Content Warning: Miscarriage
I don’t tell this story on its own. When I tell this story, it is as a piece of a litany of stories we lived through in 1996: a cross-country move with an infant, a toddler and two cats, joblessness, moving in with my mother-in-law with cancer, an unwanted pregnancy, a move into a new house with a roofing contractor from hell, a miscarriage, the death of my grandmother, the death of my mother-in-law and the resurrection of hope that came in the form of a dance by my then 18-month old baby at the very end of the year.
But with the abortion-restriction laws piling up, this story, this story of the miscarriage of an unwanted pregnancy, has been bubbling around in my head and forcing itself into my heart and it feels like it wants to be heard, on its own, for its own sake.
We were living in the upstairs of my husband’s mother’s house. The eight-month old baby slept in a play pen in our room, when she wasn’t in the bed with us. The two-year old slept in the other room on the other side of the house–the room with the door to the attic that scared her and we often found her sleeping at the end of or in the middle of our bed, too.
So it doesn’t sound like the perfect scenario for getting pregnant again, does it?
But, there was a wedding. And alcohol. And inhibition. And six weeks later I was puking at the thought of a pork chop. And I knew.
I found a way to sneak to the drugstore and get a test, but I knew.
I tip-toed into the upstairs bathroom during nap-time and I peed on the stick and waited for the plus to turn into a minus or vice-versa, and I knew what it would say.
When it turned up the results I knew were coming, all the stamina I had been showing, all the toughness in the face of uncertainty about our future, about life itself in the face of cancer, all that “showing-up-ness” flew out of me like a startled finch and I sat on that linoleum tile, too saturated with emotion to move.
Eventually, I called my husband. I asked him to say nothing about it. It’s too early, I said. And, I added, I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it.
For me, I didn’t have to be explicit with him that I was considering an abortion so early because I knew that if one more child came at this time, while I was still in the throes of a post-partum depression I wouldn’t recognize until a year or so later, that I would be done in. There was nothing left of me to give in the middle of this move so far from my family, so far into his, so thickly in the midst of parenting young children in someone else’s house.
I needed a new word because overwhelm could not touch what I was feeling in that moment.
Until later that night, when my husband came home a confused mix of giddiness and dread and couldn’t keep his mouth shut and told his mother that I was pregnant again. And she, the mother of three, the last two born just days short of a year apart, looked at me with such sorrow and recognition and simply said, “Oh, Tina.”
I remember not much more than that of those weeks, except escaping some other nap-time to rest on a swing in the yard, contemplating what actual choice I had now that the truth had been said aloud. I remember telling God I did not want that child as I sat on the swing, and I cried from some place centuries ago, because it was only a few years earlier that I cried to God to let me get pregnant.
Shame kept me pregnant. Shame because “how could I let myself get in this position in the first place?” I mean, if you aren’t using birth control, you want to get pregnant, right? (I actually had a (male) doctor say this to me in my 20s as he could not fathom the idea that having had been sexually active and then choosing not to be was not a form of birth control, and here I was, years later, letting him get in my head again.)
We purchased our own house and closed in the middle of June. We moved in over the 4th of July weekend.
On the move day, I started to spot. Okay, I thought. Maybe this happened with the other two, just a little. I had made an appointment with a gynecologist that I’d never met and was scheduled to see him Friday. But this was the weekend and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I was, by then, ten weeks pregnant.
When the spotting became bleeding, I told my husband and we both tried to get me to sit down as much as possible. I called the doctor’s office as soon as it opened and they found a way for me to come in that day. His examination was quick and to-the-point. “This pregnancy is not viable. We can remove it or you can wait for it to resolve on its own, but I don’t have time to wait for your decision. I have to go deliver a baby.” And he was gone. And I was no longer pregnant. Sort of.
The devastation I felt in that moment was unsettling. I didn’t want this baby; why am I not relieved? As I sat there, holding my husband’s hand, waiting for the nurse, with the doctor’s words circling my head and only some of them piercing the fog that had lifted around me, I found yet another way of hurting.
We left the doctor’s office with orders to call if anything happened. “Like what?” I asked. If the “tissue” passes and you are bleeding too much. “What’s too much?” If you start to pass clots bigger than an orange.
People gathered around but none of us knew what to say or do. My husband’s mother was back in the hospital and I asked them all to leave her in the dark for now. Later that night, after dinner, the “tissue” passed as I sat on the toilet. People were still in my house, helping us settle in on the move as I sat looking at what was called “tissue” by the nurse. Not fetus. Not baby, but tissue. I held it on the toilet paper and tried to make out the features of a baby. I could make out the potential of a child, but not the child itself. The pictures I’ve seen on billboards in rural Indiana and on the County square in my own town looked like what I held in my hand. The potential, but not the baby.
I bled some. Then went to bed and bled more. And more. And more. The clots got bigger and bigger while my husband slept and I changed underpants and pads and pants over and over. I was calling to him, trying to wake him and not the children who slept in rooms that were heartbeats from the bathroom where I was slowly bleeding nearly to death. He heard me at the moment that saved me because he caught my head before it hit the bathtub as I fainted. He gently put me on the floor and called his sister to come, in the middle of the night, to stay with the kids, and she got there but they couldn’t lift me, couldn’t get me to the car.
The ambulance came and somehow they managed to get me on a gurney in that little hallway off all the bedroom and the bathroom doors. And no one who was sleeping woke up.
The only thing I remember from the hospital was a nurse. Isn’t that how it is? Aren’t they the ones that do the things that you remember? In a good way, I mean. She held my hand, and brought life back to my eyes and said, “You’ve lost a lot of blood, but you’re okay now. We’re going to get your lips back.” Which she later explained–I was so pale that my lips were the same color as my face, which, itself, was a whiter shade of pale.
I survived. My mother rushed to my side from the other side of the country and tried to take care of me when I wanted no one to care for me at all.
I had done this. I had wished this on me, the shame whispered in my ear. It was what I asked for; I had no right to be sad.
I went back on birth control, not wanting to get pregnant again any time soon, but knowing, too, that a third kid would be in the picture somehow, when it could be welcomed with the joy all children deserve.
My sorrow was thorough and could not be lifted because every time I truly felt it, I felt my shame scream back at me: “You did this!”
Eventually, the complexity of the situation unraveled me and I had to face the hard truth that I could be relieved and grieving at the same time. But it was not an easy road because I wasn’t quite through the post-partum piece of my second pregnancy when my third one ended and my grandmother died only three weeks later.
I’m sitting in my sister’s backyard, 23 years and 2,000 miles from that time that comes back to me like all grief does, in circular waves, uninvited and unconcerned about what it knocks over or how. The instigator this time is the draconian laws being passed in hopes of overturning the law that allows women the right to work with the doctor of their choice to make the best medical decisions for their own lives. And I’m thinking back to my mother-in-law’s words, Oh, Tina. And that, itself is an act of mercy I still don’t think I deserve.
But that’s the thing about mercy, isn’t it? We never do deserve it.
I keep trying to end this, to tell you why this story needed it’s time to be told on it’s own. I keep trying to make sense of that which contains no sense and all I can see is the continued grab for power and control over the bodies of women.
What do you fear, I want to ask the women and men who are writing and voting for and signing these laws? What is the fear that drives these laws, because it is not morality, no matter how you wish to tell yourself it is.
Fear stands aloft and says “this is what you must do under all conditions.”
Morality sits down and says “what do you need?”
But when fear drapes itself in false morality, no help is given, only commandments that even Jesus would have questioned.
I don’t have any answers today. Just a sadness that harkens back 20, 200, or 2,000 years and an anger that follows swiftly behind. Because in all that I have heard and all that I have read, there is no mercy offered by those who claim to be moral, and I just don’t know how moral something is when there is no mercy.