Sunday, March 24, 2013

A True Portrait of a Miscarriage

            Three months later the pain is still searing. Sitting in the dentist office, arms crossed, waiting for my 4:00 appointment. At this point, I am so glad I teach high school instead of the elementary babies I used to teach. I don’t think I could handle seeing their sweet faces every day. I hear her laughter first, mom carrying her into the waiting room to look at the fish tank, pointing out colors and textures. Grabbing an object from her diaper bag, the mom begins to read the tiny board book of fuzzy animals. The tears are slow at first. It’s been three months. They shouldn’t come this easily. They drip quickly as I try to wipe them away before anyone notices. Babies are like magnets. One enters the room and everyone stops to stare and coo. I already know the woman sitting next to me is judging my lack of interest in the tot as everyone else looks on adoringly. I stare out the window at the unseasonably warm January day. With these temperatures, buds should be forming on trees, spring should be coming alive. But the truth is it is winter. Everything brown. Everything dead.
                I remember the day we found out we were pregnant. We didn’t cheat. They told us to wait. We didn’t take a home test until the blood test was confirmed, and then only took the home test so we could finally see that magical word: pregnant. I’m pretty sure it was less than a week later that my husband declared confidently that we were having a boy. At first it was thought we might be having twins. Exciting, considering our four year period of wait.  But the first time I heard his heartbeat- it didn’t matter if it was one, two, or seven. That was our baby. It’s almost the perfect sound; the thumps a recurrent reassurance of hopes and dreams to come.
                I started bleeding at week nine. It was a pretty normal day in September: the day I wore my first maternity dress. I just sat down after heating my lunch in the microwave. Students chattered on about honors classes and assignments; downing chicken sandwiches and the cold cardboard they pass off as cafeteria pizza. It felt like a rush. I stood up quickly, telling the other teachers in the room I was running to the bathroom, even as blood streamed down my legs. A co-worker-seeing the rivulets and my blood soaked shoes- ran after me. They rushed me to the emergency room. On the ride to the emergency room I prayed fervently for God to take care of the baby. Once there, feeling like I was dying inside, I leaned against a wall and begged an uncaring nurse to please take me first from the packed waiting room. I was feeling dizzy. I knew I was losing him. Bringing out a wheelchair they wheeled me back, took vitals, and then on to a room. A kind faced doctor performed an exam and, of course, was careful about what he said. I was wheeled on to the ultrasound room where it seemed like she took over one hundred pictures.  Even though I knew the answer, I asked about the baby. She told me she couldn’t say anything. But she looked into my eyes. She pressed a button. And there it was: thump, thump, thump. The most reassuring sound on the planet.
                Discharged, I went home to rest. Sub-Chorionic Hemorrhage was the official diagnosis. He would be okay. I would be okay. We would be a family. On October 18th I attended professional development for my job.  A day-long workshop on how to scan testing documents. I was tired. So tired. And crampy. This hadn’t been unusual for the past several weeks- attributed to the previously diagnosed hemorrhage. I propped my feet up on the chair next to me, tried to relax. I drove home, fighting 5 P.M. traffic and crawled into bed, exhausted. Thursday night, only one more day before the weekend.
              I woke two hours later, still not feeling well. To be on the safe side we called our doctor. She happened to be on-call at the hospital- a half hour away. She told me it could be early contractions and to drink plenty of water and lay on my side; to call if the cramping got any worse. An hour and a half later I couldn’t walk without help. We called the hospital once again and were advised to come in. As my husband broke speed limits and possibly the time-space continuum to get us there, I felt death approaching. My death. The words I spoke were soft and mottled with pain, “If I die, I love you.” He drove faster.
                Reaching the emergency room, he grabbed a wheelchair. As I stood, there was an immediate release. I had given birth before we crossed the threshold of the hospital. In the dark hospital bathroom, filled with shadows and hopelessness, I will never forget my husband’s face as he cradled his perfect son in one palm. Ten perfect toes. Ten perfect fingers. Huge, beautiful eyes and his daddy’s chin. He was perfect in every way, except no breath came through his rosebud lips. No cries of wanting passed his tongue. No color warmed his pale skin. Our Grayson was gone.
                In shock, I watched my husband crumble. Trying to care for me and Grayson as an unprepared hospital staff tried to figure out what to do with us. We placed him in a tiny, shallow container, lined with a small blanket. As the doctors treated me, he stayed with us. When they tried to take him from us, we resisted. We wanted our son. It’s not done, they said. It will be, we said. They took his tiny body to pathology with a promise we could come back in two hours to get him.
                My clothing soaked with blood, we drove to the nearest Target to find clothes for me and to wait out our sentence.  Life had stopped for us while moms with tots and Starbucks cups in hand perused baby clothes like a regular Friday morning. We picked out his baby quilt that day- a task I hadn’t had enough time to complete:  to make one, as planned. It would be reminder of our son, something to hold close to us.
                Riding back to the hospital we signed paper after paper so we could take our son home with us. With an apology, the pathologist sweetly handed me Grayson in a tiny, off-white box. She told us we were the second couple in fifteen years to request our child. Almost dropping to my knees, I handed our son to my husband. “It’s not the way I pictured us walking out of the hospital.” I murmured, tears filling my eyes. Quietly, we carried our son home.
                A celebration of Grayson’s short life took place two days later. Immediate family joined together to bury his sweet body. I wanted it to be a celebration. I wanted to imagine him there with us, eating dinner on the deck, enjoying the campfire after. It would never happen, except in my mind’s eye.
                The next few weeks were pure, unadulterated emotional pain. I would fall to the floor, sobbing for my baby. I would lie in the bathtub and wonder what it would be like to sink, fall asleep, and be in the arms of the Lord with Grayson next to me. I was jealous that my Grayson got to meet Jesus before me. My sweet co-workers gave me the gift of time. They donated their sick leave so I could pull some semblance of myself together. This is one of the most compassionate things I have ever experienced.
                 Three months later the pain is just below the surface.  The dental hygienist called me back then- “Sarah? How are you today?”  “Good, “I lied. I sat in the chair and listened into the hallway where I could hear the hygienist- the grandmother to the tot in the lobby- coo sweet, reassuring words to the toddler. I can function. I can go to work, drive a car, and finally get through a day without sobbing. But I am not the same. I am a mother without a child. I am a mother with a fear that I will never have another child. I am a mother. And that is the problem.

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