You will be all right. Everything will be all right. Hang in there! Chin up. You can do this. It will all work out in the end.
Spoken by someone who has not been particularly involved in my loss, these words come across as grotesquely inappropriate. A pointed reminder that I will never belong to this reality that most people inhabit; the one where you know bad things happen but still believe they won’t be happening to you. Coming from people who have walked alongside me as well-meaning spectators, these same words sound different. There is an unspoken understanding that this ordeal will never be erased from my life, but that some future randomness might bend my way after all.
And then there is a third kind of messenger about the future, one who takes details of my life into account and crunches numbers and makes predictions while wearing, if not a white coat, then at least the aura of authority that comes from separating life from death. Their prediction relies on cumulative knowledge on what happens to women like me compared to women in general. Then risks are assessed and decisions made in a complex reality where limited resources are doled out according to need, cost, perceived importance and whether anything can realistically be done to help. Once I step into the practice and announce that I am pregnant, all this context funnels down into my care through a doctor who holds it all in place for me to the best of their ability.
The new GP looks at my file.
Oh. There was an intrauterine growth restriction. Hmm. How is your son now? Good to hear that. And then a couple of miscarriages, late first trimester... Oh, and a stillbirth? Then once again a miscarriage… Well. I will refer you to the hospital, they will take over after your 12-week scan. Goodbye for now. Fingers crossed!!
That’s it? I walk in and hand my life and the life of my child to him, and his response is that he will keep his fingers crossed?!
Perhaps the doctor is right, and blind hope is the only thing that he can offer me right now. We both know that an impossibly long six weeks need to pass before that scan, when we can start acting as if this life has a chance and can be helped along. But in my past the more likely outcome was that it would die around that time. I cannot bear the weight of his hope. I would have preferred to instead hear that he will be there for me if things go wrong again. That possibility is real to me, and he just pushed it under the carpet. Loss is my default expectation, whatever might statistically be happening to the average woman out there.
That average woman has been plaguing my medical appointments for some years now. My son was surprisingly small at birth, unlike the average woman’s baby. After the subsequent miscarriage, I started wondering whether it might make sense to consider that something might be wrong. Oh no, these things happen, in all likelihood your next pregnancy is going to be just fine! I suppose it would have been easier to stomach a statement not about my next pregnancy but about how it usually works for other women. But I swallowed my fear (so much fear) and embarked on that next pregnancy. Once I miscarried that baby, some other doctor again told me that next time, oh next time, things are likely to work out. Then my daughter died at full term and I thought, surely now nobody would have the gall to tell me everything is going to be all right? But once again the average woman was invoked, the one whose pregnancies almost inevitably end with a healthy child. And once again I tried, and failed, to be her, and the fifth pregnancy ended as well.
Over breakfast, my son asks how the baby will come out of my belly. And if it dies first, how does it come out then? His thoughts echo mine with an eerie accuracy. I quietly keep track of the gestational age after which giving birth, and not surgery, would be the default option if the baby dies. Not exactly the average woman’s mental marker. As each week of the second trimester goes by—‘your baby is now the size of an avocado’—I find myself wondering what a dead baby in that stage of development looks like. Would the skin be too fine right now, would there be bruising from a soft touch? Say, would you prefer a brother or a sister?, I ask my kid to lighten the mood. He considers the question for a moment, then gives me a solemn look. I just want us to have a baby. His hope is as tentative as mine. I should know better than to try to regale him with happy futures that feel out of reach.
There is nothing medically wrong, they tell me. The causes of my losses were all random, unrelated to each other, and the occurrence of each does not increase the risk of its recurrence. I struggle with how this translates into the assertion that next time will likely be problem-free. What I hear is that next time is equally likely to be problematic as any of the previous times. And surely at some point we should stop discussing these pregnancies as if there is nothing at all binding them, as if the one common element—me—is not part of the equation? Relying on population likelihoods as if I haven’t already defied the statistics makes me feel as if I am seen as nothing more than some table top to roll dice on. The same as any other surface, bearing no distinctive characteristics and unmarked by any of the previous rolls.
And yet I bear the weight of each new loss while they dare to continue to draw hope (for me!) from what happens to the average woman. Perhaps I could hear the compassion in their hope if they were willing to acknowledge my interlaced fear. Right now my own hope is too desperate, too fragile. I reluctantly allow some slivers of it in, but these moments feel intensely private. I dream of holding this little munchkin, warm and breathing, as I burst with love for it. But the munchkin is not here yet, and the various alternative endings still feel more real than its safe arrival. By inviting hope in, I open myself to the possibility of tremendous pain.
Both in the doctor’s office and outside it, I have no doubt there will be those who will express only joy and relief if all goes well. They will want to share the good, while happily leaving the entire burden of the bad to me. I will neither confront these people nor shy away. Let them have their moments of delight, weaving a false version of me into that reality of theirs. But as they flaunt their optimism without pause, I will be assigning them a place in my version of reality as well. The one where hope is a sensitive matter, to be shared only sparingly and protected at all costs.
What are your views on hope after loss? How do you handle other people's positivity? Do you trust that good outcomes are in the cards for you? Are you also reluctant to share hope as widely as before?