My D&C, Or: I Know It Was Supposed To Be Terrible, But It Wasn’t & Here’s Why, Or: On Barbecue & Babies, Manicures & Miscarriage

I like painting my nails. It’s sort of how I like cleaning the bathroom, a small room that can be done in an hour.  I can’t handle the commitment to a daily makeup or hair routine, my clothes are a mess, but I can find a color that makes me happy, and throw it on my nails with skill, and look down at something that pleases me, every once in a while. I write with those hands, too, which isn’t lost on me.

 

That day, my nails were pretty delightful. I’d tried out these crazy stick-on things that week, white polish with black script, as though I’d really taken the writing metaphor all the way. We woke up and went to the place we were supposed to, gripping each other. I went to sign in, and the person at the desk looked at me, and my hands, and said kindly, “Oh, my! Those are beautiful! Can I see?” She took my hand. I wanted to stay there, to say thank you for holding my hand, I know you know what I’m here for, that I thought I was nearly about to break except they told me I was already broken, and here you are holding my hand, sharing this interest that holds no weight, no special tie to the fetus that is still inside me, but holding my hand anyway.

 

I sat back down.

 

I read an email from a colleague. We had a work trip planned, something new and exciting, a project that showcased my skills and took me to a place I’d never been. Colleague was keen to get a move on planning it. Colleague had heard the bad news, said the email, but colleague didn’t want to talk about it, colleague said. Oh. Okay. Well, anything for you, colleague.

 

Text from another colleague. They knew I’d told them before, but could I remind them of the password? It’s “buzz off”, I wanted to write. Don’t you know where I am? I texted back the password, plus some pre-emptive answers to questions I knew would come up in my absence. “Just FYI, I’m going offline,” I wrote. ‘Gotta dilate this cervix and remove the fetal tissue now, deliverables, etc,’ I didn’t write.

 

We went back to an exam room. There was an ultrasound machine, on, but with no picture, just a grayscale blank the shape a windshield wiper clears in the snow. This was the same sort of screen on which we had seen the heartbeat weeks ago. This was the same sort of picture we had sent to friends and family. This is the same sort of screen we had been peering at when a technician I’d never met said, “No. No baby! No heartbeat. Growth stopped. No baby. Sorry.” Sorry. No baby, no parents. Go back to your day job.

 

I lost it. I hated that screen. I wanted to smash it to bits, to ban it from all medical facilities everywhere. “It’s okay,” the doctor said. “You can do whatever you need to.” He had curly hair, and his scrubs were a green blue that the internet tells me is something called “terrace garden” or “forest canopy”, printed with the name of the hospital, ad infinitum. He was a resident, I learned, and he was so good at his job.

 

What followed was what I think every doctor, every patient wants but almost never has. It was just time, time spent talking, time spent quiet. Time filled with logistical questions, and unanswerable questions, and resolutions that the doctor didn’t need to know but I told him. “We thought we were parents,” I said. “You still are, you still can be,” he said. “This is hard,” he said. “Impossible.”

 

He laid out my options, with no judgement. You can go home, he said. Right now, he said, if you want to. You can wait, or we can give you a medicine to help the process along. It’s hard, he said. But you might want it, he said. You’ll need to come in for another ultrasound to be sure there is no remaining tissue, and it can be quick and painless, or take a long time and have lots of cramping.  But it’s about what you need emotionally. We’re here for you.

 

And they were.

 

The other option was what I came for. General anesthesia. Dilating my cervix. Removing the fetus. Curettage or vacuum aspiration to remove the remaining tissue. And then I would wake up, and no longer be pregnant.  And then I could mourn my loss, because I would have lost it, and it would be done. It would be done.

 

I was thankful for modern medicine. I’ve suffered trauma, and that makes me sort of afraid of the range of emotions I know I’m capable of. Structure is good where grief is concerned. Let’s not do this in my bathroom at home, the one where I saw the positive test, the one where I soaked in a bath, the temperature of which I’d measured so as not to harm the growing fetus.

 

I still felt pregnant. I was still vomiting every day. I’d been on my honeymoon with a dead baby in me, taking pictures of my still growing belly, calling the little bundle a strawberry. We canceled all of the cider tasting, pub visiting, horseback riding across Somerset when we found out. There was joy in being pregnant, so I didn’t regret it. But–well, it was what it was.

 

I’d lit a candle in the Wells Cathedral. I wonder what that candle ended up being for, after all. I took a picture of it, the singular flame. I don’t believe in a tit-for-tat kind of God, the kind who agrees that I know best and gives me just what I ask for, even if I rarely ask. I didn’t think that candle provided special womb protection, traveled back to the moment of conception and assured against any chromosomal abnormalities that would lead me to miscarry. But when I lit it, I did think it carried the light of my new role, the light I felt glowing around me each time I remembered I was pregnant.

 

The D&C, the removal of the tissue, the procedure, the anesthesia, etc, was decided. The doctor left me, and a nurse came in. She read the room, and declared that she had to see my nails. “The whole office is talking about them,” she said. Never had a girl felt more impressive with a drugstore accessory than I did that day. And never had I experienced such an unobtrusive way of coaxing me into being cared for, doted upon, for having an excuse to hold hands when I would have never asked.

 

We moved from the room of the barren-ultrasound-machine to one of a series of curtained off sections in a large open area, like an ER of sorts. Conversations buzzed around us, welcome distractions and reminders that we weren’t alone. It felt strangely comforting to hear snippets of the experiences of others, people we couldn’t see and wouldn’t see again. “You can take ibuprofen for the pain, or call us if it’s not enough.” “You’ll see bleeding for a few days.”  “When can we try again?” “You might feel some cramping.” “Could you tell what it was?”

 

The anesthesiologist came to see us. I was most worried about the anesthesia, as I’d never gone under before. It seemed like diving off the edge of a great precipice, being robbed of all sensory input, of all cognitive awareness, of the ability to feel and think. It seemed frightening– and completely glorious. To learn of none of it.

 

The pace picked up, and soon I was being wheeled into another room. There was a chair with stirrups, lots of lights, instruments, some sort of mask for me to inhale things through. It hit me that I was having surgery, that I was in an operating room, that I was surrounded by surgeons and they were preparing to operate on me. And I was terrified.

 

Everyone spoke in calm, soothing voices to me, and in the most professional, no-nonsense tones to one another. I choked out to a nurse, across the room, “Please help. I am scared shitless.” It wasn’t my most eloquent. It was how I felt. Again, the hand. She grabbed my hand and started rubbing it furiously.

 

“I like to talk about food,” she said. “You must be starving! And after all this, you can eat whatever you want. What are you going to eat first?”

 

I hadn’t eaten for something like 16 hours. Food sounded fabulous. I had a craving deep down for something heavy and comforting, rich and overwhelming. I wanted barbecue so bad.

 

“Barbecue. All I want is barbecue. And I have no idea where to get it! I don’t even know of any good barbecue spots in the city!” I wanted the kind of weird but glorious barbecue you can find in crock pots and chafing dishes in gas stations in the south– or maybe cheap and delicious Tex-Mex, a banh mi from that building shaped like a milk bottle and an Indian taco served at a fundraiser, fourteen thin paper plates supporting its weight. I wanted food from home.

 

The resident perked up. “BARBECUE! YES! How about Fette Sau? It’s insane.” The room buzzed. “Ooooh, where is that?”

 

“Is that French?” The awkward anesthesiologist chimed in.

 

“It’s barbecue. It’s fucking delicious,” replied the resident.

 

The oxygen mask went on my face. A kind doctor stood over me. I remembered her from my initial google searches for gynecologists upon my move to this new, foreign city. “I know you,” I said. “You have an MPH.”  It was important to me, a focus on public health. It didn’t really matter right now.

 

She smiled. “I do!” Things sped up, slowed down, at once.

 

“Okay!” chirped the anesthesiologist, done futzing with whatever it was he was doing with the drugs I would soon be breathing in. He seemed less than impressed with barbecue. That’s okay, he wasn’t invited anyway.

 

Everything shifted, monumentally. “Whoa,” I muttered. “I feel craaaaaaaaaaaazy.” I was flying, or swimming, or something. Maybe I was falling into my own womb.

 

“Go with it,” said the resident, and I could have sworn we held eye contact as I floated away.

 

I awoke 15 seconds, an hour, or a couple of years later. Mike was there. I immediately tried to sit up, to shake the sleep off, to acknowledge that I was still alive. I mean, I think they knew, but I wasn’t sure.

 

Dr. Public Health had gone to let Mike know everything had gone okay. She told him I needed barbecue and they recommended Fette Sau.

 

The nurse who brought him back to me in the recovery area had also reminded him that I was hungry, and he should take me out for barbecue. The place was in Williamsburg, she said, and the other doctor would know the name.

 

They came to give me the summary: all went well, and they were able to remove all of the tissue. I was grateful. I had been sitting in grey-blue light of spring, alone, for far too many hours with death inside of me. Even though a part of me had died, was wounded, needed to grieve, I was glad to be rid of that talisman. Ready to create some space for Mike and I to cry and cling; and then, eventually, to move forward.

 

And barbecue. Two more people stopped by to remind us. They told us to order the burnt ends. The resident stopped by again, and noted my MPH comment. Oh. So it had happened. I really had outed my encyclopedic memory of the credentials of every person I’ve ever googled. “I’m glad it’s important to you. It’s important to us. It’s intrinsic in what we do,” he said. “We care. We care a lot.”

 

I got dressed, took home discharge instructions on a brightly colored flyer. Mike and I ordered take-out Indian food and ate it on the couch that night. I wasn’t in any shape to go out for barbecue, but deeply appreciated the theatrics and continuity of care regarding my next meal, even if we all had an inkling that it was a ruse.

 

We went camping the next day. I didn’t want to be in our home. It was quiet, and some deer took a walk with us. We rowed a boat on a lake, meandered, and I drank a beer, because I could now. I cried because I could. It felt awful. It tasted fine.

 

It took us just a few months before I was pregnant again, pregnant with the nearly three-year-old girl now following her daddy around the house, telling him stories a mile long. My due date with her  (and many subsequent days) came and went, and so I showed up at the hospital for an induction in the same way a kid shows up to school on field trip day. The high-risk OB I’d seen a few times during the pregnancy stopped by to wish me luck. “Trust your pelvis,” she advised.

 

I walked back to the labor ward, where I would, in a few hours, deliver Winnie into an overly warm and terrifically welcoming room. Among the doctors and nurses , I caught a glimpse of the curly-haired resident, furiously entering notes on a computer. I didn’t need to go back to that place, didn’t need some great catharsis. But I noted to my OB when she checked in between contractions later that he and the rest of their staff had made what should have been one of the worst experiences of my life into one of the most healing, and I was glad to see his face. And maybe I’d get that barbecue, one of these days. It came highly recommended, after all.

 

The First Trimester is the Worst Trimester (and other reasons I’m telling you I’m pregnant)

My left eye won’t stop twitching.

I sleep nine hours a night, take hours long naps, and I’m still exhausted.

I feel like if I grit my teeth really hard, I might not retch, but then again, I might, and I have a splitting headache from all this teeth gritting, or possibly from not drinking enough water because it makes my stomach all wobbly or also possibly from the aforementioned eye twitching.

And I’m growing a baby!

I mean, it’s not a baby yet. It’s a fetus, about the size of an olive, and it had a tail until a few days ago.  The sentence structure up there sort of implies I’m actively doing something here, which I’m not— mostly just the teeth gritting and the deep breathing and the toddler parenting and the prayers of “whoa, thanks for this!” followed by prayers of “are you nuts?!”.

Most people wait until 12 weeks, or even more, to start telling people about a pregnancy.  There are a million and one reasons for doing so, and people who want to wait to talk about it should absolutely be respected for doing so.  But then there are those of us who do like to talk about it earlier than that, and not just out of sheer inability to delay gratification.  (Fun fact: as a kid I was OBSESSED with the Stanford marshmallow experiment [I have literally no idea how I knew this was a thing], and so I would constantly try delay my own gratification, by meting out Halloween candy across months, drinking my Hi-C realllllly slowllllly, or [gag] eating all of the gross Lucky Charms cereal pieces before the vastly superior marshmallow pieces.  I have since changed my ways.)  

It’s no secret that I miscarried with my first pregnancy.  Mike and I found out we were pregnant at the end of February, told everyone we knew in March, honeymooned in April, and found out that I miscarried in May.  It was without symptom, without warning.  We knew it could happen, but that didn’t change the outcome.

With Winnie, I worried for nine months, because that was all I could do.  We still told everyone early on, because our openness borne out of naiveté in the first pregnancy was a blessing— we were surrounded by a support system, and we had been able to inform our loved ones (and even just our well-liked ones!) of our pregnancy with joy in our voices instead of tears in our eyes.

We met with some resistance, for sure.  People would raise an eyebrow when I answered how far along I was with a “six weeks” or “eight weeks”.  Someone told me that while she didn’t consider it so, didn’t I know it was considered rude to tell people before twelve weeks?

But beyond the logistics of I-can’t-stay-awake-or-keep-down-my-lunch, and beyond the building up a supportive nest on which to fall should healthy pregnancies go awry, there are other reasons that we choose to tell people earlier rather than later that we’re expecting.

We tell others because we want to share our joy. By no small miracle, joy is joy is joy is joy is joy.  There’s little better.  And hiding that under a bushel 1) doesn’t work and 2) doesn’t change a darned thing.  I don’t expect everyone to find as much joy in my bringing life into the world as I do, of course, but I’m not going to cloak happiness in secrecy under the auspices of protecting myself or others.

On the other side of that coin— fear is fear is fear, and it’s not ever going away, not out of logic, anyway. The first time I rode the subway without Winnie, I felt the intensity of separation more strongly than I thought possible.  I recalled how many train rides we had taken with her strapped snugly to my chest, and how many (many many) rides before that we had taken together with her nestled inside of me, with all of ME to protect her.  The very act of having a child is, as a friend put it to me, like tying your heart to the outside of your body.  Or like leaving a vital organ at daycare, I guess.  The possibilities are enough to keep anyone awake at night, even if the truly scary bits never happen to most people.  But that trust is an act of joy in and of itself— every moment that your babe grows into her own, above and beyond your input, is like a one-two in the solar plexus, sure, but in the moments you can move around and through the scary stuff, it’s glee.  It’s glee when she walks, when she says your name, when she has a friend.  It’s glee, so much glee, when she learns— and it’s fear every time she inches outside of those carefully set parameters.  Even though it is statistically more likely for a pregnancy to end in the first trimester than it is in the second or third, and certainly more likely than something happening after your child is born— we can’t build a life around that fear.  I can’t even build a few measly weeks around it!

So that’s why I’m here, in this space, telling you that I’m pregnant, and that Mike and I are expecting a babe sometime around Winnie’s second birthday.  Because I want you to share in our delight, if you’d like, and I want you there if we stumble.

PS: Other voices in the same vein:

“I’m Pregnant. So Why Can’t I Tell You?”| Abigail Rasminsky | Medium.com (This one is so, so good.  Read it.)

Why We’ve Never Waited Twelve Weeks to Tell People We’re Pregnant” | Kris Buse | Offbeat Families

+ Duchess of Cambridge, x2

+ Every online pregnancy discussion board, x1,000,000

Loss

It’s been impossible letting friends and family know about our loss- the utter opposite of sharing the first news of our pregnancy.  I debated sharing deeper detail of the loss at first, but I’ve always felt that talk about miscarriage is sometimes strangely shepherded away, and I want to be as open and honest about our experience as possible.  I wrote the following three days after we found out we had lost the pregnancy, hours after I had undergone a procedure called a D&C.  It goes without saying, but exceptionally adult situations and equally colorful language follow.

After weeks of a complete inability to keep my eyes open even one moment past 10:30 p.m. (after which ten delicious hours of sleep would follow), I suddenly sit awake, past 2 a.m., for the third night in a row.  It’s really the only side effect of the pregnancy that’s gone away, cruel because it’s also the only one that could help me now.  The others—intermittent nausea, breast pain, the always inopportune but occasionally comical burps over which I exercise no control— serve no other purpose save to remind me of the excellence with which my body prepared for this pregnancy and its utter failure to alert me for weeks on end that anything, everything, had gone wrong.

The doctor today said these would all begin to subside gradually, without the hormonal crash that accompanies labor.  Because what happened wasn’t labor.  It wasn’t cathartic and beautiful and orchestrated perfectly by my body.  It was, though, born of love, the incredible abiding love my husband and I have for one another, and there is no way that I would have survived the last few days, that I would have any hope to survive the next few, without that love and that person by my side.

I worked from home the day we found out we were pregnant.  I was only two days late at that point, and had taken a pregnancy test the night before with ambiguous results.  Don’t ask, just trust that were there a way to design a pregnancy test to be a hologram that appeared negative at one angle and positive at another, EPT would be all over it.   In the interest of returning to work the following day with actual, documented progress on my projects, I asked Mike to pick up three more pregnancy tests on his way home, so that I could put my mind at ease—and also so that I could finally, finally have some physical relief, as I hadn’t so much glanced at our bathroom all day.  Forty-five seconds after Mike walked in the door, we started to become parents.

We took a long walk, talked about logistics, gripped hands and matched breathing while silently screaming “Hooray!” and “Oh, shit!” simultaneously.  We bought two of the four books I would later read before my seventh week in a small bookstore, while the star of a 90s sitcom narrated her former addiction to a sizeable crowd in front of a wall of Taschen imprints.  We called Michael’s sister, and I almost immediately confessed that I couldn’t shake the realistic worry that I would fall into the 30% of women who miscarried. I also couldn’t shake the joy I felt at knowing I was pregnant, and I wanted to share it with everyone I saw.  I decided that the joy of sharing my pregnancy mitigated any pain I would feel with sharing my miscarriage, and that, should something terrible happen, I wanted to be open and honest about it, to acknowledge that this happens to many women, to out myself in the hopes that it would help someone else heal.

This isn’t algebra.  There isn’t an emotional scale where joy can balance pain.  They exist without knowledge of the other, and on this day, on the day a team of incredible medical professionals removed the embryo whose heart stopped beating weeks ago from my uterus, I have felt the most intense emotional pain of my life, and I have felt the most authentic gratitude of my life.  Today, I felt warm with the comfort of being in the hands of caring and talented professionals, I felt loved with a love that did not exist before my husband and I gripped each other through loss, I felt betrayed, I felt alone, I felt optimism like I never had before, and I felt an incredible guilt for each moment of that optimism.

It isn’t fair- at least I hope it isn’t.  I hope none of this hinges on any sort of tit for tat, karmic scale where tragedies are consequences rather than aberrations.   There is no silver lining to all of this, no bright side.  There are, though, ways forward and through this mess, ways made all the more clear in the past few days,  becoming clearer through the comfort I have found in my faith, my friends, my family, and in my marriage.   The good and the bad will never outweigh one another—the deepest pain won’t rock the love I feel for my husband and our friends and family, and all of the love in the world won’t ever make these last few days go away.

We had no control over any of this, a statement I must keep repeating to myself when illogical and dangerous thoughts crop up in a series of  ‘what-ifs’.  We do maintain some control over how we proceed, over how we build this narrative into our lives, to honor this experience and give it a place in our family story.  It seems right to nestle this struggle in the greater narrative of building our family, a journey we intend to continue, with a stronger bond between us.

We started to become parents 45 seconds after Mike walked in the door on March 14th, and we have no intention of changing that course.  We will be parents, when the time is right, and until then and beyond then we will grow together.