Returning from the horrid 8-hour emergency room visit, I sleep deeply for several hours with pain meds in full effect; my body no longer under siege from violent contractions and the shocking loss of blood. I awake at 4 a.m. and make my way to the bathroom. While urinating, I feel something slither from my body. I stand up, forgetting to wipe as I stare into the toilet base. I instinctually scoop it up to examine. It’s jelly-like, an abstract human form with the consistency of a gummy bear. I wad up toilet paper and place the embryo – to be known as Sadie Diane – on the bathroom counter. “Sadie” was an old fashioned name we loved and it also honored one of the reproductive acupuncturists who had been integral in supporting us throughout our parenting journey. “Diane” was for my hubby’s mother, who had within a few days short of our positive pregnancy news, lost her battle to cancer. We never knew the gender of our developing embryo, but hoped for and visualized a girl from the moment of conception. Sitting on the edge of the cold bathtub now, gazing toward the sink, it suddenly hits me that I should be holding what my close friend Bea called “little embie” in a recent card addressing the ‘Top 10 Reasons You Should Be Born.’ Why should she lay alone on the countertop, I wondered? She belongs with me and is not some foreign object. Placing the cherry red form in my right hand, I gingerly run my left fingers over what seems to be the heart, eye, spine, and umbilical cord. I stroke her, as if trying to resuscitate, bring her back to life. To avoid waking hubby, I softly whimper.
I could no longer deny it – I had lost this pregnancy. My body couldn’t protect her, nurture her – a mother’s most important job. I felt betrayed by my own body. This was a real, living being inside me; I heard the heartbeat just days ago at our jovial doctor visit. I decide to wake hubby, asking if he wants to see and say goodbye. He declines. I urge him anyway, and he joins me in the bathroom. We take turns holding her. Before placing little embie in the Ziploc freezer bag, I snap a picture and ask two of my closest girlfriends if I can share it with them. They concede, and I get the validation I desire – the acknowledgement that I lost something tangible.
The next day, after spending hours in the freezer, I remove the little body from a Ziploc bag and am amazed at how quickly it/she thaws. Mom is en route to mourn our loss with a small ceremony we’d planned. Hubby’s out purchasing a memorial tree that we picked out together after researching online – a native, drought tolerant, deer resistant tree called “desert willow” that blooms purple in the summer. While he’s out, I have the strong urge to place little embie on my chest and rock back and forth. I don’t. It feels ludicrous, that little embie isn’t baby enough for me to coddle and really grieve over. I again hold her in my right hand, stroking and gently caressing her with my left, tearfully saying over and over “I’m holding you and I’m loving you.” I’m still bleeding and this comforts me. A part of her is still with me, inside me. With my husband’s return imminent, I turn on some rock music, crank it loud, and scream bloody murder while doubling over in sobs on the sofa. Elizabeth Heineman in Ghostbelly poignantly described the emotional aftermath of her loss that I relate to, writing “And screams came out. Screams and sobs and wails. Pain packaged as sound, as air, as liquid, as solid, as words, as flailing movement. Pain packaged as tears and sweat and blood and urine and feces and hair” (2014, p. 119-120).
Mom arrives with hot pink rose bushes, encouraging us to consider a memorial garden instead of just a tree. I love the idea, the distraction of working for hours nourishing the earth and acknowledging that something or someone important to us lived – and – died. My mother is hunched over the garden bed tucking in a newly planted rose bush, and as I pass her to head into the house for a potty break, I hear her whimpering quietly. As her only child, she mourns my loss, and further grieves the diminishing prospect of becoming a grandmother, of having her genes perpetuated into future generations.
Mom and hubby dig the memorial tree hole, and I am told – “it’s time.” I’m not ready. I reluctantly enter the kitchen and retrieve little embie once again from the freezer. Placing her in my right hand, I make my way slowly to the front door and grab the banana leaf that will serve as a natural green blanket between little embie and the earth. She will not be separate in a coffin or box; she is a part of everything. Our surround sound echoes Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” as I walk down the stairs to the yard.
After we buried Sadie Diane under the desert willow tree, I don’t wash my red stained hand for two days. It’s the only evidence and the closest I’ve been to being a mother.
(If you’ve experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth, I am sorry for your loss. So terribly sorry.)