After Mimi was born, there were four miscarriages. I might write more about these, later, maybe. Enough to say, I became pregnant when Mimi was 4 months old; we were startled (and a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having three kids ages 2 and under), but happy. At my 12-week OB appointment and ultrasound, I thought the baby looked a bit…undifferentiated. Lumpish, maybe? And the normally chatty tech was oddly focused on the screen. Then she told me very simply and gently that she wasn’t picking up a heartbeat and left it at that, waiting for it to sink in. I took the news in silence. What was there to say?
That was Phillip Joseph.
The grief just blind-sided us. I was still deep in the throes of it one month later when I found out I was pregnant again. For the first time, I was emphatically not happy about it. That space in my body belonged to Phillip Joseph and I was not ready to let another person take his place. I wrestled and prayed and struggled with the pregnancy, until a week or so later, when I began bleeding. It happened so fast that there must not have ever been a viable fetus, but, surprisingly, it was still difficult to accept.
Some months, or possibly as much as a year, later — I can’t remember this timeline clearly now, and I think some of that is because of the haze of grief and confusion of that time — I became pregnant a third time. Because of my other two miscarriages, my OB wanted me checked out early this time, at 6 weeks. I went into the ultrasound room, and the tech — this same lady, whom I like so much — left the room briefly, then returned and broke it to me that the gestational sac was empty. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I double-checked with the doctor before letting you know, since I wanted to be sure. But he said we should definitely be able to see something by now.”
“Oh.” Breathe. There’s nothing there. Nothing lost, just something that never was. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Yes. I’ll be alright,” I said. But when I went to get off the table, I suddenly found I was dizzy and couldn’t stay upright. They had me lie down for a bit and then my sister came to drive me home.
Now, to my doctor’s thinking, it was time to go through the basic protocol to see if we could find out the reason for the miscarriages. “I think it’s most likely simply a matter of your age,” he said. Miscarriages are common after 40. Probably nothing to worry about, but we need to check. Of course. Straight out of the gate, I tested positive for endometriosis. Surprise and disbelief from both of us, given my complete lack of symptoms, but — good news! That can be addressed with surgery, and there would be every reason to hope for a healthy pregnancy afterwards.
The surgery took three hours, as my endometriosis was apparently very extensive, and it was far more than the simple “procedure” I had been expecting. Still, it was done, and — lo and behold! I became pregnant not three months later. Now it will stick! we all thought.
But, of course, that wasn’t to be, either. The baby’s heartbeat at the 6-week ultrasound was dangerously low, and the tech — this same, lovely woman, who hated her job at that moment with every fiber of her being — gave her about a 50% chance of survival. I had had the prescience to bring Phillip to this appointment, and she left the two of us alone for a while. “Are you okay?” he asked. I looked at him and said, “We are going to lose this baby, too.”
“You don’t know that,” he admonished. “She said there was a 50% chance the baby will live.” But I thought I did know. And I remembered then that, when I first found out I was pregnant that time, I didn’t feel joy. I had immediately begun to sob. I cried so hard all day — it was a Sunday — that I told Phillip I couldn’t go to Mass with the family and I simply lay in bed and cried. Right from the very first moment, I felt sure that the baby was going to be taken away from us and that my heart was going to be broken all over again. I had never had that reaction to any pregnancy before.
During the next week, though, we stormed heaven. I contacted everyone I knew and asked them to pray for this baby. Friends I contacted turned around and sent on the request to prayer chains and religious groups they were connected with. Phillip sent the word to his friends, including several priests. I contacted my former convent. By the end of the week, we had as many as 500 people praying for us, including four religious communities.
A week later, I had some light spotting — possibly nothing, but they brought me in for an ultrasound to check.
The baby was gone. That was Isabella.
Even though this was the most recent miscarriage, I am already losing the details of it in my mind. I don’t remember the tech telling me she had died. I don’t know if Phillip was there for that appointment, but I don’t think he was. —no, he wasn’t. I do remember now. I came home (he was mercifully working from home that day) and he knew the moment he saw my face. We died another time and put a second grave in the cemetery.
Then, for a year, I raged at God. We prayed so hard. We all prayed so hard. Everyone! Was there anything else we could have done that we didn’t do? This time — this one time — I knew about the pregnancy before the child was lost, and we prayed and trusted and implored You. I had to go to Confession and tell the priest I didn’t believe that prayer did any good whatsoever. God hears, but He doesn’t alter His plans for us, I said.
That grief and anger is already becoming dim in my memory now, but it was intense at the time, and for a good while. I began having panic attacks at random times — often when I was out shopping by myself, but they could strike at any time. I would feel something like an iron band around my chest and not be able to breathe. I tried to see a counselor, but she never quite understood my grief. She thought it was disappointment at not being able to carry a baby to term. Or guilt for not doing enough to honor my lost babies. Or something. She thought it was about me. But, like all of parenting, it wasn’t about me: “My babies died. How hard is this to understand?” I stopped going to see her.
And then some more time passed, during which things happened that I don’t remember — about a year — and suddenly, I was pregnant again.
I took the pregnancy test almost on a whim. It was too early to even have a legitimate suspicion that I might be pregnant, but I just…wondered. I felt guilty for wasting a pregnancy test. And then I stared at the “+” sign for many, many minutes.
From the beginning, I was mostly numb. Cautious. We’ll just wait and see, I kept thinking to myself. Being pregnant doesn’t mean there will be a baby. I didn’t know what to think, and I was tired. I was so battered and tired. An early OB appointment at 6 weeks showed everything was…normal. (Normal? Wait.) I pestered the tech (that lovely, patient, relieved woman) with questions: what are the chances things could look normal at this point and still end in miscarriage? Could there be problems we aren’t seeing? How prepared do I have to be for more grief?
The doctor recommended we throw everything and the kitchen sink at this pregnancy to help it stick: low-dose aspirin, progesterone supplements, even a medicine that had to be injected into the abdomen daily. I stabbed myself in the stomach every night for about 7 weeks, because — why not? Let’s just try.
And everything was normal.
But we wouldn’t know for sure that things would be okay just yet. There was still that first trimester to get through, and nothing would tell us anything except time.
Then one morning, somewhere around late April, I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window and groaning internally at the return of snow after a few weeks of more suitable spring weather. At that time, I was always, on some level, thinking about the pregnancy and the fetus and wondering, fearing, hoping. I began wondering if the snow was a sign that there would be no life this time, either: Always winter in the end.
All of a sudden, a large, plump robin began hopping his way through the snowy grass, utterly indifferent to the huge flakes falling on and around him. To him, clearly, spring had come, and if the snow didn’t realize that yet, that was no concern of his. There were worms to find and a nest to build and life to be gotten on with. I had never seen a robin in snow before, and I just stared at him for several minutes.
Then I saw it as a promise.
The pregnancy was normal, normal, normal at every step. If I could have made things go wrong by the sheer force of my belief that they would go wrong, there would be no baby now. But she was healthy, strong, and determined to just go on being, whatever difficulties her mother had coming to grips with that. Anna Sophia was born on her due date in the most boringly uncomplicated delivery the world has ever seen. I had no pain, and there was nothing but calm joy in that room when she entered it.
A month after she was born, I began singing to her as I bounced and swayed and rocked her to sleep — the first song that came to mind, and it stuck and became her lullaby. The first time I sang it, she opened her eyes suddenly, looked up at me, and smiled. She likes singing! I thought. So I kept singing it:
Oh, little red bird, fly to my windowsill;
Been so lonesome, shaking that morning chill.
Oh, little red bird, open your mouth and sing;
Been so lonesome, I almost took the wing.
So long now, I’ve been out in that rain and snow,
But winter’s come and gone — a little bird told me so.