I spent the better part of the morning lingering over words. Old words. Words I’d written over the past three years; words that dripped occasionally, like an abandoned leaky faucet, but coursed through my veins like a waterfall. It’s difficult to take a walk down memory lane, when the memories can be so intense and painful. I’ve read a bit about traumatic experiences lately, and learned that walking down memory lane, summoning old feelings, dousing oneself with old expired flames, can be just as traumatic as the original experience. But yet I can’t help the urge to analyze, and ponder over the state I was once in. Pain can give birth to things, beautiful and raw-- or terrible and stale. My pain birthed new life, in me, and in my relationship with my husband. Our pain, I should say.
I read back to something I wrote after my first miscarriage. I irrationally feared "an endless string of miscarriages". And the most heartening, the fear that I was not successfully achieving pregnancy because "there was something else I was supposed to be doing" - like fate pressing down on my soul. And then I think of that seemingly endless string of losses, that I am sorry to say, I did walk through. And I think of all that I ended up ‘getting done’. I think of Girl Meets Dirt, once just a little notion in my head, a cheeky little phrase to accompany my writing. I stand in my storage room and marvel at the endless boxes, labeled and ready to be tucked into, all made by my hands, conceived in my mind, during a time where pain was my most intimate friend. I gave birth to something while struggling to stay pregnant all these years: I gave birth to a new vision of myself, someone who was finally rooted, engaged in an enterprise that enlivened the soul, rather than deflated it.
My second loss paralyzed me. The words I scribbled down back then were laced with confusion, sadness, and the threat of depression:
"so much can happen in one week. they tell you your baby has not progressed. a deep moan wells up inside of you. a little piece of your heart cracks. you see fissures everywhere; this cannot be. again. you waited 8 long months for the hope of a January baby, snow bunny, beacon in the dark, and then the light went out. you grappled, scrounged, clawed your way up and 7 more long months later, over analyzing your eating habits, running habits, sexual intercourse habits, fell pregnant once a wonderful time again. but so much can happen in one week. for 7 months, nothing, and then a brief sojourn with warm summer trade winds makes everything even keeled again.
you are losing this baby too..it is deafeningly still. you hear the rumble of each ferry, shuffling people forward or backwards, returning to something, someone...or leaving... I cannot tell any longer whether they are coming or whether they are going. long stretches of silence, and then a rumble. the enormity of winter aches in my bones."
I stopped writing for a long time after that. I couldn’t be authentic without expressing what was so deeply burrowed under my skin, and threatening to define me. And then we had a third loss, and somehow I found a sliver of my voice again, cracking amidst the weeds. I threw myself into the garden, into springtime and seedlings and baby chickens and promise. I cleansed in Mountain Lake, after running furiously around it, sweating out my demons. I thought optimism was the goal, the magic pill for a better outcome. I thought: just get through this, things will look up. And I almost believed it. Until our 4th loss two days before my little sister’s wedding. How does one describe what it feels like to be crushed under the weight of your own anxiety? We had no choice but to step away. The doctors could give us no answers and we were not prepared to forge on. We were no longer strong. It was time to heal, or try to. We spent 6 months actively preventing pregnancy, which, if you’ve ever grappled with infertility or pregnancy loss, is an almost inconceivable predicament. But we knew that we couldn’t get pregnant again. At least not yet. We had work to do.
It was during this time that I launched Girl Meets Dirt Archipelago Preserves. I put my head down and my chin up and built a business from scratch - hand picked fruit, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon. I finally DID what I said I was going to do, after quitting my Wall Street job and moving across the country to an island in the middle of nowhere. Gerry and I ran a 25k together up Mt. Constitution. We planned a belated honeymoon trip to Baja. We did everything we could to make our lives full, without that maternal & paternal longing for fullness we hadn’t been able to conquer. I started doing regular acupuncture, and even began to enjoy my morning tonic of Chinese herbs. Swimming where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific, I let the waves lull me into oblivion, imagining myself a fish, floating, floating, floating. I tried desperately not to care. Gerry and I started smiling at one another again. We made love just because.
I didn’t know then that I was nourishing an egg, with salt water and sand. We came home with something like hope. Something like peace, but not quite. We felt ready for one more go with our demons and decided to try to make a baby once again. We were shocked to find ourselves immediately pregnant. And even more shocked to have encouraging initial blood results. We thought it was fate -- that elusive notion we couldn’t yet dispose of. I held on to that baby, or that thought of a baby, until I was 7 weeks pregnant. And then I bled. Furiously.
This is when we gave up. We had foolishly believed that perseverance would yield a miracle and that our stubborn belief that our bodies could do this naturally was rooted in some twisted, yet cosmic destiny. We crumbled. We started taking a hard look at advanced reproductive technologies like IVF with pre-genetic screening (PGS) with the hope that screening our embryos would prevent us from implanting genetically compromised ones. We felt conflicted. We weren’t sure. We didn’t know if we could pursue an invasive path with the risk we’d lose it in the end anyway. Our doctors gave us no promises. They had suggestions, and alternatives, but none dared to offer answers. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The same advice we’d received about our multiple losses and trying again. Despite our grim history, the fuzzy statistics still insisted that we could deliver to term a healthy baby with a chance of somewhere between 50-60% on a subsequent, non-assisted pregnancy. But after 5 losses, we felt like outliers. We decided to take an assisted step with fertility drugs, give that a month or two, and then proceed to IVF with PGS. We were waiting for my next period to come after the miscarriage so that we could start.
But it never came.
When you have five losses, you think you might start to lose count, to blur the memory of loss. But I have retained every last detail, every date, where I was, how it happened, how my husband held me, how my friends came to my side, how my mother nursed me -- and how my community embraced me. I have been open about our journey because I can’t imagine keeping it in. I can’t imagine having walked this road alone, without a network of love to cradle us.
And this is why I owed it to you, to not tell you glibly, but to offer you our story, fraught with heaviness, but laced with light -- and even goodness. We are pregnant with our miracle baby. We are pregnant with the baby that we so stubbornly committed ourselves to and nearly gave up on. We are pregnant with a child that will never be able to comprehend how very much he or she was wanted, and longed for, and thought about in the making. We are pregnant with a child who has already expanded and enriched our lives, our capacity for love, and our capacity for forgiveness and healing.
This journey has left me numerous times questioning my faith -- and I hesitate to say it has crushed it. But there is another kind of faith it has bolstered: my faith in humankind, in the capacity of love to assuage the challenges we all share, defined by different circumstances. I don’t have a message to offer you - those struggling still with infertility, with loss, with depression, with addiction, with any battle that seems uncontrollable. But I will offer this: our baby is due to enter this world on Christmas Day, of all the 365 possible days. There are gifts out there for all of us; sometimes it takes a painful road of searching to unwrap them. We are deeply grateful, for this gift, and for all of you, who’ve loved us and squeezed us and kept us in your thoughts.
And now, maybe-- just maybe-- we can celebrate. We expect a very, Merry Christmas.