waiting to miscarry

Warning: This is not a post for everybody. This is a post for me. And for anyone who has experienced infertility, the loss of a pregnancy, or who wants to support someone who has. It’s common for people to share pregnancy announcements on social media. To snap week by week photos of healthy growing bellies and freshly painted nurseries. It’s not as common for women to share announcements about their miscarriages. To share their disappointment with the world. However, I feel they are still stories worth sharing. This is mine.

1.21.18

I feel crampy today. The hopeful me wonders if this is the month, this is when a tiny blastocyst will burrow into my side, hitching itself to me for the next nine months. For life. I worry that it is not. That I will wait another two weeks and bleed and wonder if I will ever have a healthy pregnancy again. If Gabe will have a sibling. Or if he will simply wish for one.

1.29.18

I am grateful that my son is oblivious to the things I worry about. That he pulls out sheets of colored construction paper and hands them to me with a request: heart, please. And we sit together as he watches my scissors trim as many hearts as I can from the card stock. That he lays them down on the ground to admire their shape before taking one in each hand and pushing them skyward.

1.30.18

A coworker showed me some of the first pictures shot from a satellite heading to fringes of the universe to study an asteroid. We are so tiny, I thought as he showed me the last images it sent of Earth. A speck beyond a speck beyond a speck of light. Our problems are all so small.

2.2.18

I peed on a stick today. The faintest of a blue line. A ghost. A hope waiting for time to give it shape. I worry that I have already mentally sketched out the layout of the kids’ room and called my parents to circle the date. But I’m grateful that I can see a ghost line and simply imagine—perhaps.

2.12.18

The fetus, if indeed I am growing one, is smaller than a grain of jasmine rice. I worry that I may have an empty sac. Or that a million cell divisions will all go well except for one or two or three, which will change the course of this life. It’s a miracle every time a baby is born healthy. So many millions of cell divisions gone right. Every day I look at Gabe and feel so lucky that he is here.

2.21.18

I interviewed a woman about infertility issues today. Afterward I surprised myself when I slid the recorder back into its case and admitted “I will never get over it.” And I won’t. I can still feel my throat tighten every time I think about the three years we tried and failed to get pregnant. Every time I saw my hope bleeding into the toilet each month.

But I wouldn’t change what we went through either. I think I kiss Gabe a little more, squeeze him a little tighter than maybe I would have if he had come easy. Maybe for me, it’s what I needed to be a better mom.

2.28.18

Today was my first ultrasound. I brought Gabe to the appointment. I knew that if something was wrong, it would be best to have him with me. Because you can’t fall apart when you need to zip someone else’s jacket and wipe someone else’s butt. And deep down I suspected that something might be wrong. “I haven’t felt all that pregnant,” I told the nurse. “I haven’t felt that nauseous and I know that feeling sick is actually a good sign of a healthy pregnancy.”

She assured me that it’s also normal not to experience morning sickness during pregnancy. And she’s right. “Let’s see if there’s two or three in there,” she joked.

“Or anything at all,” I said.

The moment the doctor inserted the ultrasound wand I looked for the sac. I think I knew it before he did. No heartbeat. “How far along should she be?” he asked the nurse. “Far enough along that there should be a heartbeat,” I said.

The hardest thing is my body hasn’t figured that out yet. And it will be weeks before my hormones resettle. Before my body recognizes that there is no life in here to support. Rational me says people get bad news every day. Today was just my day. And yet.

3.1.18

I started spotting during an afternoon run. I worried that the miscarriage would stream out of me all at once. That I would return to my office with blood-stained pants. It is a strange thing to sit in a meeting and hope you will not bleed out onto the roller chairs. They’re an unfortunate gray color. But a miscarriage can take awhile. Weeks. Even months before the body gets the memo: no baby here. I haven’t spotted since.

3.2.18

I am still waiting to bleed. And to try again. Gabe has picked up a funny new saying: “happens.” He says it while reading after seeing an overturned car, a person slipping on some marbles, or the general chaos in a Richard Scarry book. “Happens,” he says. And he’s right. Sometimes unfortunate events happen. And then we turn the page.

3.5.18

Today I found myself clicking on graphic images women posted online of the contents of their miscarriages. One woman apologized for the gruesome nature, but, does anyone know what this could be, she asked? I think it’s normal. To want to know what went wrong. To want to know how pregnant you were before you weren’t. Not that it matters. In the end there’s still no baby—just a desire for one.

3.12.18

I’ve started calling it “the nothing.” As in “the nothing is still in there.” Wednesday the waiting will be over. I’ve scheduled a dilation and curettage to clean out my womb. There are several tacks women can take when they are waiting to miscarry: let a natural miscarriage occur, take a pill to facilitate the process, or undergo a surgical procedure that ensures the lining and sac are removed. I chose the latter because I want some control over the where and when. Because I am 37. And I don’t feel I have a lot of time to wait.

3.13.18

Strangely, I haven’t been too emotional about the miscarriage. I’m pretty sure it stems from the years of trying and never once getting a positive pregnancy test until the one. From the years of saying “I just want one.” And I have Gabe. And he’s amazing. In a way, I am also grateful. Miscarriages are normal. The estimates vary, but figures suggest between 20 and 33 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

I am relieved we didn’t spend three years trying this time. That conceiving didn’t take visiting a fertility doctor, taking Chinese herbs, or acupuncture. That I didn’t collect pennies on heads from the street and store them in a jar on my windowsill. Maybe next time it wouldn’t hurt to look for a few coins on the sidewalk. But I am grateful that maybe this is a sign there will be a next time. Because right now, I am not losing a baby. Just the hope of one.

3.14.18

It poured this evening. A Texas-style storm that erased the dividing lines on the roads. The kind of rain where you find yourself holding your breath on the highway.

We spent the whole day at the hospital. I felt old sitting in my obstetrician’s waiting room with a bunch of expecting mothers as they unconsciously stroked their swollen bellies and thumbed their phones. They didn’t seem to register skinny me with crows feet around her eyes holding a card indicating that I’ve been administered RhoGAM. Bleeding and wondering if someday I will be back in this waiting room under different circumstances.

I cried about the loss for the first time post-surgery to the anesthesiologist. “It finally hit me why I’m here,” I said.

The last time I wore a hospital gown I left the hospital with a baby. This time I left with a light period. The two nurses who helped me shared their miscarriage stories. My obstetrician shared his, too. This happens. But I’m sorry, they said holding my hand. It helped to hear I’m sorry. But I’m still glad it rained on the way home.

a hug i failed to give

When, exactly, do we stop caring about a person?

Is it once the ink dries on the divorce papers? Is it earlier – when we’re climbing the stairs to the attorney’s office? Or did we leave the caring behind in the car?

I want to know. I’m trying to understand how the uncaring unfolds. Is it a gradual process, or more like flicking a switch? Is family something you can truly divorce yourself from? Or is it more like a wart? Something you burn or carve out of your flesh only to have it spring forth anew years later?

I ask because I’m still turning a conversation over in my mind that I had the other night. With an older woman I met at a screening of a documentary. A film about drug abuse. She drove an hour to see it.

Do you know anyone affected? I asked.

Oh no! No one in my family.

You’re very lucky, I said.

She paused.

My ex-husband’s son has a drug problem. My ex-stepson. He’s not doing well. But no one in my family. I’m lucky.

She came to the film alone. The showing was sold out. She lingered by the door just in case a seat became available. One didn’t. So she sat for 90 minutes at a table outside the screening. She attended the question and answer session afterward.

Later she found me outside. She wanted to tell me what she learned about treatment. About how it’s hard to find a good one.

I keep thinking about this woman. And what I should have said to her.

I keep wanting to tell her there’s no shame in having a problem. There’s no shame in being frustrated about a situation you can’t fix. That we can’t ever get well if we feel ashamed of who we are.

And I kind of wish I had given her a hug. I feel like she needed one.

lois

IMG_1089

I said goodbye to my nana over the phone last week.

My sister held it to her ear so I could talk to her one last time. Her breathing was rapid. It was her only response when I told her about the drawing I received in the mail that day from my 5 year-old nephew L. It was a picture of our family tree that he had illustrated.

I told Nana that she was perfectly depicted in it – a wisp of a figure with a ring of curly white hair and bright blue eyes. Then I told her I loved her. She died a few hours later.

I regret not thanking her in person for teaching me about badassery. About how to come back after you put your head through a wall and break your neck. About how to continue living after you bury a child. For a woman barely five feet tall and about 90 pounds, Nana was a formidable presence.

She was always calm and claims she never swore once in her 93 years. She said she never felt a need to. She simply did what she felt was right and never looked back, never asked permission, and didn’t always apologize if she was wrong. Nana had a big heart and little tact. And she was a horrible driver.

I will always remember going to dinner with her and my sister one evening in Florida. She drove and got particularly creative in the parking lot. She wedged her vehicle between an occupied police cruiser and a no parking zone, cut the engine, and marched inside the restaurant. J and I just stood on the sidewalk with our mouths agape.

“What’s he going to do, arrest me?” she asked shooting a glance towards the police officer.

The thing is I know he saw her do it. And he likely even heard her say it. But that was Nana. She lived by her own set of rules and she bent them for no one.

Nana appears in some of my earliest memories. I remember climbing over the granite boulders in her backyard to pick wild blackberries and finding a litter of feral kittens she wouldn’t let me keep. I remember waking up on Christmas mornings and her always being there.

I saved most of the notes she wrote me after I graduated college. Words of encouragement. Articles she clipped from magazines that she thought I would enjoy. I know I didn’t always write a thank you note in return.

I’ve had three decades to learn most of her stories. One I have never forgotten is from when she joined the Waves during World War II. She was stationed in California and served as a dental hygienist. That’s where she met my grandfather. But the story I’m referring to isn’t about how they met — although I know that one too — it’s about how sometimes at night, she would sit in the dark, holding the hands of dying soldiers when they no other hands to hold.

Nana didn’t want services. There is to be no funeral. No obituary to mark her passing. I didn’t ask why. I should have, but that would have meant actually acknowledging aloud what was happening. And I guess even at 36, I’m still a little immature.

Instead, I sliced a one inch cube of cantaloupe into 16 pieces hoping she might be able to eat a few. I soaked coffeecake in butter so that she might be able to swallow it. And for the last three nights I spent with her, I sat at her bedside, pulled up her covers, and held her hand.

Dear Gabriel,

Every night before bed I hold you and whisper a prayer into the space between your neck and mine. Sometimes it’s just the standard Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes I make up one of my own. Deep down I suspect that these prayers are not really for you. They are for me. I think I am really just praying to be better tomorrow than I was today. For you. And for the world I have brought you into.

Every day I watch you play on a colorful mat with whimsical drawings of turquoise elephants in a place where palm trees are pink and the sun actually smiles back. I watch as you furrow your brow as your try to make sense of the world at your feet. Why does everything you throw ultimately, and always, fall back down? What does the color red taste like? Does everything make a sound?

You do. These days you are testing your little voice. I think that is what is most profound for me to absorb. You have a voice and you are learning how to use it.

Your voice can be loud. You emphatically tell me that you do not like it when I use the blender. Your voice can convey excitement. Nothing seems to delight you more than when the cat comes almost near enough for you to touch. Your voice can be gentle. After we nurse, and right before I lay you down for the night, you stand on my legs and coo into the darkness. In those moments it becomes clear to me that you feel safe. I pray that this is always so.

My job as your mother is constantly changing. In the beginning my mandate was simple: Keep you alive.

Six months later my role has already expanded. I am supposed to create a space where you feel loved enough and secure enough to explore it without me. Because you seem to smile biggest when you are showing me the things you can do all by yourself. Like directing a spoon into your mouth. And banging plastic cups together so that they create a noise. (I am certain that there will be times ahead when I wish you wouldn’t.)

These days I find myself silently adding to the list of things I pray for you. Perhaps one day I will share them all. Perhaps one day I will share both my hopes and my fears with you. But right now, all you need to know is that you are loved, that you are safe, and that you have a voice.

Love,
Mom

how sweet it was

I hope you are writing this down. Because stories are everything, I said to a woman I met over Greek takeout in Manchester, N.H. We were sitting in the lobby of a hotel I never bothered to learn the name of. Neither of us was supposed to be there.

But our flights were cancelled due to a snowstorm that blanketed much of New England and we both found ourselves at the front desk studying menus of the three restaurants that would deliver to the spot 2,000 miles from where we were supposed to be. She suggested ordering together if I didn’t mind Greek. I don’t so we did. 

Over dinner she told me about her attempt to trace her family history. It ended with her great grandfather on her mother’s side. He grew up in a small village in Ukraine and was kidnapped by soldiers of the tsar’s army. When asked what his name was he couldn’t remember the answer. In all likelihood no one understood him—he spoke Yiddish, she said. Afterward her family’s last name was translated to mean, I can’t remember the answer. By age 19 he defected to England where a woman took pity on him and gave him a ticket aboard a ship to Maine. Her family has been in the same seaside community ever since. No one in the family knows their real last name. But they have a good story.

At the time I had been thinking a lot about good stories, and trying to discern what one really boils down to. It was on my mind because I was returning from a funeral – my Grampa Mac’s. I often wrote about him on this blog. And I used to record his stories about growing up during the Depression. But there comes a time when you don’t get to ask any more questions. When you simply offer a spoon with softened ice cream and wait. And there is nothing more to say.

My Grampa Mac.
My Grampa Mac.

My family is excellent at operating in crisis mode. Everyone shows up. Everyone has a job. Mine was to write Grampa’s obituary. I have the most practice writing them. My first paid job at a newspaper included the task of writing obituaries. They were sent from nearby funeral homes and I would sift through the notices trying to find ones that provided some details of a life lived. It always made me shudder when I came across a three sentence listing with just the person’s name, place of birth, where they died, and a list of their survivors, if any. As if not much happened in between, as though no one was there to witness a life.

There is no shortage of Mac DelGizzi stories. But there aren’t that many people left to tell them. Most of his peers died years ago. Grampa once gave my mom a tour of the local cemetery. All his friends were there. I know he missed them. He would talk about everybody disappearing.

This was his last big party.
This was his last big party.

Three weeks ago Grampa got a mild infection. I boarded a plane. And the rest of the family took turns rubbing his back. He died the moment everyone left the room. I like to think he saw an opportunity to jailbreak and took it.

Afterward I struggled to write his obituary. What events define a life? How to you trim nine decades into a few hundred words? Moreover, who gets to speak for the dead? Five years ago I wrote my Nana Dot’s. I found it easier because she died knowing exactly who I was. Grampa didn’t. Sometimes he would tell my mom he had a daughter named Terri. She was a good girl. I don’t know how she kept a straight face.

I resorted to interviewing people who knew him best and sifting through paper work from the basement. And I put in the parts I thought Grampa was proud of most: his family and his work, his love and his purpose. Everyone seemed to agree that Mac DelGizzi lived 91 big years. And was the expert of heavy things.

He was a career machinist first class for Bethlehem Steel Fore River Shipyard and General Dynamics. He helped build warships, including the USS Massachusetts, and propeller shafts for cruisers and LNG tankers. He could engineer a solution for any problem. His name can be found inside a ship’s bell or two if one looks hard enough.

giving him the business.

Mac was the oldest of five children. During the Depression he left school to help support his family. Afterward he joined the Army and was a decorated World War II veteran who served in the Philippine Campaign. He met Dottie, his wife of 62 years, working at Sevigny’s in Quincy. She cooked clams. He peeled potatoes. Together they had three children, played Kings in the Corner, and routinely accused the other of cheating at cards.

He loved working down the Cape with his brother Danny, growing tomatoes, a VO on the rocks, and fishing for flounder in his outboard around the Boston Harbor Islands. He and Dottie spent Saturday nights dancing with good friends at the Town River Yacht Club. They never missed a good party. How sweet it was.

mac and dottie.

Instead of flowers for the funeral, my brother and I planted Big Boy tomatoes in Grampa’s honor. 50 of them. Then we gave them away. I think Grampa would have liked that. We included instructions he once gave me for growing tomatoes.

Him: You plant them.
Me: Then what?
Him: You eat them.
Me: What do you in between?
Him: You watch them grow.

big boy tomatoes.

Typically late January is a little early to plant tomato starts. The nursery was just pulling bags of potting soil from the basement when we arrived. But it was worth a shot.

For the next week I watered the starts on my mother’s kitchen windowsill and watched as snowflakes dusted the backyard. I worried it was too cold for anything to germinate. The afternoon I headed to the airport I checked the pots and found a tiny green shoot poking out of the soil. I smiled. He made it.

the things we salvage

I met up with a former colleague this morning for coffee. She was in town because her mother got sick a few weeks ago and in all likelihood will never get better. My friend has spent the week shuttling her aging parents to various doctor appointments and meetings with their lawyer. They are starting to plan for the day when they can no longer live alone and have to put their life into boxes, sell off the rest, and move into a space where they can be forever chaperoned. It seems to be coming soon.

A doctor caring for my friend’s mother said that what happens as we age is we compensate for what we lose. We stabilize at lower levels of functioning until we slide and adapt at lower and lower levels until finally we fall off a cliff. Although it probably feels more like we are pushed off one. If we are fortunate, we have loved ones in proximity with the time, finances and health to prop us back up. My friend lives out of state and her job and house are not portable. She and her sister are cobbling together a patchwork care system to get through the holidays. And then they will see.

I know this system.

For the last four years I’ve watched from the periphery as my parents and aunt traded weeks caring for my grandfather after my nana died. Her death either pushed him off the ledge or revealed how much they compensated for the other’s deficiencies. She lost her lungs. He lost his mind.

I last saw my grampa in September. We sat outside on my parents’ back porch and I recorded our conversation because I am collecting the stories he hasn’t lost to dementia yet. He told me about World War II and the damn foxhole he dug every night because that’s what you did so you didn’t die. He said he was lucky he never got hurt. I have heard this all before, dozens of times now, but I nodded like it was the first. He never mentions his friends in the service. He ignores those prompts for information. Maybe he has forgotten them. Or perhaps there are just some things you do not speak of.

The human brain is clever. When my dad shaves my grandfather he knows to poke his tongue against his lower lip to push the skin out for the blade. But show him a picture of his wife of 60 years and he cannot make the connection. Sometimes he just needs context for who you are. A starting point to trace your relationship to him that always begins with my parents. I guess it’s like hearing your favorite song on the radio. You know you know the words but you can’t sing them unless you start from the beginning. Then it feels like the words never left you. Like they never could.

My parents, sister and I went to clean grampa’s house before he moved into a nursing facility. We opened dusty drawers and collected glassware from the cabinets. We put silverware and books in boxes. I found tablecloths my nana embroidered and a bag of old triptiks from AAA with maps that highlighted their routes. I unfolded one and saw advisories about speed traps scrawled in pencil along a Florida highway. The maps are adventures my grandparents took together. I didn’t want to throw them away, but none of us needs a roadmap to Florida these days, and grampa doesn’t own a car anymore. He can’t even drive to the end of the street.

My grandparents saved everything but somehow I feel I don’t have any record of their life. The basement is a repository of old tools and linens. My nana stashed birthday cards and pictures and bank statements in unmarked files and plastic bags in their dining room and closets. I sorted the piles of paperwork hoping to find something in her handwriting, some notation that could provide a glimpse into her mind and how she felt about anything. I just wanted a sentence. But I never found one. I think I have to start looking for their stories in the things they salvaged rather than the words they didn’t.

After hugging my friend goodbye this morning she said this: All we can do is leave something meaningful behind. I agree. And yet I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means.

perhaps

During a recent conversation with my boss we discussed the importance of learning from people who have different ideas than you. Most of the time nothing particularly special or noteworthy happens when individuals with various expertise sit down and talk about difficult things. But sometimes people start changing the questions. They start framing problems in a new way. We were talking about research. I thought about how this might apply to my grampa.

He is a person who exists between decades. He no longer has any real concept of time, or day, or even year. On my last visit to Boston I surprised him at his home. My parents and I didn’t bother to ring the doorbell; we let ourselves in and found my grampa sitting in his arm-chair in the living room. It startled me.

The television was off. There was no book in his lap. It didn’t appear as though he had been napping. He was just sitting in the room with the lights off. Eventually, his face broke into a slow smile and he started giving me the business—his version of saying, hi, I missed you. But the situation bothered me. I got the sense that this was something of a routine.

For years I called him every Sunday afternoon. He expected it. If I phoned after four he would rib me for being late. Eventually he would pass the phone and my nana would talk about the damn dog she loved so much, and then ask about my love life. Looking back, I wish I had better stories to tell her. I remember describing the night a boy I liked lent me his jacket because I was cold at a campfire. When there wasn’t more to the story she was disappointed asking, that’s it? My grampa was easier. He always seemed happy just to hear my voice on the other end.

Now, I still call him on Sundays. But he doesn’t remember that I do. Our conversations used to take about eight minutes. I started noticing when they dropped to six. Lately it’s around four. I am beginning to think the Sunday calls are more for me now.

There will be occasions when grampa seems good, like we are having a real conversation. I ask a question, he answers, then he returns the serve. Often it pertains to the weather. The overall narrative is the same: I tell him I am working. He says he is glad to hear it. These moments usually fade and I wind up repeating the same question a few different ways. I know he has trouble hearing me, but I am never certain if that’s the problem, or if I am simply asking too much of him.

I find myself digging for proof of memory. My questions change in their meaning.  When I ask what he had for lunch I am really asking if he remembers us. I want to understand where he goes when he is still in front of me. When I ask him to peel potatoes does that trigger anything in his mind? Does he connect that task with his job peeling potatoes at the clam shop where he first met my nana? Or is that another decade he has lost? Sometimes I wonder if I am interrupting his world when I call. He never can really say where he’s been.

My parents will show him photos of our family. Of his wife. His children. They say he has trouble identifying people in the images. That he often thinks they are people from his past. Sometimes he just outright asks if particular friends are still alive. Because he hasn’t seen them in a while …

What gives me hope is that he can remember my nephews. They are just seven and a half months old. Although he cannot remember their names, he knows them. And for me, this is something. It means he can make new connections in his brain. At the end of the month I am heading south to visit a man studying cognitive decline in elderly populations. I am doing it for work. And for me.

I would by lying if I said I wasn’t hoping he has some answers. I admit, I am hoping he will tell me we are doing it wrong. That not recognizing people in photographs doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t know who they were to you. I realize hope doesn’t have anything to do with science. And that perhaps we aren’t using the wrong vocabulary to communicate with grampa. Perhaps we aren’t just asking the wrong questions. Then again, perhaps.