Things I lost this year: A passport, a pregnancy, a marriage
Written on the plane the day after learning there was no baby there.
started an Instagram story last night about my miscarriage.
I wanted people to know that I was in the club now — the club of people who are considered “mothers,” because for even the briefest of moments I held and carried a human in my body, because even for the briefest of moments I was more than a chemical pregnancy pregnant, more than evaporation-line pregnant, but really-and-truly pregnant, and I wanted the world to know that I qualified as a real female human.
I started a story because if I’m being honest, I wanted people in our life to know and mark it — I wanted them to sit with the knowledge that they and we and he and I had lost a baby.
I started that story, and I tried to write it, to relegate it to the quick-clicked, flashed-past, momentary life of these stories I write, that flame out with all my intensity and disappear in 24 hours.
But it wasn’t quite right, was it? To mark a life that way, my last two months that way — my last two years.
I spent these pandemic years groaning and creakily emerging from beds I never wanted to leave. I lived in an Airbnb while my husband stayed in our house, hoping he would change his mind and see me, want me. I waited until he said no, no chance, the end. And then I took our three embryos, created together through in-vitro fertilization in the hopes of giving them life.
As I moved back home, as I grieved, as I got up at 5 a.m. to work every day on East Coast time, working full time, not taking a single hour beyond my officially allotted paid time off to heal, to recover; as I tried to rebuild a life from the ashes; as I celebrated at the same time, buying a new house with a yard for our dog, hoping that one day he would join us; as I did all this I gave myself intramuscular shots — subcutaneous had not been bad, but I could not imagine stabbing myself with a long and thick needle in a hard-to-reach spot that husbands or partners are relied upon to hit.
I watched YouTube videos, I marched downstairs armed with ice packs, heating pads, sharps containers, shockingly long needles, and vials of hormones in thick oil, and I did it.
I marveled at my strength, how I flew home the day after they said, “It is not viable; there is no heartbeat. We are so sorry we couldn’t give you good news. We will tell you if you need a D&C. We will be in touch.”
I rode to my parents’ hotel on the Upper West Side with my friend Ellie and I worked till 8 p.m., finishing out my last day of work at my job.
n the corner of my eyes there are wrinkles, but I will tell you this: If you are my age, with kids, you have more wrinkles there, I promise. Sorry! I have looked at your eyes over the years and I have told myself, “That is where my youth lives — I may not have kids but look at these bright-ass eyes! Look at these corners!”
At his wedding, my brother came up to me and a friend of mine and said, “You are two of the only people without kids, and you look much younger and better than most people here.” It was cold comfort but friends, IT WAS COMFORT.
here is this song, by Amena B, a poet and a spoken word artist. Her song is called “To the Mothers of Invisible Children,” and it is predominantly directed at women who have had pregnancy loss. I used to cry when I heard it.
I knew what it was to cringe at the mention of others’ babies or children. But I also cried, knowing I didn’t even get to have this tangible experience of motherhood where you cross the threshold, even if you emerge with your arms empty. I had never even mourned a baby, only a hypothetical. An idea. A dream.
Today I am mourning a baby. And yet … it barely feels as though I am. I had positive tests galore, and then one day, I took a new test, which told me something that was likely true — there was no more baby.
An ultrasound told me that they could not see it, that there was “nothing there,” that there was “pregnancy tissue” somewhere that I might need removed. But there were never outside signs or symbols, and there was never anything to see on the inside, either. An embryo implanted, my body registered a pregnancy, my hormones shot up, but these were signs and wonders, not bodily changes that left a body inside mine.
I am the mother of faint pink lines and endless blood tests. I am the mother of whispered hope that I shared as soon as possible because I knew — I KNEW — it wasn’t going to stick. I was that kind of mother. The mother of the technical pregnancy.
And yet, in the endless hierarchy of eye wrinkle competitions and miscarriage envy, there is also pregnancy envy from those I love and the thousands waiting desperately on the infertility message boards who say, “at least you know you can get pregnant now.” I do not mention to them that this doesn’t matter much if you don’t have a partner, if you have a single embryo left; if you don’t have any more cycles covered by insurance.
People tell me all the time, as I’m sure you have heard (because it happens! Apparently it happens all the time!) that maybe once I stop trying IVF, or once I adopt, then I will spontaneously conceive! One friend paused after she said that and noted quietly, “I guess that doesn’t help you.” Because of course, who will spontaneously knock me up? Not exactly Ms. Fecund over here with a shot at a baby from a one-night-stand; and with two husbands gone, I can’t count on a partner to do the job.
BUT I DIGRESS. The endless fucking hierarchy of sadness. The most pathetic of pyramids. You may have babies, but I have YOUTHFUL EYES; you may have had a miscarriage, but at least you’ve been a mother to your other children and to this one that you carried, who was still yours. You may not have even felt pregnant, it may have differed little from a chemical pregnancy, but at least now you know you can get pregnant!
The unbearable hierarchies of women’s longing, of women’s envy, of women’s blame and self-castigation and what-ifs. The unbearable tragedy of it all, the tragedy of my dear friend who has two beautiful kids but is miserable in her marriage; the tragedy of my friend with whom I share this shitty diagnosis (diminished ovarian reserve) who managed somehow to have three children … BUT who also lost her mom during one of her pregnancies, and the great tragedy of my beautiful friend with the big-hearted husband who has had every door to motherhood shut in her face (though she would be the best mother in the world and make the rest of you look like assholes) who is my greatest and most sympathetic friend on this journey and who says to me, “at least you know you can get pregnant” — and she is right! She is right! Of course she is right! I tell her yes, I know.
I don’t tell her, but there is just one more embryo, untested. And there is no husband. What does it matter after all, that I can “get pregnant” if there is no one or no material with which to do so? But I say yes and I am quiet in the face of a pain I can’t imagine. Like she is in the face of mine. Like I am in the face of my friend’s incomprehension when she has lost both her parents in two years. We are all silent — what can we do?
The unbearable weight of it all; the silence of it all; the knowledge that, these private longings, these private terrors, these private deaths of our dreams, they are still so small. We are not fighting for our lives. We are, frankly, not fighting for justice. And yet.
y brother says to write a book about my experience of starting IVF before a divorce and continuing it after, navigating the shoals of undefined legal categories (“genetic material”) and the undefined category of the-man-I-love-who doesn’t-want-me-but-will-be-father-to-my-child.
But what about when there is no baby? Just failure and loss and the last things you had together (of all the last things to remain, this?? — “genetic material” — embryos made up of me and of him, the last “us” of us) bleeding their way down pipes far away from him. Is that a funny story? Is that a dramedy? I would laugh! I would cry!
My sister-in-law wants me to write a newsletter of sermons. She is not religious, but she and her parents are my biggest supporters, if I were to become a priest or pastor, which I originally set out to do, attending seminary at age 26. But what sermon would I write after hearing “not viable,” “nothing there,” “no heartbeat,” “you may need a D&C”?
I wrote a sermon before there was “nothing there.”
Advent begins in the dark … but God promises redemption, to remove shame, to rejoice over me, to send the one who will restore all things. My first positive pregnancy test. It is not getting darker. I beg for prayer.
Though I ache for my husband, here in this new house, about to start a new job, with a new church community, God is rebuilding and here he is giving me a baby. People have prayed so fervently. Is it happening? Is it my miracle this time?
Just as we read about infertile Elizabeth conceiving and bearing John the Baptist, I too have conceived. As Mary gives her fiat, I give mine, and I will grow up this tiny, unbearably precious life within me.
What a story, what a sermon!
There will be no child, but God is giving me the things the world values, things I barely care about anymore — the beautiful house, the coveted job in my field. And so I shut my mouth and say I’m grateful. And I am! But God withholds the things he tells me he loves, the things I have been told are the real heart of it all, of the good life; the things it is “right” to want, the things I long for — my man, restoration, a baby, a family of my own.
His is cruel teasing and a test of how much I will hold on for. When Jesus asks, what father, if his son is hungry, would give him a stone? (presumably because God isn’t trying to fuck around with his children!) And yet, that is what my Father in heaven is doing — teasing, holding out, taking away everything I love and all I had hoped for while saying, “see? There might as well be no one running this operation at all, yet here you are, still heading to church because you can’t bear the thought of living in this universe or facing death alone!”
Anyway, I lost a baby this week — well, I am losing it. I will lose it. It has stopped progressing. It will not be mine. Yet it is also mine in a way that I don’t have words for. It will always be mine. Though I do not know the sex and she was never bigger than my fingernail, I know her name.
n the last three months, I have worked full time, obtained a new job, flown red eyes to upstate New York for a family trip I worked through, dropped everything for a friend’s birthday I hosted at my cabin then drove straight to the airport to fly out for an embryo transfer, flew back two days later, embryo on board (in the ol’ uterus), drove back up to my cabin for Thanksgiving whilst working, took a hundred at-home pregnancy tests and two blood tests to confirm my pregnancy, flew the same day to New York after work for three hours of sleep in a seedy airport hotel to make the trip to Jamaica with my family — what a gift! I am so lucky! — spent a week in Jamaica, at the place I introduced my family to because my husband and I had loved it so damn much.
Worked from Jamaica because in our capitalist hellscape I was out of time off after taking five days (FIVE DAYS!!) earlier in the year to deal with my husband divorcing me, my cancer returning, egg retrieval, and packing up my earthly life to move from Baltimore to Seattle and back in with my parents at nearly 40.
What can I say? This weak flesh needed five days for all that. So I worked in Jamaica. Flew back to New York Saturday night. Monday morning blood tested at the fertility clinic — pregnancy likely over; kept working. Tuesday to Thursday — worked and attended a Christmas party. Friday morning — ultrasound: confirmation, nothing there. It is over. Back to work by 9:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., because it is my last day at my job and there is so much to wrap up.
No wonder I lost:
- my Toyota fob and air pods (on the same keychain)
- my passport and vaccine card (who knows where)
- my laptop (left in the bin at TSA; they shipped it back to me, PHEW)
- A baby. My baby.
This brain was too sad, this body was too exhausted. This little one could not make a home in a body that never said no — a body that killed itself trying to save a marriage, make everyone happy, prove that I could be professionally successful despite everything, be the best worker, best daughter, best friend — not miss a birthday. There was nothing left in this body to say yes.
And so I am having a miscarriage. And it has not made me feel more like a mother, at long last. It has not been the golden ticket into found-ness, right-ness, primal female identity. It is just another cruel loss in a litany of losses that God seems to care little about and have little frankly to do with. I force myself to remember: you are lucky, you have a beautiful house, an amazing new job, a healthy and close immediate family, so many devoted friends, a new church. I wonder when I will make the transition to the selfless single person who volunteers and opens their home to the lonely and the homeless and the refugee. When will I be a model single person? The model sufferer?
I think that I will keep longing, yearning desperately with a strange undercurrent of rage and an improbable commitment to remaining in a church worshiping a God I am not sure I can believe in. It is the best I can do.
I recently said to my mom, while eating mashed potatoes and gravy: “You know how philosophers and theologians talk about how, even when we are experiencing the consummation of our longings or dreams or great joy or beauty, there is a pain to it, a wistfulness, because it points to a longing that nothing on earth can satisfy? Well, I always feel that most deeply when I’m eating mashed potatoes with gravy.”
She sat there for a long time and then said, “I don’t know that it has to be that complicated. Maybe what you want is more mashed potatoes and gravy.”
And so it is, I think, with this longing: yes, I long for God and intimacy. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I want to wake up with my husband next to me, scooping me up and holding me close, to smell his back while he sleeps. I want to still be pregnant, to watch my belly grow, to wretch and groan and labor. I want to love recklessly as you do the one you have committed your life to and the one you have grown in your body. I wanted this baby, I wanted this baby to be mine and yet — I barely knew her. I didn’t really know her at all.
Anna Scott is a Seattle-based writer and foreign policy researcher. She wrote this essay exactly one year and one day ago, which she published originally on Medium, the long-form social media site.