2. a study of the structure or internal workings of something.
On Friday, sick with a fever and hacking cough, I work from bed. Around mid-morning, I notice that I was spotting. Not a lot, but more than the nothing of my previous three pregnancies. I pause and run through what I know about spotting and miscarriages. Some spotting is common. Googling “Spotting + 10 weeks + Symptoms of” only confirms that Google is the worst so I get back to work. Somewhere in the middle of the day I realize I don’t feel pregnant anymore. My breasts aren’t heavy, I’m not bloated, my mind is snapping at a faster rate than it has for the past ten weeks. These symptoms of health are a black cloud of worry.
I text my sister and she reminds me that she had the same symptoms with her son. “Do you remember what you told me? You told me that a miscarriage is a LOT of blood. It’s A LOT. It’s not mild spotting.” I’m soothed by my old advice to someone else, but not soothed enough to sleep. The body-wracking coughs make the spotting worse, which worries me. My previous pregnancies were immune to kidney infections, and this one can’t accommodate a cold.
I stand in front of our vanity before going to the bathroom, afraid. My feet look a million miles away as I wonder, “Is this the moment I miscarry?” I’ve delivered an 11 pound baby in a squat, so I’m afraid to sit down. My limbs drag me to the bathroom, a disjointed puppet.
But I’m not miscarrying. Not yet, at least. My sister rolls into town and lays hands of love on me. Apart from my bereft husband, she’s alone, but strong. I’m in bed, sobbing and exhausted from coughing and spotting all night. The blood, which started out pink, then brown, is now bright red. Google hates bright red spotting. Sister brought Echinacea, Tylenol, and a breakfast burrito. She calls people and sorts out whether to go to the ER or not, but since I’m still only spotting, and not very much, we determine it’s better to wait until Monday.
I send my little family out of the house to a tree farm while I lay at home and torture myself with more Google. I had passed a thin thread of tissue, but nothing since. And the spotting was brown again. Google tells me this could be It with a capital M or it could mean nothing.
The family comes home and we decorate our mantel with evergreen, like everything is okay and I’m not a crumbling, overly dry, gingerbread man. The house doesn’t smell green and alive despite 10 feet of pine, and all of a sudden I feel smothered in plastic wrap. My husband lights every pine scented everything in the house until our nostrils burn with Christmas.
My husband heads into work for an overnight. He’ll be two counties away, and I want to stop worrying about this ridiculous spotting so we use his mid-day exit as our own momentum to escape. We have a few errands to run, and I hop into a pair of boyfriend-cut jeans. My older daughters and I discuss the look (I’m a skinny jean girl for life).
“Is this what women do, when they are losing something as sweet as life? Do they try on boyfriend jeans for the first time?
At the store we grab a cart and get help finding a perfect gift. I’m talking to a clerk when the color drains from my face. I can feel the flow of a much heavier bleed begin. My daughter is telling the wine guy that her favorite cheese is triple cream but she hates the rind, and he tells her he loves the rind so they’d be the perfect Brie-eating pair. I stand beside them smiling, quietly bleeding through everything.
I can feel it soak through the pad and pants as though I built a river-dam using moss. Calmly, I ask to put my order on hold. Write my name down on paper twice, pressing my existence through the number two. I don’t know why this is important, but while I stand there, bleeding, affirming my existence becomes imperative, like digging a lover’s initials into a trunk.
We walk out and I’m hoping that the blood hasn’t saturated through the boyfriend jeans. I’m ashamed to realize that my most pressing concern is whether anyone will notice the blood of losing a baby in the middle of the store.
We hit Piner Road and I realize whoever we left home as, we will return changed. Earlier in the pregnancy, I cautioned the girls that sometimes babies don’t stay. I had no personal experience of this, but now, as a crutch, I lean into facts.
My voice cracks against the science and anatomy of a miscarriage: “Mommy might be losing the baby. This happens sometimes because the baby isn’t ready. And mommy’s crying because hormones make me cry, but also because I’m sad.”
Tears pour down my face like a baptism. I’m sad about August or Penny, or whoever this baby was meant to be. I’m mad at myself for sharing the pregnancy at all because now I have to UN-tell people, and I just cannot imagine talking to people ever again, let alone telling them about this heartbreak.
We get home and I call my husband. He’d arrived at work ten minutes before and asks if he should come home, so I hang up on him. I go to change, my body is trembling, try to clean up, but the stain is omnipresent.
I bundle up into thick leggings and lay on my left side. My daughters make themselves a small lunch while I lay on the couch, catatonic.
I think about the friends who have miscarried not once, but twice, or more; or those friends who have miscarried without the comfort of another child to pull them out of their grief. Those women must be made of steel. They must play chicken on the freeway at night, for fun.
My husband is home, he was two counties away moments before and now he’s home and he’s covering me like I’m a hermit crab and he’s my shell. I retreat into him and sob. Our older daughters encircle us both.
I’m maniacally sopping up another mess with toilet paper, as the tissue breaks apart in my hands. Half-sobs and a voice that’s coming from my throat but isn’t mine answers, “Are you okay?” with, “Yeah, there’s just so much…blo..” I gasp, awoken, and fall back into the shower, partially clothed. I want everything to be sanitized, the bathroom and myself. Where the shower was before a denialist’s retreat, it is now my rescuer. I don’t want to know and see what I know and see. I wash my hair three times, leaning against the wall of the shower in my shirt and gasping because I don’t trust that oxygen works anymore.
My mind is a shimmering pond, flipping between the dark undercurrent of emotion, and the bright logic of what is happening. Logic: “This baby was not healthy” reassures, patronizing. “This baby had four names picked out!” my heart shouts back, petulant. This is the truth within the truth: This baby was wanted and is lost, whatever it’s chromosomal qualifications to stay, were. I’m angry at logic for trying to save me from my grief.
I don’t want to be saved.
I call the doctor. I’ve been sending and receiving calls all day and it’s becoming increasingly impossible to eek out a conversation with the front office without breaking into shards. Mostly, I squeak a sentence that ends in “…having a miscarriage,” before handing the phone to my husband. When the on-call doctor rings, she starts with compassionate empathy and I dissolve. I needed cool antiseptic science, instead I got, “This isn’t your fault. This isn’t your fault. I am so sorry this is happening.” She lets me know that as bad as the bleeding is, the “silver lining” is it’s likely that the miscarriage will also be over fast.
She is right. Within thirty minutes it’s all over. Despite three days of bed-rest and tears, I release our precious wanted surprise. It’s stunningly quick but overall not unlike childbirth. Oxytocin takes over, managing my emotions, calming me down. Oxytocin is supposed to bless me when, sore and tired, I’m holding our sweet baby in July, not losing it forever, at home, on a rainy Monday night in December.
I am Artax, of The Neverending Story sinking into the Swamp of Sadness. My daughters are Atreyu, yanking at my reins. They bound into our bedroom; sparking with life like power lines broken on a wet road. I swallow my desire to disappear in bed, and get up. But like a depressed pony sinking in a swamp, I have no skill for human-interaction. I walk around flitting between shallow conversations, emotional explosions of grief, and rage slapping someone through text when they cross some invisible line into my loss.
I used to wonder what would trigger a woman who’s just miscarried, now I know the list is all-encompassing. For me it is the sweet baby being worn by her mother in the store, and the freckles on the fresh-faced butcher who trimmed our beef, and the scale measuring it, and the way fresh ginger looks, all gnarled and imperfect, like the old man face of a new baby. White reminds me of bleach, and rain reminds me of showers and everything reminds me of the anatomy of our miscarriage.
The ultrasound confirms that the baby is gone. The radiology tech is empathetic and kind and my face is putty when she puts her hand on my arm. As we park at home I see several dead apples on our now bare tree and I feel a compulsive urge to remove them all, immediately. This poor tree, stuck with little rotten apples on her branches, unable to move into winter with grace, and later spring with hope.
In less than a week we had everything: Conspiratorial plans of silly announcements, managing a business around four kids, saving names to our phones, and plotting our stock-ups of Costco diapers.
And now we have nothing, other than a bleach resistant blot on tile and a tree full of dead apples.