When I was a little girl, I asked my father how I was born. He explained to me that I grew in my mom’s belly until I was big enough, when a doctor reached inside her and pulled me out, quickly and relatively mess-free.
At the time this conversation took place, in the late ‘90s, Coca-Cola was airing a commercial that shows a man who realizes his greyhound has swallowed his entire can of Coke. Nonchalantly, he reaches into the greyhound’s mouth and retrieves the drink, can and all. I put this image together with the story my dad told regarding human birth and decided that the doctor in question had donned a shoulder-length glove, had my mom open wide, and reached down her throat to bring me up into the world.
Having a pathological fear of the word “vagina” and not wanting to elaborate, my dad told me I was right, and I went on believing this for quite some time.
My elementary school education took place at a small Catholic school called Veritas. While I had a fairly pleasant experience, the teachers at my school seemed to be under strict instruction not to tell us anything about our bodies or how they work. I had given up my babies-are-like-Coke-cans theory and had a basic understanding of what a uterus was, but as for how a baby actually got into a uterus, I was in the dark. I knew that the plumbing I was equipped with was different from that of a guy because a friend had told me during a fairly traumatizing sleepover, but other than that, I was pretty lost.
By the time I reached my senior year of high school, things were different. I had come leaps and bounds from thinking babies were retrieved from the throat, and had most of the facts regarding the rest of the process. That fall, I started dating my first real boyfriend, who we’ll call Chuck to protect his identity, and with that came some very real sex.
And of course, like good kids who had benefited from having a very liberal school nurse to whom no question was too dumb, raunchy, or embarrassing, we used condoms religiously. It was a very healthy way to be introduced to the world of intimate relationships, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
That February, after we had been dating for a few months, I decided that it was time to go on some form of hormonal birth control so I wouldn’t have to rely solely on condoms. The nurse and I decided that I should give the Pill a try, since it’s usually so successful with girls my age.
Unfortunately, neither the nurse or I had taken into account the fact that I am painfully forgetful. I couldn’t remember to take my daily multi-vitamin every morning. How was I supposed to be trusted with something like the Pill? I tried everything -- setting an alarm on my phone, getting Chuck to remind me, taking them at the same time as a friend so we could remind each other. Nothing worked. I would almost always forget, and looking back I can see that I was asking for disaster.
All those missed and misused pills caught up to me, and in late February I learned I was pregnant. My initial reaction was something along the lines of “Um, no thanks.” I was 17! I couldn’t be pregnant. This happens to other girls. But, like it or not, it was happening to me.
I immediately told Chuck, who reassured me that he would be by my side no matter what. But I think we both knew what we had to do. Each of us had just been accepted to our first choice universities, and there was no way that we were financially capable of raising a child. Together, we planned on scheduling an abortion.
True to his word, Chuck was there every step of the way. He was at every check up appointment I had to go to, and he was there to hold me while I cried about the decision we were making. I didn’t want to be a mother...but that didn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t want the baby to be born.
I would fall asleep at night thinking about what this baby’s name would have been. Whether it would be a boy or a girl (I always felt like it was a boy, even though it was too early to tell). If it would have cried a lot. I would picture Chuck holding a baby, rocking him to sleep. Playing catch with a toddler. Teaching him how to skate. I would think about how amazing it would feel to have someone call me Mommy.
I stopped thinking about how excited I had been to go away to school, and instead I would dream about living in a little apartment and working from home while Chuck took classes. Was it practical? Hell no. Was it what I wanted? More than anything. It became apparent to me that Chuck wanted the same thing. We were falling in love with this baby, and all the sacrifices we would have to make would be worth it.
One night in late March, I made a decision. I was going to keep the baby. I hadn’t told Chuck yet, and of course I knew he would be scared initially, but he would come through. And even if he didn’t, this was my baby. I was going to raise him and love him no matter what it took. I made plans to tell Chuck after the Easter long weekend was over. It was going to be the start of our lives together.
On April 1st, I was indulging in my usual Sunday night routine of reading trashy magazines in my bed and eating Nutella with a spoon, when I felt something wet between my legs. I had been experiencing some slight discharge over the course of my pregnancy, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I went downstairs, armed with a panty liner, and got to the bathroom to discover blood on my underwear.
It took me a minute to realize what it was, I was so shocked. I went back upstairs and immediately texted my best friend, one of the few people I had told about the pregnancy, who did a quick Google and assured me that I was just spotting, and it was normal. I called Chuck to give him the update, and though he was worried, we both went to sleep thinking everything would be OK.
I started to feel mild cramping in my lower back and stomach, but I ignored it completely, because it was going to be fine. Everything would be just fine.
I woke up the next morning to discover even more blood. I called Chuck and he picked me up. Together we drove to the hospital, telling my parents that we were going out for coffee. When we got there, an older doctor with kind eyes did a pelvic exam and drew blood.
“You’re going to need an Rh factor shot, but you’re still pregnant. I don’t think you’re miscarrying,” he said. “You’ll need to go to Truro for the shot, though. We can’t do that here.”
We left for Truro. By the time we got there, the cramping I had been feeling since the night before had picked up considerably, and I felt like my insides were twisting around. I remember thinking, I can’t be miscarrying. This isn’t happening to me. This isn’t fair. As the evening in the hospital progressed, the pain increased until I felt like I would pass out from it.
I was drenched in blood from my waist to my socks, and the sheets of the bed I had been laying in for the past hour were ruined. The nurse who had been assigned to me entered and left the room silently and with little compassion, jabbing me with needles and asking me if I had started to pass “tissue.” I remember saying to her, “That tissue you’re talking about is my baby.” She stared at me, and then left again.
Eventually my mother and stepmom showed up. They were shocked. They hadn’t even known that I was pregnant. Nobody, aside from Chuck, the school nurse, and a couple of our closest friends, knew about the baby. No mother, no matter how shocked and angry they may be, wants to see her child hurting, physically or otherwise.
I was the picture of pain: soaked in blood, crying from a combination of the excruciating cramps and the emotional pain that was rocking me to my core. My mom would cry every time another wave would roll over me and I would shriek. The hospital decided to keep me overnight for observation because of the sheer volume of blood I was losing. I was instructed to leave the large white sanitary pads I was going through every half-hour on a mat in the bathroom for collection. Every time I would get up to change them, I would think about that little boy I had been picturing with Chuck’s black curls and dark eyes and I would cry.
The next morning, while I sat beside my mother in the hospital bed, the OBGYN on call told me what I already knew. I had lost the baby.
“The ultrasound came back clear,” she told me, stony faced. “So I guess that takes care of the problem for you.”
I was discharged, and my mom drove me home. I didn’t cry, just watched the rain out the window, until it eventually trickled to a stop. I felt like the sky looked -- gray, cold. Like I didn’t have any rain left in me. I was out of tears.
The next few weeks were a blur. I wasn’t allowed to see Chuck or any of my friends, except at school. I tried my best to look alive, to look like some semblance of the girl they knew. My few friends that knew what had happened would rub my back and give me side hugs and say they “understood.” I would smile and assure them that I was fine, that I didn’t need any help. I was okay. I was 17! I didn’t want to be a mom. I had “taken care of the problem” just fine.
The rest of my senior year was clouded by my miscarriage. When I was eventually allowed out again, I would stop at the store with friends for snacks and makeup, and they would find me crying in the baby aisle, touching the soft onesies and tiny socks. My prom and graduation were overshadowed with the haunting face of the OBGYN as she looked at me like I had deserved to lose the baby, for being such a dumb, irresponsible teenager. That summer was a blur of preparing for university, working, and pretending like I wasn’t coming apart at the seams.
I moved to the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia to attend journalism school, and I tried to make friend and have a typical university experience. But every time I would drink at a party or in a dorm room with friends, I would end up crying to anyone who would listen about my pain and about the little boy who should have been born by then.
I spent hours a day in my room sleeping, only to fall back into bed at the end of the day, exhausted from the weight of my own grief. I was skipping classes and barely passing my exams. My due date, October 24th, was spent with Chuck, both of us pretending to think about anything but what day it was.
Eventually, after months of therapy and heartfelt talks with my mom, Chuck, and others who cared about me, I began to pull myself out of the depression that had swallowed me whole. I started to laugh again. I started to eat regular meals, and I didn’t feel that guilty when I caught myself really, truly having fun. But the pain was still there, buried in the deepest, darkest part of me. It felt like a black hole in my core, slowly sucking all the joy out of my life, keeping me from ever really feeling anything but grief for my baby, and guilt for whatever I had done to deserve to lose him.
Chuck and I broke up and got back together a few dozen times, but overall, we’re still a part of each other’s lives and for that I’m grateful every day. We may deal with things differently, but he’s still the only person who understands what losing our baby was like. I know that no matter how bad things could get between us (and there have been times when they were bad), he’ll always be there to listen.
My parents are a different story; they try to understand, and I know that they don’t expect me to just "get over it" one day, as so many others who know what I’ve experienced do. But they don’t get it. They can only empathize and support me, and they do in every way that they can. But you can’t understand what it feels like to lose something you never got to have unless you’ve actually been through it. It doesn’t go away. It isn’t something that you get over.
I struggled for a long time writing this piece, figuring out how to end it. How do you end a story about grief when it feels like the grief will never end? The answer I came up with was simply that you don’t. You read the story over and over, feeling every single raw moment as if you were living it all over again. You edit and tweak and change things, because you can’t edit or change the things that happened, and that’s the next best thing.
And eventually, when you think you’re ready, you picture that little boy learning to skate for the first time, dark hair and dark eyes, being led around the pond by his dad, and you let him go.