The past nine days have been a hazy blur, and I wish I was keeping better notes because SO MUCH has changed since then. He already looks different from when he was born.
Breastfeeding is hard. Apparently it’s hard for most people. We’re both learning how it goes, which involves trial and error, and sometimes results in lots of screaming and crying (from both of us).
Desmond does this thing where he can’t quite latch on to eat, so he just keeps trying and trying, opening his tiny mouth as wide as it can possibly open and hunting with his whole head thrown back and bobbing. He’ll do this over and over and over. He’s literally inspiring to watch; I’d have copped an attitude of “fine, I’ll starve” but he keeps going.
In the hardest moments I remind myself he’s new at everything, and that having any needs is new for him, too. He never been cold and wet, or stuffy, or hungry, or uncuddled. It easily shifts my feelings from frustration to sympathy. I’m vowing to be a patient, gentle mother.
In his screaming moments, I remind myself to be extra gentle, and kiss the bridge of his nose; something I’ve been dreaming about doing for years. I think, too, about how some cultures view newborns as divine, and I understand why. He looks at me sometimes with a deep wisdom that is startling.
In the quiet moments I think about all the times I wanted him so, so badly, and am filled with profound gratitude to him for existing, and the gratitude fortifies me. It took a total of two years and two months to get him to my arms, with so much heartbreak and disappointment in between.
I’m raw. Thankfully I set firm boundaries before he was born, and we haven’t felt pressure to have any visitors yet aside from all the members of our birth team coming back to check on us once each. It’s just not time yet. I’m bleeding. Desmond is peeling dead skin from being in utero a little long and it’s ALL OVER the floor and gross. (Thank you, coconut oil.) I cry a lot. Marley never has a shirt on! (Sexy.) I’ve managed to shower only three times, and I can’t shave my legs because I tried once and started bleeding heavily from bending over, so I feel prickly. I’m deeply tired in a way I’ve never been tired before as my body slowly knits itself together. My boobs are constantly out. Marley and I have created a sacred space for his first few days, and although I feel a little cooped up, I’m thankful for it, too. I know that even if we have another baby, we’ll never pass this way again, so: a little work, a little writing, and lots of snugging the divine.
Like I wrote in my last post, I spent the week after my official due date in sort of labour after a night that began with bleeding and intense contractions.
At night, after I’d gotten my PJs on and climbed into bed, contractions would start, in varying degrees of seriousness, and I would eventually fall asleep through them.
I started going for weekly ultrasounds at 39 weeks to monitor fluid levels. At 41+3, ten days after the due date I never took seriously, the tech, who is not supposed to say anything, told me I had “no fluid left” so I was going to have the baby that day, and would have to go to the hospital to get induced.
“What hospital are you going to?” she asked, heading out the door of the exam room to call the doctor.
“We’re planning on delivering at home.” I told her.
“Oh, that can’t happen now.” she said and then she paused and said, “Well, we’ll see.” I think she realised she misstepped in speaking.
When I can make space for it, I’m going to write them a strongly worded letter.
I was fully prepared by my midwives for getting “bad news” that I could ignore from the overly cautious typical medical office, but I was still really upset.
They placed me in a room for 20 minutes for a non-stress test, and I shook while texting my team during it. I called them from the street, and they told me they’d meet me at their office. Kateryn was the first one there and draped her arms around my shaking body. They loved on me until Marley arrived, and then we began our serious meeting.
We drew a pros and cons chart of going to the hospital. Hospital: absolutely safe, but there was a chance they would make me labour the entire time flat on my back for continuous monitoring. Home: I have the birth I want, and the labour experience of moving and eating when I want. In a voice pinched with fear, I laid out my biggest con for the hospital: I was scared shitless.
Here’s why: I know my body. It’s very strong, but very slow. I don’t sprint, I marathon. When you’re admitted to the hospital for an induction, there’s a narrow window of time you’re allowed to labour before the interventions get heavier handed, and the interventions are painful so there are more interventions for pain releif, and those ultimately lead to a higher chance of a c-section.
I knew deep down if I could just BE and do my thing, possibly with some non-medicated nudging, I could have my baby the way I wanted, and safely. I’d felt so strong and capable up to this point, but now, at the very tippy end of my pregnancy, the fear I’d furiously protected myself from was crawling into my tee shirt though the neck hole, with sharp claws, and I couldn’t stop it, and I was so disappointed.
“Okay, no hospital.” they said. Can we take a moment to say “Hell yes” for patient-led care? I. Got. To. Decide.
“We can offer you anything from gentle ‘nudges’ to ‘throwing you off a cliff’ – it’s up to you.”
“Throw me.” I said.
I got a membrane sweep, which is where they insert a finger into the cervix, between the inside of the uterus and the amniotic sac and sweep around, releasing the contact between the two, as well as the hormones that kickstart labour.
The contractions and “stuff” I’d been experiencing all week (called the bloody show, I found out – as in “On with the bloody show!”) had been productive after all, and done a lot of the work, so that was nice to hear.
They inserted a Foley bulb, which is a set of two balloons. One went inside my uterus, and one sat just outside. They inflated both with water, sandwiching my cervix in between and sent me home to either have it fall out (meaning I hit 4cm) or I’d have to drain it 12 hours later at 5 in the morning.
They suggested I walk home, but the effect of the Foley bulb was so immediate that I could barely stand. We took a cab back, and I went to bed.
The bulb never fell out on its own, so we drained it, but it had done its job: I was off a cliff, and failing, and in honest to goodness labour.
The next day is mostly a blur – literally; I didn’t put my contacts in until 5pm – with tiny moments of absolute clarity.
The midwives came in and out. I started on my birthing ball with my breast pump to continue contractions. I got up to move to bed but got impatient with the process of moving the ten feet to tuck myself in, so I laid down on the floor; Marley dragged down our duvet and joined me for the hour or so I was there. I eventually made it to bed.
I asked for my doula, Amanda, who arrived around 9 or 10. They pressed into my lower back and pelvis (sometimes at my not so polite direction – love you Amanda!) over and over again as contractions hit, and their hands probably saved my sanity. They are ALMOST as good as an epidural!
The contractions worked on all the smooth muscle tissue in my body, and I threw up everything I tried to keep down, every time. I threw up over a dozen times in fact, demanding “bowl!” and having one passed to me each time, and now I can’t hear the world “bowl” without getting a little green.
I declared I was going to shower, and just… did. It slowed the progress but I needed the mental health break, and I was covered with vomit, and sweat, and colostrum (pre-milk) I’d pumped and felt incredibly disgusting, so soaping up felt great.
My bed had four other people in it at one point – two midwives, Marley, and our doula – but I was so lonely, going deep into the contractions. Occasionally one would hit me while I was unprepared, and I skidded along the top of it panicked, but mostly I dove under them and into them. I tried to remember to vocalise deep, not high.
It was hell.
Kimm, the older midwife, arrived and had me breathe deep rather than vocalise. Kateryn, the younger midwife, pinched the skin on my arm and hand, to see if I was dehydrated. I wasn’t bad, but they hung an IV of saline anyway, from the lamp next to my bed. Kateryn did a cervical check and the pressure of her hand stopped my contractions for a moment, and I could see both my team the edges of my own humanity for that brief minute. They tried to position me with pillows so my knees stayed open, and I didn’t like it. Amanda left to get my anti nausea medicine, which I threw up immediately.
All of this is probably way out of order, and lasted from 6 in the morning until 5 pm. It felt like a dream most of the time. I amused myself with stupid things to think about, like trying to figure out how you differentiate “stuff” and “thing” in Spanish.
I heard them getting the pool ready.
I sat on the toilet with Marley’s robe from high school on me backwards. I made him tell me not to panic. He told me not to panic. I put in my contacts and got in the inflatable birthing tub they’d filled with warm water, and burst into tears because it felt so much better.
Occasionally they would monitor the fetal heart rate, and drape me with cloths (our old, worn out dish towels put to good use) but mostly, I floated alone, grunting and moving how I needed to, following my body.
No one told me to start to push, I just did, and did for a while.
I thought he was stuck. I thought that they’d have to haul me out of the tub and rush me to the hospital to have him cut out of me. I told them this, but they all shook their heads.
“He’s coming.” they said. “Reach and feel.”
I did, and it was all me and then, high up but definitely OUT was a velvet rock. An alien coconut. The top of his head; our first contact.
I pushed. I poked Marley and informed him, “This really fucking sucks.” I gripped Marley’s tee shirt, and then I bit it.
I reached over and opened a kitchen drawer – an old superstition about birth I’d read in a book years ago. I flung my arms around Kateryn and told her I was breaking. I pushed and grunted more.
They told me to flip to my back. They reminded me to take a break. I told them I didn’t want a break, I wanted the fucking baby out.
His head popped out.
Kimm yelled at me to stop, to breathe, to float to my back. I did, knowing she was preventing me from tearing. “My moms simply don’t tear” Kimm had told me. “Not once in eight years.” I’m delighted to report I was NOT the first to break her streak.
“Feel!” she said. I did, and Marley did, and we were weirded out and in awe.
“On the next contraction…” she started, and I contracted. He emerged into the pool.
“There’s a cord!” she said, and
I looked down and
lamely tried to help while they untangled his body from his umbilical cord but
I was so tired and
then he was unwrapped and
then they brought his face out into the air and
then they placed him onto my chest and
I was someone’s mother all of a sudden.
He required a few rubs to come to, which I didn’t notice at the time, but looks scary in the video. He was also grey and REALLY cone headed. A few rubs on the back from the midwives and he began to turn pink and cried for a minute, pissed off at the disruption.
I tipped him back to see his face, carefully holding him low so he wouldn’t get cold, and then looked at Marley in absolute shock that I’d just had a baby because it felt so impossible. I wasn’t thinking about having a baby. I was thinking about getting through the process. The baby part felt impossible, but then it happened because of course it did, and I just… was totally shocked by it. (It’s a week later. It still feels impossible.)
“Eh.” he said. “Neah. Eh? ARRRAH! Nef.”
He flashed pink gums, a side-eye filled with skepticism, a gang sign?, and then he sighed. He looked like an alien, and a frog… and a lot like my Uncle Winston.
I introduced myself, and kissed him. I marveled at his massive puppy hands with teeny nails, and shock of dark hair, and little bright pink gums. He has the biggest eyes!
We draped him with wet receiving blankets to keep him warm in the pool.
He smelled delicious. “That’s all you!” Amanda pointed out. I think this is gross, but I couldn’t help it: I licked him.
Marley told me his name. I knew it would be first name Marley, last name Marlow, but didn’t know his middle name, which is what we were planning on calling him. I’d left that totally up to Marley, and he surprised me with two middle names: Marley Desmond Thai Marlow. I sang him Happy Birthday and everyone joined me, and I cried.
The placenta wasn’t coming out on its own. They gave me a tincture, and after 50 minutes of floating in the tub and waiting, they finally handed Marley scissors, and he cut the cord. I delivered it out of the tub, then slumped into Kimms arms while Marley cradled our baby. Amanda took a photo of the moment that I’ll love forever but REALLY can’t show you, of me absolutely spent and sprawled out, and Kimm just loving me and holding me.
I was bleeding more than they wanted, so I got a tiny injection to stop it, and some topical medicine for a scrape he made coming out.
He was almost born en caul; my amniotic sac never broke until he was actually emerging so my fear of my water breaking in the middle of a coffee shop was really unfounded.
I was dressed and helped up, and then I felt amazing. Look at this crew! That’s Amanda next to me, Kateryn down in front, and Kimm snuggling Marley. Kimm and Kateryn are HeartScience Midwifery, and finding them changed everything. I’m so thankful to these three, and Marley, who was the best birthing partner ever.
We popped champagne and heated up the lasagna that my friend Allison made, and weighed him. 6 lbs., 13 oz. but so tiny! (a week later, he’s swimming in newborn clothes, which we had to quickly wash since I’d only washed 0-3 in advance, which is the advice everyone gave me!)
Kimm brought us the washed up sac and placenta, and showed me how cute and tiny the placenta was. In photos I’d seen they are much bigger, but it explained why I really felt like I wasn’t showing much before 30 weeks. After thanking it, I let her take it to photograph and use for educational purposes.
We took a group selfie. They ate and packed up and left and then we were just… a family of three and I have never loved anyone more than I love Marley and Desmond.
I feel like a bad motherfucker and you can’t tell me shit.
My entire life I wanted to be a mother, but in an abstract way, and I assumed there would be a huge loss of identity. I didn’t know I’d feel the most like myself at my most pregnant.
Monday night I was sure I was going into labour. There was mucus and pain and blood, and then it slowed, and now, Friday night, it’s down to a contractions that seem to mostly happen in bed when I’m feeling safe and sound that are big and slow and require attention and breathing through, but not “real”.
I’d asked this baby ages ago to ignore his due date on the 4th of May, and kindly come any time on or after 13th. I thought I might be whacky doing that, but he’s listening. My midwives, who have demonstrated over and over the power of ones mental state over a pregnancy, are not at all surprised.
Anyway, since Monday, I’ve continued to live my life, sort of, slowly, cautiously. I had one last trip to Ikea with a sort of heavy return on Wednesday (it’s a long story, but a few months ago I decided we needed to redo the kitchen. I was a little worried I was crazy, and it got frantic as all kitchen remodels do, but it was exactly the right thing to do and I’m thrilled.) I slowly got it up the stairs and to returns, bought the thing I needed, and gave myself a treat: Ikea meatballs.
I sat eating, realising it was one of the last alone moments I’d have for a while. It felt sweet and momentous, and quiet. The auntie who put the meatballs on my plate gave me “one extra for free, for the baby”, a gesture I absolutely loved. I tucked into my delicious, cheap food, looking out over the view of Brooklyn and Manhattan, being consciously alone for the last time in a while and there it was suddenly. In the middle of the chaos of having to make one last trip to Ikea, which I had NOT wanted to make, in the middle of a place notorious for sparking arguments and being complicated: a thin place in the Ikea cafeteria.
I thought my water broke later that day, as soon as the last drawer was assembled, but it was… something else. Not pee, just… liquid? From my vagina? This whole “not labour labour” is weird and gross. I’ve leaned into it. It’s been on and off all week. I took the bus to lunch with friends today, almost a mile away today, but walked home, and it took me forever. People smiled at me while I shuffled.
I’m sentimental about it being the end. There have been difficult moments, but I have really loved being pregnant. The girl who lives downstairs is almost six. Her mother told her I was having a baby, and she asked, “Is she proud of herself?”
Yes, kiddo. I actually am.
I can’t wait to see his face. Marley is picking his name, and I have no idea what it is, so I’m giddy for that, too. I knew our first child, boy or girl, would be named Marley after their father – I adore him so much I couldn’t think of a better person to name my kiddo after – but that we’d call them by their middle name for the sake of keeping track of who is who. I turned the task of picking that name over to Marley after I found it was causing me anxiety, and he’s going to tell us both together what it is.
I’m looking forward to not being as cumbersome, and the contractions that come at night are wearing on me. I’m ready to hold him in my arms, and I’m going to bite that foot that has been worming it’s way into my ribcage for months!
I left my doctor – late. I can’t remember, but I think I was 27 weeks along. There was fine medical care, but no art/warmth time for questions, and a rotating staff of nice but not ultimately warm OBGYNs, and I was getting nervous about a hospital birth so far from home in Manhattan, which would require me to cross a bridge or tunnel to get to. At 5pm, this four mile drive could take three hours.
I looked into birthing centers, and different doctors, and read articles, and found out that, despite what you’d think, New York City isn’t really the greatest place to have a baby. I called three midwives. One answered the phone while walking down the street, and told me to come in for an initial meeting. I did.
I have a thing that happens to my bones when I know answers deeply. A nice warm heat rises out of my arm bones, and across my ribs, then floats up into my face and brain, and this is how I know that I know something before I know it. I felt it first when I met Leeloo, the dog who was the absolute perfect dog, and when I tried on the gown that I got married in before I had even fully gotten a look at myself in the mirror.
I felt it when met Marley for the first time. I saw him from across the sidewalk waiting for me – I was late for our first blind date – and automatically extended my still-glowing arms outward and around his neck within 10 seconds of meeting him, a level of familiarity with a strange man I had never gotten close to on the dozens of first dates before his.
So I knew in my arms and ribs that I was hiring this team of two women, and that meant that I am, barring complications of course, going to give birth in my living room, and that this was the right – not even right, but obvious – choice for our family, and my body, and this baby, even though it was not what I ever saw for myself.
I hugged them, too, with my still glowing arms. They insisted on me waiting for 24 hours before I officially hired them so I did, and called them as soon as the time was up.
They have me drinking a homemade blend of herbal tea, and taking probiotics that will help stave off Group B strep and WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE KNOW THIS?!, and sitting on yoga balls, and feeling my uterus for exactly where he’s laying inside of me (we are currently working – him and I in our first project together – to get him a little more to the left to be in a better birthing position). They touch, and listen, and talk, and feel, and it’s different, it’s wonderful, it’s close to spiritual, and I’m so grateful. They taught Marley how to feel where the baby is, too.
I’m currently full of gratitude, and wonder, and tiny knees. I am growing large. I have never felt more beautiful.
“I have never had it easy,” I said to my therapist, who I’ll call Joan. “I try to remember that not everyone was meant to, but I’m having a hard time not getting hung up on who I could be if only…”
If only I were born into a supportive family (and preferably wealthy and generous.) If only I looked more “black” so that my identity didn’t feel constantly suspended on a the edge. If only I had fought against the overwhelming tide of non-support, and gotten myself properly educated anyway.
My friend Emily and I started our friendship twenty years ago, and I was the one doling out sage sixteen year old advice, but now we are older and she’s a licensed therapist, so the tides have turned a bit. A few months ago, she absolutely destroyed me by saying, “But if all those things were true – wealthy family, etc. – you would not be here.”
And I’m actually glad I’m here. Most days. Usually, I wish I were there. But, as Joan says, “I promise you’re still young, and there’s a lot of time to get there.”
The problem is that it feels like everyone else has gotten there much younger. There, of course, being the dream career I want. My career is good. Great. I’m proud. But I wish it were more… robust. The clients I have I completely adore, but I’m not getting as many of them as I’d like. So it’s like, half of my wildest dreams.
That’s good, right?
I became owner of this online publication. It happened almost by accident; I started working with them just over a year ago, and two of the founders stepped away to pursue other things, leaving me and one one last founder to it. I love it, and dream of it being a force for good in a wedding industry that says the only beautiful bride is one that is thin, and straight, and white.
It’s a little overwhelming learning the ropes. To this end, I’ve changed things in my own business so that it can run more efficiently, by turning to software that will help me manage contracts and invoices instead of doing everything by hand.
The work is almost breathless, but for the first time every, I feel privileged.
I’m a skeptic. In my dating profile it said, “I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t hold up to scientific testing, and I don’t pray.” I intentionally, consciously don’t remember what my “sign” is whenever anyone tells me, and any talk of ghosts, gods, signs, chakras, or “energy” gets a hard stop.
And yet, there is a girl.
I met her a little over a year ago, and then more recently we connected in a group of larger friends; she’s smart, she’s fun, I probably have a crush on her, and she does “readings” for people.
So, whatever. I’ll try anything once.
SI go. She has crystals on the her coffee, and a burning piece of wood that adds a heady smell to her tiny living room, and a Tibetan singing bowl, and we meditate, and she takes my hands, and I cry immediately at this, because WHO takes anyone’s hands any more? Ever? No one.
A lot happens, but the most powerful thing is she addresses the walls that I clearly have, wherein I let people in, but not all the way, because I’ve been abandoned and have Issues. And how I take certain things as a matter of course instead of deeply feeling them. I’m uptight! Which is not how I feel, but yes, I do hold myself super centered and rigid, of course I do. I’m terrified of making mistakes.
And then she kind of was able to feel how I feel, and it made her cry. So then I cried because I made her cry, and later I apologised, and she said not to, that I was worth seeing fully, and she hugged me, and so now I’m in love. And maybe less of a skeptic – maybe and just a little – and working on relaxing, but I don’t even know how to do that.
So then I go to therapy, and my therapist is like YES. SEE? And a million things click together. Like how I’ve had to be my own parent, because I have had three parents THREE and they’ve all let me down, even though I talk to my dad now and he’s fine as long as I don’t expect anything from him. But then I’ve been hard on myself. Too strict.
So now to strike a balance, and be okay with crying which was NEVER an okay thing to do in front of my mother, so I learned to not do it ever, and I’m exhausted.
On the heels of reading story after story of how women of colour die in childbirth more than white women, and how bad the US maternity rate is overall, and how the number of maternal deaths per year is as low as it is because we don’t count the number of women who ALMOST die, all in situations that would be completely preventable or non-existent in every other developed nation… I’m looking for a black woman gynocologist.
Which is to say, my husband is looking for one for me, because every time I start trying to look for one, I get overwhelmed.
I walked into my old OB/GYN’s office four days after my d&c for a check up. I was heading to an event, and I had a big heavy coat with me, too. I dropped everything on the floor, and waited. The receptionist came in after a few minutes and kicked me out of the room. “You can leave your stuff” she said, shooing me towards the door.
I stood awkwardly in the hall. She had forgotten to weigh someone using the scale that was in the exam room, and wanted her to have privacy while her weight was recorded. This is understandable, but it made me feel awkward and un-special, especially since I wasn’t told why. An invitation to go sit back in the waiting room, or just a mention that it would only be a moment would have been effortless ways to make me feel valued. As it was, I only figured out what was going on because she also neglected to close the door and I heard everything, including the other woman’s weight being read out.
After being allowed to return, she glared at me. “Hang up your coat!” she snapped. “This looks terrible!” She gestured to the things I’d brought with me, and placed on the floor in what I thought was my own private exam room. She continued to stare at me until I dutifully picked up my coat and hung it.
The woman who had gotten weighed was a gorgeous, clearly wealthy woman, and white; I’d rolled up with no makeup, hair askew, and a face puffy from crying for four days, and clearly not white enough to receive the same level of treatment, or the warm greeting that everyone else had gotten.
On top of this, it came out later that the doctor was almost certain something was wrong when he looked at his ultrasound, but wanted to send me elsewhere to be sure. (I was so enthralled with what I was seeing on the screen – I had no idea that at 13 weeks you could see so many features so clearly – that I didn’t notice anything amiss.)
Instead of telling me to go get my husband, I went to the appointment alone, and I’m still wrestling with regret for that whole situation, and ultimately putting the blame right back on the dismissive doctor who knew he was sending me to hear bad news.
This has all been simmering for months in me. I’m sad and angry, and finally ready to use that sadness and anger to fuel finding a doctor that makes me feel valued.
I had braced myself for not being okay, so this is surprising.
My therapist and I sat in our session trying to remember the penultimate step of the five steps of grief. Neither of us could, so I Googled after I left, and when I read “depression” I groaned out loud, “Oh no!” while looking at my phone.
[Side note: I’ve reached the point of living in New York City that I don’t care that I look a little weird talking out loud to myself occasionally like this. Without solid effort, you would be hard-pressed to be the most unusual person in any given subway car. In this particular instance, no one around me so much as glanced in my direction.]
I emailed her the bad news.
The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of these, regretted later that she wrote them in a way that people mistook as them as both linear and universal, but absent of any other guideline (and not liking to be unprepared) I stacked them in my mind and tried to figure out where I was and where I was going on this timeline.
The denial was easy to pinpoint, and brief. When I think back, it was a full four seconds of blinking back at the doctor after she gave me news, waiting for her to say, “However, I have this miracle in my pocket just for you.”
Anger and bargaining were easy. I was angry at the situation, but not at anyone. There was also no one to bargain with. This is the joy and peace of being an atheist.
So I braced myself for depression, and I was for a bit. But then I had an industry event that required me to put on makeup and a dress and heels, and I did, and I had a little bit of fun dancing around, taking selfies on the dance floor and in the ladies room, and ending up with drunk, gorgeous friends in my lap.
And I felt okay. And then I would cry, but then Marley and I would laugh like our old selves again.
I don’t think I’ll ever be over it completely, but I wouldn’t want to be, either. You know?
I carry your hearts with me. I carry them in my heart.
But… I set myself and my mental state in a correct place to navigate circumstances well.
Side note: dear universe. Just because I said it does not mean that you need to test it further. Okay? Amen.
I have no idea how I learned this, but the more I read about self-discovery and personal development, the more I’m in awe of how far I’ve actually come. Not perfect, but way farther along than I thought, and I don’t know how I did it, but I’m happy and proud.
I’m positive a ton of it is part of a survival response to the abuse I endured as a kid, mixed with Iyanla Vanzant in the 90’s sitting on Oprah, pressing one palm to her forehead and one on the back of head just above her eyebrows, saying “Save yourself”. (Try it. I don’t know the science behind touching yourself in this way, but it feels powerful.)
Currently mulling on the particular challenge of wrapping your arms around an enormous pain. Everything is foggy.
My therapist told me to accept the fog, and do something creative.
“Maybe you can cross stitch, or knit.” (My therapist is an older white lady, and she’s wonderful, but I’m not cross stitching shit.)
I started off small and got a hilarious audio book, then cleaned out our kitchen cabinets, storage areas, closets, medicine drawers, and coffee table. Creative, productive. Given my line of work, they’re often the same thing. Does it count as creative that I just brought four huge bags to Housing Works? No, right? Whatever. I’ll try again next week.
I drew a breath.
Friends sent flowers, and fun crafts, take out gift certificates, a gift certificate for a massage at the spa around the corner, snacks, and, hilariously, two dozen balloons that bounced around our ceiling, I imagine because one time during a particularly grueling season, Marley bought me balloons, and they remembered.
In August of 2016, I started a group of wedding professionals that have the same progressive morals; it’s grown to a group of 150. They pooled their money and sent over some well wishes, and a check, which is probably going to the criminally expensive genetic testing we are having done.
I’ve stowed in my heart tiny texts, heartfelt emails, phone calls, and a dozen stories texted and emailed from other women, of “I lost babies, too” ranging from a few weeks to thirty years ago. I’ve been warmed with love, and all of the ways sharing our story has made us, and others, feel less alone, which is the only good thing I can do with it.
I feel seen.
My friend is seven months pregnant. I asked if she’d taken any photos yet, and she said not really. “Please let me photograph you. You need photos. Trust this heartbroken photographer.”
I photographed her on the streets of Brooklyn, and in my apartment, and pressed my palm down in the middle of her to feel her son squirming inside of her.
Two days after Christmas, we get another gift: a second tiny bean, previously undiscovered. I think of Beyonce, and the poet Warsan Shire.
“I’m beside myself with dreams. I have three hearts.”
They’re identical, the result of overly enthusiastic mitosis. No one knows why. I feel like I’ve won the lotto.
I’m sent for a more detailed sonogram – they’re really close together so they might be in the same sac, which is scary – but for the following week. We make it through New Years Eve nervous, but happy.
Two wiggly gummy bear-shaped shadows are floating inside me, patting each other gently in the face. They are separated by their own sacs, which is good, but share a placenta, which is concerning, but usually fine.
The tech turns up the sound, and we hear one heartbeat, and then the other. It would be the only time we ever heard heartbeats, but of course we don’t know this yet.
Waiting for our cab, Marley asks if I’m okay. “No,” I said, laughing and crying. “I will literally never be okay again. I have TWO people to worry about for the rest of my life.”
Lying in bed weeks later, suddenly empty, my tee shirt drenched in milk for nobody, I looked back over the previous weeks trying to figure out when it was that I fell in love, and pinpoint that it was then, when I saw them, and heard them, and they looked like gummy bears.
At thirteen weeks, I went back without Marley for a diagnostic scan.
I will never go to another scan without him again.
“They’re straight up chillin’ in there!” said the tech. And they were were. They had flipped back to back, one leaning against the other, sucking their thumbs like tiny beach bums in hammocks chugging Coronas. They were also completely still.
The doppler lines went across their hearts without moving. My brain shut down this information, and I think nothing of it. I’m quiet, watching their shapes. So is she. The doctor comes in and leans over me to deliver the news.
I am naked, covered in jelly, and sobbing. This is the worst. It was the second trimester. We were supposed to be safe. Intellectually I knew anything could happen – I’ve experienced “anything can happen” with girlfriends – but still. Still.
Gulping, I ask for a photo of each of them, which I will keep forever. It’s technically too early to tell, but also really obvious they are boys. I was going to have sons.
I find comfort in this: if you’ve only existed for three months and a week, and your arm has just grown long enough to reach your hand to your mouth, and you’ve also just grown a thumb, sucking it is, in your incredibly limited amount of experiences, the best thing ever. They died happy.
I get dressed and slip across the hall to the doctor’s office, who already has my OB on the phone, and my OB is already pulling information for an operation the next morning. The option to let it happen naturally was too horrible to think about, and too dangerous. I held my breath and ducked my head walking through the waiting room, determined not to traumatize anyone else pregnant and waiting for their turn. I wept in the elevator. I wailed on the street. I managed to stuff it down to gulping sniffles to get in the car I called to pick me up. The driver turned and looked at me.
“You look tired!” he said brightly.
Fuck outta here.
I sat in the marble and glass lobby of Marley’s insanely fancy Manhattan office building. Security guards eyed me, but let me be. I wept on the velvet couch. People made a wide berth. I love this City.
I count down the minutes he has left to be happy, starting at 36. They tick away: nineteen, thirteen, seven, two. He’s late, and gets bonus minutes of happiness. I’m glad for him. At 5:03, it occurs to me I should have gone home instead, that his work colleagues would be right behind him, that we were in a crowded lobby full of offices and people leaving for the day, that this news would have been better delivered at home. But it feels too late to leave. He knows I’m there waiting for him. I stand up, then sit back down.
He’s my homing beacon, and I’ve turned towards him like always, but now I regret it, although he promises later that I did the right thing.
He comes around the corner, and I watch him searching my face from yards away. He sits and looks at me expectantly as New York City streams around us.
“No more minutes.” I think to myself, and then I begin to speak.
They give me a hospital bracelet.
This was not the hospital bracelet I wanted.
They give me a sonogram.
This was not the sonogram I wanted.
I change into a gown. We wait.
I slide my hands all around my round belly for the last time, and reach low, for where I had begun to feel them wiggle. I know the science, but poke around anyway – a vain hope for a miracle. I hadn’t expected to be showing so soon, and definitely didn’t expect to feel them flipping around already, but with twins, that’s what happens.
I want to be be awake, but the doctor overrules me. I grudgingly sign consent to be put under. I am put on a bed with my calves strapped into cupped supports above me. A nurse gathers my gown to cover “my vajay”, then straps in my legs and begins an IV. “I’ve never had anesthesia before. What if it doesn’t work?”
“It’ll work,” she says. “I’ve been here for ten years, and it’s never failed.”
“What’s it like?” I ask.
“A power nap.” she answers. “If you’re behind on sleep, you’ll be caught up!”
I turn side to side as best I can, trying to figure everything out from flat on my back. The sonogram lady rolls an ultrasound machine in, and tells me they need it to keep everything as safe as possible.
The anesthesiologist walks me me through what she’s doing. “You’ll feel it going up your arm right now, and then maybe taste it?”
“Yup,” I say, “It’s in my face.”
I don’t notice I’m under. In my dream I’m walking down a long hallway, not scared, but overwhelmingly lonely, and everything is grey.
I’m awake, and uncomfortable, and we’re going to keep it real: in the process of numbing my cervix, they also numbed my colon, trapping a piece of waste in it. I’m angry that this, of all things, is making me uncomfortable. They force me to eat something. I drink a small cup of warm apple juice, and eat one Ritz cracker. I try to poop, but can’t, so I give up, get dressed, and go home. Every bump on the ride home is brutal. I curl up on Marley, furious. I want to mourn, and it’s impossible. It’s another hour at home before the local anesthetic is worn off enough for me to go.
If you’re having a D&C, get an enema first.
I notice on my left arm they have injected me. There’s no bandaid, and no one tells me. A less observant person wouldn’t have seen it.
This is upsetting. Did they not think I’d notice? Days later at a followup, I’m told it was likely an injection to cause my uterus to contract. I feel betrayed this information wasn’t told to me. I hate not knowing. I hate that I never saw them. I hate everything about this.
In the days after, we all but sew ourselves together, living on takeout, crying, sprawling across our bed. The lady downstairs asks what she can do, and I have just the task for her: next month I have a speaking engagement that I ordered a maternity dress for. I ask her to take it away for Marley to deal with later so I don’t have to see it. She brings us food, too. Nicki delivers “a package” and it’s her, standing on my stoop with cheese, and chocolates, and gin. A fruit basket arrives, and some treats from close friends.
We begin to think we will pull through, and plan a two-person memorial service for that weekend. We toast their lives after with pho, and bubble tea.