*Featured Image: “Sun Jewels” by Rollin Jewett
By Ashley Swanson
I never knew you. The books still talked about you in terms of food: This week your baby is the size of a poppy seed. This week your baby is the size of a plum. You stopped growing at eight weeks. Only two months of growth, yet you had a little head and tiny buds that looked like arms.
The doctor couldn’t find your heartbeat on the hand-held monitor. Strange, because you were supposed to be 11 weeks old. Strange, but not unheard of, She reassured us with a smile. She said we would do a vaginal ultrasound to get a better look at you. They turned the florescent overhead light off so we could better see the screen. She inserted the wand and you were there. Your head half the size of your body, like a mutant tadpole. There you were. My heart picked up, then crashed. Where was your flicker of light? The doctor quietly pointed to what would have been your chest.
I’m so sorry, but right here. There should be a heartbeat, we aren’t getting one. I’m so very sorry. This is not the way I wanted this to go for you.
She claimed that their ultrasound machine wasn’t the best; we were sent downstairs to radiology. They have a better one. It has Doppler. If there’s a heartbeat, they will find it.
The technician kept the lights off and plunged the head of the remote into my stomach. She dug into me, so deep it hurt. Not from the pain, but because of the silence. I started to cry. Silently, I let the tears slide down my cheeks and blur my vision. The tech focused on the screen. She didn’t look at me once. A flat-line ran along the bottom. No heartbeat.
The doctor later explained that my body still thought I was pregnant. It was trying to feed you, to help you grow. The body that wasn’t able to provide you with the genetics of life was stubbornly holding on, refusing to believe you were gone. The doctor started using words like “fetus” and “tissue expulsion” when she talked about getting rid of you.
You: the baby we had already affectionately been calling “Nugget.” You: who I had imagined holding, naming, watching play baseball, and go to prom. You were a fetus that needed to be extracted. You were dead.
The doctor reassured me it was not my fault.
These things happen.
That there was hope.
At least this pregnancy proved that you are able to conceive. In a few months, you can try again.
The uncertainty was eating me alive.
There’s no way to know what caused this.
I called your Grandma to tell her. She was sad. The proper response—though since I left the hospital, I was mainly numb. Numb with intermittent bouts of crying.
I know it’s hard. We might not see why now, but there’s a reason. It wasn’t time for that little soul to come yet. It will find you again. God has a plan.
Your Grandma was trying to help. But trying to wrap my mind around the idea of killing you in my stomach being God’s work was too much.
Your Grandpa had a different take. He was upset too, but mainly he was worried about my physical well-being. I was his baby, just as you were mine.
I think you should go with the D&C.
Dilation and Cuttelage. It was an operation. One of the options to remove your body from mine. They’d put me under and when I woke up you’d be gone. Spring cleaning of my pelvis. I’d bleed for a week. Cramp a bit. But that’d be it.
The other option is a drug that induces miscarriage.
It causes the body to miscarry on its own. You’d have intense cramping and then pass the tissue yourself between 24-48 hours.
The idea of seeing not just blood, but tissue. Seeing the little bits of you was too much for me. For some it might be a healing process, but for me, you were still my nugget; still the slightly raised stomach I’d rest my hand on, talk to. I try not to think about the fact that for the last month of that connection, you were already gone.
We used to callously call it a “dusting and cleaning.” Your grandpa said about the operation.
Sometimes when people don’t know what to say, they say the wrong thing. Grandpa didn’t mean to be so glib about you. He works in the medical field. He has always seen death as a scientific topic. He was trying to disconnect emotionally, trying to save me from the pain. You were gone, and he wanted me to heal in the quickest most economical fashion.
I go for your D&C in a few days. The waiting is hard. We waited for weeks to see you. Weeks of anxious and excited countdowns: “Two weeks ‘til we see Nugget!” “Three days to Nugget!” Now the waiting feels empty.
We’ll have the D&C at the same hospital I went to see your heartbeat. The same hospital I found out you were already gone. I’m afraid to have them take you, but at the same time I want this to be done. I loved you, Nugget. You were the size of my thumb, but I already loved you. When they take you out it will really be over. I don’t know how I’ll handle it.
We’ll probably conceive again. But you’ll always be a question. A dream that didn’t quiet come into focus. A life that was part of mine, a secret but deep part. We had names for you, Nugget. You were already our child. They say that losing a child is the worst pain a person can experience. You didn’t have the ears to hear how much we loved you. I hope that somehow you felt it.
Thursday, I lose you for good.
This is going to hurt.