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


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

five-minute friend (bella)

isabella sophia young

She looked up at me out of her light eyes with that dark ring of greenish blue.  They seemed to look right into my heart.  Her hair had begun to grow back in.  Curls of sandy brown swirled around her head in a haphazardly beautiful crown.  A significant change since the last time I had seen her…

Just the summer before, she came to our house with her shiny smooth head and tried to avoid the incessant kisses of our two dogs who could reach her face when they stood on their hind legs.  She had a look that was fearless but judging and careful.  Not in a mean sort of way, but calculating.

While her daddy talked with Mike in the garage, she came inside to see our pet snake.  But did so silently.  I tried to make small talk as she gazed through the glass at the scaly pet coiled on top of the fake log.  But she wasn’t interested in conversation.  I wasn’t quite trustable yet.

But this day in the park, something had changed in her.  She had a sweet smile on her face and looked at me with a new boldness.  Holding her mommy’s hand and swinging her shoulders back and forth in that “I can’t wait for fun” sort of way, she asked if I wanted to go play on the jungle gym.  I eagerly said yes to this newfound acceptance and followed her over to the play structure.

We climbed and slid.  We ran across the unstable bridge.  We played tic-tac-toe on the giant plastic board.  Sufficiently tired, we collapsed on the top platform.  In our nearly private little fort, she whispered to me, “I had cancer.”  I told her that I knew that and was proud of how brave she was.  She pointed to the bandage on her chest where her port had just been removed and explained how she got medicine and how her hair went away.

Then she took my hand and said quietly, “You are my new friend.”

Over the next couple years I watched this little girl from afar.  At her birthday parties jumping on the giant trampoline, sitting in the truck when her daddy visited, and in countless pictures on Facebook.  I watched her make memories and live out her dreams.  I watched her hold hands with her best friend on a sand dune.  I watched her fight tooth and nail alongside her mother and father against the cancer that just wouldn’t go away.

And today, I watched a flock of pink balloons sail into the sky in her memory.

I’m not sure how such a seemingly insignificant five-minute conversation with a little girl could make such a lasting impression on me.  But something about our quiet exchange just a few summers ago has been tucked away in my heart ever since.  As I listened to people share stories of their love and friendship with Bella today, I began to realize that she had this effect on every person she interacted with.  We were all blessed by her.  Whether it was a six-year lifetime of love or a tiny conversation on the top of a jungle gym.

The other night, the night that she passed, I tried to pray for her and her family.  But the words didn’t come.  Rather, her name danced around in my head.  Bells, Bells, Bells like a song chiming through the air from a church.  And after we laid roses on her small white casket, the pink balloons dance towards the sky to that same song.  I said goodbye to my five-minute friend and thanked her for all she had taught me.

© 2013 D. Willson