I expected that I could decide how many kids I would have, and when, and with what spacing. I expected that others would be happy for me when they heard of a pregnancy. I expected tiny babies to grow until they were big enough to be born and that when they were born, they would be healthy.
That was before I knew that little lives don’t always make it until they are big. I didn’t know that I would be one of those women. The ones, perhaps you know them, who you feel like you have to hide your pregnancy from, because, you know, they lost theirs. I didn’t know that the question “How many children do you have?” would on occasion bring on a fear that I would bravely hide from the innocent expression of the one asking it.
Ten years ago, on the cold Sunday evening of the 24th of February, I bid hello and adieu to a little life that had grown inside me for 12 weeks. We named her Stella. Is that because we knew the little child was a girl? No, it was because we just felt like that was her name. I had become pregnant with her when Thomas was only 9 months old. Perfect timing, we thought. We had always wanted to have 2 children close in age, wait a few years and then have 2 more close together. But the pregnancy wasn’t easy for my body. The biggest problem was feeding Thomas. This sweet, healthy, big growing boy, who smiled at everyone and filled my heart with the sweetest happiness I had ever known relied on me for all his nutrition. And with my pregnancy, my breasts became less full, not making enough to supply all his needs. I increased my water intake, my vitamins, only ate nutritious foods and loads of them. But nearly everyday I cried as I nursed a baby who was hungry, hungry all the time, never satisfied with the amount of milk I could give.
We tried offering this big boy all the foods he should like to eat, but he just didn’t care for them. Eventually he would eat yogurt, and boy did he eat it. He ate nearly a pint a day, and though I was happy he was finally not crying in hunger, my heart ached that I could not give my child what he needed.
The baby inside me grew, was doing well.
And then, one day, my breasts no longer ached and they became full in a way I hadn’t experienced in months. I hoped it was because I had reached 12 weeks in my pregnancy, but the sinking in my heart, deep in my belly, told me otherwise.
We scheduled an appointment with my midwife’s backup OB to know for certain.
It wasn’t my first miscarriage. I had lost another baby, Timothy we named him, a few years before Thomas was born. I had dutifully followed my doctor’s instructions to have a D&C performed that time. But when I was lying in the hospital bed, alone, crying, and suddenly aware of the vast emptiness inside my womb, I knew I could never, never go through that process again. Where was the baby? Where was the sensitivity? Were none of us in this terrible situation to be dealt with humanely?
The ultrasound confirmed that our little life was no longer living in me. At about 12 weeks 3 days her spirit had flown to heaven. Yet her body remained with me. Not alive. Not born. Just there, within the warmth of me.
And there she would stay for 12 weeks more. I monitored my temperature regularly because everyone was worried that I might get an infection from my baby.
Travis fielded phone call after phone call from family members who thought we were wrong and irresponsible to let this little life leave my body of its own accord. Or under the direction of a Father.
We prayed, we dived into the living word. Living words that serve as a balm to our hurting hearts.
I put away all my maternity clothes that I had just gotten down, in anticipation of my growing belly. And there my belly stayed, 3 months pregnant, too big for my regular clothes, looking a little like there could be life inside, for 3 more months.
I watched friends who were due at the same time as I had been get gradually bigger. I quit speaking of what was going on with me. When folks asked how I was doing my answer was a stoic “fine.” It didn’t take me long to realize that people didn’t want to know that I was in mourning, that I was a walking grave, that I was the embodiment of death.
Occasionally I would have some bleeding, but that little life clung to the inside of my uterus, waiting, waiting…
And I waited, and waited. I waited with tears. I waited while playing floor games with Thomas. I waited during hours of teletubbies. I waited through buckets of ice cream.
I dreamed dreams that were vivid and scary. In one of them I was bleeding to death in my grandmother’s white bathroom.
Then, it happened. I went to use the toilet and felt a pop. Then out came a little life attached to a thin string of umbilical cord. I tugged and held her little body. She was smaller than the palm of my hand, the color of wet sand. I cried the happy tears of a baby being born.
I was happy!
I was surprised by my own happiness and suddenly unsure if this little body was indeed the long-awaited baby we called Stella. I called my midwife and from her description I felt sure that this was finally our baby’s body, ready to be at rest. Ready to be free from me and I from her.
We arranged her burial to happen on Tuesday, at noon. I sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” with a wavering voice, but strong conviction. Great is His Faithfulness.
Later that night was when the ugliness happened. I started to bleed, pretty heavily I thought. I was having labor pains– strong, frequent, painful. My midwife had told me that she thought I still had the placenta inside, and that it would need to come out. But I had forgotten how painful labor is, even the labor that must accompany the little placenta of a little life.
And as I sat on the toilet in our tiny white bathroom, I remembered the scary dream.
Travis took me to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, so I could get an ultrasound, and have them check my bleeding. If I was hemorraging, I wanted to be somewhere where I could receive help.
They took my history. They learned I was in the care of a midwife. They learned I had given birth to Thomas at home.
The nurse looked at my bleeding and said there was no way I was hemmoraging. I suddenly felt like I had to push, but the doctor had come in and positioned himself on a stool blocking the toilet. I begged to go into the toilet. He finally allowed me into the toilet room.
Upon sitting down, I immediately pushed out the placenta, but was unable to retrieve it. I knew it needed to be checked to ensure it was complete, but I also knew an ultrasound could possibly tell the same thing.
When I exited the room I told the nurse and doctor that I had delivered the placenta. They didn’t believe me. But, my contractions had stopped and I was no longer in pain, and able to think clearly so I kept re-stating the fact.
The doctor said he wanted to do a manual removal just to make sure everything was out. I asked if we could do an ultrasound instead. He said they would do that too, but later.
I can only describe what happened next as rape. The doctor used instruments, long q-tips and his rough hands to ensure that everything was out. I screamed and cried. I looked at Travis, and he too was mortified, but we all felt helpless, even the nurse who turned her face away from my pleading eyes. Thomas was there too. He was in Travis’ sling, eating a banana and watching Sesame Street. I stifled my cries for their benefit.
When the doctor was finished with me, he admonished me and tried to shame me into believing that this was all my fault for not having a D&C.
I accepted that it was my fault, but for a different reason. I trusted my fears. I forgot in that moment of decision in my bathroom at home that I should pause and listen to my body. And I really should have called my midwife to come and be with me. She surely would have recognized my labor for what it was and helped me through it with the love and care she provided in every pregnancy I had with her.
So, when people ask how many children I have, I answer eight to myself, and three out loud. I remember the little lives, because though their bodies were little, the impact of their lives was and remains big.
Our children know about their siblings. They look forward to meeting them in heaven. Sometimes that makes people a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it causes them to remember their own little lives.
I don’t quite know how to refer to my children. Some moms use the term “living” children to refer to those on earth, the visible ones. But all my children are living; some live a better life than the others because they are with a perfect loving Father in heaven. And I don’t easily bring myself to use the word “miscarriage,” because it implies that something went wrong. And while I recognize that something might have gone wrong physically, everything went exactly according to God’s plan, and who am I to call that a miscarriage?
My children remain visible and invisible to me, though they are all seen, loved, and upheld by God. As we all are.