It’s the same two questions on every form: number of pregnancies, number of children. My answers glow back at me impassively. 2, 0. Two pregnancies. Zero children.
That’s some bad math.
My first pink line popped into view on July 15, 2011. I know this because I was heading out the door to meet friends for the last Harry Potter film. What a sign! Our dogs are named Sirius Black and Lily. Major fandom happening here. And it had been so easy, like magic. 1 month, 1 whim, boom. Pregnant. Good math.
By August 21, things looked much different. I was at a birthday party. The sun set into a purple sky; it looked radioactive. I remember studying that purple sky while the cake was served. I excused myself before taking a bite, hoping I’d imagined the sudden sense of cold. I’m not sure who threw away my slice when I left the party in a panic. Several days of hellish uncertainty and equally hellish tests would pass before I was declared unpregnant. Then on a Saturday morning, five days after the abandoned birthday cake, I would drive from a gas station to the ER, soaked in my own blood, my car seat filling with it. More doctors, more tests, and into the operating room I went. I had to sign a waiver acknowledging that I understood I may never conceive again. The nurses offered me warm socks after that.
They were no use. I stayed cold from the purple sky party until Christmas.
Flash forward to July 15, 2012. In the most unbelievable, downright bizarre twist of circumstances I got another pink line. 2 months, 1 vacation, boom. Pregnant. Redemptive math.
So of course, OF COURSE!, this one was going to make it. This pregnancy would go the distance and come March 2013 I’d be back in that same hospital, holding my baby.
But the story is in the numbers, right? My husband and I went together for my first doctor’s appointment, sometime mid-August. Due to my Unfortunate History, I was given an ultra-sound on the spot. We stared in wonder at our tiny blinking miracle. I remembered the waiver and smiled, but the OB seemed far less victorious. She said our baby had a slow heartbeat and sent me for tests. My numbers should be doubling, she said. I would get blood drawn that day, and then again two days later.
Like so many before it, I flunked this math test too. My numbers didn’t double; they hardly increased at all. A second ultrasound showed no heartbeat. By now it was late August, the twenty-first. Impossible.
(What are the chances? Seriously, I would like to know the exact probability of that happening to a person. Talk about bad math.)
The thing about having a miscarriage is that it’s not over when it’s over. First comes the medical miscarriage. Then, after all the exams and appointments and texts that must be sent, after all the nurses and doctors and medical residents up in your business talking about next steps and who wants burritos for lunch, then comes the emotional miscarriage. Your schedule clears up, no more running around town trying to save this little human you already love so much. But your inbox fills. So many thank you's; I appreciate it; we’re good with meals. So many I’m sorry's. They mean it, they are sorry. And you are sorry. Sorrow all around, sorrow everywhere. You wonder if that is what you are, a billion cells of sorrow.
By the latest calculations I’d had two miscarriages in twelve months. Friend, then things got weird. Picture me thinking acrylic nails were a good idea. Picture me plowing through two seasons of Sons of Anarchy in a matter of weeks. Picture the one-time Harry Potter fan in an endless parade of yoga pants with her long fake nails getting all ride or die with Netflix and homemade margaritas. My husband was kind of like whoa, but bless him for going with it.
I noticed though, around the first edges of spring, that I was starting to feel different. Not better, forget better, better is beside the point. Different, that’s reasonable. Because you may never feel better. I don’t. That’s the other thing about having a miscarriage: a miscarriage may very well start to have you. It robs you physically, emotionally, ransacks your gut and your heart. Then it sets its sights on your head. Miscarriage will rummage through all of your drawers. Having taken much of your dignity, some of your dreams, and more tears than you can count, it looks for what else it can steal.
My husband and I brought our son home last November. We’d been journeying toward him since we were teenagers, talking about adoption over nachos and Cherry Cokes. Do you know that miscarriage compels me to over explain how much he is loved and wanted? I feel the need to let everyone know that we started the adoption process two years before I ever became pregnant, and that our beautiful boy is by no means some consolation prize or plan b, that he is our teenage dream come true. See? There I go again. I am not better. Different. Not better.
There’s something else. Something I am afraid to talk about. Afraid people will think I’m crazy or sad, or worse---cliché. On that birthday party night, the first time subtraction got the best of me, something happened around midnight. By that point I’d been bleeding for a while and we’d sent all the texts to all our people. The hospital told me to come back the next morning, nothing could be done. So I laid wide awake in the dark, weeping intermittently and getting really pissed off. And then I heard God speak to me. I know, I know. So sayeth the Parseltongue with the bad manicure. I am not saying if my mom or my friends or my coworkers were in the room they would have heard a voice from above. They wouldn’t have. I didn’t hear an audible sound, nothing shook or began to smoke. I am saying that in my dark night of the soul, my heart heard two words, “keep reading.”
Keep reading. I clung to those words. Through the rest of the night and the rest of the tests and the rest of the year and all the way through the next terrible August, I held tight to keep reading. I held tight to the God who had to tell me over and over that I was not a bad math problem. I was, I am, a story. And like all stories, there are good parts and sad parts, chapters that are incomplete and pIot lines I wish I could edit. But the ending is guaranteed to be good, and I can trust the Author.
This is what made me feel different (not better). This is what got me off the couch, off of Netflix, out of the nails, and back to me. A stronger, more scarred, more excited version of me. English, that’s the class I never ditch. I wanted to get back to reading.
I’d love to pass out warm socks to every woman in the midst of numbers that won’t double or tests that won’t tell her what she’s pleading to hear. I would hand out wool and fleece and worn cotton with those little sticky things on the soles and I would say this: You are not bad math. You are not the nine weeks you can’t get past or the three years you’ve been trying or the twins you never got to meet or the one-child-family you never wanted to be. You might have terrible math, but you are not the terrible math. You are a story. You are a work in progress. You are on the way to feeling different, in two months or two years or two decades, you will wake up to yourself again. Keep reading.