“You can try again in a few months.”
No one tells you when you’re sitting in the waiting room of your first OB appointment that you might never make it full term. There are magazines about parenting with cherubic smiles on the covers and pamphlets about nutrition and exercise to encourage a healthy 9 months of pregnancy. No one talks about what happens after you wake up in the middle of the night with blood in your underwear and cramping so severe you can’t stand up to go to the bathroom. Miscarriage is the word no one wants to say out loud. It is that impossible taboo that is hushed until you reach the magic 12 week hurdle. I miscarried at twelve weeks. I miscarried at eight weeks. I miscarried at four, six and ten. I have miscarried more times than I have gone full term and each time I lost a pregnancy I learned a little more about myself and about my spouse.
We were newlyweds when I had my first miscarriage. We were new to each other as husband and wife, as lovers and most importantly as expectant parents. I was ten weeks pregnant when I felt the cramping. The blood came next and then I felt that tiny being leave my body. It didn’t look like much but I held it in the palm of my hand and felt the dreams of family leave my heart. It broke me that this tiny being rejected my body as the vessel for life. I felt empty. I felt inadequate. I was twenty-five years old and it had never occurred to me that I might not deliver this life that my husband and I had created. When I looked at my hospital records I saw the doctor’s notations, spotting, cramping, still in pain… ended OB care. There is something so final in the use of those three words. Even as I read them all these years later the loss makes my soul ache.
It’s been over twenty-two years since my first miscarriage and I can still see the blood in that hallway and smell the medicated wipes that the nurse gave me. She couldn’t look me in the eye. I was so young and inexperienced as a woman. How would I know if I’d ever be a mother. How would I know if this would happen again. You can’t know. It doesn’t make sense and there isn’t an answer. The first time that it happened I didn’t care to ask. It was the seventeenth of December. There were so many firsts happening that my “first miscarriage” wasn’t meant to be a part of the holiday season. I had to dress up and wear a happy face. I put on my festive sweater. It was my first Christmas as a married woman. While my new in-laws celebrated around the Christmas tree I cried in the kitchen. While the teenage relative complained about the gifts that she didn’t get I was wondering how I would make it through this unbearable loss.
It didn’t kill me, but it didn’t make me stronger either. It made me feel weak. It made me feel inadequate. I looked at my new husband and wondered if he saw me as less of a woman. I felt like less of a woman. As a child, my father often told me that feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. That first December I felt like motherhood might not be a possibility. My husband held me every time I cried. He walked me through the hospital with the strength of faith and spirit that inspires me to this day. I learned very early in our marriage that I would never be alone in happiness but most importantly, in sorrow.
We tried again once I was cleared medically. My second pregnancy was not a simple exciting time. I was nervous and anxious and I believe that energy seeped into our child. The first twelve weeks of pregnancy were not joy filled. I cried often and felt isolated because we didn’t want to tell anyone until we hit that magic number twelve weeks. When it came, I remember crying and praying that this tiny being inside of me would grow to become a new life. We didn’t have insurance for an ultrasound so we wondered if we would have a Nicholas or a Katherine. From the moment he was born, Nicholas was anxious, fussy and frail. He came three weeks early and was the tiniest being. He was jaundiced and colicky and only stopped crying when you bounced him in the air. I felt joy. I felt proud and I felt very lucky.
My husband and I talked about children a lot when we were dating and after our engagement. He has seven siblings and I have three. We planned to have a big family; not baseball team size but maybe our own little basketball team. Just enough that they didn’t have to raise each other. The universe has a way of humbling our plans. My third pregnancy ended at eight weeks and I had stopped nursing my son. I felt betrayed by my own body. Eight weeks is long enough for the chemical changes to affect your physical self. I’m not a doctor but as the biology of pregnancy left my body I felt the emptiness of failing to create life for the second time.
Our doctor gave the same encouraging speech and reminded us that our one year old was a great and healthy being. His frankness wasn’t comforting and watching the pregnant women sitting in the waiting room brought the first round of tears. I could no longer nurse my one year old. I couldn’t grow another life inside me. How could I possibly consider another pregnancy. I looked at my husband. He was with me every moment. He was there to hold our one year old boy while I fell apart. He was going to be an amazing daddy. The only thing in the world that I wanted to give to him was another child.
My fourth pregnancy was ironically the calmest I’ve been in my life. When the stick read pregnant I was sobbing. I wanted so much, but all I could think about was the one thing that could go wrong. My husband told me that no matter what happened in the next few months that we were happy and that we had Nicholas and he was beautiful. Our son David was born just 6 days short of Nicholas’ second birthday. He was strong. I felt his life growing inside of me and that unborn life reminded me how precious we are. He rolled in my belly like a gymnast and every time I felt that flutter, the loss faded from my soul. I had no idea happiness could be so overwhelming. I loved being pregnant.
Less than a week after David’s birth I almost died. Our extended family and friends gathered to celebrate Nicholas’ second birthday and at that same party we presented young David for everyone to meet. He slept all afternoon in the arms of almost every adult. Just before we cut the cake I felt the first pains. Just like the feelings of labor my body hitched and pinched with contractions. The blood came next in a way that I’d not experienced during childbirth or miscarriage. I was afraid. We left the party, and our children with my family. By the time we arrived at the hospital I’d bled through the huge maxi pads they gave me after delivery. I remember laying on the table in the emergency room with a puddle of blood beneath me. The stitches from my newborn’s birth had been torn by the heavy handed ER doctor. He didn’t know how to stop the bleeding and I remember fading in and out from the loss of blood. My husband was there. He was always there and he put his hand up in front of the ER doctor demanding my OB/GYN. My husband saved my life more than any trained professional ever could. He knew exactly who needed to be there and he made it happen.
I have spotty recollections of that night. I remember softball sized clots, D&C and IV drugs. I remember waking up in the maternity ward without my newborn. There is an emptiness to hearing the sounds of crying babies while your breasts let down milk for a child that is waiting for you at home. We were all alive but I wondered if the idea of a basketball team would ever become a reality.
I nursed my second son until he was eighteen months old. Until I became pregnant the fifth time. To this day I can still remember what it felt like when my milk came in to feed him. Being the mother of two young boys was glorious. I stayed home and played and cooked and cleaned; the things I vowed never to settle for, fulfilled me. I was twelve weeks pregnant when I miscarried for the third time. I cried for days. I didn’t know at the time that I would never nurse a child again. I didn’t know at the time that this would always haunt me. I wanted to give my husband a daughter. She would have been Katherine.
Hospitals aren’t forthcoming when you have a miscarriage. It’s a hushed experience and I wished that a woman had come in to talk with me about the emotions I wasn’t prepared to handle. They have support for so many aspects of pregnancy but after a miscarriage they send you home and the emptiness that follows can never be filled.
We tried two more times to make a daughter. Katherine never came. I went through the emotional lows of miscarriage with the loving arms of my husband David around me. My seventh pregnancy ended at six weeks and the final notation in my medical files felt like a slamming door. “It is possible that she was…” using the past tense means death. The loss of every child was a death. I was pregnant seven times and I lost five children. That’s a lot of hopes and dreams for catching fireflies, building sandcastles, jumping in mud puddles and shooting free-throws. My final O/B entry is dated April 15, 2003. That is the last time I was pregnant. I had been pregnant seven times before our eighth anniversary. You can’t build a basketball team that way.
I decided that I hated sports.
There wasn’t an immediate ah-ha moment in this chapter of my life. I decided that I couldn’t manage the chemical chaos that happened inside my body after that fifth miscarriage. David and I decided that we would parent our two boys with intentions to raise kind gentle men, like their father. That became my full-time job. I take it seriously and occasionally I’ve wished that Katherine had shown up to tip the estrogen scale a little more in my favor. So much loss led me to a place of love; perhaps the kind of love that helps you to see what’s important when you begin parenting. We still make messes and sometimes we don’t clean them up for days. That’s what matters in a family, the love. Love that takes you into the darkest places, holding on tight enough to get you through to the brighter times.
About the Author
Sharon Kennedy Angelici was born in the American Midwest but her heart belongs to Colorado. She is a full-time wife, mother, artist and lover of life. She has been writing works of fiction, short stories and poetry since childhood. Sharon and her son are working blacksmiths and artists. They have been making chainmaile jewelry and creating forged sculptures since 2013.
In 2016 Sharon published “Dear Kane; what I wish we would have said.” This short story explores parent child relationships and the devastation of prejudice. The publication is close to her heart and profits help fund, promote awareness and implement educational programs about suicide, depression and mental health through Just Live, inc and dearkane.org.