I am officially late.
My for-the-record position is that I don’t want any more kids. With my youngest recently out of the toddler stage, I am still relishing my hard-earned bits of freedom. A month ago, I triumphantly declared I had changed my last poopy diaper. My three kids can all buckle their own seat belts, in a station wagon that can barely contain them. And our house doesn’t have any guest bedrooms just longing for a more meaningful purpose.
I know more or less what it feels like to be pregnant, and I don’t feel pregnant. But I am late, so I figure I should take a test anyway, just to make sure.
As I drive to the pharmacy, I can think of nothing else. A plus sign on the stick would come with some unpleasant certainties. News of a fourth baby for our family would catapult my husband into a spiraling state of financial anxiety. As for myself, I’d have my own fears to contend with, as my last labor and delivery experience had a blood transfusion for an encore.
But despite all this, I sit fully upright in the car, my body a happy buzz at the possibility. Everyday stresses aside, a pregnancy would still mean a new person, a new member of our family. Six at our dinner table. A pregnancy would be many things, but mainly it would be spectacular.
I take the test, and it’s negative. OK, I think. At least now we don’t have to sell the car.
Some days pass. Perhaps a week. I still don’t feel pregnant, except now I’m starting to look it. My uterus and barely-there abdominal muscles conspire to demonstrate their veteran readiness, covering three months’ ground in three days.
My husband asks if I feel pregnant, a believer in my intuition. I’m not sure. I felt pregnant before I took that pregnancy test, right? Or was that just my inner masochist thinking wishfully?
Now I’m really late, 10 days. My phone’s ovulation app tells me I might be pregnant and recommends I see a doctor. My abdomen still sticks out, but there are no additional symptoms: I’m not queasy, my breasts haven’t grown, and the telltale pregnancy heat that usually sheets off me isn’t there.
I’m getting mixed signals, and I’m confused. The test came with two in the box, so I take the other one. Negative.
I begin to bleed. Not a period—it’s like spotting, only red, and it goes on and on. I have cramps, stronger than my usual ones. My intuitive self is starting to hum more loudly now, but it doesn’t communicate in words, just a vibrating message: Baby. Problem. My thinking mind strings words together: If I am pregnant, why is there not enough hormone to register on the test? Why am I bleeding this non-period? I tell my husband that if I am pregnant, something is wrong.
With each day that passes, I get quieter, more inside myself. I take heavy, thick naps face down on my bed. I feel gray. I feel flat.
It is the fifth day of bleeding, in the night. I am lying in bed, next to my husband. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed with the sense that I am pregnant, and it is as if the baby has been there all along, and I’m only now feeling her. I roll away from my husband and curl up into myself, my right arm encircling my belly. I am sorry, baby, I tell her. I am sorry I haven’t taken better care of you. Now I know you’re here and it’ll be OK, alright? But it seems a bad sign that I’m just now feeling her inside me. I have a vague sense that something (my awareness? my concern? my love?) is too late.
I know that my eggs are 37 years old, just like I am. But I can’t help but feel I have failed her.
I go to sleep, and I dream:
I am in a long canoe on an open river. A young girl with blonde hair is in the front, but I only see the back of her head. The canoe capsizes. As I tread water, my foot brushes up against the head of the girl. She is sinking quickly. I dive down and pull her to the surface. I wrap my arm diagonally across her chest, and together we swim to the shore.
I am startled to see a tall woman waiting for her. I suddenly realize she is the girl’s mother. I had assumed I was her mother. “We have to go now,” the woman says as she bends down to the girl. The woman puts her arm around the girl’s shoulders. They walk away and don’t look back.
When I wake up, I know intuitively that the baby is dead.
The night before, I had told my husband that I was pregnant, and so now, what—I’m just not? I feel all over the place, inconclusive and scattered. So I take another test, my third and final. Negative.
After that, I try to put it out of my mind. It doesn’t matter whether I was pregnant, I tell myself; I clearly am no longer. My energy picks up for a bit, and my abdomen pulls back in. But still I bleed; day six passes, then seven, then eight. Still the same, like spotting, only bright red. I google miscarriage, but I read that a miscarriage is like a heavy period, not a light one. I read of blood clots, and opaque jelly-like sacs of tissue. I read of one woman who worries that she inadvertently flushed her baby down the toilet, and another who finds a lump of gray tissue in her underwear. I don’t see anything like that.
I go to the doctor to get my thyroid tested, an appointment I made many weeks before. “I might have miscarried . . .” I gesture offhandedly. But the appointment was about my thyroid. My doctor remains focused.
Nine days, ten, eleven. I think of the feng shui consultant I hired two years ago who lost all my trust when she struggled to answer and then became annoyed by my many questions. She told me not to sleep on the right side of our bed because she said that section of our house causes health problems, specifically infertility. I remember how the night of the dream, I was sleeping on the right side of our bed.
My husband and I fight. He is wound up tight and critical; I am flat and lifeless. My sex drive is nonexistent.
At one point, I go to the bathroom and start to cry when I see blood on my pantyliner. A small voice in the back of my head notes how it’s odd that I’m crying at the sight of this blood, when so much has preceded it. It occurs to me that I might be depressed.
Finally, on day 54 of my cycle, on the 15th day of bleeding, I begin what looks like a regular period. The night before, the night of the new moon, my husband and I had talked long into the night, and as the morning sun heats up our room, I realize I feel more like myself than I have in weeks. Maybe it was nothing after all, I think.
But that afternoon, there it is, on my wadded up piece of toilet paper: the opaque jelly-like sac. I’m staring right at it. My mind empties, and all I can think about is the woman who was afraid her baby had been flushed down the toilet. I go to the backyard and look for a suitable resting place.
We planted our baby crepe myrtle tree one and a half years ago. It was the first plant I picked out for our backyard, and I chose it for our daughter, because when it reaches its final height of 30 feet, its light pink blossoms will be right outside her second-story bedroom window, shielding her room from the harsh Texas sun.
I use my free hand to push aside a layer of mulch and dark earth at the foot of the crepe myrtle, and I nestle the little lump in the hole. I cover it up with the dirt, and I wonder if I am just doing this for the woman on the Internet. I stand up, and I marvel that the tree has already grown taller than I am. It only reached my knee when we first planted it, such a short time ago.
I remember the girl in my dream. Was she the thwarted future of this gooey tangle of cells? Is there another, taller mother waiting for her somewhere? Is it even scientifically possible for my Korean husband and I to produce a blonde-headed girl?
Suddenly a sharp new thought jumps into my mind: Did another woman shepherd my children briefly before they came to me? Could this be? I manage to stave off my incredulous rationality for a moment, and I feel a sense of solidarity with these faceless women, unthanked and nameless, who came before me while I was sleeping. If they exist, I owe them so much. They prepared the field; I brought in the harvest.
This idea has no home in the scientific world of genetics. The double helix of DNA doesn’t allow for any additional participants beyond just the two. But there is still that part that no one can really quantify: the spark, the sum of the parts, the spirit. Where does that come from? My kids ask me, Where was I before I was in your belly? Not a one of us can say, I tell them. It is a wondrous mystery.
The backdoor opens, and my daughter sticks her head outside, her long brown hair swinging. I can see her mouth moving, her face animated, but I can’t hear her words. I look down at the dirt that I’ve moved, and decide that the job I’ve done is good enough. I brush the earth from my hands and turn to go back inside.
© Amy Daniewicz