The Things She Carried

[inspired by Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried]

She carried 758 needles, 170 suppositories of the vaginal variety, and hundreds of blood draws—she was told she had good veins, like that was some kind of prize to win. She was weirdly proud of her awesome veins, because in this game of carrying and dropping, losing and winning, there’s not much else to be proud of.

She carried 63 ultrasounds, some of them a routine check for follicles, some looking in vain for beating hearts, some checking to make sure “the products of conception” no longer existed inside of her.

She carried names of drugs she could barely pronounce—Menopur, Follistim, Ovidrel, Ganirelix, Intralipids, Lovenox, Prednisone.

She carried four IUIs, three IVFs, 66 follicles, 33 eggs and 20 embryos. Some of these embryos were placed back inside of her, and some never grew beyond a handful of cells. All were loved.

She carried lesions on her ovaries, cervix, uterus and bladder. She carried a blood clotting disorder called antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. She carried overactive natural killer cells, which weren’t really killing much except teeny-tiny embryos too little to fight for themselves.

She carried one laparoscopy attempt. One actual laparoscopy. Three egg retrievals. Two transfers. Two D & Cs.

She carried 1,938 miles of travel—from the house to the fertility clinic; from the clinic to work; from Philadelphia to Manhattan for surgery; from Philadelphia to Woodbury to visit what she hoped would be a miracle doctor; from Philadelphia to Woodstock to spend the day with a fertility visionary. She carried $726 in parking garage fees, and even one parking garage accident.

She carried Please Gods and plea bargains. She carried what-ifs and what-will-I-do-nows.

She carried special diets—no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no air.

She carried the love of a good man, but she carried it clumsily and sometimes carelessly. She lashed out. She yelled. “Why can’t you carry any of this for me?” she wanted to know. There was no good answer to that question—he knew it and she knew it, and at the end of the day she was lucky to still be holding his heart.

She carried the memory of lost babies—three at last count. First was Gabriel. She lost him on the bathroom floor at work, and by the time she got to the hospital she was so bloody it looked like she was starring in a Carrie remake. Then there was Anna, who was confirmed genetically normal and therefore should have lived, but didn’t. Anna, who said au revoir to the world on Christmas day, but who would never open a single present. Finally, there was Baby B, a loss too new to even get a name.

She carried a persistence that even she admitted was insane. She carried advice from relatives, friends, acquaintances, the checkout lady at Target, wondering why she was doing this to herself, why she didn’t just give up. Stop this nonsense. Be happy for what you have. Halt. Cease and desist before you ruin yourself, your job, your marriage. And she did want to stop, she did. But she needed to try one last time. One more needle, one more blood draw, one more doctor. One more.

And now.

Now she carries a baby inside of her, a little girl, no bigger than a winter squash. She feels her kicks, taps and nudges, and they feel like hope. She still carries the what-ifs—so many what-ifs—but now she carries something else as well—trust. Trust that this is the soul she is meant to meet. She sings to her baby every night, hands on her belly, heart wide open as a summer sky: ‘twas grace that brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Angel

On paper, I’m all set up to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. I’m a mother to a three year old who has stars in her eyes about the season. I’m approaching the 14th week of what is, as far as I know, a healthy pregnancy. We have a tree with an angel on top and garland around our banister. Our house smells like cinnamon.

But then, underneath, there’s so much sadness.

Last Christmas, I woke up covered in blood. I left my daughter just after opening stockings to get an ultrasound. And at that ultrasound we found out our much-longed-for baby no longer had a heartbeat. It was one of the worst days of my life. I came home from the clinic and put on a good face. I didn’t want to ruin the magic for Lettie, my living child. We opened presents and I exclaimed in excitement over every little thing. I pushed all that grief aside, put it in a neat little box marked “Christmas,” and left it there. And sure, I did grieve some over the next few weeks and months, but my deepest, most secret sadness remained tucked away.

Here’s the thing about grief: it doesn’t like being ignored. It’s stubborn, and it comes out one way or another.

Two weeks ago, we went to the hardware store to pick out our Christmas tree. The same hardware store we went to last Christmas. As we were paying for everything, I found myself in the middle of a panic attack. Last year I was pregnant, just like this year. Last year I felt so much hope for the future, just like this year. It’s going to happen again, I thought, I’m going to lose this baby, too, just like last year.

And it’s not just the miscarriage that is making me melancholy. I miss my mom more than usual this time of year, too. I wish she were here now. I wish she were here last year. I wish she were here always.

Christmas is hard. Pregnancy after infertility and loss is hard. I keep waiting for someone to come along and say, “Just kidding, we’re taking this baby away from you, too! Sorryyyyy!”

There is always something to be fearful about. Last Friday, we met with a genetic counselor, and it’s official: we can’t do any non-invasive blood testing because the vanishing twin could jack up the results. So we’ll be going into our 20-week ultrasound blind. The genetic counselor warned us they might find “soft markers” for genetic disorders at this ultrasound. The markers are pretty common and often mean nothing, but sometimes they’re indicative of downs or trisomy 13 or 18 or whatever else awful thing they’re on the lookout for. I am now terrified of this scan, and it’s still six weeks away.

On Monday, I brought homemade cupcakes to work. I tied a tag around each that said, “Baby B, due June 2016.” I wanted to do something fun to announce my pregnancy. I wanted to give this baby the celebration he or she deserves. But after I carefully placed the cupcakes on my co-workers’ desks, I walked to the bathroom and cried. My pregnancy was out there now, and I couldn’t take it back. No matter what happened, I couldn’t take it back.

And the thing is, I feel guilty for feeling all of this. I’m finally pregnant after wishing for it for so long, and I can’t even embrace it? What is wrong with me? I have a beautiful daughter who is beyond excited for Christmas. Why can’t I be excited right along with her?

I’m having a tough time of it, you guys. I’m trying, I truly am, but some days the ghosts are really loud.