risen. As the day would fall on a weekend, I would have to wait until the following Monday, 72 hours in total. The next 96 hours were torture. I continued, for the remainder of that evening, and the following several days to experience bleeding, increasing in volume as the days passed. On the Monday when I was instructed to have my blood drawn, I rushed through my shower, tying my hair back quickly, wishing to not have to delay the procedure any further. I knew that the likelihood was slim that I was still pregnant, and yet I hoped that I was wrong, that, like the nurse whom I had seen several days before had warned, it was a side effect of a pregnancy after a c-section. Plenty of women experience bleeding in subsequent pregnancy she had stated, and I was hoping that I was one of the few who, in spite of this issue, would continue with a healthy, viable pregnancy. As my blood was drawn, the nurse performing the draw struggled to engage me in small talk, asking how I was. Nauseated, I stated. “Are you pregnant?,” she asked, a question I’m certain she meant to be kind hearted, but one I regarded with anger. Am I, I thought? Was I still? I went home that day discouraged, my heart feeling as cold as the wind chill which permeated the Colorado air.
I went back to work the next day, the day immediately following my blood draw, and received the call shortly before my lunch hour. The nurse informed me that I had lost the pregnancy, and asked if I had any questions. Certainly I did. Why had this happened to my child, my family? But I lied, telling her no, and I disconnected the call. As tears cascaded down my flushed cheeks, burning the skin of my face and arms, I walked back to my desk, gathered my purse and signed off for the day. Surely I couldn’t function for others when I could barely function myself. I cried on the drive home, and for the following few days. Pain struck my heart so profoundly that I had what I honestly believed to be a mental breakdown. I became jaded, angered at the world, for a wrong I felt had been done to me. What I had done to deserve this, the loss of a child? It didn’t feel fair, and while I knew in reality that life is not, in fact fair, I felt like I had done nothing to hurt so much. Finally, I began to accept the loss, realizing that, for reasons unknown to me, the pregnancy was not meant to last. Several months had elapsed at this point, and we discovered we were expecting again. This would be our fourth pregnancy in total, but our third child. Hope had allowed itself to flourish again, and I was ecstatic, though hesitant. Life after loss has a way of being diminished in a sense, so that even when we should feel joy, the threat of sadness has way of creeping in, reminding us of the past. I waited to tell my family, allowing a week to elapse between my positive test and our reveal. We were overjoyed, discussing possibilities. Maybe this time things would work out. Maybe this baby would be a girl. The maybes stacked up. We went home that evening on air, our plans for the future bright and our happiness untainted.
I awoke the next morning. It was happening again. The tightening of my abdomen, the unmistakable pain and the sight no one wants to see. February was repeating itself over again, and the heart that was tentatively healing was shattered yet again. Anger returned, and I was on edge daily, wrapped up in the devastation of the year that I did not allow myself to feel joy.
I sit on the other side of sadness now, finally allowing myself to feel joy again, to truly appreciate my living children and the true blessings that two successful pregnancies were. Even though it has been several months since my most recent loss, and I am finally finding happiness in the uncertainty that is life, I will never forget how these pregnancies, though both very short in length, changed me as a person. This will be my first Christmas since each loss, and at this Christmas tree this year, there should have been a third person opening presents. For as long as I live, I will remember due dates that were not celebrated, birthdays that never happened, names that we never got to choose. While the pain will also remain with me, my heart is slowly healing. I am thankful to be a mom, thankful for God’s grace, and thankful for His presence. I know that even though my children are not with me on Earth, God had a bigger plan for both myself and them, one that is coming to fruition every day.
For anyone who has ever struggled with loss, whether it be the loss of a child or the loss of a loved one who was able to join you on Earth, I want to promise you this simple truth.
There is life on the other side of pain.