I had a miscarriage the other day. It was a Friday, and I was wearing white pants, and the whole thing was rather complicated but also surprisingly straightforward.
Our first baby had taken me by surprise, and I’d spent the first trimester trapped in fear of the unknown. I was convinced that every trip to the bathroom would be the moment I’d discover bleeding, and there were numerous times I broke down in hysterical sobs, scared that I’d lose the baby and also scared that I’d give birth to one. I didn’t feel ready to be a mother, but I also didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to the life inside me. Jonathan brought a pink rose home from work one day, a small and unintentional foreshadow of our little girl to come. A few days later I would open a fortune cookie that read, “Keep your secret safe for now.” And we did.
Our second baby was also a little bit of a surprise. He'd been conceived a few months after my husband's chemotherapy ended, when we didn't even know if I could get pregnant again. There was this brief few week period when we panicked about whether he'd be born healthy, and if our hearts were ready for another big change after what had been a most unexpected year. I kept that pregnancy a secret for quite some time too, a little less anxious than I'd been the first time around but still hesitant to hope.
But this time was different. This time I’d spent two years preparing my heart, yearning for a baby, but knowing I needed time to ready my body and soul for the monstrous weight of another life. This time, we’d carefully planned, and discussed, and waited, and wanted. This time, I was excited. No fear. No anxiety. No room for obsession. No room for secrets.
I took a pregnancy test in between our traditional Saturday donut store run and a morning trip to the beach. We kept the kids strapped into their carseats while Jonathan grabbed the cooler and I peed on a stick. It was the digital kind that read PREGNANT, so I knew it was true. When we got to the ocean I blurted our news out to every single friend who was there. I squealed in the sand. I grabbed Jill’s hand, and we talked about whether I’d have a boy, just like her. Jonathan high fived the husbands while the kids ran around like crazy people.
There was no room for what ifs. I’d made a conscious decision this time to choose faith over fear.
They say not to question why a miscarriage happens. It’s not the mother’s fault, of course, just a random mix of bad cells coming together to form a baby that wouldn’t be healthy. I know I’m not to blame, but I’m obsessed with figuring out what I did wrong.
I knew I shouldn’t have spray painted the kid’s bookshelf. I knew I was possibly pregnant, and I still waved that paint can around like a magical DIY fairy.
Maybe the green juice was the culprit? The Costco sized jug of liquid collard greens seemed like a good idea. Nutritious. Delicious. So responsible of me. But I’d never had it before, so surely it must be to blame.
Then, there was that week right after conception, when I came down with a virus unlike any I’d experienced before. The kids gave it to me, of course, and I was so busy caring for them that I didn’t even realize I’d been fighting my own fever for three days. “Ohhhhh, that’s why I’ve been feeling so funny,” I thought when the thermometer beeped 101.2.
It may have been the spray paint, and possibly the green juice, but the virus was 100% part of the problem. Because the other day, I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t.
Our four year old’s stomach is hurting again. It’s been hurting for weeks and weeks—I really should write these details down—but I can’t remember if it started before or after we moved. This has happened before, and a trip to the doctor resulted in a life changing diagnosis: constipation. I remember her pediatrician writing down a list of “P” foods we should incorporate into her diet. Prunes and peaches, she said, with furrowed brow. I nodded politely. I know how to avoid constipation but have you ever met a preschooler? Welcome to chicken tenders and bananas, all the freakin’ time.
This time, though, the stomachache is different. She’s a little older, and she’s eating a wider variety of foods. I sneak prunes into her smoothies and monitor her bowel movements. It’s not constipation, so surely it must be cancer. A deadly kind. She is dying, and I’m just nodding my head and saying, “I’m sorry sweetie” every time she complains.
Since my husband had cancer a few years ago, I’m now a little obsessed with what causes it, and what doesn't cause it, and if I have cancer, and if the kids have cancer, and what I’ll do if his cancer returns. It’s always on the table. It’s always a possibility.
We call Dr. Scott, Jonathan’s best buddy from college who grew up and became a pediatrician. I’m too embarrassed to take Anna back to her doctor, who will nod her head and say, “Have you tried Miralax?” I can be real with Scott, perhaps too real, such as that one time I called him a few weeks postpartum and cried about how much the baby cried. Scott already knows I’m crazy, so it’s not a big deal if I ask him whether Anna might have cancer. He assures me that we’d see signs. Fever. Night sweats. Fatigue. Blood in her stools.
But here’s the thing. My husband didn’t have any of the classic cancer signs, and he was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer is sneaky like that, and doctors never look for cancer first. It’s always just a cold, or just heartburn, or just constipation until they say, “Ohhhh wow. Wait a minute. The test results are not what I was expecting to see.”
So, where’s the line? Where’s the line between unhealthy obsession, and wise observations? Where’s the line between worry and wisdom? When I push on her stomach and feel for a tumor, am I being a hypochondriac, or am I simply being her mother, who worries, and obsesses, and doesn’t want to miss obvious signs that could save her life?
And where’s the line after a miscarriage? Why do I keep making cups and cups of detox tea, attempting to rid my body of toxins and terrible things that attack babies? Will the green juice cause a miscarriage? Or will it keep me healthy from odd viruses? If I take the detox tea too long, will I release a bad egg? If I try again too soon, will my body not be ready?
Dear, sweet baby. We took you on two family bike rides the week you were with us. You never had a heartbeat, but you were in mine. Sun on my face. Your brother poking my back. Your sister yelling joyfully, “Daddy, be careful!” We watched the ocean waves and drank smoothies in the hot sun. It was the first time I could picture our family of five—the one I’ve always wanted. For awhile, I didn’t know if I could handle three kids. But that weekend, those bike rides, I saw the fullness of what could be.
And now that you’re gone, the only way I can be your mother is through the worry, and the analyzing, and the wishing. Wishing I could change the past; attempting to change the future. Because I know that while I shouldn’t live in fear, sometimes it is one small way we express our love. I wish I’d known this all those years ago with our first baby. I also wish I hadn’t worn white pants on the day I lost you.
Written by Lesley Miller.