The panic within me swells in synchrony with my belly. Sixteen weeks, I mouth to myself, gazing into the mirror in disbelief. Sixteen weeks of what?
Sixteen weeks of pretending my belly didn’t exist. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of being cautiously happy again, only to feel like a fool when the inevitable would occur. Sixteen weeks of guilt at my husband’s excitement. How could he be so happy, so soon? What if we are yet again cheated of this joy, this growing love for our unborn child? Sixteen weeks of missing my son all over again. He should be here, he should be kissing my belly and watching it grow with rapt fascination. But he’s not. He’s lost. He’s underground. Sixteen weeks of questioning my own sanity. Is this really happening? To us? We were not meant to have a chance at a happy ending. Not anymore.
That’s right, I thought. I had believed being broken again was inevitable. That there was nothing in there after all. Just some hare-brained dreams that would never come to fruition. That it would be ripped from me too, just as easily as my son’s life.
I can’t hide it anymore. There is something in there. Sixteen weeks. Time to turn my frayed emotions on, whether I want to or not. Even if it will hurt me in the end—even if piercing disappointment, crippling trauma, and irreparable loss is all that I have come to expect from pregnancy and motherhood.
This life (No, I can’t call it that. Don’t get too attached. Don’t get too attached.)—this thing growing inside of me, like a sprouting dandelion, is so delicate that panic blooms as thorns alongside it. Surely it is much too delicate to survive. Surely something is bound to go wrong—if not now, then later, as soon as my guard is down. Isn’t that the only way that nature works, with everything coming to an inevitable end?
My happiness is double-edged and fleeting, constantly see-sawing in tandem with terror just beneath the surface. Instead of being a finite emotion, my state of cautious joy is abbreviated, teetering on the edge of a cliff. I am keenly aware that at any moment, the heartbeat may stop, my child’s breath may cease as does my own, and the feeble happiness that has been cultivated, sprouting along the edge of that cliff, will come uprooted, crashing downhill into an abyss of which I have only just dug myself out.
How can people live this way? I wonder day in and day out. How can us mothers survive this whirlwind of emotion, miniature cyclones chaotically swirling infinite possibilities of death and disaster in our heads as we count down the weeks?
I feel like a gambler, throwing dice emblazoned with my child’s gestation to the table. Whether I win is predictive of my happiness, a straight 50/50 shot into darkness. I try to predict how long it will survive within my womb. Place your bets! What will it be? Red or black, hit or stand?
I placed my bet when I decided to try again, taking another perilous shot at having a complete, living family. Now I am waiting for the wheel to finish rolling, for my lucky numbers to come through. My doctor tells me, stern-faced and serious, that the odds of another dead child are low. But last time, the worst happened, I tell her. Last time, the odds were just as low, and he died.
She is all facts and experience, measuring compassion with reason. She tells me she wishes she could convince me it won’t happen again. She tells me to have me trust they will watch us carefully, that we will be okay in the end. But she acknowledges she knows it won’t work. Her reassurances fall on deaf ears. The trauma I suffered, the cards we were dealt, the sudden death that rocked my world and brought me to this emotional tightrope. This is the deafness.
Unbeknownst to my doctor, family, and friends, there is another reason I cannot surrender to complacency.
My son’s death awakened a primal knowledge within me: a grim acceptance of the true reality of our lives. As a bereaved mother, I navigate hopefulness without foolishness and happiness without delusion. I know what can happen.
Children can die in the womb as suddenly as being hit by a car or a brain aneurysm. Our culture’s desperate reliance on happy endings are our feeble denial of the real world: of plane accidents, car crashes, terrorist attacks. Death is a shadow as we walk each day. Part of this horrendous grief journey is that we learn to embrace it just as we embrace the unexplainable nature of our children's deaths.
Although the colors seep back into the edges of my everyday life, the sun shining brighter than it had since my son’s death, I no longer believe in happy endings. I don’t believe in karma. I don't believe people are fated, or that bad luck won't strike twice. This is the real secret that grief teaches us, as we roll the dice over and over again: sometimes there are no rainbows, no happily-ever-afters. Sometimes, we are left to pick up the debris of our life and learn to be content with what we have.
I wonder at how fragile a life can be. Humans are built to think that they are eternally sturdy, a shining testament of the power of Darwinism and natural selection. With so many bones, tissues and intricately webbed veins, we view ourselves as potentially indestructible, living our day-to-day lives with less fear and caution than the average four-legged animal.
But, I think incredulously, can’t we die at any time? Riyad died in my womb—the safest place for any kind of creature, human or mammal. A place where children are seen as impenetrable, safe from the dangers of the outside world. If such a seemingly impregnable fortress could be penetrated so easily and inexplicably, why can’t we all just randomly drop dead at any given time, like a fleshy game of Dominos?
That is the lesson that I learned. I like to imagine that most people would eventually find contentedness in this way—not knowing what will happen tomorrow, no higher power that will mark our fates and tell us what lays beyond the door, whether or not this gamble will pay off. Yet, despite not knowing, despite the pain of our losses and all of life’s horrific tragedies—we do find peace, eventually.
I have to anchor myself in the here and now, before my panic pulls me offshore, into the deep depths of the unknown. Today, the odds are on my side. It’s a good day, it’s a good hour, and it’s a good minute. And I cautiously hope that the next minute will be just as okay. And the next…
Among writers and readers in the Glow circle, there are many of us in various states of trying again, recovering from subsequent losses, wrestling with persistent infertility, or coming to terms with alternate life paths. Some of us, like Nada, are in that waiting zone of tenuous and traumatized pregnancy after loss, despite all the odds feeling stacked against us.
Where are you at the moment, following Nada's pregnancy news of today as well as the miscarriage Mrittika wrote about last week? How are you doing on this rollercoaster we all share?