This creative non-fiction short story originally appeared in Room Magazine Issue 39.1.
She married so that she could be a mother, more so than a wife, and when she realized there may not be children, she looked at her husband one night and wondered if they could still make marriage work if it would always be just the two of them.
They tried all of the things successful parents and well-researched doctors tell you to try. Sex. Not too much. Just enough. Well-timed.
She ate healthier foods and she exercised. She ran every day. She drank lots of water and took vitamins that left the taste of chalk on her tongue, in her mouth. But nothing.
After twelve months, she made a decision to stop thinking about it. She quit her job and began making other dreams happen. They bought a fixer-upper on an old, up-and-coming street. She started a book. They became a happily married couple with a we-don’t-need-kids-to-be-happy attitude.
And then it happened. She was late. Really late. She did a test, and this time the blue lines showed in all the right places. She went to her doctor, and he confirmed the results. She told her parents, her friends. Everyone was elated. They all said, we told you it would happen. Like it was that easy.
She got rounder and rounder.
* * *
When the baby came, they saw each other differently. They were so much in love with the very same person. They held him in their arms. They watched him sleep in his crib.
As their son grew, they packed his things into boxes by age and size and season. She stored her maternity clothes at the front of the closet so they would be ready. And they waited. All over again. One year. Then another. They figured this would happen. But they were patient. Or maybe they were greedy.
They had another triumph. They tracked it all again - five weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. She named the baby and practiced saying the name at night because she knew that this time it would be a girl. She was hopeful.
* * *
She sees blood on the toilet paper after she wipes. She holds her breath and wipes again. She gets on the computer and reads stories of women who saw blood and lost everything. She tries to ignore them, scroll past them. She reads stories of women who bled and still gave birth to healthy babies, and she tells herself that this will be her story. She reads these tales over and over again because there’s far less of them and she needs them.
In the middle of the night, he finds her sitting on the floor in the walk-in closet, legs spread, laptop in-between. She has a maxi pad on that crinkles when she moves, just in case there’s more bleeding.
‘Is everything okay?’
She shrugs and says nothing, but he waits. ‘I saw blood. It’s fine. I read online that it’s fine. Perfectly normal,’ she tells him.
He looks unsure, but he nods and when he leaves she knows that he is going to search for all the ways she could be wrong and all the ways she could be right, so he can weigh the odds himself. He will measure statistics and probabilities while she examines her instincts – questioning everything. It’s possible that what might be happening is not happening, after all. He will want to know what is probable, not possible. But will he share his findings with her? Does she want him to? What is happening?
She tries to sleep.
When she wakes, she goes straight to the bathroom. She wipes and it’s red. Pink, actually. She can’t remember what she read about that colour – whether it’s better for it to be red or pink or brown. She tries to forget that bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage, even though it’s written everywhere she looks. She tries to remember as she sits on the toilet and watches the stained paper sink deeper that spotting is very common in the first trimester.
She feels something painful and she holds her stomach, leans forward. Dark red. Pouring out of her, into the water. She feels a big lump, the size of a large dinner roll, slipping out, falling. She stares at all of the red, at the dark ball in the middle. She doesn’t flush, and when she stands, she stares a little longer. She tries to make out the shape of a small person in that spreading pool of blood and water.
* * *
She goes to the doctor for a physical. They have an awkward conversation about her last visit, about the ultrasound she never attended because she already knew it would show nothing.
‘It happens. It's common,’ he says.
She nods. She does not want to talk about this with a doctor who only knows the science, who refers to what passed out of her body as tissue, who has never known pregnancy but who determines so many things that require a more practical perspective.
‘I'm going to Japan,’ she says, so that there is no more pity when he looks at her. Her doctor loves to travel, and she indulges his questions so the pity does not come back. It’s why she’s going. It’s the thing she decided to do eight months ago to help her move forward, her I-did-not-get-to-push present.
‘Let’s go to Japan,’ she had said to her husband when they knew what they had lost.
If she had carried the baby to term, she would have delivered next month. So they are headed off on another adventure instead. Her husband. Her son. A foreign country. A different world. She tells herself that this adventure is better so that it doesn’t hurt when she sees pregnant women and holds babies, when her friends tell her they are pregnant again. They cannot go to Japan so easily.
Her doctor asks her about her last period and she tells him that she doesn't know when it was because she is trying hard not to pay attention. He asks her how she is feeling, and she tells him that she is tired and ready for a vacation.
‘Do you want me to do a blood check?’ he says.
She shrugs. She knows this will make him happy, confirm what is or is not. But she thinks it’s easier to be ignorant, to think about nothing until it is safe to know and tell and think and plan and name a baby that is a textbook for development.
She goes to the end of the hall and they stick her with needles. She watches the blood snake down the tube, out of her, into the vials.
The doctor calls later that day. ‘Blood test shows that you are pregnant. Very early. Very low levels, but yes definitely pregnant.’
She tries to be scientific. She bites her lip to avoid smiling. She tells her husband, and he squeezes her like a coach that's got a kid who pulled through in the clutch at the end of a big game.
‘Let's not tell anyone,’ she says. ‘Let’s just wait until we're sure.’
She hates that this is the way now – keeping secrets to protect them from disappointment. Gambling hope.
* * *
She stops at her godmother’s on the way to a birthday party because she’s trying to stay busy. She goes to the bathroom and before she even looks, she knows that it’s happening again. She feels it. Only this time her husband is not with her and no one else knows. She comes out of the bathroom slowly, grey-faced, and her godmother notices. ‘What's wrong?’
Her godmother is a mother of four grown children, even though she started later than most back when that was unusual.
She wants to tell her what’s wrong, but it’s hard to start at the end. ‘I think I was pregnant, but now I'm not. It’s not the first time. I’m fine. I’m fine,’ she tells her.
Her godmother insists they go to the hospital, just to be sure. They need to figure out what’s wrong, after all, why this happens. It’s the kind of story that other people like to read out loud, talk through, but she just wants to go home and wait it out, this messy part that makes her hurt. Only last time she bled hard for days and the plane ride to Japan is thirteen hours. Can she fly tomorrow?
The men at the hospital – the doctors and the young, male students they are training, peak into her most private space, where there is now a losing record – one win and two losses. She tells her husband about the loss over the phone from the waiting room. She insists that he does not need to come, that she will be home soon, that she’s fine, but she cries so hard that he finds it hard to believe her.
They cut out the first part of their trip, plan for ten days instead of fourteen. They will blame it on the closing date of a house her husband has sold, but she will hide out until they leave because she is bitter, like she is being punished (again) for dreaming.
* * *
The five year old is asking questions about babies. About brothers and sisters. He doesn’t like that he’s the only one in the house who sleeps alone at night, which is when they have their arguments.
‘Are you pregnant?’ he says in the middle of one of their discussions.
It’s the worst kind of question, a recipe for the silent treatment for anyone who knows her, for anyone who knows anything. But this time, she just looks away.
‘I don't know.’
It’s not the question that bothers her this time. It’s that she’s been working hard not to think about it. She knows now, what her body is doing when it changes. When her breasts swell sore and her mind scrambles. When his touch feels like Velcro, harsh against her.
‘It’s been a while since your last – ’
‘Are you keeping track?’
He doesn't say anything. He shrugs and she thinks of telling him to get a life. He pulls out a box, that drug store package that pains her. He knows that her body is changing. But she doesn’t want to look at it.
‘Take a test.’
‘I’m not doing any more tests.’
Over the past six years, she has bought over thirty. But there is only one baby, one child from two positives and so many failures.
‘Just take it.’
‘I don't want to.
‘Because it's easier to just go on. To let things happen.’
‘But don't you want to know?’
‘I'm taking vitamins, exercising, eating fine. I may have had other miscarriages. But eventually my period came. It always came. I didn’t know then and I was happier. Waiting for a child was happier than what we do now.’
He tosses the box at her and she tears and cuts until the plastic stick is out. She pees on it and leaves it on the edge of the tub. ‘There. In three minutes, you can have your answer.’
She tries to read a book.
‘What does a faint line mean?’ he says.
She doesn’t need the instructions. ‘If there’s any line, even if it’s faint, then it’s positive.’
She goes over and looks, and there it is, a faint line in the positive window. She shrugs, and in that shrug they both see how the last two years have changed her. She is no longer hopeful, and this saddens her as much as anything. She no longer believes.
When she wakes up for church in the morning, there is blood and part of her is grateful. No more waiting. No more worries. This is what it means to see blood now. To know that her body is, at the very least, consistent. Alive but not a place for living.
She does not tell her husband even though he is watching her. She cannot look at him. But after church, she tells her mother. She says the words out loud, starting at the end, which she does more easily now that she’s had practice. ‘I had another miscarriage.’
Her mother stays calm because she knows that her daughter will be fine, that she simply needs an ear, and time, to walk this road again.
In the car, on the way home, it’s just the two of them.
‘What did you and your mother talk about?’
She shrugs. ‘I had another miscarriage. Why couldn't you just leave it alone? One more morning and we could have been fine.’
But he is always fine.
‘Don't you want to know?’
‘No. I don’t want to know. I don't want to know that I am broken, that I have failed us. This is my body and I get to decide from now on when I know and don't know and how I deal with it.’
They sit in the car for a while, even after they are home and parked, and she cries so hard that it starts to hurt all over. He waits. She tells him that she needs to give up. That this needs to be it. She can no longer live with a dream that consumes her.
He looks out the front window of the car at their house, the one they bought and fixed, the one with five bedrooms for the family they always wanted, the family they will never have, at least not in the way they expected. Eventually, she stops crying and she starts to stare too, at the home they have built together.
He tells her in a voice that is true and convincing that this is fine with him. He tells her that this life, the one they have and not the one she wants – they wanted – has always been fine for him. He takes her hand and he tells her that he is happy, except he uses the word content, and she likes this. Content. Content means she can accept this life that she’s been given. She will no longer fight with her life and with her body. She will be content with what it gives her.