Life ignites into being. A flash signaling existence exactly at the moment of conception. Denied by those less knowing. But I knew. Each time. I knew. That moment. That flash. When I was no longer one being but two.
1972. Twenty-two, madly in love and desperate for family, I sat in my car and watched a train pass by. My stomach churned. It was the only moment of morning sickness I ever remember experiencing. It was the time before warning about alcohol consumption. No one talked about the effects of smoking on the infant growing internally. I knew nothing other than my own desperate longing and love.
Five months along I was sitting in a movie theater in Denver. Summer break from college. Unmarried, with a boyfriend whose boarding school–raised Catholic mother was not only unhappy with my existence in her favored son’s life but who also had some very heavy judgments about an illegitimate child on the way.
Midway through the movie I felt a hot rush of thick liquid fill my jeans. I had no idea what was happening, and it didn’t occur to me to engage the three other young adults who were sitting in the theater with me that evening. I got up and walked the few short blocks to my boyfriend’s parents’ house and upstairs to the bathroom. It was in the bathroom light that it was obvious the liquid on my jeans was blood. Looking back, I can only imagine I was in emotional shock. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel faint. Rather a numbness overtook me. I changed out of my jeans and went downstairs and told my boyfriend’s mother and his aunt that I had just lost my baby.
There was no change of expression on either of their faces. I remember them looking at each other as I stood there, blood filling the sanitary pad I had put on. The aunt got up and said, “I’ll give you a ride to the emergency room.” Which she did. She dropped me off, and I walked in alone.
I don’t remember the lonely wait. Nor the D&C the doctor performed to remove all “tissue.” I do remember the early morning darkness I walked home in. Nine blocks of early morning darkness after the loss of a child and a D&C. Again, numb with emotional shock. At the house I crawled into bed and stayed there for two or three days. No one, other than my boyfriend, mentioned the baby I mourned for.
Summer passed. I resumed drinking and partying as if all were normal. My boyfriend and I still madly in love. We finished each other’s sentences. Laughed together at jokes only we understood. His arm was always around my shoulders, mine around his waist. It drove his father crazy. And his Catholic-raised mother even crazier.
College started in September, and I began classes. One day that fall I was sitting with a group of friends in the student union. My boyfriend was making jokes. Everyone was laughing, talking. Having a good time. Without warning, with no sense of impending doom, for me the room went dark. Where before the room had been filled with sunshine pouring in the windows, the entire room now turned gray. I looked at everyone sitting at the table. No one else seemed to notice. But for me, the room remained devoid of color. Devoid of the sunshine I knew was shining outside the windows.
I finally gathered the courage to ask my friend sitting next to me, “Did the lights go out in here? Is it dark in here?”
She looked at me kinda funny and said, “No,” and rejoined the laughing conversation. I got up and left the group, waving a hand at my boyfriend that meant go ahead and stay. Even walking home to our apartment, I logically knew the sun was shining, but the entire world was gray.
At twenty-two, I had never been to therapy. I had never taken a psychology class. I had no framework for what was occurring, but I knew things were seriously bending out of reality’s shape.
Within that week I withdrew from classes and moved to a friend’s cabin on the reservation, where I remained for the rest of the semester. Deep in grief, I cried and wrote and sat for hours by the edge of the lake. Sometimes I watched the sun come up. Sometimes I watched the sun go down. Other times it was the moon that kept me company. My boyfriend would come by periodically to see if I was ready to return. We were still madly in love. On his visits he would lie in bed with me and hold me, just hold me. Other times we would get into the boat that was tied at the dock, and he would row us out into the middle of the lake, where we would lie in the bottom of the boat and float the afternoon away until the evening mosquitoes arrived and chased us back to shore. Sunday night he would ask if I wanted to come home with him, and I would say no.
I don’t remember how long I stayed there, but I do remember I returned to school before the snow fell. We got married before he graduated. I graduated a year later. Together we had two beautiful daughters. With the pregnancies I ceased drinking. His consumption increased. He continued to work and party and I parented. The madly in love changed to “Oh my god, how do we survive the addictions?” We didn’t. We got divorced. Seven years later I made the bold decision to have another child on my own. Another beautiful girl.
After single parenting for a few too many years, I remarried with the idea, the goal, of having at least two more children, but this time with a partner.
I remember the first conception with husband number two. We had just made love, and I felt the familiar “ping” of existence pop into being. I knew. We were both very happy, as our goal for parenting and married life was moving ahead on schedule.
Unfortunately, that was not the plan of the universe. It was evening. He was teaching at a campus an hour away. My three daughters and I were home with another friend of the family. I felt a pain in my lower right side. As the evening wore on, the pain became intense. The pain became excruciating. I couldn’t bear anyone touching me. I felt like an animal caught in a trap, ready to attack even the rescuer who tries to free it. Finally, my friend convinced me I needed to go to the hospital. She would drive.
The three girls went down and got the car doors open. They all three squished in the front seat. Still unable to be touched, to have anyone within three feet of me—that is how far the pain radiated out of me—I crawled down the stairs. We lived in an upstairs duplex. I crawled on the sidewalk to the car. I remember seeing an old boyfriend walking down the sidewalk. He ignored me. In my pained state I had to stop and hold myself in a ball on the sidewalk so as not to laugh as I imagined him going to an AA meeting and reporting seeing me crawling drunkenly down the sidewalk.
As I recovered in the hospital, my doctor assured me the tube had not ruptured. That I would still be able to get pregnant. The tubes were open and functioning. She couldn’t give me a reason as to why this baby had decided to stop midway home.
Two more ectopic pregnancies. Two more emergency surgeries.
The last ectopic pregnancy sent me into physical shock. My blood pressure dropped. I was on the verge of dying at home before the ambulance arrived and wrapped me like a tin-foiled hotdog at the state fair. I learned later it was a blanket to help my body handle the shock it was going through.
As I was going in to surgery for the third time, I told my doctor to have a spiritual advisor waiting for me after I woke as I didn’t know how I would cope with losing this third baby.
She did have someone waiting to talk with me. He just wanted to pray over me. My doctor had much better guidance than he. As I lay in the hospital bed recovering, once again, living in a world of gray, my doctor told me to stop trying to get pregnant. She told me all tests still showed two viable, functioning fallopian tubes, and she could give me no medical reason as to why my babies were getting stuck on their way to this existence. She told me that maybe the Creator had a higher purpose for me at this time in my life than to give physical birth. She suggested in vitro fertilization as one option to have more children, and she also suggested adoption. I was open to either. My husband wasn’t. We divorced shortly after.
Each ectopic pregnancy had thrown me into deep grief, but prior to the last one there had always been hope. As I left the hospital the third time, I was ready for the grief. I told myself I would grieve as long as I needed to reach full acceptance that my days as a creator of children were over. That my dream of an even larger family to love was dashed, finished. That I would grieve the loss of babies, the loss of life, the loss of hope, the loss of dreams, the loss of family. I would grieve until I knew what other plan the Creator had for me. I would grieve fully, completely so that as a woman I could continue to create.
I don’t know where else to put this in the story. With each surgery for the babies, my doctor saved the fetus for me to bring home. As a family we held a burial for each tiny being at a place by moving water that felt like home to me. A place that I could visit if pulled to do so.
But rather than stay at the resting place I found for them, the spirits of those little ones followed my family for years. They would hang around the doorway of my house, and whether you believe it or not, at least three people became pregnant after visiting our family overnight.
And myself? I became a full-time writer. Pouring my creative energy into stories, poems, plays, and novels.