By Maggie Helm, Life Coach and Consultant
“Oh no.” I can hear my own distant voice. It sounds like I’m listening to someone far away, through a tunnel. Someone who isn’t me. I realize later it’s my way of coping – to disconnect from what’s happening. To go away. To separate. To look for alternative realities. I don’t understand this in the moment, of course.
In the moment I am shaky and nauseous and childlike. Reason goes out the window. Rational thought isn’t accessible. Just raw harrowing emotion. It consumes me. I feel like I am dying.
There is bright red blood in the toilet, which doesn’t make any sense because I am 11 weeks pregnant. I stand abruptly, turn, and look into the reflecting water of the toilet. It looks like a murder to me. I worry it’s the murder of my child. I don’t know if I can take that kind of loss. That kind of heartbreak. That brand of grief which is elusive and inaccessible to so many people who haven’t experienced it.
I want to crumble to the floor, but I keep my legs under me somehow. I feel like I am disintegrating. I want to lie on the bathroom floor and avoid, pretend, play possum. I call out to Peter, but no matter how empathetic and helpful he is (and he is), he can’t do anything. He can’t do what I need him to do – which is make it not so. Save my baby. He feels like a ghost to me. I can’t reach him. Or rather, I’m the ghost. I’m suddenly translucent and ungrounded. I am dissolving into pieces.
Like many other “older” parents, we worked really hard to get to this moment. It wasn’t the usual – have too much to drink and a month later, whoops, I’m pregnant. We tried for over a year, only to be increasingly disappointed month after month. We got scientific. I learned every sign and symptom of ovulation. I downloaded a fertility app.
More than a year later, I’m pushing up against 40, which is it’s own special kind of ticking time bomb when trying to get pregnant.
The sunlight pushing through the bathroom window feels hard and taunting. Too happy. Too normal. This is not an average day any longer. Peter suggests I call the Doctor. He’s right, of course, but I feel paralyzed. What if they tell me – yes, you are having a miscarriage and there is nothing we can do about it. I am petrified of any information. My fingers feel like needles as I press the buttons to dial. I want someone to tell me it’s going to be ok.
All around me, everything is a blur. It’s as if I’ve narrowed my peripheral vision to be a thin line. I can only take in so much information. Or so little. I forget to breathe.
My voice catches when I start to tell the nurse what’s going on. She asks how much. I choke over the words “it looked like a lot of blood”. She asked what color the blood was. I said bright red. I knew bright red was bad. I had read on all the pregnancy sites that it was bad. She tells me it may be nothing, but I can come in and do a scan.
We get in the car immediately. Peter is driving more slowly than I ever imagined possible. I want to scream at him. I want to tell him to go around that car. Run that yellow light. I remain silent. I feel hot tears in the corners of my eyes.
It isn’t fair, I howl silently. Why us? Why me? What’s wrong with me? We worked so hard to get here. The unfairness of being given a gift, then having it snatched away, is an anvil-sized weight on my chest. A hardness clamps down on my heart like a vice. I am woozy again. I remember to breathe. I know I’m several breaths away from a panic attack. Peter is telling me that “we can’t know for sure what’s happening. It could be nothing.” It doesn’t soothe me. I need him to say everything is going to be ok. I need someone to tell me everything is going to be ok. I tell him that.
I feel as if I’m losing this baby. I see the future. Our friends and family trying to comfort us. Peter moving on. People telling us to try again. People saying the wrong things. Well meaning, but hurtful like “It’s natures way… it wasn’t meant to be…” And me in the middle of it, a shell of myself, unable to be comforted. Unable to move on. And unwilling to try again. I see myself as half dead with grief. A shadow. Unbearable. Unknowable. Unlovable. And not wanting to be loved. Because it hurts too much.
We have the ultrasound done, and there (s)he is. Moving around, practically waving at us. My Dr types “hi” by the babies hand, for the ultrasound print out. The heartbeat is strong. My baby is alive. Inside I cry out, and the vice loosens from around my heart. The relief is, in some ways, as painful as the fear. How can I care so much about a being I haven’t met yet? How can I be this inextricably connected to another?
It was my first glimpse of how desperate and primal a mother’s need to protect her child is. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t even matter. What an awesome and overwhelming responsibility. Especially because we can’t protect them from every hurt, pain or disappointment.
For all my talk of “being present”, not allowing the mind to tell stories (such as “you ARE having a miscarriage” or “you are NOT having a miscarriage”), in a moment like this, my body and brain did what it had to do. I didn’t have much say in the matter. It was pure survival. And I’m strangely okay with that. It was all in the name of protecting this baby. And it showed me how much capacity for love I have. Maybe that’s being truly present after all.
We delivered a healthy baby girl on 11/23/15, and the love I felt for her grew exponentially that November evening. And continues to grow to this day.
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