By Jenn Press Arata
My boobs are hard as rocks and full of milk. It feels like they’re on fire. I’m bleeding and having complications down below. I’m weepy, achy and tired. The doctors say it will be months until my hormones are back to normal.
Without a newborn.
At 20 weeks of pregnancy, my baby didn’t make it.
One moment we were smiling during an ultrasound, and the next, being told he wasn’t going to live. An amnio and a slew of other invasive tests discovered a rare chromosomal disorder. Before I knew it, I was in a hospital gown—at the same place I would’ve delivered him—saying “goodbye.”
The closet in the nursery is full of new clothes, books and room decor. I have a Pinterest board of inspirational quotes on having a son. A stack of “It’s a Boy” glassware remains from our gender reveal party, and we already had a few names in mind.
Our daughter was beyond thrilled to become a big sister and she talked about it all the time. We read about it every night, and she would kiss my growing bump while squealing, “I can’t wait to meet you!” She came with me to appointments and had started to connect the moving blob on the screen to my visible belly.
But all that has been taken away.
I feel like the floor has been pulled out from under me. It’s hard to breathe, but I’m breathing. That’s the only chance I have to survive.
This marked our sixth loss. It came two days before my husband’s birthday. It was our second loss in the past few months; I had an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy the week before our daughter turned two. You’d think we’d be “used to it” by now, but it just doesn’t work that way.
When we set out to become parents many years ago, we imagined it would go as planned. Light a few candles, crack open a bottle of wine and nine months later bring home a bundle of joy. But it wasn’t that simple. I had a misconception: how easy it was to conceive, and how easy it was to stay pregnant, hence my many mis-conceived pregnancies. The thing so many people did by accident, I couldn’t even do with deliberate purpose.
Every day is a struggle. Recently, I got a manicure, and the owner asked what happened to my bump. At a party, two different people congratulated me because they hadn’t heard the sad news. Even when I’m trying to enjoy myself, the tragedy is shoved back in my face.
My daughter is constantly asking for Baby Brother. “I want Baby Brother to come out now,” she said, with sadness, soon after the procedure. I burst into tears. I promised myself I would never cry in front of her, and there I was, a blubbering mess.
This past week I heard my daughter tell her friend, “Baby Brother will be back soon.”
I got choked up the first time I went to Buy Buy Baby after this all ended. A pair of baseball booties called to me. I held them tightly in the palms of my hands. What was wrong with me? I had to do everything in my power not to purchase them.
I was due this month, December, around the same time as a handful of my close friends. I just attended a “sprinkle” baby shower for two of the women in our group, which was originally intended for me too. We were all in this together, imagining the photo ops and chatting about the Mommy and Me classes we would sign up for with our second babies. I’m no longer part of that either. It’s nearly impossible not to think of what was “supposed to be.”
It was a plan, and plans changed, and now we’re living with our new reality. I’d been dreading December. But now it’s here and before I know it, January will be here too. And February. And March. And as each day goes on, I will be able to put the past further behind me.
I often wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I literally and figuratively feel suffocated by the darkness. I still get phantom kicks. And I have bouts of anxiety before seeing people for the first time after they’ve heard “what happened to me.” Like I’m a victim. So. Many. People. To see. I imagine they’ll be looking at me under a microscope. Is she cheerful? Does she still look pregnant? Will she act like herself? Should I address the elephant in the room?
Every week we get a financial reminder of the pain, as thousands of dollars of medical bills arrive in the mail. We could take a vacation with the money we’ve wasted on hospital visits and lost hope. As if we weren’t paying for it enough emotionally.
Some days I just give myself credit for getting out of bed. And then I smile. I force myself to smile so hard that one day my broken heart will catch up with my upward curved lips, and my emotion will match my expression.
I’m sad that what we thought was a blessing, ended up being a curse. I’m sad that we’ve heard this baby’s heart beating, and now mine is broken. I’m sad that we’ve seen this baby’s face on a 4D scan, but never will in person.
I’m angry that I have to lose baby weight for a baby that never existed. I’m angry that I had to have months of morning sickness, back aches, sleepless nights, headaches, and countless trips to pee for something that wasn’t even worth it. I’m angry that this keeps happening to my body. I’m angry that I’ve spent the past 11 months sacrificing so much while in the throes of two failed pregnancies. I’m angry that this agonizing wait is so incredibly long. I’m angry that teenagers and one-night stands who aren’t ready to have babies get pregnant, yet we are the ones who have to suffer.
I’m afraid for the next steps. I’m afraid for the physical, mental and emotional pain we still have to endure. I’m afraid for future outcomes and procedures and recoveries, and how much I’ll have to explain, and how much hurt is still on the horizon. I’m afraid to experience it. I’m afraid for how many more times we will be knocked down before we find success.
I’m exhausted. On every level. I’m exhausted from running after a toddler who doesn’t nap. I’m exhausted from updating people on my impending doom. I’m exhausted from riding this roller coaster of death. I’m exhausted from “getting through things.” I’m exhausted from hardly being able to exhale. I’m exhausted from covering up my body, and my feelings, to get by. I’m exhausted from being brave. I’m exhausted from feeling like a failure.
Yet I’m grateful for the miracle that is our daughter. I remind myself every day that we thought we would never have her, and here she is, calling us “Mommy” and “Daddy,” words we thought we might never hear.
I’m hopeful this doesn’t have to be the end of growing our family. I’m hopeful that we will heal and get through this just like we have with everything else. I’m hopeful that while the pain will always be there like a battle scar, it will subside, and not feel so stifling. I’m hopeful for what may come in another year from now. I’m hopeful that our daughter won’t remember this happening. I’m hopeful that we can still give our little girl the gift of being a big sister.
I know that life will go on. Not for this baby, but most definitely for us.
Jenn Press Arata is a food writer, children’s author, TV personality and founder of lifestyle website That’s SO Jenn, Confessions of a Foodie. Her children’s book, Sweet Dreams, will be available December 6th. Jenn lives in Connecticut with her husband Julio, their toddler Emma Reese and dog Mo. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.