Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fleeting Joy

Last week I was standing next to my daughter's table at a function, cutting up her dinner, when I suddenly felt the room spin. Weird. Then the next morning I was shopping at the Sultan Center and was overwhelmed with nausea while walking through the deli and dairy section. Dizziness and nausea...the last time I experienced both of those symptoms within a day of one another I was pregnant. So the next morning I stopped by Boots and picked up a two-pack pregnancy test. I took one test as soon as I got home. It was positive, but the vertical line was lighter than the horizontal one. I double read the instruction pamphlet which reassured me that it didn't matter how faint or dark the line was- if it was there, the test result was positive. Still, I wanted to be later that afternoon I took the second test. Again- positive, with a lighter vertical line.

I was thrilled! I went about my regular weekly routines with a secret and blissful wellspring of joy. I was determined to go about my life as if nothing was different. I practiced yoga, walked along the corniche, shopped at the mall, played with my kids-all the while buoyed up by the secret knowledge that I was growing a new baby. I welcomed the uncomfortable swelling in my breasts and the occasional surges of nausea or light headedness. These were all confirming signs of my pregnancy. The due date was July 26th- my sister's birthday, and perfectly situated in the middle of our summer holidays to the United States-my preferred place to give birth. I had decided to wait to tell my husband; he was having a stressful week at work and wasn't expecting this pregnancy. I was praying for the right time to tell him. In the meantime, I wanted to fully revel in my secret joy untarnished by public commentary

Then, last night, just as we were leaving an evening party with some friends, I stopped to use the bathroom. My heart sank as I saw a spot of bright red blood. It took me less than a moment to process what this likely meant.

I had lost a baby once before. We were in India. We had just moved there for my husband's fullbright research, and had arrived in Hyderabad the night before. We were staying with some friends of my husband's family- they were like family, although I had just met them. First thing in the morning, we woke up and got read for church. Just before we left, I noticed some light spotting, so I asked my husband to have his "Uncle" stop by a pharmacy and pick up some pads for me. Unfortunately I was wearing a pure white Sarwal Camis. I had read that spotting early in pregnancy was normal, and I had already had two children with no complications, so I thought little of it. But the bleeding turned from light to heavy, and didn't stop.

I remember trying to sing along with a hymn, but everytime I opened my mouth to try and sing, I was choked by a sob. I didn't know anyone, but a kind older American woman sitting next to me (the only one in the room) noticed I was upset and asked if I was OK. "I'm pregnant", I said. "But I started to bleed this morning and it hasn't stopped. I'm not sure what's going on." I was definitely in denial. Even after she kindly gave me a hug and said she'd had a few miscarriages herself- I still couldn't believe I was having one. My pure white Sarwal Camis was no longer white, broadcasting to everyone we passed my own personal loss. It started to sink in at the hospital when the ultrasound confirmed that the baby had indeed died. The more the nurses scolding me for crying, the harder I sobbed.

I sobbed for days. I hadn't ever really experienced grief before, and I hadn't realized that this baby of 11 weeks that I had never seen or held, had already become my baby. I had already started planning our family life with this baby, had anticipated the birth, shared conversations and thoughts together. I was surprised that my miscarriage felt like the loss of a child. I hadn't realized just how emotionally invested I was. To compound the feelings of grief, I felt alone and far away from all my family.

The bleeding continued heavily for several days, so eventually my doctor recommended a D&C. On the day of the procedure, I sat on the table in the preparation room, curled into a ball with my knees tucked up under my chin and my ankles crossed. The nurse, who spoke no english, was trying to shave my pubic area, administer an enema, and give me a shot of some unknown substance. I knew enough about modern hygienic practices to know that these were outdated practices with no real value to a birthing woman. I was refusing to let the nurse touch me, insisting instead on speaking to the doctor first. After I communicated my concerns to the doctor, she allowed me to proceed to the operation room, foregoing the routine procedures and the offer of any pain medication (I don't like the way I feel on pain meds).

The D&C was more painful than I expected, especially with some added stomach cramping from a current bout of Dehli Belly on top of the uterine contractions and forced opening of the cervix. I breathed deeply and vocalized through the pain. When the procedure was finished, a nurse escorted me out to the hall and into the bathroom. Only a squatting toilet was available. When I was finished emptying my guts and more, there was no toilet paper available: the attending nurse tossed a bucket of water onto my backside, waited a moment for me to air dry, and we proceeded to meet my husband in the hall. I was shaking, feeling nauseous, and humiliated as blood and who knows what else dripped down my exposed backside and legs. I just wanted to get dressed and go home.

So this time, when I saw the blood, I think I was more resigned than shocked. I had already learned that I was not immune to the possibility of loss. I knew I would feel numb at first. Then would come the grief. And eventually, I wouldn't forget it, but the loss would become part of who I am, a familiar piece of my own personal landscape.

I told my husband as soon as we got home; he was wonderful. I sobbed against his chest and in his arms, seeking security and comfort. There was no resisting or denial this time, only grief and loss of what could have been. Eventually, emotionally exhausted, we both fell asleep like this. The next morning, the pain wasn't quite so sharp. I just felt emotional- like everything was just under the surface ready to bubble up at the slightest moment of weakness. I went to my church anyways as I was responsible for teaching a class, and through the course of the day, shared my loss with a few close friends. I expected the same sharp pain to return each time I talked about it, but it didn't. Instead, with each friends hug and sympathetic words, I felt my heart swell in gratitude for the love that surrounds me. It was as if each person I shared with helped to re-distribute my loss, diminishing the previously acute pain that I felt. Although sharing it with others made the experience more real, it also became more bearable.

I was driving home with one of my friends, and we both conjectured that if I had never taken the pregnancy test, maybe I wouldn't have even known I was pregnant. I might have shrugged it off as an unusually long period. I thought about that later. Did I regret finding out that I was pregnant, even if it was for just a short time? And the answer for me is definitely no. I would still take those few fleeting days of overwhelming joy and heart swelling love for my baby- even if it is really only the possibility of my baby- than to not experience it at all. Life is about living, and living is never safe. Joy and pain always come hand in hand. But I would rather experience them both than nothing at all.


  1. Sarah, this is so poignant and yet beautiful. Truly, thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. Thank you H! I look forward to reading about yours someday. You have much to share.

  3. Amazing Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your story with so much honesty. As I began reading I was so excited at first with the news and then heartbroken when I learned you lost your baby.

    I too had a similar experience many years ago, never really fully could read the pregnancy test but started with the nausea and then the bleeding. The joy and elation too fleeting for words. It's so hard to know why these things happen but our incredible bodies also know so much more about life than we do.

    Your an amazing mother, woman, wife, healer and friend. Hold your husband and children, dance and laugh with them and know you have everything beautiful surrounding you today. You are loved and I'll keep you in my prayers. Love, Jami