Bite Your Tongue
By Kathleen Bustamante
I sit on the toilet, gripping a white stick that boasts a bright pink plus sign. I am pregnant again! A second time I marvel (with a hint of pride) how easily my husband and I have made a baby. I call myself “Fertile Myrtle” upon sharing the news with my husband later that night.
We tell our parents, siblings, and a few close friends, but agree to wait until the end of the first trimester before we announce our accomplishment to the rest of the world. Just a precaution really.
Ten weeks into my pregnancy, I am in the waiting area of the ultrasound department of our clinic. Despite its antiseptic smell, this is a happy place. After all, this is the same room in which I sat two-and-a-half years prior, awaiting a glimpse of little Fiona on the monitor. Still, as I sit on the teal couch watching my daughter flip through picture books, a sense of foreboding takes root inside my belly. I recall the visit to the midwife the week before. I had been bleeding some, but I was not really concerned since I had also experienced some bleeding early in my pregnancy with Fiona. I shared this information with my midwife while she poked my belly with her fingers, searching for my uterus. She asked if I had been experiencing any nausea this time around. I hadn’t. The midwife and her nurse assistant shared a glance. When the nurse assistant handed me the slip of paper containing the ultrasound department’s contact information, the same twinge of foreboding nagged at my abdomen.
An hour after the ultrasound, my husband and I are ushered into a small office by a blonde nurse with kind eyes and a gentle voice. I know something is wrong when she draws the blinds. I notice a box of tissues on the otherwise bare plywood table that separates us from the woman. I know before the words escape her mouth. My hands, clasped in my lap, begin to quiver and my heart races. I want nothing more than to dart out of the room and out of the clinic, but I will myself to remain in my chair awaiting the ominous message.
“I’m so sorry. The technician didn’t detect a heartbeat. It seems your pregnancy has resulted in miscarriage.” The sadness in her eyes tells me she truly is sorry.
I stare at the woman, mouth agape, for several moments. My husband takes my hand in his. As her words sink in, my hands go numb, my mouth turns dry, and I weep so hard I don’t make a sound for a long time. When I finally do, I wail in a voice I don’t recognize as my own. A primal sound.
I travel the bumpy path of emotions through grief, despair, and anger. I torture myself with endless questions, but no answers take shape. What did I do wrong? Was it the pomegranate martini I enjoyed while celebrating a much-needed night out with my husband early in my pregnancy? Was it the sinus medicine I swallowed that week I was feeling lousy? Did I exercise too hard, lifting too much weight during my work out? But I had no idea I was pregnant! How could I have known?
My husband and I give ourselves a few months before trying again. When our first attempt fails, I am disappointed but not shocked. The miscarriage has shattered my illusion that procreation is effortless. Still, I take comfort that a handful of my girlfriends who have also suffered miscarriage had little trouble getting pregnant again. And I am mostly confident I will become pregnant again soon.
Nearly one-and-a-half years later we are still trying.
Fiona is three-and-a-half, and the rest of the world, it seems, has determined three years is a big enough gap between children. I am shocked by how many people—friends and strangers alike—ask without any qualms, “So, when’s your little girl going to have a brother or sister?” Of course, they have no idea how many times I have asked God the same thing, nor do they suspect the grief and disappointment I experience at the start of my recurring period. I can’t seem to keep my hope in check each month as what seems like pregnancy symptoms—tender breasts, break outs, and bloating—sets in. Eventually, so do the cramps. On the first day of my period, I find myself snapping at Fiona over senseless things and pulling away from my husband.
Because I keep these woes to myself, people take it upon themselves to inquire. I begin to dread appointments with my hairdresser because of her inevitable probing: “When are you going to have another baby?” Even after I relay the heartache of my miscarriage and subsequent infertility problems, she continues to inquire at each hair appointment “are you pregnant yet?” I am pretty sure she is part of some underground fertility watchdog group keeping tabs on the situation.
I am even confronted during celebrations. One evening, my husband and I attended a retirement party for a former colleague. It had been fun—exactly what I needed. But when someone posed the dreaded question: “So, when’s the next baby planned?” my blood pressure skyrocketed, my face became flushed. I was ready to shout back that either my husband’s sperm or my ovaries haven’t been compliant, and would he care to share his thoughts on the problem? Thankfully, however, my husband stepped in and skillfully handled the situation before I exploded.
The hardest, however, is when well-meaning friends and family deal clumsily with the uncomfortable truth about my inability to conceive.
During a recent girls’ night at a friend’s house, I sat cross-legged on the living room floor sipping coffee and catching up with four other women. One friend had just finished sharing the antics of her toddler who gave himself a haircut during quiet time when another friend announced the pending arrival of her third child—”a complete accident” as she described it. Then she turned her attention to me and assured me in front of the other women in the room, “It’s okay if you hate me. I understand.” I was stunned and mortified. I knew this was not her intent, but her statement minimized my loss in such a way that I felt small and petty for struggling with infertility.
Days later, a close friend, privy to our difficulties and desperation, listed the fleet of pregnant women around us. “There’s just something in the water these days!” Perhaps she was trying to offer encouraging words. However, it only emphasized the stark contrast between me and the many fertile women who have obviously gotten something right.
Each of these incidents is as painful as broken glass against bare flesh. I am amazed at how clueless people can be. Even more, I realize that before experiencing loss and yearning personally, I, too, have callously posed similar questions to others.
One lesson I have learned throughout this journey is how important tact and sensitivity are during conversations about babies and fertility. It is not my place to ask when someone is planning to have another child, unless that person broaches the subject first.
I’m thankful for the many people who have never inquired about the size or future of my family, but rather have provided me the time and space to offer information when I feel ready to share it. The most supportive words I have received came from a thoughtful friend: “I can’t begin to know the pain you’re experiencing right now, and I don’t want to bring up the topic if you’re not ready to talk about it. Just know that when you are ready to talk, I’m here to listen.” When I was finally ready to talk—she was the friend I chose to confide in. And she was there to listen.
Kathleen Bustamante lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. She is a stay-at-home mom by day and a writing instructor by night.
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