I recently read about someone who lost her baby during the 18th week of pregnancy. She had to rush to the emergency room and go through the pain and intensity of labor without the reward of a new life on the other end. This couple had been trying to conceive for some time, and this was their first success in getting pregnant. Needless to say, they had been over-the-moon until the pregnancy took this horrible turn.
Hearing this story pre-Seabass would have ellicited in me a host of emotions: sympathy, compassion, maybe even tears. But now, the feelings are so much deeper. Now, I feel a low, slow-burning angst for this dear couple that extends beyond what I thought possible. I can’t get them off my mind.
To get pregnant, Jake and I never had to resort to drastic measures like in-vitro-fertilization. But we were off birth control for a good 18 months before we conceived, and I had begun to worry that all our prior efforts to AVOID pregnancy had been unnecessary. In fact, there had been a time while we were traveling in New Zealand in which I was absolutely certain I’d miscarried. I was late, and the pain was exponentially greater than any I’d experienced with a normal cycle. Later, I would come to recognize much of that pain in going through labor with Seabass.
When we returned to the States, I started charting my cycles religiously and noticed that my luteal phase was far shorter than normal women’s – so short, in fact, that it seemed impossible for a fertilized egg to implant and start growing. So I visited an acupuncturist who put me on a heavy regimen of Chinese herbs. (One of the herbs was packaged in what appeared to be a ping pong ball that cracked open to reveal dozens of little pellets that I had to ingest every morning. Another was a big bottle of capsules that smelled exactly like dirt. Another was a small brown pill that I only took every other day. And all of these herbs were covered in Chinese characters – not a lick of English. How’s that for faith?) Thankfully, the practitioner never needed to bother sticking me with pins because I became pregnant within a matter of days. It worked.
But there are so many for whom it doesn’t. I have friends who have miscarried up to ten times in an effort to conceive, each time having to deal with not only the physical and emotional pain of loss, but the attendant reminder of that loss in added pregnancy weight and well-intended friends asking how everything’s going. I once asked one of these friends how she feels when someone inquires about a baby that has since been lost. “First and foremost, I feel shame,” she said. “I feel ashamed for constantly having to say ‘I lost the baby’ when all anyone ever wants to hear is good news. Pretty soon, I stop announcing pregnancies just to avoid making people feel bad.”
Do you remember when we were in junior high and the health teacher said, “All it takes to get pregnant is one time!” They made it sound like looking at someone wrong would get us pregnant. No one ever told us about the threat of loss. No one ever said it might be this hard, even if we followed all the rules. They only told us that it might be hard if we didn’t.
So there are some pretty sad stories out there. But then there are stories about beautiful children conceived by people who had long ago given up hope of having them. It is a mixed bag, this life. As I look down at my precious, wild, hilarious little boy, he flashes a toothless grin that brings me such joy, then arches his back in a simmering fuss that brings me to my edge. To think I might never have felt this. To think there are those who can’t. My heart bruises and breaks for them.