Grandma had to leave us when she did so she could hand pick the babies we would get and watch over the ones that never quite made it.

July 20, 2015

I wrote this essay a few months ago that was meant to work through the pain of my 1st two losses and provide hope to others who have experienced the same. I am currently reeling from a 3rd loss and have yet to find the strength to write about that but wanted to share this. A Helping Hand My grandmother, her tiny frame lost in the hospice bed, slowly reaches her shaking hand over to my barely protruding belly and pats it gently. "Cute," she whispers. One of the last words she would ever say to me. I grasp her frail hand, my eyes filling with tears but I smile at her and nod, acknowledging the truth of this moment: we are soon going to lose her. My Gram. She is blunt and brass, an old-school Chicago broad. No one can ever do anything right in her eyes, and she may just follow behind you and do it over. . . yet you always feel loved in her presence. She may not be a classic nurturer but she has always known how to take care of us. And we adore her. She cooks our favorite meals when we visit, she lavishes us with generous gifts, tells us the truth about things even when it is hard to hear. When I was a child and we lived out of state for a few years she would visit at Christmastime and for two weeks after she left I would cry myself to sleep at night.

 

Her absence left an emptiness in my life that would now be permanent. Ironically, today is Christmas, a day remembered for so many happy moments with my grandmother. Does that make this the best day this could happen, or the worst? What gives me a speck of peace is the knowledge that though her life was about to end, another was soon to begin. That whole circle-of-life bullshit, one of the ridiculous things we say to ourselves to try to cope with the impossible truth of death. This woman who I have loved since my first breath is about to take her last. But it is ok, right? A piece of her will live on in this child, her great grandchild, this imminent joy that will fill my heart in six months time. What I didn't yet know was that my loss, my pain would soon be compounded. The loss of a long, well-lived, well-loved life followed by the loss of potential: a life imagined; A life never given a chance to live. A week after my grandmother’s funeral, walking the dogs I feel an odd sensation, a fleeting pain, and my heart drops. I race home and find a light pink spot. Nothing, I assure myself. Breathe. It is week 11. I have an ultrasound scheduled for Monday. The milestone one, the one that means the M-word is unlikely. It is right there within my reach. I frantically call the doctor. I call my husband in a panic. This can’t be happening again! They say don't worry, you will be fine. But it gets worse. In the morning there is real blood. We rush to the doctor. “Your cervix is closed, you feel about 12 weeks.” She presses on my abdomen--A completely different experience than the gentle pat of my gram the week before. “We are going to send you for an ultrasound but don't lose hope. It looks like things are OK.” Hope, she fills me with it then. My husband rushes off to work and I go to the ultrasound alone, hopeful, excited to see the little baby bean, the heart flutter that had been there a few weeks before. But I could see nothing on the screen and everything in the blank stare of the ultrasound tech. “I'll be right back,” she says. And in what feels like a lifetime she brings her in, this woman whose sole job is apparently to "gently" crush the souls of expectant mothers. “There is no baby,” she says. “You are having a miscarriage.” Again. I stare at this stranger as if she were the grim reaper; I manage a nod. She leaves and I am there alone in the dark, the walls seem to be closing in on me. The word “alone” being redefined for me in that moment. There is no baby... The baby we longed for for over two years, the baby that we had just excitedly announced to family and friends.

 

The baby we had already chosen names for, dreamed of holding and raising and cherishing. The baby that got me through the overwhelming sorrow of my grandmother’s death the week before, simply no longer existed. I run out of the exam room and rush through the waiting area, tears flying from my face as I pass a row of baby bellies. I call my husband. “There is no baby.” “I am coming home,” he says. I call my mom, between sobs I cough out the news: the baby that has buoyed our hearts during this time of grief would never be. That night the excruciating pain comes in waves and with each contraction I scream out in terror. . . it is my soul that hurts most. This must be what labor feels like, yet there will be no happy introduction to a beautiful new life when it is over. I fear I may never know how that feels. Instead, all there would be is a horrifying red mass of cells and blood. . .the baby I had grown inside me now nothing; now sewage. In the week to come my soul bleeds and the blood continues to flow, draining the life out of me. I am pale, physically fading; I am exhausted and emotionally empty. “You will have to go for surgery to stop the bleeding,” the doctor informs me. “We have an opening tomorrow morning.” My birthday, I mutter an OK before the tears overwhelm me and I can’t stop it. The absurdity of it all turns my tears into a mix of laughter and sobs. . . and in between I find it hard to breathe. . .so hard to breathe. In the morning I lay on the gurney, IV pinching at my arm, shivering in the papery light hospital gown. “Hey doctor,” the anesthesiologist says to the OB as he walks in, “It is her birthday today!” He looks at me grimly and mutters an "I'm sorry." He dives into explaining the procedure. . .the scraping out of any “remaining material”. . .reminding me that this baby I had grown for 3 months was nothing but medical waste. As his words press down on my heart, the anesthesia overwhelms me. The nurses around me break out into a quiet rendition of happy birthday, their voices trailing as I slowly slip under.

 

I awake to brightness, to my usually stoic husband standing over me, dripping tears onto my hand that he is holding in a very new way. I don’t know if he cries because he was scared of my being under or because of the loss we share, but his face is as I have never seen it...and I know from then on that we will conquer whatever life throws at us, hand in hand. Later, in recovery, the anesthesiologist comes to follow up and remove the IV. “The next time I see you,” he says, “will be in the delivery room.” With a weak smile I thank him and his attempt at kindness, not believing I would ever know that sought-after miracle of birth, the now elusive joy of motherhood. A year almost to the day later, I do see him again. After 10 hours of excruciating labor and an assurance from the nurse that it could be 10 more, he arrives to relieve my pain and allow me to be ready for the most glorious moment: when I deliver my first son with overwhelming joy. I stare into this curious little face and cry joyful tears, though one or two may be in sorrow for the lost babies still holding a place in my heart, I am radiating happiness for finally having a living breathing child of mine in my arms. And less than 2 years after, that joy is compounded when another adorable son completes our beautiful family. If I ever allude to still holding pain from the losses of my first two pregnancies, my husband reminds me that our sons are the babies we were meant to have. . .and he is right. They are perfect, sweet, funny little boys whom I cherish every single moment.

 

“They are the babies that Grandma sent down for you,” my mother assures. Apparently Grandma felt even God couldn't do anything right, so she had to get up there and make sure he didn’t mess this up! And though the pain of that awful time will always be with me, I find a new reassurance with that thought, that Grandma had to leave us when she did so she could hand pick the babies we would get and watch over the ones that never quite made it.

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