By Caroline Horwitz
My scream joined the chorus of every woman who has unwillingly lost the life inside her.
The nurse in purple scrubs walks me to an examination room and asks a third time if I’ve provided them with a urine sample. I affirm that I have. “Sorry,” she says in response to her forgetfulness. “There are five of you in here today all with the same complaint, and you start to run together after a while.”
My complaint is that I’m experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding. This is significant because I am—I was—pregnant. I take the nurse’s flippant words to mean the other four women are too. Five female bodies in this silent, sterile place, simultaneously and involuntarily expelling their embryos and fetuses. But that’s not what we call them: Babies. I lost the baby.
An hour before, a young man in fatigues checked me into the Air Force base hospital where my family received all of our healthcare—even after six years of marriage to a service member, I still registered the peculiarity of seeing camouflage and combat boots in lieu of white coats.
“What’s going on?” he asked, a hand on his computer mouse.
I cleared my throat. I had no illusions about what was coming out of me. I was, until early this morning, six weeks and five days along. “I just had a miscarriage.” My voice dropped and quavered on the M-word.
“Sorry, a what?” He leaned forward.
I jostled my sunglasses onto my face to hide the tears threatening to form. “A miscarriage.”
“Oh,” he said, and seemed on the verge of sympathy or an apology but began typing. “And this has been confirmed?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But what I saw was pretty definitive.”
It was. I didn’t need to frantically pull down my striped pajama shorts that morning to know what I would find in them after feeling a forceful surge of fluid. But I did anyway, and when I saw the vast amount of clumpy blood, I was neither surprised nor consolable.
The visceral roar emanating from my lungs was not mine alone. My scream joined the chorus of every woman who has unwillingly lost the life inside her. The millions rage and sob, trying to stab the air with our cries until it bleeds like we do. Then we stand up, take a shower, and go to the hospital.
Hours later, all that’s left to accomplish at the ER—after a blood draw, abdominal ultrasound, transvaginal ultrasound, and pelvic exam—is the out-processing paperwork, so I reassure my husband that he can leave to pick up our son from daycare on time and return for me afterward. I am relieved to be departing this place of invasive procedures that concluded what I already knew.
My tears are gone for now. I stoically buy a coffee (Hey, I can have caffeine, I think) and wait for the car at a picnic table beneath a swaying line of trees. Air Force jets blast the sky above, setting off rogue car alarms here and there. The noise does not annoy me. It’s pleasing. They’re screaming for me.
Soul singer Merry Clayton recorded vocals with The Rolling Stones for their 1969 track “Gimme Shelter.” Rape, murder. It’s just a shot away. It’s just a shot away, she belts. The fervor of her voice reaches such climactic proportions that it cracks twice. She was pregnant. On her way home from the recording, she miscarried. She wondered later if the overexertion of her singing could have caused it.
That’s what you do, even if you know that most early miscarriages occur because of a chromosomal abnormality or incompatibility with life or one missed step of the many required in the fertilization process. You wonder if it was the flight you took across the country, the frequent lifting of your twenty-five-pound toddler, the pre-knowledge beer you didn’t even finish while stargazing in Bryce Canyon. You do it because blaming yourself is what mothers do, no matter how short-lived the motherhood.
“Gimme Shelter” is the first track on its album, Let It Bleed. Decades later, rock journalist Gavin Edwards raved about the album’s sound, asserting that “…the Stones made sure you went home covered in blood.” Merry Clayton did.
The day after the loss, I wandered out the back of my house to the patio and discovered on the table the remains of what had been a relaxing morning: a half-drunk mug of decaf and an opened first edition of Joyce Carol Oates stories I’d purchased the month before from a used bookshop in Ojai, California. The city where, if my menstrual-cycle math was correct, I had gotten pregnant. I was clutching, and promptly abandoned, both of these artifacts when I felt the blood, but they awaited me like stains.
It wouldn’t take long for my fertility to return, I was told. There was no way to tell when or if I’d get pregnant again, of course, but I would most likely ovulate within two to four weeks. I wanted to hear this, yes. We had planned this pregnancy. We wanted a second child. Rules were less stringent nowadays for complete, uncomplicated miscarriages like mine, so we didn’t require a waiting period. Yet it seemed cruel of my body. Two weeks? A new egg might arrive as soon as that, when someone who was attempting to grow into a child was just there? My body would not grieve, I realized. It was a landlord eager to move a new renter into an empty apartment, even though the last tenant recently died there. I, on the other hand, despite being aware of the pregnancy for only two weeks, will be cognizant of its loss for the rest of my life, no matter how swiftly I accept it.
If I get pregnant again, I won’t expect another miscarriage. The odds of having a subsequent one are low in women with no previous reproductive problems. It happened last time, therefore, it won’t happen again, I will reason.
If I get pregnant again, I will expect another miscarriage. Someone has to be on the losing end of the odds. My last pregnancy ended in a red gush, so why wouldn’t the next one? It happened last time, therefore, it will happen again, I will reason.
Caroline Horwitz lives in Las Vegas with her husband and son. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in Animal, bioStories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Mothers Always Write, and The Summerset Review, and is forthcoming in the anthology My Mom Body: Reflections on Body Image and Motherhood from Monkey Star Press.
Photo: Kien Do | Unsplash