man in a picture

Scan 2018-8-2 20.44.06

Lately, my two and half year old (actually two and eleven-twelfths year old) has been talking about my dad.

“You miss your dad, huh mom?” she says as she softly places her hand on my shoulder at the dinner table.

In fact, she’s been talking about him nonstop…

In the car: “Your dad died, huh mom?”

On the toilet: “Your dad went to the hospital. That’s why he’s not here, huh mom?”

Before bed: “Your dad’s body doesn’t work any more, huh mom?”

In the Story Time room at the library: “Your dad’s in a picture, huh mom?”

And, once last week, while she twirled around in her “pink” dress (which is actually yellow) with the tulle “baller-nina” skirt, she sang with joyful exuberance: “Your dad is dead!”

Each time she brings it up, I wince a little, its randomness and slight insensitivity like being pelted by tiny bits of gravel. I haven’t thought about my dad this much in a long time. It all started when I showed her a picture of my father which I have pinned to a bulletin board in the dining room. He stands there next to a boat, holding up two salmon. His hair in a curly fro and wearing jean overalls. A small child is tucked behind him, perhaps my brother. It must have been the late 70s.

I told my daughter that this was my dad, just like she has a daddy. I imperfectly explained that he’s not alive. That he got really sick and the doctors couldn’t fix him. That his body doesn’t work anymore. Each time I say a little more, attempting to explain death to a two and eleven-twelfths year old. Once I tried to say that he was in heaven but when she asked what that meant, I settled on “he’s only in pictures now.”

I was so young when I lost my father. Many of my memories are acute: the minty smell of the gum he always chewed, the sound of him clearing his throat, the pain I felt when I saw him in the casket for the first time. Then there are the faded ones: the way he crossed his tree trunk legs and an outline of a wallet in the back pocket of his jeans. And some memories are completely lost: the sound of his voice, every word he ever said to me. These days, he’s becoming more and more just a man in a picture, static and enigmatic. I have a hard time articulating why I miss him. But I’m still overwhelmed by emotion on the anniversary of his death, twenty-two years later.

We gave our son the middle name Archer as a nod to my dad. He was a bow hunter, spending his late fall weekends in the Michigan woods, hoping to fill our freezer with enough venison to last the winter. In the summers, my father would set up a target in the backyard to practice. My siblings and I would take turns standing at one end of the clothesline and shooting the child-sized bow and arrow we had. Occasionally my dad coached us but mostly we played with these weapons by ourselves, two missteps away from an After School Special.

We also picked the name Archer because of something I read once in a book called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.”

At the time, I had recently experienced a miscarriage, so I mainly breathed in the passages about grief and pain like air from an oxygen tank. But I tucked away the notion about children as arrows in the back of my mind as reinforcement for why I wanted to have a child.

Tonight as my daughter sat on her bed, actively avoiding bedtime, I said to her (or maybe more to myself), “This is the day that my daddy died.”

And she simply replied, “Mmm hmmm. And he can’t have any tea parties.”

Exactly, little lamb. I laughed a little as my eyes filled with tears. There would be no tea parties or any other memory shared with her Grandpa Daniel.

But then I began to think about the passage from Gibran and a deep comfort began to spread in my ever-anxious belly. Even though my children will never actually meet my father, they will know him through me. I am a “living arrow” that he sent out into the world. When I work hard, they will know him. When I laugh heartily, they will know him. When I offer a hand without hesitation, they will know him. He will be more than just a man in a picture.

12 weeks – part 8: due date

August 24, 2014

“Sooo…you’re pregnant,” he said.

“Nope, I’m not,” I replied.

“Yeah, you are!” he insisted.

“Nooo…I’m not,” I insisted back.

He proceeded, “Oh, I thought you were pregnant…was that a while ago?”

“I was, but we lost the baby,” I tried to say lightheartedly.

“Oh, jeez, I’m sorry…”

This exchange was nothing short of awkward. It happened a few weeks ago between a well-intentioned buddy of Mike’s and me. I’m sure he half-read a post on Facebook back in February, didn’t calculate the months that had passed and failed to look down at my very un-pregnant waistline. I’d like to say that this was the only time this has happened. But it isn’t. It’s by far the worst, but it’s not an isolated incident.

Shortly after this weird conversation, I left the ungodly high temps of Oregon to spend time with my family in Michigan. It was incredible to see how my nieces and nephews have grown and matured. I loved hearing about the latest accomplishments of my three “babies” who are now pre-teens, the joyful giggles of my preschool-aged niece and nephew as they swung on the tire swing, and the hilarious intonations of the two toddlers as they figured out how to communicate all the thoughts in their funny little heads.

During one of our family get-togethers, in a wild game of balloon toss, my almost-three-year-old niece brought me a balloon, lifted up my shirt and tucked it under.

“You have a baby in your belly!” she squealed.

I smiled warmly at her and said, “I do? You’re so funny!”

She laughed and ripped the balloon out, returning to her game of keep-away. I sank back and bit my lip. I wish.

Looking down at my concave belly, familiar feelings of disappointment and loss traveled through me. Pouring into my anxious stomach, sadness settling into my toes. I would have been huge at this point if it hadn’t happened.

Soon the exhausting sound of a young child crying about a peanut butter sandwich or some other desperate need interrupted my thoughts. I watched the self-denial of the mother who got up from the table, leaving her untouched lunch, to tend to her child. Guilty and conflicting feelings of relief washed over me. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe motherhood is not for me. But I know deep down that this is not true. Nobody is ever ‘ready’ for kids.

My good girlfriend and I were able to catch up after quite a bit of time apart during this time at home. She gave me opportunity to process this last year, which I hadn’t done in a while. One realization that I came to through our chat was that, although no one has ever told me I can’t talk about my pregnancy, I feel like I shouldn’t. Somehow I have internalized an idea that a woman only has the right to talk about her pregnancy if she actually has the baby. However, if you were just “a little pregnant” (whatever that means), you shouldn’t talk about it because it comes with a sad story.

An example of this illogical rule I’ve created would be if, say, you go out to dinner with friends who have a baby or children. It wouldn’t be weird for the mother to reference her morning sickness during the first trimester if it comes up in conversation. Oh yeah, I could never eat eggs with runny yoke when I was pregnant for Joey. However, if I were to talk about the morning sickness I had when I was pregnant it doesn’t have such a happy ending. I lived on Rice Chex for 12 weeks. The end. I feel like at this point everyone is then going to start thinking about a dead baby, which is downright depressing. And nobody likes a Debbie Downer.

But I want to talk about it! I want to claim it, to own the motherhood that I held in my heart for a brief moment. I love remembering the time when I felt so completely important and powerful, even if it ended too soon. It feels good to commiserate with fellow mamas who know what it’s like to avoid a hot tub and a glass of wine. (Do you realize how HARD that was for me? How does one do this for nine months?!) Instead, I mention it to people who I know are willing to listen and have signed up to be there for me even when it feels like I’m “dwelling” on something I should be over by now.

My dear friend told me that I need to talk about it. She reminded me that the only person wondering why I’m still bringing it up is myself. Rather, those who love me are probably wondering how I’m doing. This encouragement she extended to me was an allowance of love. It strengthened me to own this piece of my story without fear of “depressing someone.” So here I am, mentioning it again. I’m hopeful that talking about it more, even six months later, will encourage any other women or men who have experienced this loss to speak up about it too.

I know why this is so hard right now. I have been thinking about this month for nine months. For three of those, I had very different expectations for what would befall. And for the remaining six of those months, I have been attempting to piece back together a future that I had built quite a bit of hope in. My “someday,” that is still possible, just not on a timeline that I had determined for myself.

My due date would have been tomorrow. Not that the actual date means much in the real world of pregnancies that go to term, but it is significant to me. It makes me think about the “Choose your own adventure” that is life, and how much choice we actually have. I wonder what could have been had a right turn been made rather than a left. Modern technology makes this curiosity a little useless though because I know the baby was never viable to begin with. There was no choice that I made that put me on one path versus another.

Is it possible that I am thankful? Not thankful that my life went this particular direction (because I would never wish the disappointment I’ve felt this year upon anyone). But I am thankful that my life is what it is. Because the same roads that have brought me pain, have also brought me more love and peace than I could ever imagine. I’m thankful that sometimes life just does its thing and you just have to trust that there is a way it’s supposed to be. I’m also thankful that through this difficult valley, I have learned so much about giving myself grace and acceptance for whatever I’m feeling right then. Even when it feels wrong or misplaced or expired. Grace. Whether you believe it comes from above or within. You can’t get through shit like this without it. Nor can you heal without talking about it, honestly, with people you love. I’m thankful for these things and more.

© 2014 D. Willson


Inspired by this collection of writing, I have begun to collect other’s stories about their experience with pregnancy loss. To learn more, please visit my Baby Elephants Project page.

12 weeks – part 6: letting go

April 5, 2014

I think I would be remiss to leave my “12 Weeks” story on the uplifting note that all was well – that I have grieved and now I’m better.  Because that’s not how miscarriages work, that’s not how grief works.  It becomes the monkey on your back that you carry with you to work every day, the elephant in the room when you’re out to dinner with friends, and sometimes it even becomes an angry bull in the china shop that is life.  But then somehow between the trapped moments, there are points of freedom, clarity and peace. My mind has become a menagerie, and my thoughts are equal parts remarkable and untamed.

And for some reason, this week seems to be harder than the week after my miscarriage.  I don’t know what it is.

Well maybe I do.  I’ve been unsure whether to share this detail of “my story” with you as it seems unnecessary.  However, as I’ve worked on acceptance and understanding of the recent change of my plans, I have searched for other’s stories that might help me feel less alone.  Also, I have always loved physiology and find the next part of my story pretty fascinating to share (albeit painful and frustrating).

The Friday after I had my D&C, while I was out to lunch, my doctor called to explain that they had gotten the lab test results.  I was quite surprised to hear this because I didn’t know they were doing any testing on the fetus.  She spoke in a careful way, each word wrapped up in softness.  “The lab results indicated that you had something called a partial-molar pregnancy, which is caused by a genetic fluke.  But it does bring the possibility of some complications that I’d like to discuss with you.”  I had just started eating a hamburger and the restaurant was pretty loud.  I asked her to hold on a second, tossed my lunch into the trash and walked outside.

She went on to explain to me that essentially, our baby had 3 sets of chromosomes as opposed to the normal set of two.  These babies don’t tend to make it beyond the first trimester and if they do, they often cause risk to the mother if carried to term and none have lived beyond 10 months.  Because of this genetic abnormality, there is another risk factor.  The triploid set of chromosomes causes the placenta cells to grow abnormally.  Which means, in some cases, the cells could continue to grow unchecked after miscarriage.  And in the worst cases, these cells can spread to other areas of the body and can be cancerous.  Though treatment is nearly 100% effective, chemotherapy is the route to get rid of them.

Cancer.

Chemotherapy.

The two C-words that make my heart shrink and retreat.  I thought of the beautiful people in my life who have had to own these words.  How they wore them with such grace and strength – even though they did not ask nor did they deserve to have to bear those things.  While my doctor assured me that the chances of this becoming cancerous were very slim, I just couldn’t shake the words off.  They felt like two ton weights resting on my chest.

My doctor explained that the placenta cells produce the same hormone as a fetus does in early pregnancy (that which is detected by a pregnancy test – HCG).  The way they check for abnormal cell growth is through weekly blood tests.  Once you get three negative blood tests back in a row, they proceed to do monthly blood tests for six more months after that.

And the trick to all of this being accurate is that I absolutely cannot get pregnant.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

So every week for the past five weeks, I have had to sit in the same waiting room of my clinic with pregnant women and tiny babies, waiting to get my blood drawn.  This weekly reminder that will eventually turn into a monthly reminder.  And someday it will fade away.  But right now it is ever present.  I’ve seen the clinic more now than when I was pregnant.  Everyone there seems to know my “situation.”  They smile apologetically at me.

I suppose it’s nice to be making new friends.  I try to encourage myself.

But that’s the polite part of me.  Every time I’m there I want to pick up a chair and throw it.  And I want to yell at the lady behind the desk, Yes!  I still f-ing live on _______ street.  Yes I still have Moda insurance!  You just saw me last week and you’ll see me again next week!  Can’t you remember anything???  And to the stupid girl who hit a nerve and bruised it the last time she drew my blood, I would like to say thank you!  Thank you for giving me a minute-by-minute reminder any time I reach for something that I had a miscarriage.  Or the nurse who insensitively said that I am “still chemically pregnant” on the phone.  Umm, no I’m not!  That was taken away from me.

Then I slip back into my nice mode.  I’m sure that the desk lady is required to ask me every time where I live and that the phlebotomist must have been having a bad day. I don’t know if there are any excuses for the nurse on the phone, maybe she’s never had a miscarriage and doesn’t understand.  And I soften a bit, feeling awful for my thoughts and judgment.  I say a quick prayer for forgiveness and try to send them love and light as best I can.

All of the encouraging stories of “we started trying again after a month and now have a healthy baby” feel like teasing.  I have not gotten a negative blood test yet but my numbers have been within normal range and have dropped like they are supposed to over time. I’m not as worried about cancer.  But this isn’t going as I had planned in my head.  I planned to wait the month that they suggest, then we were going to try again.  Now I have to wait and I watch the weeks tick by that are turning into months and I worry that they will become years.

I would have been 20 weeks this Tuesday.  This could have been the week that we found out “what kind” of baby we were to have. A little girl?  A boy?  Was my hunch wrong?  Instead, I will sit in the office waiting for my sixth blood test.  Waiting for very different news.  Trying to keep my inner grizzly bear from emerging.

Right now that Disney ballad “Let it go” from Frozen is on the radio every morning.  As annoying as it is becoming, I sing it at the top of my lungs, like all the little 4 year olds you see on Youtube who are equally as moved by the song.  (Do yourself a favor and watch these funny little munchkins if you haven’t yet.)  The music critic in me thinks that maybe the kids are a little sharp on the last high note, but I forgive them because the abandon in which they sing is inspiring.  I imagine myself throwing off the weight of this grief I’m carrying, twirling around with my hands in fists and my eyes squeezed shut.

But the reality is that it is not something you can just toss off your shoulders and move on.  Each day you might only chip off a small chunk of the yoke that sits on your shoulders, binding you to “the news” that is slowly becoming your history.  And over time a bit of the wood seems to have settled into your bones, becoming a part of you.

Anne Lamott recently said,

“This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe…It’s hard here, and weird. The greatness of love and laughter, the pain of loss, the bearing of one another’s burdens, are all mixed up, like the crazy catch-all drawer in the kitchen.”

That’s how I feel these days.  I am a pair of scissors lying next to a matchbook from an old hotel.  And it seems like these past few years I’ve been desperately trying to organize the inconsistencies and lack of logic that I see all around me.  I need to close the drawer and let it go.  My plans and my timelines are simply not required to get me from point A to the inevitable point B.  Whether it’s God, or Fate or the Universe or Love or Physics – something else infinitely more powerful than me is saying, I’ve got this.  Let it go.

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks – part 5: sail on silver girl

March 7, 2014

Everyone kindly tells you to take time for yourself, to grieve.  An allowance that may not have been given the same sensitivity in years past, when miscarriage was a silent burden women must bear alone.  I know I am blessed to have been given a “handle with care” stamp on my forehead and I will not take that for granted.  But even with the permission and space to grieve, no one gives you an instruction manual.  There are no recommendations about how to act and what to do.  So you watch yourself carefully, wondering what to do with your hands and whether you’ve accomplished this thing called “grief.”

I don’t think this is uncommon.  Ten years ago when I was a junior in college, the mother of a friend of mine from high school was tragically killed in a car crash. And though we hadn’t stayed terribly close since we graduated, I called my friend up to check on her after the funeral.  At first we made awkward small talk about surfacey things like the snow and final exams but eventually we eased into how she was doing with the loss of her mother.  She asked me, “When your dad died, how long did it take you to get over it?”

Her voice was shaky and I could tell there was no selfishness behind her question, even when using words like “get over it.”  She was in over her head and she just wanted some measure of how long it would feel like she was drowning.  I found her question a bit amusing, though not in the laughing sort of way.  Because it had been eight years since my dad had passed and I still had days where I felt stricken by grief.  I told her that and realized it wasn’t helpful information.  What I should have said is, it will fade with time and that time will be different for everyone.

Nearly five weeks ago now, I received news that plunged me down below the water line again.  So, following the advice from everyone and their mother to “take time for myself,” I took a couple days off work that happened to back up to a furlough day, a weekend and a holiday – giving me six days to grieve however I felt necessary.  This took the form of doctor’s visits and phone calls and filling the spaces with mindless entertainment.  Gorging myself on crime-scene shows that solved all the apparent problems within the allotted hour time slot (which probably didn’t help my already anxiety-prone mind).

One week later I found myself back at work.  The first day was rather unproductive as I had a steady stream of friends stopping in to give their support, which lead to much-too-long personal conversations during work hours.  I felt bad “taking time to grieve” on the tax payers dime, but I wasn’t sure the first day back could be managed any other way.  So I looked at the sign I have next to my computer that says, “Let whatever you did today be enough,” and I said ok.

For the most part, distraction is good.  And I found the daily challenges of work to be refreshing in comparison to hours of laying around.  I guess, there was necessary time to help my body heal after surgery.  However the lack of purpose began to sink in about day five and the physical act of standing up and getting your blood flowing again reminds you that you are still in fact alive.  At work I had to-do lists and emails to answer, easy things to tick off and feel important.  A little white lie that was necessary for survival.

But after work, in the emptiness of my house, the clouds rolled in.  I would lie on the couch and cry from the minute I got home.  Not sobby tears, but leaky tears.  I would wish for the hours between dinner and bed to blink by so I could just sleep.  Grieving was exhausting.  I’m guessing this is depression talk.  But I didn’t feel depressed – I have before and it wasn’t the same.  I just felt broken, so needy and weak.  Like a Christmas ornament mended with Elmer’s glue.

I know time is not something you should wish away.  It is a non-renewable resource that gives me pain when I consider the day when I will have to say goodbye to another person I love.  Love that makes me want to make myself small and curl up in my husband’s shirt pocket so I can be close to his heart all day long.  It’s not sane love.  It’s irrational and frightening.  I only feel it mildly on normal days.  But in these days of mourning, I feel it so deeply that my heart aches.  How can we feel the depth of love and depth of loss so equally in one singular moment?  I feel like I might be going mad with this feeling.  Yet it’s also the buoy that keeps my head above water.

Watching endless hours of TV is not a sustainable method of grief.  So eventually I went to the bookstore to look for a book on miscarriage.  Perhaps a “how-to” survival guide for beginners.  At the back of the children’s section, in the same row as the pregnancy books I had perused just a few weeks before, was a tiny section on “grief and loss.”  There were three books about miscarriage on the shelf and they were nestled among titles like, What happened to Grandma and Dealing with Divorce.  I picked up one and leafed through its pages.  The chapter titles encapsulated a woman who had to battle in silence, alone.  While I know this was a story many women had lived, it wasn’t my story and it didn’t seem applicable.  So I placed the book back on the shelf and walked away.  Making a mental note to write a strongly-worded email to the store manager about their less-than-helpful selection and pretty callous location choice for books of that nature.

Instead of a book on miscarriage, I left the store with a book on faith by Anne Lamott.  She is an author that has always intrigued me, especially as an f-bomb dropping, feminist, liberal Christian.  I didn’t know she was these things at first.  At first she was an author that gave me courage to be a writer.  In her book Bird by Bird, she taught me to face my fears of being honest in my writing.  A bravery I didn’t know that I had, but have been actively using in my recent years as a writer.  In the face of no other choices, I found her book Traveling Mercies and decided it’d have to do.  I had been wanting to read more of her work anyway.

Have you ever read a book and wondered if it was written just for you?  You find yourself uttering things like, yes and mmm hmm every other paragraph.  You are taking notes and underlining quotes to remember.  Anne Lamott talked of grief and pain, of children and joy.  Her stories were honest and angry but still managed to end on a note of hope.  And on page 68, she looked me right in the eyes as if to say, I know honey.  I’ve been there.

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”

All this laying around, avoiding my grief in sleep and mindless television was not going to work.  And time wasn’t going to magically make it all disappear.  I had to be willing to feel the pain in order to heal from it.  I wasn’t quite sure what this looked like, but I knew it had to be different from what I had tried.  I began to think of the things I had been avoiding.  Things that make me cry, things that make me feel alive.  And I made a point to start feeling these things again.

It started with walking into our guest room and picking up the baby blanket my mother had crocheted us and burying my face in it.  Smelling its lack of baby smell.  Breathing in, Let.  Breathing out, Go.  It continued with letting myself cry when I saw a pregnant woman or a precious tiny baby.  It was awkward. I slipped into bathrooms and sat on the toilet with my head in my hands.  Yes, that was you just a few weeks ago.  Yes, this really sucks.  Yes, you wanted that and it was taken away.  Yes.

Last week it came in the form of watching Whitney Houston music videos on repeat. Feeling the drama of her live performances, chuckling at the ridiculousness of her eighties attire. I watched her perform at the Grammys, holding hands with CeCe Winans (making me remember the slumber party in eighth grade in which my best friends and I stood on the couches and sang Count on Me at the tops of our lungs), and singing a drugged-out, too-thin version of Exhale in which she still managed to be the biggest diva on the stage.  The beauty of her voice and words of her songs made me weep.  And weeping felt good.  Especially with a sound track.

I could write a book called Healing your Heart with Houston and they could put it on the shelf right next to the book about Grandma dying.  It’d probably sell ten copies and I’d get all kinds of compliments about my honesty.  But it probably wouldn’t give anyone any more of a clue about what it means to grieve than when they first began.  Because that’s just it, grief isn’t defined by specifics. Rather for me, it is a lot like labor.  A concerted effort of feeling.  You breathe in a memory, a song, the feeling of loss, disappointment, or joy and you exhale acceptance.  Eventually, on the other side, you find the birth of hope.  Not just the forced sentiment, but the real upward impetus.

And one day, while listening to the song Bridge Over Troubled Water for the umpteenth time, you finally hear the words.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

And you weep with joy because you realize you’re no longer under water.

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks – part 4: waking up

February 21, 2014

Before finding out that I had miscarried, being pregnant was my constant, the lens in which I saw the world.  It was new and took a while to sink in, but just about that week, perhaps two weeks before, I began to believe that I really was pregnant.  My body seemed to be changing, the “actual size” pictures that compared the fetus to various fruits and vegetables in the baby books, were getting larger.  And because you can’t see any of it happening “in there,” your reality is what you are being told about it all.  Like measuring the chance of rain.  The confirmation of these events at this point occur in ultra sound and Doppler readings. I had even begun to dream real dreams that I was pregnant.  I woke up with my hand on my belly.

As I waited for the midwife and tech to figure out the ultrasound machine at my 12-week appointment, every detail was crisp and rimmed with the gleam of sterile bright light.  The crackly white paper on the exam table, brightly colored Danskos that perfectly matched the nurse’s scrubs, the white tiled floor with an unpredictable blue square that peeked out from under the stool.  But moments after those words were spoken – “Honey, I’m afraid you’ve had a miscarriage.” a woozy filter dulled my every sense.  The midwife’s touch, the sound of the gabbing scrub-wearers gathered around the nursing stand, the smell of the ultrasound jelly they used to confirm the news that was descending on me.  I had entered a blurry nightmare.  But there was no real panic or horror. Just acute pain.  So I’m not sure if you can really call it a nightmare at all.

Once the dust began to settle around me, there seemed to have been an inverse shift in my reality.  My short pregnancy began fading into a soft and feathery memory.  Like a beautiful dream that felt so real.  One of those dreams that you think, if I could just fall back asleep I might pick up where I left off.  But whenever you fall back asleep it is never the same.  The scenes have shifted and the characters aren’t quite right.  And you ache inside to feel that perfection again, that moment right before the realization that you were actually asleep.

Now that I’ve woken up, I worry that people will shake their heads at me and say, “You have no reason to be sad. You must be crazy.  It was just a silly dream.”  I feel like a little girl who was playing house, pretending to run a household of cabbage patch kids and stuffed animals.  Isn’t that sweet, the adults around me say.  She really thinks she is a mom.  And then they laugh patronizing laughs that only exist in my head.  I have to keep telling myself (and saying it out loud) that I was pregnant.  There was a living, growing baby inside me.  I really did taste a honey sweet moment of motherhood.

I have a terrible thought every time I watch the screen with my interrupted life playing on it.  I think – yes, this makes sense, you don’t get to have a baby because you don’t get good things.  You get less than good things.  You get things that are inadequate and insignificant.  Like the feeling I got when I was nine years old and I did the cake-walk at my school’s ice cream social.  That disappointment would burrow itself down in my gut each time I saw others win and I walked away empty handed.

If I ever believed in the devil, it would be now.  That evil little voice that tells me that I won’t ever win.  That things will always just be alright – not great.

But this is bullshit.  Among a million other winnings, I have always counted my luck in meeting my husband as a reason I cannot believe that little whispering liar that is the darkness of my thoughts.  Mikey is better than ok, he is amazing.  He is not perfect, but he is perfect for me.  I have won the prize with him.  And I am lucky to have loving friends and family.  And a nice home and job and a car and a bunch of things that are far beyond necessity.  This baby thing is not yet another thing that I can chalk up to bad luck.  It wasn’t a cruel joke being played on me by an evil step mother – pretending I can go the ball then giving me the list of chores I must complete before I leave.

It is a hard, terrible thing that really happened. Over the past three months I was sick and tired, then crushed and vacuumed, now I’m broken and wandering.  I held something beautiful in my hands and it slipped right through my fingers.  It wasn’t my fault and I’m not being punished.  It’s just part of life and I’m simply waking up to this reality, as I have a hundred times before in varying degrees and survived to tell the tale.

I am trying to think vaguely about trying again.  But my thoughts turn to precise lines and details.  About months and if we get pregnant in October that means I’ll be due in June.  I’m thinking about fertility diets and progesterone and yoga and vitamins.  I’m thinking about perfection and avoiding this tragedy again.  Because even though I have the assurance that it was a genetic fluke, I worry that I could make a choice that would affect a future pregnancy.  And I’m pissed.  Like after a car crash that was my fault.  I’m pissed I wasn’t paying attention and that I didn’t leave two minutes later and that I was distracted.

I seem to have wandered into super OCD fix-it mode.  If I just do these ten things (no wait, 14 things.  No wait, 23 things…) then I will solve all the problems of my world.  What are my “problems” to date?  Well for one, the baby that Mike and I planned for and started to paint into our future vision died.  The baby that was just starting to weasel its way into my heart.  The little ball of cells that was beginning to take the shape of an alien-like human.  That had paddles for hands and a depleting tail.  But it had the eyes and nose and ears of the little baby that we hoped to some day kiss.  That’s a big problem to deal with.  It hurts and I don’t understand the response I’m having to it.  It’s affecting my brain function and my ability to read.  It’s caused me to question my job and the meaning of life.

Other “problems” that seem to be fixable.  Well, I’m pretty much an inactive human being.  When I was pregnant with little blob (should I call her Kiki instead?  Was the name even necessary?) I got on that elliptical and I worked hard.  And I chanted to myself – “I’m going to be  a strong mama, this is for my baby.”  Perhaps it’s because I’m feeling low, but I don’t know how to conjure up those passionate feelings of love and care for my own empty-uterus self.  I struggle to even drink a glass of water.  I did that for my baby.  These perfectly human, normal parts of living are so labored.  I yearn for rest.  All I want to do is go to sleep.

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks – part 3: angels

February 14, 2014

Once when I was a faithful church-goer, a gentleman spoke one Sunday about how he encountered an angel.  The story involved a broken down car and a life-threatening illness and a mysterious stranger who brought hope.  The particulars of which I’ve since forgotten, but I always wondered if this seemingly reasonable man was telling the truth. I remember asking God to give me an answer about this – and hoping he would choose to do so through a Discovery Channel documentary rather than a bonafide, heavenly being standing at the end of my bed.

After my father passed away, I would often look up into the sky and try to see him standing there looking down among the clouds.  I imagined a scene similar to the opening credits of Highway to Heaven in which my dad would emerge on Earth with a blinding light behind him.  I never did see him, but whenever I walked in the woods I had a distinct inkling that his presence was nearby.

In recent years I haven’t thought much about the existence of winged cherubs or grown men with bad eighties hair sent here on a mission from God.  The only times I would think about the concept of angels was when a tragedy would happen to a little kid and someone would say, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.”  And I would subsequently have to restrain myself from either punching that person in the face (difficult task to accomplish when it’s posted on FB) or wave my middle finger at heaven while saying, “F-you!”

When I found out about miscarrying two weeks ago, I prayed that no one would say the comment about God needing another angel.  Though I tend to just retract into a crying mess rather than be aggressive, I didn’t know how I might react.  And that lack of control scared me.  Luckily, no one said anything like that.  Rather I was surrounded by the kindest of words and prayers for peace from family, friends and even strangers who understood what it meant to be initiated into the “miscarriage club.”

On the Thursday before my D&C, I went to get lunch at a grocer café nearby.  I chose a lentil and kale soup and some organic cold-pressed orange juice (that was super expensive and hopefully squeezed by the Dalai Lama himself). If I couldn’t control my world, I would control the things I fed myself.  And that day I took on a rather OCD form of nutritious food selection.  Believing that just maybe the warm broth, hearty winter vegetables and expensive Vitamin C might heal me from the inside out.

Looking around for a place to sit, I spotted a small table in the far corner.  The place was packed with families and their carts, elderly couples reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee and staff members taking their “fifteen” and playing on their phones.  I claimed the last table available and sat numbly by myself.  Listening to the buzzing of people around me, it felt like I was underwater.

After a bit, a woman in purple slacks and a floral blouse shuffled up to my table carrying a coffee and a tiny sample size soup.  Her hair was perfection.  Silvery gray, smooth but bouffant.  I noticed a piece of kale stuck in her front teeth when she opened her mouth to ask me a question.  “Do you mind if I sit here?”

I replied, “Of course not!” with a smile.  She settled into the chair and commented on the crowd.  I politely tried to gauge if we were having lunch together or just sharing a table.

It was quickly clear to me that we would be conversing.  At first it was painful to make small talk, but she made it easy.  All I had to do was just listen and she proceeded to tell me her entire life story.  From her mother – who was thirty when she came to the United States from Greece to marry her father (a marriage that was arranged by her uncle).  To her husband – who had a giant Italian family and too many Aunt’s named Angie.  She weaved in and out of details, with no concern for time or getting to a point.

Feeling underwater, I drifted along with her wherever her stories would take me.  It was nice to float away.

“Do you have any children?” she asked me with kindness in her eyes.

I quickly responded no and was relieved to hear her steer us into another tributary of her own story.  She had three children, only one was still living. One boy died because he fell off his bicycle on Sauvie Island and broke his neck.  Her other boy died shortly after he was born.  Her daughter was alive.  But she didn’t have much to say about that and her eyes were wet with tears as she drifted off into painful reverie.

“Do you plan to have any children?” she asked casually but this time the question pierced me.  An accidental injury that caused me to burst into tears.  I apologized for my emotion and explained my recent events.  Her eyes became wet again and she trembled with empathetic apology.

She went on to assure me that we will have children someday and that this time, maybe it will be twins.  I told her that when we went in for the ultrasound at eight weeks, I was crossing my fingers for twins but I found out later Mikey was crossing his fingers for no twins.  She said we must have canceled each other out.  She chuckled at that notion and I smiled for the first time in a day or two.

At this point my soup was gone and the lunch crowd was emptying out.  I thanked her for her company and explained that I should probably get going.

“I never told you my name,” she replied.  “My name is Kiki.  Well, my full name is Angeliki but I’m no Angel so Kiki is my name.”

I told her my name but with the noise all around, I had to repeat it three times and spell it four and I’m still not sure if she ever quite figured it out.  As I extended my hand out on the table to thank her again for the chat, she reached out and patted it three times.  “Good things are going to happen soon,” she assured me and did the sign of the cross.

The next day as I prepared for my surgery, sadness and fear settled like low-lying clouds around my heart.  As I waited to be admitted, I daydreamed about placing black cloth over everything that added salt to my wounds, like some cultures do over mirrors after a death.  The Birthing Center sign on the walk in to the Day Surgery unit, the pregnant woman I saw walking into the bank, the pregnancy books and baby blanket that I tucked into the corner of the guest room in the neatest of piles.  Maybe I could just blindfold myself for the next few months…

They called my name and it was time.  I shook as I made my way down to the hospital room.  A few logistics were shared with me by my admitting nurse but soon I was in a purple gown and cozy gripper socks under heated blankets and watching the clock tick closer to 9:30 a.m.  I’ve never felt more nervous in my life.

With every new person who entered the room, however, I felt a distinct new level of peace.  My nurse made sure I was warm and softly rubbed my shoulder when I got emotional.  My doctor came in to answer any questions I had.  She was the gentlest spirit and assured me that the utmost respect would be taken with the procedure.  The anesthesiologist’s words felt like she had wrapped her arms around me, “You are going to do great.  Everything is going to be ok.”  I had had my tonsils out just a couple years before but I did not feel this same envelopment of care.

As they wheeled me down for surgery and I “went to sleep,” tears dripped down my cheeks.  I still felt pain and heaviness, but I knew I didn’t have to bear it all on my own.  In fact, it felt as if I was being carried through each step by protective angels and soon I would wake up from this nightmare. Everything is going to be ok.  Good things are going to happen soon.

I wonder if angels are real people that carry you in the moments you can’t seem to walk through on your own?  Maybe it’s with their words, prayers, actions or simply their presence.  And perhaps the prayers that people say for you lead to accidental conversations at just the right time or the gentleness of a team of people taking care of you.  I just don’t know, but I suspect there’s some truth in these conjectures.

In light of these things, we decided to give the baby a name.  Sometimes it feels silly that we did it.  Other moments, it seems pretty perfect.  I always “felt” like it was a girl, though I know now it was probably more complicated than that due to lab results indicating “chromosomal abnormalities.”  But the name we gave it was Angeliki which means “angelic messenger.” Or Kiki for short, though we won’t have occasion for nicknames.

This experience has strengthened my belief in the idea that sometimes we are carried through the depths of things by the humans in our life.  For me, this has been in the arms of my friends, family, sisters, mothers, husband, and the countless women who have experienced this same pain.  And there is something other-worldly or angelic about these interactions.  At the very least, I am thankful that the 12-week long life of our baby helped grow my faith in that. If I’m being honest though, “thankful” is definitely not at the top of my list of emotions right now.  I’m navigating anger, sadness, fear and loneliness which wash over me in predictable waves every day.  But I’ll take my smidgen of gratitude and count it for today.  It is a tiny seed out of which will grow hope, love, peace, joy, and strength.

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks – part 2: the weight

February 11, 2014

This was the day we planned to announce our pregnancy.  I woke up equal parts nervous and excited.  My hand rested on my still pretty flat lower belly as I lay in bed and I thought about how we would go about telling people.  We’d call the people who needed to hear it in person.  Later, we’d put something on Facebook.   But I was feeling all judge-y about how everyone announces it on Facebook so I wasn’t sure if we’d do it.  I just had to make it to the appointment to make sure everything was ok.

I checked in to the clinic early as I had left work the second I possibly could.  A tired looking nurse called my name, pronouncing it wrong and giving me a smile when I made eye contact and corrected her.  As we entered the room, she asked how I was doing.  I always tell the nurse way more than she cares to hear because I’m never sure whom I’m supposed to tell the whole story to.  Soon a midwife came in.  She was dressed in corduroy pants and a striped sweater.  Her hair was natural, no makeup and she looked like she ate a lot of kale.  I liked her instantly.

The beginning was easy.  She asked me how I was feeling and I proudly explained that I felt really good finally, that I was beginning to see the light at the end of the morning sickness tunnel.  We laughed about ridiculous things I had read in books that I now had questions about.  (Can eating peanut butter give my baby asthma?)  After gathering all the pertinent information in her slightly outdated laptop computer, she asked me to lie back so she could examine me.  Her hands were cold on my belly.  I wondered if she could tell that it was growing.  But her words did not match the things that I saw in my changing body, “You are very tiny.  I can hardly feel your uterus.”

Next the blue goo was squeezed on my stomach, her little Doppler machine slipped around my skin as I listened intently for a sound.  I heard a heartbeat and she explained that it was my own.  She mentioned something about trying to find a rice grain in a hayfield.  After a while, she said she was going to go get the ultra sound machine, making a joke about how her coworkers are going to start teasing her because it was the second time she couldn’t find a heartbeat that day.   Not to worry though, the first baby was breach.

As she started the machine, the image popped up of my little creature.  She couldn’t figure out how to zoom the machine so she left again for an ultra sound tech.  While she was gone, I stared at the image on the screen.  It was still a blob.  It was small and almost appeared shriveled.  Though it wasn’t zoomed, so I assumed it was just a matter of time before I’d see the heartbeat.  But I began to think about the possibility that something was wrong.  I began saying please let it be ok, please let it be ok over and over in my head.  But I realized that if there was something awry, no divine intervention would make a difference in that moment.

The midwife returned with the ultra sound tech and I noticed that the tech moved the screen away from me.  The midwife said, “your baby is very small.  She is taking a measurement.  Yes, it is measuring eight weeks, three days.”  She paused to let me process this but I didn’t comprehend what she was saying.  Then she put her hand on my knee and said, “I’m afraid that you have had a miscarriage.  It looks like the baby stopped growing around eight weeks.”  In that moment my reality shifted. I sat up and said, “ok” to the midwife.  That’s apparently what I say anytime I get bad news.  Ok.

I wondered how I would react, as if I was watching the scene unfold on a TV screen.  But then I realized I was an active part of it.  I felt like I should respond the same way when a waiter tells you that they are out of the soup of the day.  You’re kind of pissed, but it is what it is.  But what your mind thinks it should do and what your body decides it needs to do are not always a match.  My shoulders shook and I fell apart, crumbling in front of strangers as their voices echoed with words of, “It’s ok to cry.  This is a very terrible thing.  What you are feeling is ok.”  The midwife asked me if I wanted a hug.  I didn’t.  But I didn’t want to appear rude, so I accepted the hug.  She asked what I needed.  I had no idea.

The rest of the appointment was a blur.  She left the room for a while so I could call Mike.  I crouched on the floor and dialed his number, knowing that he’d know the instant he heard my exhalation into the receiver which was followed by quiet sobs that I couldn’t contain.  When the midwife returned, we went over my “options” as I sat and stared at my hands.  I do that a lot, when things don’t feel real.  I look at my hands and I can always convince myself that I am awake because I will my hands to move and they do.  But in this moment my head swam and when I moved my hands they seemed detached from my body.  It felt just like I was in a dream.  A really terrible dream.

As I sat in the car after the appointment trying to compose myself, I kept trying to measure my emotions.  How the elation of one day compares to the weight of heart break.  I went in at five weeks and was weighed to see where my pregnancy would begin, I went again at eight weeks and had lost 7 pounds, I went in at twelve weeks and had gone up two pounds.  Is two pounds all that this heartbreak weighs?  Or do you measure it in weeks?  Am I allowed to grieve 12 weeks worth?  Certainly this can’t hurt as bad as someone who had a stillborn child.  Or someone who actually knew their child and had to watch them go.  I had to make sure I felt the correct amount.  Not more than I deserved.  But it felt like I was trying to pour a giant bucket of water into a tiny measuring cup.

When I was pregnant (I suppose as I write this, I still technically am), I felt a fullness in my womb.  As if the life we had created was an ever expanding universe that inevitably would expand beyond me.  In that moment in the doctor’s office, when the midwife’s hand touched my knee, that expanse collapsed upon itself.  The tummy that was bursting out of tight jeans was now concave.  A womb that just a few minutes before still yearned for life, that still expanded and grew despite the light that had gone out, was now shriveled.  Like the little babe that rested in me for weeks without life.

I spent 12 weeks carrying a baby that never grew bigger than a raspberry.  The last two days I have also carried the knowledge that the lump of cells that I somehow grew to love has no life left in it.  It now feels as if I’m carrying around a heavy tomb.  It is a weight I can hardly bear, though there is hardly any mass to make it measurable.  Like being crushed by a pile of feathers.  Tomorrow I go in for a D&C to surgically remove the tangible matter of what we created.  I am so scared.  Not of surgery or anesthesia or complications.  I’m scared to let go of this part of me, even though the weight of it is suffocating right now.  I’m afraid of the lightness of being empty.

But I am not without hope.  (I say that with forced necessity because it’s a theory lost in some recess of my brain right now, not a certainty I feel in this very moment.)  I know as I return to my normal life, I will be surrounded by the prayers of so many people who care for me.  I know that for Mike and I, whatever the plot may be for our story, it will be woven with love and tenderness. And I know that being a mother, even for just 12 weeks, has changed me forever.  Within these echoing truths, I am not without hope…

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks – part 1: the wait

December 14, 2013

We had been trying for eight months.  Not long enough to be classified as having fertility issues, but plenty long enough to watch as Facebook convinced me over and over that other couples were much more fertile than I.  With captions like, “honeymoon baby” and “our family is growing” or pictures of a woman standing sideways with her hands on a belly that was smaller than my un-pregnant one, claiming to be growing already at just six weeks.

When Mike and I were younger, I naively stated that we would be fine if we couldn’t have kids.  That we would accept this reality in stride and look to our future filled with more money and travels and no obligations to seven year old birthday parties.  But at the time I wasn’t thinking about the fact that you don’t just get handed a paper with a yes or no on it, rather the only way to discover whether you are fertile is to try having kids.  You have to face a negative pregnancy test many, many times before they will deem you “infertile.”  And even though the doctor told us that we were within “normal range,” it didn’t stop us from wondering if it would ever happen.  And within this unknown, fear grew like mold on last week’s casserole dish.

So I did all the things that I read.  Increasing my sweet potato intake and decreasing my wine intake (ok, the latter just isn’t true).  I vigilantly avoided all the foods that I’m supposedly intolerant to, took my morning temperature and measured the length of my luteal phase.  I even knew what a luteal phase was.  And I tracked all of this on a friendly little app on my phone that put cute little hatching egg icons on my calendar to indicate my most fertile days.  We knew our probability of 20% every month, but we sure as heck were trying to maximize our chances.  People with a tendency towards OCD should not be allowed to use Google when trying for children…

And all this time, you can’t see what’s happening in there.  You can’t know whose parts work and whose might not.  Whether there’s any mingling of genetic code actually happening or if the egg gets stood up every time. You begin to feel guilty, wondering if you are the one to blame.  As if you have failed or discovered that your tarot cards have nothing but misfortune written on them.  But you don’t know what to do with those feelings when you wash complete acceptance over your partner when they too worry they are the one that might not be able to have children.

Eight months.  It isn’t long.  It doesn’t compare to years of trying, to women who have been told a pregnancy would be nothing short of a miracle.  But each month would pass, each pee stick dumped in the trash due to negative messages, and my heart would sink a bit further.  You begin to say things like, “Well if it isn’t meant to be…” and you feel an empty space form next to the photographs on your future mantle.  No kids, no grandchildren.  Just us.  You know in your heart that it should be enough.  Like Aloe Blacc says, “life is a game made for everyone and love is the prize.” So haven’t we already won?

After seven months of doing things right, I inadvertently gave up.  We were planning a trip to Mexico to see my beautiful friend Clarrissa tie the knot.  The basal thermometer and prenatal vitamins got left behind as we packed our bags for some sunshine.  Within that week I ate dairy and I’m sure that some gluten snuck into my food too.  I got three massages.  Three.  THREE! I drank margaritas, I danced my butt off and I soaked in enough Vitamin D to last me the Portland winter.  And despite us sharing a room with my brother in law, my hubby and I managed to fit in some alone time.  It was literally (said like Chris Traeger from Parks and Rec) a dream come true.

Back in drizzly Oregon I returned to work, vowing to reduce my drinking again and really try to get pregnant this month.  But mostly, I just jumped back on the train that is life and began watching time whiz by like trees and telephone poles and graffiti covered bridges. Barely discerning which was which.  Monday became Friday.  November became December.  But soon something caused me to look up from my forward transport.  I began to feel a little funny.  And by funny I mean I began to feel like an angry raptor one second and the next like a blubbering baby.

Every month for the past eight months, I was convinced that I must be pregnant.  But as those months came and went, I started to view pregnancy tests as a way to prove to my mind that it wasn’t true.  Like a parent who checks under the bed for the hundredth time to show their kid that there are in fact no monsters under there.  See I told you, they say, now go to bed!  So that unassuming Saturday, I pulled out the box of pregnancy tests I kept under the sink and peed on the stick just to tell my brain to let it go.  I went and switched the laundry to the dryer and then returned to a sight I did not expect.  Two lines.  Two!  Not one this time.  Not a blank oval or a “not pregnant” digital let down.  Two f-ing lines.

My brain took a few seconds to catch up to my racing heart.  I immediately ran to the other room and grabbed my phone.  Within this moment there was no space to concoct a cute way to tell Mike, like Becky did on Full House by making a whole meal of baby-themed foods for Uncle Jessie.  I needed to say it out loud to him to hear that it was true.  The second he answered the phone I breathlessly yelped, “I’m pregnant!” My calm, straightforward husband replied, “cool…”  And then I proceeded to ramble on and on about why I took the test and how I couldn’t believe it.  We talked next steps as I shook from head to toe.  My life had just turned on an unexpected dime.  At that moment, I had no idea what this thing that I had wanted so much for so long would really mean.

© 2014 D. Willson

12 weeks

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For those of you who didn’t know, I am pregnant.  Well, I was pregnant.  I guess I technically still am.  We learned this week that the baby died sometime between eight and twelve weeks.  And while I was hopeful to have been announcing very different news today, sometimes that is not how the story is meant to go.

I began this writing a few weeks into my pregnancy. After writing part one, I had all intentions of writing more but sickness and exhaustion took over and I spent a great deal of time watching crime shows on television rather than writing all of my experiences down.  So I concluded that I would spend more time writing once we announced this pregnancy to the world.  Unfortunately, that is exactly when this story took an unexpected turn.  And I wondered if I should even write anything more at all.

As I stared at the blank pages of this intended piece, with news of no heartbeat repeatedly washing over me like an incessant wave, I grieved the robbery of the plot I had imagined.  It was a prologue and an epilogue, with no chapters to justify its existence. But Mike reminded me that this isn’t the end of our story, it is just the beginning.  And the ellipsis that I leave at the end is the space that we make for hope in second chances.  I also know that the outpouring of empathy from mothers with a similar story has given me light as I navigate this darkness that I am feeling right now. Maybe my words can do the same for someone else.

When I began to share my story on this blog, which has since become an eight part journey of a million emotions, I was shocked to find out just how many women in my small world alone dealt with this type of grief.  I felt a part of a newfound “club” that I didn’t know existed.  A membership I didn’t want to own, but felt so honored to receive love from so many women who could say, “I understand.”  Millions of women deal with miscarriage every year. I’m not unique in that regard.  In fact, my story is not really about my own heroic survival but more about the bravery of the many women who carry this often silent grief with them and then continue to carry others who have had to deal with it too.  

I’ve been carried.  By angels and friends.  By mothers and sisters.  And by my husband, who has literally carried me from the couch to the bedroom. Letting me curl up like a child in his arms and cry.  This story is for my brave heroes, the silent and the loud.  Thank you for carrying me through.

part 1 – the wait

part 2 – the weight

part 3 – angels

part 4 – waking up

part 5 – sail on silver girl

part 6 – letting go

part 7 – wondrous

part 8 – due date