By Tyrese Coleman
It is October, 2012, and I am eight weeks pregnant. There is a pain in the left side of my lower abdomen. I’ve ignored it for several days now. The pain has grown, so much so that I feel like I can see it. It started out less than a pea, a tiny piece of stone, a dot of irritation I felt when I lay down or twisted in the wrong direction. Now it is a pebble sharpened to a point, always jabbing me. It is increasing in size, and by the time we reach the hospital, it may be an actual knife, rough and carved from rock. Sharp enough now that each slice makes me bleed. Early on, I muttered a fleeting prayer: thank God, I am not bleeding. But now, the blood is why we are going to the hospital. It is slight, bright red, and clearer. I’ve used the bathroom at least ten times. Each wipe: brighter and redder; the knife: sharper and deeper. The woman behind the hospital’s reception desk tells us to have a seat. Kevin doesn’t know I want to cry. I am not going to cry. I am strong. I am calm. I am going to sit here with the coughing woman, the man holding his hand wrapped in a towel, the big pregnant lady whose boyfriend has his face almost inside his cell phone screen, the little boy sleeping on his father’s lap. I will sit here and be calm, but I’ve got to go to the bathroom again. When I am done, there is so much blood I have to wrap toilet paper around my hand and forearm in the shape of a maxi-pad, wedge it between my legs, and waddle toward the front where Kevin is waiting, and still I am not going to cry. I am not. Because if I cry, Kevin will cry. He will know how bad this really is. But I stop on the way to the waiting room and tell a nurse,
“I’m pregnant. I’m bleeding heavily. I’ve made a mess in the bathroom.” She says to sit in one of the hallway chairs, don’t go back out there, they will get me a room, they will get my husband. And maybe it’s her voice, or her face, just how nice she is…but now I cannot stop crying. I cannot stop bleeding. There is a knife inside me stabbing its way out.
New Year’s Eve, 2011, and we are celebrating the best year ever.
I can’t remember the name of this place, but the colors inside combine to make gray, a black and white film: white tables, white floors, a white fireplace pitch black inside; transparent acrylic chairs reflecting brilliant firelight; long windows exposing the night’s darkness shadow the room into gray with dots of gold and silver from candles and glittery paper hats. Our group sits at a long table near the front of the restaurant. I am drinking champagne and eating expensive food and laughing.
My girlfriend and I slip outside to smoke. I face the building to light my cigarette because of the wind. The spark warms my hands, briefly turning them a blood-red orange.
“I think we might try to have a baby,” one of us says. We are thirty-two. It doesn’t matter which one of us says this. We both are saying it.
We say, “I think this is a perfect time.”
Smoke rings around us in the cold air. I don’t mention that Kevin and I have already started trying. The second half of 2011 was a series of playful kisses and groping, porn watching, morning boning—and afterward—knees to my chest or my legs up against the headboard, a stack of pillows under me directing his boys to their destination. Unofficially-officially “trying to conceive.” Unofficial, so you can’t be upset if it doesn’t work. Right?
I kiss my husband at midnight—it is sloppy. I am drunk. Toasts for the New Year! My eyes closed, I press my lips against the opening of a slim sparkling glass.
“How far along are you?” the ER doctor asks.
“Eight weeks with twins,” I say.
She says she wants to see if I am dilated. There isn’t a gynecological office: no stirrups in the ER room. My feet are at the edge of the cot, knees making a wide V, eyes pressed shut, but there is so much blood the doctor cannot complete the exam of my cervix. When she is done trying, we—Kevin, the nurse, and I—clean up the room: remove the wet sheets, wipe down the plastic mattress, lay new coverings. I pull on my underwear and pants, since they haven’t given me a gown yet, probably haven’t even thought to with everything moving so fast. I can feel the blood rushing out of me with every movement of my body. I am clothed, covered in blankets, yet I am shivering cold…from the hemorrhaging? The hospital air? The failure? I lie back, rest my cheek against the gurney’s metal rail, and moan from pain. They will give me morphine, the nurse says, to make me feel better.
I lie on my right side because it hurts too much on my left. The left side of my stomach is being sliced to pieces, though I can’t imagine what is left to hack. My insides must be shredded meat by now. I tell the doctor this. I tell her about the pain on the left. But the blood is all she needs to know.
She is not a gynecologist; she explains many times. I need an obstetrician. She is not one of those either. She cannot say what is wrong with me, yet I overhear her tell the nurse to page the on-call gynecological surgeon for an “emergency D&C.” D&C. DCDCDCDCDCDC&C, D&D, C&D, D&C…the letters are backwards. They turn back around, and twist, and loop in my head until they stop meaning what I know they mean—Dilation and Curettage, dilate and cut it, cut it out, it sounds like “dilate and cut it out”—and the letters running together calms me like a chant…DNCDNCDNCDNC…or a native dance call…CNDCNDCNDCND…or a drum of thunder marking the end of the world, the end of bleeding, pain; the end of my one and only pregnancy.
Having children means a part of me lives even after I die, and I am afraid of dying.
This terror is a solid, concrete thing, you know, not an abstract concept of Man’s Greatest Fear. This terror is black and heavy. So heavy, it pins me down onto my bed sheets, crushes my chest at night—always at night when my mind is free to be captured. Panic removes air from my lungs, and I breathe fast, as if I’ve been running. But it doesn’t matter how fast I run, how hard I fight. Death will get me.
September 2012. The fertility specialist is using a long beige wand to see inside me. After a year of unofficial-official, after stabbing myself with needles full of hormones, taking pills for polycystic ovary syndrome, pills to develop my eggs, prenatal vitamin pills, after working out and slimming down, after boring, uninspired, timed intercourse without porn—after all this—I am, finally, pregnant.
She turns the ancient black and white screen to us and points to a blob with a dot inside the size of less than a pea. “There is one,” she says. Her finger circles another blob, “There is the other.”
“What does that mean?” I ask. Kevin squeezes my hand, I hear him say under his breath, “I knew it.”
“There are two,” she says.
“Shut up. Stop lying. You’re joking,” I say, and I don’t know why, but my heart beats harder.
“I never joke about these things,” she says, then as warmly as she can muster, she adds, “Congratulations.”
Kevin and I walk down the hall hand in hand, stiff with fear. Do we call our parents now? Yes, let’s call them when we get to the car. What did you mean you knew it? I just knew it. Well, I didn’t know it. We worry about the after: how we will afford two children who are the same age, how to soothe two crying babies, how to spread ourselves enough to cover both with love. It is one thing to know you are having a baby, quite another to find out you are having two. It doesn’t occur to either of us to worry about the “during,” the now, this pregnancy.
The bulletin board outside the clinic’s examination rooms are covered in photographs: portraits, letters of thanks, holiday cards. I never noticed before just how many include twins or triplets. I stop to stare at the smiling faces. I’ve got to remember to send a photo of all of us when the time comes.
I never thought I would have children. Never thought I could have children. But that never stopped me from trying. Lost my virginity at fourteen and never looked back. Spent my entire twenties having unprotected sex. Yet, no baby or even a pregnancy scare to show for it.
At seventeen, when my best friends and cousins were having babies, I told my boyfriend at the time—my cheating boyfriend—that I missed my period. It was true, I was late. But I knew I wasn’t pregnant. I’d missed periods before, went months without having one. There was nothing unusual about that particular month except that I knew he was cheating on me. I told my mother the same story. I don’t know why. Maybe her knowing would make my budding fake pregnancy come alive. She was surprisingly calm. She had given birth to me at seventeen. We bought a test, but I started my period before I took it. I called my boyfriend and told him. He claimed I had lied to mess with his head. I didn’t deny it. He never talked to me again.
I had two serious boyfriends in my twenties, one of whom was also trying his hardest to get me pregnant. We never spoke about marriage. He was already married, I believe. He was a Nigerian immigrant who stayed in this country way past his student visa expiration. He joked about having a wife. I joked about us having a child. We would make beautiful babies, he said; with his dark-brown skin and my light-brown skin we would have medium-brown skinned doll babies with good curly hair. When we fucked, he forced himself into me like he wanted inside my womb, as if the act of making a child was the reverse of birthing one.
But I still never got pregnant.
And, what was so magical about pregnancy anyway? Why did I want it so much? You are tired most of the time. Nauseated. Emotional. Bloated. When they are big and ready to pop, pregnant women complain about anything and everything. Yet they are there, carrying that child, and you wonder what it is that they have to complain about. Because those women are still, very much, full with baby.
The ER doctor ordered a sonogram. The tech is a man. He sits next to my shaking naked thigh. The machine he uses has a colored monitor, state-of-the-art. He’s searching in me with a face I cannot read. I cannot look at the screen, although I could see it clearly from my position. I don’t look partly because my eyes are closed in pain, but mostly because I don’t want to see the black hole that is my uterus. My babies were in there the last time I saw inside, two minuscule Teddy Grahams floating in outer space.
He twists the wand to the right.
“Does that hurt?” he asks.
He twists the wand to the left. I howl.
“Well, there they are,” he says.
“What do you mean?” I say.
“They are still there,” he says. He clicks and clacks on a keyboard, turns a knob, and I hear the familiar thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump of their rapid little hearts.
I turn my head, open my eyes. I see them. I breathe, but I have no words. And then, I cannot breathe. I can only close back my eyes from the sting of fresh tears and squeeze down some air in between gulps and gasps. And Kevin is holding my hand; he is kissing my hand, his mouth wet from the tears that run down his face.
“The third one is in your left tube,” the tech says. “I’m surprised your doctor missed it.”
The ER surgeon removed my fallopian tube—and the baby stabbing me to death from inside it— laparoscopically, without cutting me open or disturbing my uterus and the two other babies inside there. I never even knew someone could do that: break into my body, remove a vital piece of reproductive organ, and leave without disturbing a fly on the wall—a burglar in the night, my surgeon.
I’ve had surgery to my reproductive organs before. When I was in my twenties, I had a colposcopy. That’s when they scrape abnormal, in my case, precancerous cells out of your cervix. I woke from the procedure mumbling about having children. “Can I still have babies? Can I still have babies?” the nurses told me I asked. I never found out what they said to me in response.
In the recovery room, my surgeon tells me the tube ruptured, it had to be taken. I could have died. He gives me his condolences for the loss of my third fetus. The irony—how I started this whole process to make death feel less inevitable, less devastating, yet it ending up bringing me even closer to the damn thing—makes me want to laugh and cry and sleep. There are glimpses of my frightened plea after my colposcopy that flash in my memory, in the same way, I imagine my life will appear to me before I die. What’s funny is that, now, awake from a procedure I learned saved my life, saved my two surviving babies’ lives, the last thing I would think to ask is if I can have more children.
And yet, I think, maybe I wanted that third child—the one I didn’t even know I was carrying. Until later, when my mother, holding one of my infant sons asks me, “What the hell were you going to do with three babies?”
There are still nights where I wake up sweaty, black death and fear crushing me. I bury my face into my husband’s fleshy arm; his skin against my forehead reminds me that I am not dead, that I am alive and breathing and probably dreaming, just dreaming. But those nights are different and less frequent, and when they happen, I remind myself of my two kids sleeping in the room across the hall. They mean I can live forever.
My twin boys are three.
My cubicle at work is covered with images of them: inside their open-air cribs at the NICU, dressed as skeletons on Halloween, holding miniature footballs while looking confused, smiling up to me as I kiss them in the park.
My coworker asks, “When are you going to try for a girl?”
I say, “Don’t you put that evil on me,” and laugh as if I am joking.
Author’s Note: During a visit following my fallopian tube removal, my fertility specialist asked for permission to document my case for a medical journal. She said mine was the first example of an ectopic pregnancy combined with multiple embryos attached to the uterus that she had ever known of; “rare” is how she put it. I said, “Sure, why not,” thinking, if you don’t write about this, I most certainly will.
Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, attorney, and fiction editor for the online journal District Lit. A graduate of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, PANK, mater mea, a website celebrating black mothers, Mothers Always Write, and elsewhere. Reach her on Twitter or at tyresecoleman.com.