My Foreign Miscarriage

“啊!他们死了!” Oh! They're dead! 

For the first time in my life in China, I wish I could truthfully say, “我听不懂.”  I don't understand.

In disbelief and a faint hope that I misunderstood, I ask the translating nurse.

"Did she say they were both dead?" 

"Yes, they don't have heartbeats."

As soon as she notices I'm crying softly, she brings me tissue and says, "Don't be so sad."

My prenatal doctor and a party of head nurses are suddenly in the ultrasound room. 

I hear my doctor commenting. “ 是的. 他们都死了.”  Yes, they're both dead.

The nurse says, "她年轻对吗?”She's still young, right?

"是的。很年轻和她友两个孩子.” Yes, very young and with two children already.

I interrupt the chatter to ask, "他们男性还是女性?” Are they male or female?

The technician says, “我看不见.” I can't see.

The nurse says, "They're in a bad position."

The doctor asks, “她什么时候觉得他们动了?” When did she last feel them move?

I respond in English, "I felt them yesterday." The nurse translates.

"不行,” That's impossible, The doctor adds, “他们已经死了两个星期.” They've been dead for two weeks.

That sinks my heart desperately low. I couldn't even tell when they stopped moving?

Sharon, the nicer and more accurate translating nurse, is by my side in the ultrasound room now, holding my hand. She searches my face, and I search her worried face in return. The flow of my tears pool and burn behind the dam of my eyes, but I fight them, and my face sours in battle. She says, "Don't worry." I only stare in response. Both nurses help me up. I wipe my belly and follow Sharon outside, averting my eyes from the pregnant women waiting for their turn in the ultrasound room, women who have nothing better to do than wait and study the bellies of other patients. I feel shame since my tears give away every pregnant woman's dreaded fear. My babies are dead.

Sharon tells me to sit down in the waiting area and to call my family. 

“Don’t be so sad. You’re still young, you can have another,” she tells me. 

I gently respond as I hold her hand, “I understand you are trying to make me feel better, but you shouldn’t say things like that to mothers. That doesn’t make me feel better, that makes me hurt more.” 

I call my husband. He’s about to start a class when I tell him. Dutiful man that he is, he continues through the class. Manager that I am, I start to delegate in the midst of so much body and spirit swollenness. I hang up with him, then call my supervisor, then my friend, then my husband again, then my husband's boss. I cry, dry up and calm down; cry, dry up and calm down with each call. I arrange pick up for my children and emergency time off for us both. I begin to text our Chinese roommates to update them and ask for help with childcare, but Sharon interrupts me to tell me I need to call my insurance for pre-authorization. I call and hand her the phone once I realize explaining so soon to a stranger is too difficult in either language, since I've already cried and dried up so many times now. 

Approval is granted, I sign here and there. Sharon takes me to my sleeping room. Our first 24 hours of 96 hours trapped inside the hospital are filled to the brim of sober meetings with Chinese doctors, pestering, mixed-English questions from busy nurses, and phone calls from friends and acquaintances, wanting to express their condolences or visit. In the 25th hour of our stay, I’m scared and grief-stricken as they wheel me on a bed toward the surgical room, where I’ll be without a translator and without my husband’s hand to hold. I fight back tears as I glance at the nurses’ faces from under my blanket. One is an older female, who looks at me with knowing, empathetic eyes. The other is a young man with Korean-style glasses and a shaggy haircut.

At the door of the surgical wing, my husband stops, and another busy nurse continues on with me.
She asks, “哪里是小床?” Where’s the baby bed?

The others ignore her.

She calls out, “嘿!别忘了小床!” Hey, don’t forget a baby bed!

The old nurse hushes, “他们死了.” They’re dead.

The loud nurse’s eyes meet my eyes and linger as though she wonders if I can understand. 

Inside the surgical room, the older nurse leaves me with two young, fresh nurses and a stocky male nurse. I wish that the older nurse had stayed and held my hand, or that I would have had courage to reach for hers.
 As everyone waits for the surgeon to arrive, one fresh nurse comes to inspect me.

“你说普通话吗?”Can you speak Chinese?

“一点点.” A little.

“你很漂亮.” You’re very beautiful.

“谢谢.” Thank you.

“你不要了是吧?” You don’t want them, right?

“他们都死了.” They’re both dead.

And tears begin to fall down the sides of my face into my ears.

As she tries to wipe my face, she hurries to say, “啊!别哭了!你很漂亮!"  Oh! Don’t cry! You’re so beautiful!

I continue to cry, slowly, quietly whispering to my heart that this is goodbye to my twins. I’m telling them goodbye with this procedure, but I feel like I’m ejecting them from my body. The older nurse returns to the room and comes back to my side for a second. She sees my tears, but she responds with merciful silence. 

I cry in my heart, “Oh my dear twins, I want you. I want to hold you. Your daddy wants you. We want to name you. Your brother and sister want you, too. We don’t want to say goodbye. We value you and treasure you. You are both unique and special. I cannot have others like you.” 

The problem hadn’t been the language. I understood the business language of most exchanges at the hospital. The sharp, cold words were all very clear. I responded with the same indifference until the pressure in my heart erupted with fury. One of the doctors trembled as she left my room, dismantled by my explosive anger.  

No. The actual issue was the first slap of culture shock in the almost three years of living among the Chinese.

My friends have always been so tender, so mild. They understand when things hurt. They perceive when I am hungry or thirsty. They do their best to show honor where honor is due. But a miscarriage? It brings me no honor.  

Why didn’t I listen to strangers who said not to drink coffee? Why didn’t I wear more sweaters? Why did I work on my laptop? There was potential radiation! I could have borrowed a “safe suit” from a friend. Why did I eat this and not that? Was the air too bad? Why didn’t I rest more? Why did I go swimming? Twisting might have hurt the babies. These concerns they all previously expressed came crashing down on me in shame. Not because I was wrong in ignoring their triviality, but that I had only death to show as my answer.

Then the doctors, as though nothing was ever whispered to me in the halls of my school or on the side lanes of my neighborhood, tell me it’s ok. “You’re young. You can have another.” Then, for a greater sting, “Take care of yourself.”

The chances of naturally conceiving identical twins again now that I’ve lost them are 1 in 80,000. The chances of conceiving when I’m not sure I can even bear the pain of trying again: unknown. I cannot simply have another. 

I later ask a Chinese mother and friend what she thinks about what was said, and other offensive comments made by others later. She tells me she wouldn’t like it either. She tells me that these doctors and nurses don’t know what to say to encourage me. Especially for the elder Chinese, they have experienced famine, drought, and revolutions. These elder Chinese saw their own family members eat tree bark, or swallow globs of clay so that at least they could die full. These elder Chinese saw a nation full of bloody, murderous change, where neighbor turned on neighbor. They just want me to focus on what I have, focus on the good still in my life. 

And for the second time in China, I wish I could truthfully say, “我不明白.” I don’t understand

Written by Vanessa Jencks. Vanessa is the incoming Managing Editor of beijingkids Magazine and website.  She writes in her free time at A fully extended version of this piece will appear in the book, Knocked Up Abroad 2.