Today, October 15th, is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
Pregnancy and infant loss is not something we like to talk about. Like chronic illness, it offers few pretty success stories and inspirational “survivors.” Losing a pregnancy, no matter what stage you’re at, is something you never forget. Even if you go on to carry a child to term and have a healthy “take-home” baby, the experience stays with you, causing grief at unexpected times. You learn to harden yourself against other people’s pregnancy announcements and the baby pictures crowding their Facebook walls. You learn to be happy, or at least profess happiness, for women who’ve had an experience you wanted but failed at for no reason you understand. You learn to sympathize with parents in your social circle when they remark on how much trouble a child is, how much it’s changed their lives.
Losing a child you’ve carried to term and birthed into the world…I can’t even imagine that.
One in four pregnant women will miscarry. One in a hundred and fifty will lose her child. Odds are it’s happened to someone you know.
This time of year is particularly difficult for me. My first child would have been due the second week of October, if I had carried it to term fifteen years ago. I have a friend whose oldest son was born around the same time. I watched her pregnancy progress, and every year I see her updates about her child’s birthdays, and I grieve, and I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t started bleeding that day in February.
That pregnancy is foggy in my mind. My husband and I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure how it came about, as we were using birth control rigorously. Condoms, but they still have a 97% effectiveness rate if used properly. I remember missing my period and not being too concerned, because I had a long, irregular cycle. But it didn’t show up and didn’t show up. I remember sitting outside the radio station on a Thursday night, taking a break from my show. I remember telling Michael I thought I might be pregnant. But I can’t remember what I felt. Scared. Excited. I don’t know.
We went to the store for a pregnancy test. In those days, the closest place to buy one over the counter was in Delta, thirty miles away. We came home, and I peed into a cup. The test came out positive. I wanted a home birth, so we made an appointment with the local midwife. I felt so ignorant.
The day after the appointment, I woke up with a terrible migraine. I woke up bleeding. Michael called the midwife, and she said some spotting is normal, and if the blood was dark I didn’t have anything to worry about. But it got brighter and brighter, and before I really had accepted the fact of being pregnant, I wasn’t anymore. I hadn’t made it much more than six or seven weeks.
I don’t remember feeling much of anything at the time. Other than missing my period, I never had any symptoms at all. No tender breasts, no morning sickness. The second time was different.
I went for my annual exam in August, and my doctor, half serious, told me if I go pregnant right away she wouldn’t have to repeat the PAP smear. So I told my husband I wanted to try again. I got pregnant right away, possibly on the first try. This time I wanted to do everything right. When I missed my period, I went to the clinic for the test. I made an appointment with my doctor. I wanted her to deliver my baby. I wanted her to be there, just in case.
I had horrible morning sickness, almost from the start. I took it as a good sign, but I still worried. I did daily Tarot readings, trying to find out if I would carry this baby to term. I made offerings to every goddess I could think of. I prayed. I counted the weeks, hoping to make it to the twelve-week mark, after which miscarriage becomes much less likely.
These days, I wonder if I stressed myself into the second miscarriage, because I did miscarry again. I passed what would have been the due date for my first child without noticing, because I was pregnant again. But then, around the ten week mark, I started spotting, and the spotting turned into heavy bleeding, and on Hallowe’en of 1999, I lost my second baby, too. It was an awful, painful experience, so horrible I didn’t want to take the risk again. I knew that with every miscarriage the chances of birthing a baby go down.
I regret that decision every day.
Those losses haunt me. They seem especially mine in a way I can’t define. I’m sure my husband has or has had feeling about them, but they never seemed to touch him in the same way. My babies never moved. They never showed. We never heard a heartbeat or saw an ultrasound. Those babies were part of my body, a part my body couldn’t keep. I never knew their genders. They never had names. So it’s hard, mourning them. I have nothing to hold onto. No personality, no idea. It’s just this grief that eats me from the inside out. Feeling of failure, sense of loss. Something I wanted I couldn’t complete, and regret for the fear of trying again until it was too late.
The candle I will light tonight in memory seems a bit pointless, as I remember every day. I’m still going to light it. By my belief, those children may have been born to some other mother, one with a body that could give them a safe place to develop. Or they may not have been. The stuff of them may still be part of the All of the Universe, waiting for the right time, the right parents. I wasn’t the right one, then. If, by some miracle, I regain the fertility I lost from medications and age, I still hope I can be. I’ll hope I can be until I die.
I never forget.