It’s the first week of summer vacation. I have two little kids excited to spend time with their Mama, so we’ve packed a picnic and gone to visit the nearby splash pad and ice cream shop. There are a dozen or so littles running and jumping through the water. I’m sitting in the shade of a tree, one eye on my book, the other on the kids. The heat would be stifling, but there is a breeze, and I occasionally have to grab a food wrapper or an article of clothing that threatens to blow away.
All at once I can smell her. I can feel her sticky little body, the heaviness where she sleeps on my chest, the warmth of her breath and the little puddle of drool on my shoulder. What I would give for a different sort of morning. One where I haven’t the time to read this book. I check the date on my phone, and it is indeed June first. The day our baby June was scheduled to meet us.
It has arrived without much fanfare. Andy is away at work. He wouldn’t understand the significance anyway, and that would just piss me off. I’m not supposed to feel sad about this anymore. It was a false start. Nothing more. I already have four beautiful kids. I should focus on that. And I do. Here we are with our picnic packed, our pool membership purchased, our summer plans underway. But she’s still absent. Her milky breath, her mop of hair, in the little floral romper I’d have bought for her. I wonder if I will feel her absence all the days.
We’re not sure why it happened. I’ve otherwise had all healthy pregnancies. I’ve had a doctor wave my chart in my face by way of explanation, jabbing her finger at my birthdate. Thirty five. Faulty. I found out later that my thyroid was a little on the low side for pregnancy, but not terribly so. I’ve had my progesterone levels checked since. All normal. Perhaps one of the feverish little babies I sent home from school that month gave me a virus that stopped her heart. Perhaps I shouldn’t have lifted all that barn wood.
When I share with other women I almost always find they have a similar story. It’s common. Of course it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. It doesn’t mean that little embryo didn’t burrow a place in my heart too. And they don’t have a procedure for that. There’s no D&C to evacuate the hurt.
The six months since I have spent willing my way back from an anxiety hole so deep I was afraid it would swallow me. I don’t know if it was the hormones, the anesthesia, or the physical assault of the D&C that triggered it. I’ve hinted at my struggle in conversation and on facebook. I’ve spoken of it here. Postpartum depression and anxiety is a well known phenomenon. It happens after miscarriage too. Which is one of the reasons it’s dangerous to keep quiet.
I remember one day in December, about six weeks after we’d lost her. I sat on the edge of my bed, feverish with a sore throat. I wondered how I would make it to the doctor that afternoon to be checked out. I wanted so badly to get past the fear and isolation. I wanted to make gingerbread houses, and hang decorations, to visit the Christmasas lights. But the fear was so smothering it felt like an epic task just to walk out the front door. I felt that I was suffocating. There didn’t seem to be enough air.
I made it to the doctor that day, and each day after I fought my way through that door back into life. There were days when I needed help, but after sixteen years with anxiety I knew how to ask for it. There were days when help wasn’t available, so I turned to online friends, and we kicked through invisible barriers together. Because giving hope and kindness to others is one of the surest ways to recovery. Now, five months on, our family is preparing for our summer trip. I am still fighting. There are still hours of days spent daring myself to move. Still moments of wild, unabashed grief.
Did you know that decades after a pregnancy, fetal DNA can be found throughout the mother’s body? It’s called fetal chimerism, and it’s fascinating . In short, during pregnancy fetal cells escape the uterus and travel to maternal organs. Over time these cells become functioning cells within the mother’s body. Renal cells for example, or cardiac cells. So in this way our babies quite literally remain in our hearts. I will take comfort in knowing that although we never got to meet her, little Miss June will be with me always.