Blood. As women we have a complex relationship with blood. The sight of our red-stained underwear can elate us, relieve us, annoy us, embarrass us, disappoint us, or devastate us depending on our life stage and intentions. The arrival of our period can bring the sweetest relief when we dread becoming pregnant. Conversely, it can lower the cruelest blow when our efforts to conceive have not been successful and we deeply long for a child. And somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, is the unfortunate experience of finding yourself ill-prepared for Aunt Flow in a public location…thank goodness for kind friends (or total strangers) who provide emergency tampons in such situations.
I have been thinking about blood a lot because I just had a terrifying, violent, and heartbreaking experience with my own blood. That sounds so hokey to say, that I “had an experience with my blood.” But I did. It was me and my blood. Doing battle. So much blood. There was no one else.
My baby died.
Three words. It only took me three words to tell you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, what happened to me. I wonder how many more words it will take to tell myself — the MAMA, the bearer of lost life — what happened.
11 weeks. Saturday night. Walgreens bathroom. By myself. Cabernet Sauvignon in the public toilet. Doughnut-sized clots of tissue that just kept coming. The sensation of birthing jellyfish. Sticky red hands from trying to clean myself up, pulling red chunks out of my underwear. Staring into the toilet and wondering how in the world I could possibly flush it (I did, after a long time and many tears). Drips running down my legs and polka-dotting my feet. Telling an employee there was a bloody mess in the bathroom. Walking out of Walgreens in blood-stained jeans.
(Did you like it better when I had only said three words? I liked it better when I was still pregnant).
The long drive home. Uterine blood finding the blanket I had placed on the driver’s seat. More gushes. Briefly considering stopping at Chick-Fil-A for a chocolate milkshake because it no longer mattered if I ate healthy. A moment later thinking I really wanted a stiff drink. Waddling through the front door with that fuzzy blanket between my legs, crying out for my husband’s help. Impossibly more blood in my own bathroom. Getting out of those drenched clothes that are now clean but perhaps forever emotionally stained. A wonderful and awful shower in which I watched maroon water, then red water, then golden-pink water circle the drain. Having to get down on my knees in the shower because I felt myself getting lightheaded from blood loss. The relief the water pressure brought to my lower back, so knotted and painful. Orange juice and Girl Scout cookies to get some sugar in me. Taking a few steps, falling on the bed; taking a few more, falling on the couch. Pounding 800mg of Ibuprofen. Popping in a Friends DVD to escape from reality. Hot rice sock on my traumatized belly. Eventually going to sleep with a towel over the top sheet in case the battlefield saw more bloodshed.
The next day. Postpartum. No baby.
How do you tell people what happened? Literally, what words does one use? “We lost the baby.” “I had a miscarriage.” “Our baby DIED.” I’m saying all three. It depends on the person, my emotional state in the moment, the particular threads of truth I’m choosing to grasp or deny.
We didn’t really LOSE our baby. I know exactly where she is. In the fucking Walgreens’ sewer system. (I think this is the first time I’ve ever cursed on my blog; I try to generally avoid it. But there’s just no other suitable adjective. The degree of the offense demands the use of the word. My baby is in a fucking sewer system).
I did have a miscarriage. It’s technical, it’s medical, it’s emotionally-distant, it’s…cleaner. Nicer. It doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable. But what happened to me was not clean. It was not nice.
Our baby died. The truth. The awful, gut-wrenching, culturally-uncomfortable truth. I had a baby living inside me. She was roughly 11 weeks gestation. She loved bacon and grapefruit. She was going to be born in October, maybe on our wedding anniversary. She was clearly a fighter and she was going to give Gabe a run for his money. I was going to braid her hair and put it in pigtails. I had already lovingly stroked the baby girl onsies at Target. We had already nicknamed her Zuzu, and it suited her perfectly. We decided this weekend to officially name her Susannah.
But now Zuzu is dead. Susannah is dead.
The whole concept of having to “untell” the world is interesting. It sucks, to be sure. Was it foolish of me to announce my pregnancy on Facebook at 9 weeks? Wouldn’t it be easier now if I didn’t have to tell literally hundreds of people that my baby died? Yes, that would probably make this ever-so-slightly easier. But I would still tell people. I would still tell everyone I’m close to. I would still need support. My baby would still deserve to be acknowledged. I still believe that there is no “safe” time to announce a pregnancy…babies can die later in pregnancy too…I’ve watched a 41-weeker die right before my eyes. So, was it foolish? No, no…I don’t think so. But it is crummy to have to say “never mind” to so many people…and I totally understand the decision to wait longer to announce pregnancies. (I will probably wait longer to Facebook-announce next time? Then again I may not). Are the odds of a positive outcome better after the first trimester? Of course. Is it wonderful to share the news of pregnancy quickly and hope for the best? Yes it is. And, generally, I’m an optimist. I have many flaws, but one of my strengths is choosing hope. So…having said all of that, here it is, Facebook friends. The untelling. I’m not pregnant anymore. It blows.
I’m still processing how much blood I lost. My nurse brain is guessing it was 350mL. However, I noticed that my shampoo bottle reads “500mL” so now my mom brain is positive I lost gallons and buckets and barrels full. My hemoglobin dropped from 13.5 to 9.9 in a day. Ouch. I’m taking Floradix (liquid iron). I actually think it tastes really good.
It’s odd how “knowing” a fair amount about miscarriage/baby loss has not been helpful at all thus far. I know this is not my fault. I know this is not my fault. I know this is not my fault. But I’m still thinking about the glasses of wine I drank, the essential oils I used, the lovely massage I had before knowing I was pregnant. I’m still analyzing my diet like a psycho, knowing there should have been more green and less chocolate. I’m still thinking about the times Gabe kicked/poked/prodded my belly. Perhaps it’s just human nature to question. Or my nature. But I am questioning…despite mostly knowing the answers to the questions. The answers do not satisfy. The answers do not bring my baby back.
I have felt guilty about not wanting to be pregnant when I first learned I was carrying this baby. I have felt stupid about fretting over having children 22 months apart. Now that Susannah is gone, I want her more than ever. I wouldn’t care that it would be challenging. I wouldn’t even care if my milk supply for Gabe dried up while awaiting Zuzu’s arrival (a possibility I wept bitter tears over during the first few weeks of pregnancy). I wouldn’t care at all that this wasn’t the “preferred spacing” I had desired for my children. How incredibly dumb that sounds now. On this side. The other side of death. Susannah was a perfect blessing from the Lord, and no amount of potential parenting hardship makes it worth her death.
March 15, 2014 is Susannah’s birthday. And her death day. Conceived 1-12-14. Born/died 3-15-14. Her due date was 10-05-14. (I was guessing she’d greet us sometime after the 10th, which is why I was giving everyone the “mid October” line).
Don’t you think Susannah is such a beautiful name? It means “lily.” I’ve also seen it translated as “gentle.” It’s a name that everyone knows but surprisingly hardly anyone uses. It is also a New Testament name; Susanna was the name of a woman who provided for Jesus out of her own resources (Luke 8). William Shakespeare also chose the name for his daughter, which is kind of cool. I can’t really imagine a half-Asian girl having freckles, but I think Susannah would have had freckles. If you’ve never heard the James Taylor version of “Oh Susanna,” it’s worth a YouTube visit.
And Zuzu? I picked that up from the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s daughter’s name is Zuzu (nickname for Susan in her case, I believe). She’s the one who gives her dad the flower petals that he puts in his pocket and discovers after his experience of seeing what the world would have been like without him, letting him know that he has returned to reality: “Zuzu’s petals!” We think Zuzu is just the most precious nickname ever.
Of course, at 11 weeks gestation, we don’t know for sure that our baby was a girl. And sadly, I was not able to recover her body during the miscarriage. But I had a very strong sense that she was a girl, and if there’s any truth to Shettles Method, she was very likely to be a girl (that little swimmer camped out for 5 days!). She’s a girl in our hearts. That’s all that matters.
This is the first time in my life I have ever lost a member of my family. Ever. My maternal grandmother is 93 and pretty healthy, and my three other grandparents died before I was born or while I was too young to remember. This is the first time I have ever lost someone who was very close to me. And this someone died INSIDE OF ME. It’s hard not to feel like a hospice bed, an accident scene, a graveyard.
I didn’t have much time to get to know her. She was only 11 weeks gestation, and I had only known I was pregnant for 7 weeks. I never heard her heartbeat or felt her kick. But as all mamas know, there is no intimacy like that which you share with the child growing within you. And it happens FAST. Part of me is grateful(?) I never heard her heartbeat or felt her kicks, because surely that would make the ache worse. But I’m also saddened that I didn’t get those opportunities; that I wasn’t able to share those moments with Zuzu.
I saw a pregnant women at the mall yesterday. She looked like she was about 36 weeks, absolutely bursting with life. I felt so empty. I wanted to tell her that had been pregnant too, just a few days ago. I looked around the crowded food court and wondered how many other women had also just been pregnant. And how no one knew.
It’s amazing to me how much I want to get pregnant again. Not right away; that would not be wise emotionally or physically. But sooner rather than later. Maybe this summer or fall. Not to replace Susannah. It’s not like that. I just want more than anything to hold a squishy newborn in my arms — MY newborn. I spent a lot of my pregnancy with Susannah complaining about all the hard things that come with having a new baby: the colic, the sleep deprivation, the 3am poopy diapers. Now that Susannah has died, when I think about having a newborn, all I think about, all I YEARN for, are the sweet things. The milk drunk faces. The intoxicating smell. The amazing snuggles.
As I sit here in this coffeehouse and type out this post, my eyes are filling with tears. I will never know Susannah’s milk drunk face. I will never know her intoxicating smell. I will never be able to snuggle with her. I will never hold her. Ever.
I want her back. I want her back. Dammit I want her back!
I just went back and reread everything I’ve typed so far…this is raw and ugly and depressing. Potentially traumatizing even (a warning will be included when I publish). But I don’t want to make it pretty because it’s not pretty. I want to make it real. I want someone else out there to read it and feel less alone. Someone else who was pregnant before and is not now. Someone who once stood where I’m standing, or who is standing with me now. I need validation. I’d love to offer it to others as well. Suddenly I’m in this huge club that no one wants to be in…surely there are other members who can find healing in my wounds, and surely I can find healing in the aches of others. If that happens, it’s worth writing ugly things.
During the horror at Walgreens, I instinctively and furiously collected what I could of Zuzu’s remains. I dumped out the contents of my Walgreens bag (my prescription for progesterone injections — talk about irony) and put the big clots in there that I could find in my underwear and pants legs. So much landed in the toilet however…I looked into the bowl helplessly, and for a second considered going fishing. I didn’t, figuring it would only intensify the trauma (and be totally disgusting). But I hated that I could not find my baby in the sea of blood. I took that Walgreens bag home with me, full of clots, full of Zuzu. It’s double-bagged and in my freezer now. We are planning on burying Zuzu somewhere special and marking her grave in a meaningful way.
Simon and I are so deeply blessed to be surrounded by such a loving community and the spontaneous outpouring of support we have received has been wonderful. We’ve received 4 meals in 5 days, along with numerous flowers, cards, snacks, babysitting offers, texts, and voicemails. My mom spent the morning after with me when I didn’t have the strength to run after Gabe — being my personal nurse in addition to being on toddler duty. My coworkers at the birth center are covering my call shifts so that I can have a mental health break from being around pregnancy/birth/babies. It’s really great being surrounded by people who understand that this is not just the loss of a pregnancy, but the loss of a child. We are feeling very loved in the midst of our pain.
Today is Wednesday. It’s a normal day for the world around me. It’s a normal day in many ways for me too. It feels terrible that it could be normal. And simultaneously I am grateful for any amount of normalcy I can cling to. My precious son Gabriel is running around the house, smiling as big as ever, having no idea he had a baby sister or that she died. I have kissed him over and over and over the past few days. Suddenly I am struck anew with how precious and finite his life is. He is a gift and he is mine and he didn’t have to be. So Simon and I just keep kissing him. Thanks to Gabe, the last four days have included smiles and laughter.
My mother purchased a small stuffed animal, a giraffe, for Zuzu just a few days before my miscarriage. She gave it to me on Sunday morning and we cried together. I have barely let go of that little giraffe since. I have slept with her every night, tucked her right between Simon and me. In some way…it’s like Zuzu is still with us.