Anxious and trembling, I walked into the operating room, draped in a hospital gown and flanked by pushy nurses, as if I was walking to my own crucifixion. As the nurses outstretched my quivering arms and tied them down to the operating table, the image was complete – I was transformed into Jesus on the cross. “Please,” I begged the nurse hovering closest to me by my side as an anxious tear rolled down my cheek, “I don’t want to feel like I am being crucified. Can I please keep one arm by my side?” Thankfully, she acquiesced to my request; they would move my arm when I was unconscious.
I have always been squeamish by nature. I come by it naturally, thanks to my mother. In life, they say there are three psychological responses to fear – fight, flight, or freeze. My form of freezing when I encounter blood or needles, or the very thought of blood or needles, is fainting. This was my first surgery. Earlier, I had warned the poor nurses preparing me for surgery in my hospital room about my squeamish nature, told them that I was scared to go into the operating room for the first time, and begged them for “happy pills.” They told me that I would have to wait for an anesthesiologist for those. Of course, he was running late. And as he rushed into my room before the surgery with the bedside manner of a hurried cyclone, he uncaringly denied my request for “happy pills” and told me that he would give me something in the operating room itself.
Well, after being forced to walk to my crucifixion with my full faculties, I was angry at the man. Furious tears ran down my face as I lay with only one arm now outstretched and as they placed the gas mask over my face. When the anesthesiologist peered over me and stated matter-of-factly that I should be feeling something now, I angrily yelled through the plastic mask and tears, “I don’t feel anything.” It is the last thing I remember before the darkness.
After a little laundry list of diagnoses revealed a number of concerns, our fertility specialists recommended surgery. Thankfully, they told us, all of the other medical issues could be rather simply treated with baby aspirin and medication. The surgery, we hoped and we believed, would be our cure. Though anxiety-provoking, it all seemed like a relatively easy fix.
When I awoke later, groggy and drugged, I asked Patrick through slurred words, “Did they get it all?” Confidently, he announced, “Yep, they got everything. They fixed it.” And with an embarrassing combination of excitement, relief, and medication, I slurred loudly, “Woooooooowwwww. I’m soooooooo haaappyyy.” Minutes later, having forgotten that I had just asked the very same question mere moments before, I slurred to Patrick, “Did they get it all?” Stifling his amusement, Patrick responded with the same words as before. And again, through a haze of drug-induced amnesia I declared, “Woooooooowwwww. I’m soooooooo haaappyyy.” Patrick stills wishes he had recorded it all for posterity (and YouTube hilarity).
After my surgery, life got in the way of us trying again. First, there was recovery. Then, there was an impending cross-country move. Then, buying a house, settling into new time and energy-consuming careers. Month after excruciating month past with still no baby or even the hope of a baby in my arms. And through the haze of my lingering depression, each without my babies month felt like a new grief. Ultimately, it was nearly a year before we could try for a baby again.
With baby aspirin and vitamins, we were given the all-clear by our medical team. And finally, life cleared a path for us to pursue our rainbow at last. So that summer pursuing pregnancy – with all of the ovulation kits, temperature taking, and timing – became an all-consuming obsession for me. Amazingly, we found out we were PREGNANT quickly again.
The faint second line on that pregnancy test looked like an answered prayer. It was long awaited hope that our pain was behind us. I was out of town for work when I first saw it. After a year of painful tests, after surgery, and after surviving the crushing depression of grief, I was overcome with joy. Standing in that hotel bathroom with positive pregnancy test in hand, I cried tears full of every emotion imaginable – tears of unbridled hope for the future falling alongside tears of agonizing pain for the past.Excitedly, I planned on how I would announce the long anticipated arrival of our rainbow to Patrick.
Mere days later, however, the line faded away. MISCARRIAGE.
They call such early losses a “chemical pregnancy.” This means that an egg was fertilized, implanted, and enough pregnancy hormones were released to trigger a positive pregnancy test. However, for unknown reasons, this budding potential for life is miscarried almost immediately. Often these early losses happen before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. For us, we likely only knew because I had been testing, an excruciating advent of modern medicine in which early detection pregnancy tests remove the bliss of ignorance. There truly is such a thing as being “sort of pregnant.”
We tried again the next month, and yet again we were PREGNANT. Again, mere days later, another MISCARRIAGE. Another chemical pregnancy.
Clearly, the treatments had not worked. The surgery – despite all of its anxieties, its pains, its hope – ultimately had not worked. The most devastating realization during these losses was that the discovery that the pain was not behind us. No, it had followed us. The grief of our past had stalked us all the way to New York.
We never named these babies. Perhaps it is even controversial to call them babies. I do not know. They were chemicals, cells, still weeks away from heartbeats. Yet, they too were dreams, hopes, and seemingly answered prayers snatched away, and I mourned their loss. For me, they too were babies that I would never hold in my still empty arms. So this Mother’s Day, I remember them too and I count them among my lost children. I will release a balloon or I will light a candle in their memory, just as I will for Ezra and Leo – six balloons or candles in all.