Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What to Expect When You're Un-Expecting

I didn't see it coming.

I was seven to nine weeks pregnant, wrapped in a hospital gown and positioned rather awkwardly in the ultrasound room. “Hmm...” was the only word the technician seemed to know. I held my breath while he searched with his wand for a baby I was sure was in there.

“Hmm...” he repeated. I squeezed my husband's hand. Took another deep breath. And tried to accept the fact that something could be wrong.

“I'll be right back with the doctor,” the technician finally said, nervously dashing out of the room.

And then it happened: life spontaneously fell off course.

A few days later, as the doctor had warned, my abdomen started to throb and the bleeding began. I crouched in the bathtub with the shower on, and for hours I watched as the remains of my pregnancy literally went down the drain. The questions were endless. Did I cause this? Should I have taken better care of myself? Am I supposed to bleed this much? Will I ever get pregnant again?

There were also questions I didn't allow myself to ask. I blocked them out of my mind, hoping they would fade with time.

It was years later, after my second daughter was born following a healthy, normal pregnancy, that I came to face those thoughts. I'd imagined them lost somewhere deep inside, buried under all the sleepless nights and mental to-do lists that come with being a new parent. And yet, it was at the most unexpected time, at the most incongruent place, amongst the most unlikely company that I came to truly grieve my miscarriage.

Namely, it was after a trip to the zoo, outside a chain sandwich shop, with a middle-aged friend of my husband's who was visiting from out of town.

The girls were busy tossing sizable portions of their supper to the pigeons when my husband's friend commented that his sons used to do the same thing. We were reminiscing: light-hearted talk that most parents engage in without effort.

And then it happened: our small talk spontaneously fell off course.

“Actually, we almost had three children,” our friend confessed. “But my wife had a miscarriage.” He grew quiet. “And I always sort of wondered: would that have been my girl?” He stared at his hands, his dark brown eyes misting up.

I think it was the honesty, the bare-bones transparency of his question that stung at my own soul. Before I knew it, I was wiping at my own tears and offering up my own, long-ignored confession. “I had a miscarriage too, once. And you know, for some reason I've always wondered if that was my boy.”

Somewhere deep inside me, a shift occurred. It took the gentle disclosure of a man twice my age to help me understand that my miscarriage was not just the loss of a child who would never be. It was the loss of knowing, believing, hoping that everything would go just as I expected it to go. It was the loss of planning, controlling, and manipulating the future. It was the loss of feeling like I had it all figured out.

I’d love to say that today I am a whole person, free of doubts and concerns and worries. I’m not. That’s what loss does to you: it forces you to ask the hard questions, and asks you to go on living without any good answers. But there is something to be said for the holy, whole-making act of confession. Of airing out pain and grief, rather than trying to bury it. Of surrounding oneself with people who have experienced similar pain. It certainly won’t provide answers, but in a wonderful, unexpected way, healing begins when we remember we are not alone.

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