Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Heart-Shaped Uterus

susan krueger barber

My  pregnancy unexpectedly ended this Christmas break. I've noticed these sorts of experiences take different shapes as time draws you farther away from the epicenter of them, but here's what it looks like to me right now:

A few nights before Christmas I was wrangling the children into bed. I was sick and tired, miserable, like I had been for the three months previous. The girls continued to climb on me even as I picked them off me like perky monkeys with the zoo keeper. In the middle of the playful struggle a thought came into my head,

Go get an ultrasound tomorrow.

The thought was neither pressing or concerning, yet I contacted my cousin Katie--an ultrasound technician--that very moment and asked her if she had any openings the next day. She responded quickly that she did and put me down on the schedule. I decided to not tell Chup about the appointment, I can't really say why, because it's not like me to keep secrets from him.

The next day I lied and told everyone I was going out Christmas shopping. Instead I pulled into the OBGYN office and headed back to the ultrasound room. As I reclined in Katie's table, I looked at her and said, "I am just realizing, I haven't connected to this baby at all. And I feel like something isn't quite right."

"Let's check it out and see what we find," she responded with assuring tones.

But when the warmed liquid was squirted on my belly and the wand started to search for the contents in my uterus I felt a strong forewarning of what we would find. There appeared the beautiful profile of a little human start, a gorgeous head, two tiny feet, a completely peaceful baby with no movement at all.

"I'm not getting a heart beat," Katie said.

"I know," I replied.

This image was striking to me. A baby in my belly that clearly had no spirit. A heart that had no rhythm. It occurred to me almost immediately, to thank my body for creating such a sweet little form for a possible spirit, but a spirit was never meant to be in that body. The feelings that flowed into me as we searched around in the dark spaces of my uterus--like maternal detectives--were the most peaceful of my life. And I continually repeated the lines,

"I feel so peaceful. I feel relieved to know."

This was not the miscarriage experience I had known from my sisters or my mother. I told myself the grief and pain would surely jolt me in a few minutes after the shock subsided. But for the time being, I couldn't feel anything but reconciliation to a fate my spirit seemed to know long ago.

"You are measuring right to the day," Katie said as she pressed buttons on her monitor. "This must've happened recently, like in the past twenty-four hours."

"Wow," I was amazed by all of it.

I drove home after the appointment in a cloud of my own thoughts. I told myself repeatedly it was okay to feel peaceful now and it would be okay to feel sorrow later. I told myself to stay honest and open to all the feelings that would follow. And yet, I continued to think about the last three months of never-ending sickness and darkness that came every morning, and between the vomit and the energy loss I questioned ever being able to be pregnant again. I was merely surviving and my children were more ghosts to me than real beings. My husband was a shadow rotating around, holding me up, asking for a few real moments, but getting hardly anything from me in return. I had been thirsty to feel positivity, I prayed for it constantly. Sometimes it came, but in spurts, never enough to bask in.

When I walked in the door I saw a sight I will never forget--Anson with his best friend Asher on the couch deep in imaginations, Ever rolling on the floor like a cat with her Minty blanky, Erin wrapped around Chup's lower leg hoping for a lift-off, and Chup's eyes meeting mine upon entrance.

Here they are--my family.

I couldn't hold back anything, I stuttered out the entire experience to Chup who stuffed the information into his mouth without swallowing. (It wasn't my most compassionate moment.) He looked sad and I immediately felt guilty for not matching his (and any other parent's) normal reaction to such news.

There wasn't a lot of space to think about any of it, because the demands of the children we already brought into existence suddenly became a lot more pressing and loud. But almost suddenly, my baby Erin was my baby again.

Page took our children that night so that we could sit together and process our thoughts. I continued to wait for the tidal wave of emotion I was certainly holding back to overtake my calm presence. I mentally made plans for that moment to be sure to have enough energy to feel it all. But in that moment, on our bed together, I felt nothing but love. So much love for my husband and for my happy children and for a warm home and a smart, healthy body. I felt infused with joy--in my veins--a peace I haven't known in all my life. And even though I kept space for the sorrow, I was so overcome with comfort, it was all I could feel.

On the day after Christmas, the snowiest we've seen in years,  I woke up and vomited like I had every morning previously. This time though, it felt like badge of honor, a maternal freak space where the hardship doesn't meet the expectation. We were set to have another ultrasound, to be sure of the baby's state. I took Chup with me this time. I worried about seeing the baby again, and I worried that it would be hard for Chup. But I thought about the essay I have often loved, O My Sons by Arlene Ball, an essay that convinced me to bless and celebrate the bodies of my children--even the ones that had no spirit. I had resolved that morning to view the baby my body made with the spirit of my infertile past.

Look, I'd say to her, look what we made isn't our body incredible? That brilliant head, those sweet arms, those ten adorable toes! You did the impossible!

The next day, after snow had pounded our house, packed our drive-way and promised not to stop, Chup and I drove to the hospital to have a D&C. My baby was just big enough to consider delivery, but small enough to surgically remove as well. I had hoped for a natural process, as I always do, but I knew this procedure was safe and secure. In the waiting room I was given hormones to start my uterus into labor. The pills took effect almost immediately, my body shook and cramped. Adrenalin rushed through my veins and the chills over took my body. Chup became alarmed,

"This is what you do right before you give birth," he told me.

I looked around for a place to vomit if I needed. Chup went in dire search of help. But came back empty handed. I wondered if I was going to die. I felt like dying.

"They told me this is what you are supposed to be feeling."

He rubbed my back as I fantasized about being anywhere but in that waiting room, full of people trying not to stare at me as I convulsed and shook. I felt like I was in transition, just about to bear down and push.

Then my name was called and we headed back to a make shift room with curtains and a bed. They wrapped my veins with warm packs and blew hot hair into my purple hospital gown.

"Are you nervous?" the nurse asked me.

"No, I'm going into labor," I replied.

As I was being wheeled into the surgical room I met up with my doctor. He didn't say a word to me, but took my arm and squeezed it. It was like God himself was touching me--and I knew I was going to be okay. And in a few minutes I was out under the spells of anesthesia.

I wish I was a better writer. If I had better use of language and a bigger understanding of expressing sentiment, I could wrap my words around what happened when I awoke. But it felt as though I had never existed before that moment and I was just coming into my own body. I closed my eyes and saw a vision of something that felt like heaven and I knew my Heavenly Parents loved me, I had seen them both. I knew it with a gorgeous sense of liveliness. I had given birth, perhaps to my own soul.

The nurse attending to me was a friend of my family, as it turned out. She was so good to me, and I heard her say to the nurse charged to wheel me down the hall,

"This is my sweet friend Courtney, take good care of her."

I closed my eyes and opened as I landed in a room where Chup was waiting for me. When I saw his face I couldn't hold back my emotions. I sobbed and sobbed and told him how much I felt loved and how much I loved. He held my hand and we cried together. I asked him to write down everything that came to my mind in that moment, beautiful declarations of testimony and echos of a heavenly conversation.

That must've been some anesthesia.

When I was in labor with Anson, my body wouldn't contract regularly. Page concluded the baby was most likely posterior. He was my first baby, I didn't know how to labor much less a posterior baby. But when I was in labor with Ever the same thing happened, my midwife concluded I must have a heart-shaped uterus, a non-typical shape that invites babies to emerge posterior or even breech. By the time I was in the throes of labor with Erin, I knew what to expect, and found laboring on my side brought her swiftly down the canal and into my arms.

But this time, the doctor told us, my heart-shaped uterus may have been the cause of the fetal demise. The cord was jumbled, he vaguely mentioned--just a hint of a clue to appease our future hypothesis. We never knew the gender. I think it was better that way.

I spent the rest of Christmas break in bed with books and babies climbing all over me gently as they can (which isn't very gently at all). I was miraculously able to finish the last few chapters of my Life Story, a momentous year-long feat for me.Friends came, family called, casseroles were delivered. I continued to be astounded by my body, it's ability to quickly recover. I could feel energy return to my heart and rotate around my circulatory system like it used to before the systems of fertility--with the hormones and the milk and the blood--slowed it down with purpose.

One morning I woke up and looked in the mirror and for the first time in many years, I found myself staring back at me.

There you are, I said.

There in my blue eyes, I found myself.

Miscarriage, painting by Susan Kruegar-Barber