Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I had a miscarriage and gave birth to a poem

In mid-December of 2005, I had a miscarriage. I was about eleven weeks along when it happened, so I hadn't told the world yet that I was pregnant, but I had gotten the old maternity clothes down. Now this isn't going to be a poor-me-I-had-a-miscarriage story; I am not in the business of trying to rattle the fertility gods who have been more than generous to Cedar and me. I've only had the one miscarriage and at that point I already had twin boys, Caleb and Liam, who were conceived spontaneously just a few months after I went off of birth control.

I've heard stories of pregnant women intuiting that something is wrong with their pregnancies. This may well be in hindsight, but during this pregnancy I did not feel totally right. I had almost no nausea and just didn't feel, well, pregnant. But because I had an inherently high-risk twin pregnancy and because I had gotten severely ill when I gave birth to them (which is another story), I reasoned, faultily it turns out, that
I had nothing to worry during any subsequent pregnancy; I figured I had earned a get-out-of-miscarriage-and twins-and-other-complications-free card. So when I started spotting, I was optimistic that it was just normal bleeding. Then the bleeding continued and intensified, and I went in to see my ob/gyn and she confirmed that I was, indeed, having a miscarriage. Sitting in her office that day, I was definitely bummed, but I kind of thought of the whole thing as akin to a dental procedure--you make an appointment for it and it happens and it's uncomfortable and unpleasant, but then it's over after a few hours and you go about your day. "Will I still be able to work while it's happening?" I asked, thinking that making sub plans would be a real drag. She paused and looked somewhat disturbed and responded tentatively, "Well, some people do." Translation: You have no idea what you're in for, do you? Two days later, I was so weepy and distraught, I could barely drive myself to her office for the examination I needed to have.

At this point, once the miscarriage was really underway, I realized no way could I have worked. Luckily, I shared my classroom with a sympathetic, supportive, and talented teacher and she agreed to cover my classes. But then a major snow storm came that night or the next day, so the schools were closed for a long weekend and it turned out I didn't have to make those pesky sub plans, or attempt to teach E.S.L. and World History to ninth graders while my body purged itself of a botched pregnancy.

I also remember telling my and Cedar's family and our friends about it in the beginning and feeling pretty self-satisfied with myself for being so rational about and comfortable with it all. "It's how nature works," I explained. "It meant there was something seriously wrong with the embryo and so it wasn't meant to be," I reasoned. "I have two already and I'm happy with them. It's just a bunch of dead cells anyway," I reassured them and myself. Of course, I still
knew all of that when the great purge really began, and I still know it and then some (with the gift of perspective), but once it was really happening, I felt much differently. Soon, I was cramping, contracting, bleeding, sobbing, and grieving.

Even so, in the world of miscarrying women, I was one of the lucky ones. Besides having the weather elves on my side, I had excellent medical care and my caring husband, my two boys (just seeing and being with them during that time cheered me up), and a very supportive group of friends by my side. Plus,
it all happened naturally: I was able to go through most of the process in the privacy and comfort of my own home, I didn't have to take a pill to jump-start the process, and I didn't have to have a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) at the hospital (where they essentially extract the dead embryo from you). I didn't even get to the point where I felt I needed to take the percocet prescribed for me. Part of me wanted to, to treat myself to a percocet high(Mmmmm, percocet), but the other part wanted to be all there, all present, to be a responsible mother to this little being, which maybe never was a being, but in the case that it was, to accompany him or her in sobriety to wherever it was they were off to next.

So the real point of this post is to share a link to a poem that was accepted and published recently in
Literary Mama that I wrote about the physical and emotional experience of the miscarriage itself. The piece started as a series of free writing and was gradually whittled down to the essential narrative and images. The version published in Literary Mama, though, was not the original one. The editors suggested I cut out the first five lines, feeling that "the opening material acts as a preface and weakens the poem's urgency." So even though it was painful to sever a limb from my poem, I decided they knew what they were doing and to trust their judgment.

Looking at it on
Literary Mama's page now, I am fine with that change, but I feel like I could have tinkered more with the formatting; for example, adding mores pauses and white space within the poem. That being said, when I was in the process of writing the final versions, I chose a block form without much white space to recreate the sensation of that experience being a blur, with one moment running into another. Also, I wanted to create the sensation of being surrounded by water, by liquid, because that's what it felt like, emotionally and physically: the tears and emotions and the waves that they came in but also the event of the miscarriage itself started small but then grew and became like a storm, the contractions rhythmic like the tides of the ocean. Finally, I was sending the embryo out into the water, into the sewage system, actually, the idea and images of which serves as the heart or climax of the poem. It was very hard for me to get past the fact of just flushing it all down the toilet; it seemed so heartless, so inhumane, so flippant. At the same time, there was no other option and no way to preserve anything for a ceremonial burial or anything like that--there was just so much well, stuff, coming out of me and I had no idea which part of the "product" was the actual embryo (or even what to call it).

Before I share the poem, I want to stress that all of this has a happy ending. The day I found out I was pregnant again (with Amelie), was the due date of the miscarried baby. Even if I had not had another baby after that for whatever reason, I'd like to think that I would not have considered the miscarriage to be a tragedy or anything of the sort. Liam and Caleb would always have been enough, more than enough (those of you who have spent more than five minutes with us know what I mean).

I know this probably contradicts some of what I said in the recent posts that emphasize science and reason, but it helps me to make sense of what happened: I feel like that miscarriage happened for a reason, to bring Amelie to us. We all love her so much and she brings so much magic into all four of our lives that I actually feel grateful that I had that miscarriage. I also know that so many women have them (something like 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage), that I feel like it was a rite of passage for me. Of course I have the luxury of feeling this way--perhaps I wouldn't were I on miscarriage number five; it's simple and easy to have just one. But I really learned from the experience and gained wisdom from it and was humbled in a positive way.

So, here's the published version:

Thanks for reading. And thank you, universe, for my wonderful life.

(photo by Robin Macklin)