WE LET OURSELVES HOPE
It took my brain a few moments to understand what Kathryn was showing me. At first, I thought it was broken. And then it clicked—it was a positive pregnancy test. After over three years of trying to conceive, during two of which we’d been undergoing fertility treatments, this was the first time I’d seen one.
I felt a rush of happiness that I immediately pushed down. I couldn’t accept it as reality. I couldn’t let myself hope. I’d wanted this so badly for so long that I knew the more I hoped, the more devastated I would be if it didn’t work out. Even after several more home pregnancy tests—that day and over the next few days–I refused to let myself accept it.
Like emotional Whack-a-Mole, I stubbornly shut down every thought about the future. I didn’t tell anyone. We avoided certain Words without having to discuss it: baby, child, pregnant. Using these would have made it real, and we still weren’t willing to let ourselves believe that it was.
And then a positive blood test at the fertility clinic confirmed it, and Kathryn started to feel the physical changes. So we let ourselves hope. We started telling family and close friends. Of course, we were still careful to avoid the Words. We’d say, “The test was positive” or something equally indirect.
EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT
Fast forward several days and instead of looking at a home pregnancy test, I was looking at the grainy image of an ultrasound. But this wasn’t a planned visit. We were there because Kathryn had started bleeding that morning. Heavily. We had Googled like crazy and things didn’t sound good. I tried to keep Kathryn optimistic by telling her about the stories I found online where inexplicable bleeding turned out to be harmless. As I had during the last three years, I hid my own fears in an attempt to keep Kathryn from drowning in despair.
But the doctor pointed to a small circle in the ultrasound and identified it as the egg sac. She said it looked intact, but that there was definitely blood around it. She said that since we had transferred two embryos, the bleeding might have been a miscarriage of the other one. Another ultrasound at a follow-up visit a couple days later confirmed that the egg sac was still intact and appeared noticeably larger. We both breathed a sigh of relief.
That night, I had an experience where I felt like God was telling me everything was going to be all right. I was even overwhelmed with the sense that the child would be a girl. I knew this was ridiculous–I’m not the kind of person to believe such things. Even now I hesitate to include this detail. But the thought just wouldn’t stay out of my mind: a daughter. I thought of writing her a letter right then and there, to tell her about all of this, to tell her how hard we had hoped for her, how much we loved her.
But I didn’t want to jinx it. So I didn’t.
The next day Kathryn was bleeding again. I tried to be reassuring, to be strong for her, but again, I was panicking. There was no way we could see the doctor in that moment, but we had an ultrasound scheduled for the first thing the next morning.
But a few hours later, Kathryn passed the embryo. The next day, there was no circle in the ultrasound’s visual static.
AS IF NOTHING
I hurt so much in that moment, so much more than I ever had before in my life. I hurt for the child I lost. I hurt for my wife, who had to see she saw and do what she did all alone.
We held each other and broke down crying. I was not only hurt, I was angry. I hated that this happened to Kathryn, to me, to our child. I hated that Kathryn had to physically go through all of this for nothing. I hated that I thought I heard something from God. I hated that all our prayers and those of countless family and friends went unanswered. I hated that I had let myself give my hope form.
Besides the sadness and the anger, I was filled with guilt. I imagined all the ways it was my fault. My head recalled a thousand possible mistakes, mostly ways I could have made Kathryn take it easier. Our doctor reassured us that it wasn’t our fault, citing that nearly 80% of early miscarriages are due to genetic abnormalities. Friends and family told us it wasn’t our fault. Though I think I mostly believe that, my doubts persisted—I could have done more for my wife, for my child. But I didn’t voice these doubts because I wanted Kathryn to feel better, not worse.
I broke the news to my family, a few close friends, and a few coworkers via email because I didn’t think I could handle speaking to anyone. Hardly anyone responded to it. I realize now that those who didn’t reply probably just didn’t know what to say, but at the time, their silence hurt immeasurably and I felt utterly alone. I feared they didn’t think it was a big deal.
I didn’t call anyone. I didn’t hang out with anyone besides Kathryn. I read. I watched TV. I played video games. Anything to take my mind off of what had happened that didn’t require much effort.
I didn’t want to do cook or clean or walk our dogs, but I did so that Kathryn wouldn’t have to. We didn’t go to work that Monday, and I never wanted to return to work. I am a teacher, and when you teach, you basically have to perform every day. I hated the idea of putting on a show and pretending like everything was all right. I didn’t want to answer questions from students or other teachers about how my spring break had been. I didn’t want to resume as if nothing had changed. To make things worse, three of my coworkers were pregnant and the school was throwing a triple-baby shower for them that week.
NOBODY TAUGHT ME TO MOURN
I returned to work that Tuesday because I felt like I had a responsibility to my students. At the same time, I didn’t want to forget about my child, even if she only lived within my wife for six weeks. I wanted to mourn, but I didn’t know how. Nobody had taught me how to mourn because I think our society has largely forgotten. So as a simple gesture, I decided to wear black for forty days. Not a single person noticed—not even Kathryn until I pointed it out after about a week—but it worked for me. Every day I put on black, I felt like I was honoring the memory of our lost child.
Today marks the forty-first day since our miscarriage, the end of my self-imposed period of mourning. Kathryn would have been at the beginning of her second trimester and we would have probably been widely announcing her pregnancy to our friends and family.
After I post this, I will go to work wearing white instead of black and feeling like a fraud because I don’t feel a sense of resolution. Maybe I mourned wrong. I still feel the pain, the sadness, the guilt, the anger. I still hate going to the grocery store and passing the aisle with diapers and baby stuff. I still feel envious when I receive birth or pregnancy announcements. I still have to fight back tears when I think of the books on my shelves that I might never read with my children, or when I see a father playing basketball with his child. I still avoid Facebook because it stirs up a lot of this.
I’m not sure what’s next for us. We did several rounds of IVF. This was our third attempt at an embryo transfer. We still have frozen embryos, but the process is so emotionally and physically draining that I’m not sure we can handle going through it again, especially since we have little hope the outcome will be any different.
Of course we’ve considered and are considering adoption. But it’s not as easy a process as people who have never looked into think it is. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and we don’t have a lot of money. There’s a selection process we’re not sure we’d pass because we have chosen to live in one of the most crime-ridden cities in the US. There are requirements that we’re not sure we meet because we’re both have anxiety. If adopting an infant, there’s the possibility the birth parents could back out at any moment. And there are still concerns with the legitimacy and legality of many international orphanages.
The thing that kills me is that I know we’d be good parents. We don’t have a lot, but we have enough. We are both intelligent and loving and conscious individuals. We communicate well as a couple and understand the importance of that within a family. Kathryn is one of the wisest and most caring people I’ve ever known. Like everyone else, we are not perfect and we have bad moments, but I can’t help but looking at a world filled with babies born to horrible parents and question why them and not us. Ultimately, I feel like I have all this love to give and nobody to give it to.
I don’t feel like I’ve gained wisdom or grown. I’m not writing this to tell you how to get through a miscarriage or how to persist through tragedy or how to find hope in darkness. I’m not sure why I’m writing this except perhaps as a testament to my experience, as an attempt to sort through and share what I’ve been feeling, because writing is how I do that. If you made it this far, I hope that at least you better understand what Kathryn and I have gone through. And if you’ve gone through something similar, then I hope at least you know you’re not alone.