This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. The office bathroom stall was dark, but not so dark that I couldn’t see the contrast of red on white. A single drop of blood, bright red and bubbly, stained my underwear. I remember thinking it was the brightest red I had ever seen. It was a mistake to run. I should have kept it to a brisk walk. Or better yet, I should have done something else on my lunch break. The nurse on the other end of the line sounded concerned. “How much blood is there?” “Only a couple drops, but I’m not supposed to be bleeding, right?” I said. She assured me that some “spotting” was normal, common even, but I should come in anyway, “just in case.” My husband met me in the doctor’s office waiting room. When the nurse called my name he squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine,” he said. Everything was not fine.
The ultrasound confirmed we had lost the baby. My first thought was, “This can’t be happening.” My second thought was, “What did I do?” Was it the run, the stress? Something else? Our son, Owen, had been so easy. No sooner were we home from our honeymoon than I was pregnant, and nine months later we were holding a healthy baby boy. That was more than four years ago. Was I now too old? When I became pregnant again a few months later, my doctor prescribed a daily dose of baby aspirin to protect against a rare blood-clotting disorder. “Will it help?” I asked hopefully. “Probably not, but it can’t hurt,” she said. Determined to reduce my anxiety, I stopped running on the treadmill and started doing yoga. I tried to cultivate a Zen-like attitude. Lots of women have miscarriages, I reasoned. I’m not special. It was all going well, until my ten-week ultrasound appointment. Lying on the table, my swollen belly covered in gel, the look on the sonographer’s face said it all. I stopped doing yoga. I stopped doing anything that required a physical exertion greater than lifting a cup of decaffeinated tea. There was no medical reason for my self-imposed bed rest; it just felt like the right thing to do. Besides that, I was depressed. Seven months – they felt like years – after our second miscarriage, I was pregnant again.
And again, I tried to remain calm while bracing myself for the worst. My doctor had me take all the usual precautions. She also had me come in for weekly blood tests. When I was 11 weeks along, one of those tests revealed my hormone levels were going in the wrong direction – and poof! – another pregnancy was gone. We tried to avoid the subject of babies at family gatherings and parties. This was no easy task. Whenever you have one child, people always wanted know when you planned on having another. Unsolicited advice was common. Friends liked to suggest alternative treatments they’d read about online like acupuncture. Although they meant well, they often said things like “you can always try again” and “at least you have Owen.” My sister-in-law, who has four kids, suggested we get a puppy. One evening after dinner, my husband announced he wanted to stop trying. “Maybe God is trying to tell us something,” he said. “Like what?” I asked. “Like maybe we should quit while we’re ahead,” he said. I pretended not to hear him. That night, I dreamt I had a baby, a girl. She had almond-shaped eyes and a dimple on her left cheek. She looked healthy. In a hospital bed I cradled her in my arms and sang to her softly until a nurse came to take her away.
A year later, I fell pregnant again. My husband, despite his earlier doubts, was overjoyed. I was more wary. We agreed not to tell anyone about this new pregnancy until I was at least five months along. When we finally did tell people, it was in hushed, measured tones, void of the excitement that had so characterized our earlier annunciations. Although on the outside, I wore a brave face, inside, I was holding my breath. I held it through the hospital visits and the blood tests. I held it despite all the assurances my pregnancy was progressing normally. I even held it through the ultrasounds that showed ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. It wasn’t until I heard my daughter cry for the first time that I exhaled. Gwendolyn Kelly arrived via Cesarean section on June 25, 2014. She is a happy baby with bright, inquisitive eyes and a coy smile that’s all dimples. Although she has been a part of our lives for three years now, not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for her existence.