I discovered I was pregnant the morning of my 37th birthday. I had suspected it for a few days, but I had been through this waiting many times–sixteen months of trying for my son, now five months more–and so I managed not to be too excited, allowing myself only a few nods at my husband Josh after his morning check of my fertility chart, both of us so familiar with what the chart showed and the disappointment that usually followed that words were unnecessary, boring, and potentially jinxing. That morning the chart was clear that I was pregnant; still I held myself quiet until the drugstore pregnancy test read positive. I sat with the test in my hands waiting to feel what I would feel. I waited a while, then shrugged and told Josh. I was happy, but there was none of the joy, the amazing soaring of the first time. I chalked it up to the first in a long series of things that would be different the second time around. Later when my friends came over to celebrate my birthday, I kept private, waiting for the urge to tell. That it didn’t arrive made me uncomfortable. In the end I told them, aware of the strange mutedness I felt delivering the news.
Our families were joyful. We discussed where to put the new baby, which room if it was a girl and how to place bunk beds if it was a boy. I got morning sickness, a carsick dizziness remedied only by ginger, lying down on my couch, and my friend’s seasick bracelets. I was hungry. Within days I put away my clothing and replaced it with maternity wear. Even so, it didn’t feel like much was happening. I waited.
The waiting got boring. I replaced it with a fabricated enthusiasm. I mulled over our list of baby names, a list compiled dreamily nearly a decade ago when the lining of my uterus was still plump and welcoming and Josh’s sperm swam like Olympians. I spent some time wishing for a girl and some time wishing for a boy, though I could picture neither. I visited a website that chronicled fetal development and tried to feel what I saw on the screen in my body. I waited.
During my first pregnancy, my son was a glowing ball of energy in my belly, the force of him palpable, unmistakable. We lovingly referred to him in this fetal state as Lump of Kol. During this second pregnancy I occasionally thought of that phrase, but this time it spoke of dull blackness, of coldness, of empty. I knew that what was growing in me was nothing, was nothingness. I knew, and this knowledge was confusing and unwelcome; how could I know what I knew? Unsettled, I sent that knowledge underground. I told myself I was jaded, that it was unrealistic to expect my second pregnancy to feel like magic too. I wore the seasick bracelets all the time and swore by them. It’s like I don’t even have morning sickness at all! I’d say. Did I notice that at some point I didn’t? I’m not sure. Perhaps I noticed, but I didn’t notice that I noticed. Was I less hungry? I’m not sure. But I kept on eating and that kept the noticing from becoming noticeable.
In my ninth week, I lay in bed reading next to my husband in our room in my parents’ house. I had been mulling over an idea for a few days, and it suddenly solidified into something that could be said out loud. I knew what I said to be the truth, and telling him was like sharing a secret. There is something wrong with our baby, I said. Something serious. Maybe Down Syndrome, maybe something else. My husband took my hand and said, Okay.
The next day I started to bleed. I’m bleeding, I told my husband. I’m bleeding, I told my mother. I felt about the blood the way I felt about the pregnancy test, vague and empty, not fully believing it. I bled like that for a few days. I called my friend Kathryn, who had had two brutal miscarriages, one each as payment for her two healthy boys. I am losing the baby, I told her, choosing the phrase deliberately, longing for something more stark and evocative than the slow trickle of blood that hinted and hinted but never confirmed. She cried and so I did. A great wash of sadness filled me, then left me strangely quiet, alert to a new and surprising feeling that rose up inside me: relief. I had been certain that something was wrong, but that the wrongness would endure forever. This would be brief.
My mother had lost the pregnancy before the one that led to me. My stepfather too saw his first wife through many miscarriages before they had their son. No one made me talk and no one stopped me. I wandered through their house in a slow simmer of feeling, the low note of grief and the sweet top note of relief. There’s agony with loss, but there wasn’t with this, only a profound sense of something important taking its course, of something inside of me and out taking loving care of me, sparing me something worse. In that quiet I experienced joy where I had feared despair, wholeness where I had been certain I would be torn apart.
My bleeding was slow and steady. One full day of intense cramping barely affected it. It kept up for a week or two. My midwives were kind. They asked for details. It was clear they weren’t thrilled with what I was producing. We kept on. We needed to fly home, so I went first to the hospital for an ultrasound. I read the ultrasound report with total calmness: “fetal demise, 6 weeks 2 days.” After I read it, I told Josh that it was okay, that there was nothing that bad in the report. Yes, he said, besides the bit about our dead baby.
We returned home two days before we were to have houseguests. I was hit with a wall of agonizing cramps. I worked through them, unpacking and cleaning the house, readying it for guests. The pain was bad but pale in comparison to the labor I had endured. This made me feel stronger, able to endure, training myself for the next time. In the morning I felt fine; I drove to the food co-op. As I walked across the parking lot I felt what I thought was a large blood clot work its way into my underwear. I headed for the bathroom, unzipped and sat on the toilet in one motion. As I did this something rolled from beneath me and splashed into the water. My heart pounded as I stood and faced it. Nestled at the bottom of the porcelain bowl beneath a gossamer of blood was a dark, pink egg.
I contemplated my options. This thing that had fallen out of me wasn’t a baby, but it wasn’t nothing. I couldn’t flush it. Instead I reached into the public toilet and took it out. I held it in my hand: a taut wad of warm muscle, red and purply grey, smelling darkly of innards, of meat. I rinsed it quickly and wrapped it in layers of white paper towel until blood no longer soaked through. I put it in my pocket. I washed my hands and wiped the sink. I flushed. I looked in the mirror and noticed I was smiling a little bit, startled and amazed and a little bit thrilled.
On my way out, oddly elated, I walked past several people, silently daring each one to guess, just guess what I had in my pocket. I’m walking with my fetus in my pocket! I wanted to shout. I headed through the parking lot. I’m putting my fetus in my Subaru! I lay my egg gently in the center console and locked the doors. I went back inside to shop. I felt brave. I felt strong. I’m shopping with my fetus in the car!
Driving home I considered what to do with it. I wanted to bury it, but it was late December and the ground was frozen, layered in crusts of snow. I wanted to examine it, to unfurl the little egg into placenta and fetus, to see leg buds, skull, genitalia. I worried that this examination could go terribly wrong, that I would live with whatever image forever, every blink an opportunity to revisit it. When I pulled into my driveway, I stopped at the top of the meadow where a trio of old apple trees grows. I unwrapped my small treasure and examined it again, the shape and size exactly of an egg. I held it, then dressed it again in its swaddle of damp paper towels and lay it lovingly in the snow atop the roots of the trees. I looked to the forest and wished for some wild animal to come, to find my offering, devour it, and run swiftly back to the woods.
In the spring I followed my son through that meadow. A paper towel, blood specked and familiar, was caught on a low pricker bush, flitting in the breeze. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. In the house, I took it in my hand and tenderly threw it away.