My first pregnancy was a surprise. At 26 years old I wasn’t thinking about becoming a mother. My husband and I married young and were only married for a few years. He was a junior associate at a large Manhattan law firm and I was not long out of law school and on my third interview for a job I wanted and was confident I would get. Our futures were promising. Plans included a family someday, just not that day.
Anyone holding a positive pregnancy test knows how bright, and petrifying, the future suddenly becomes. I wasn’t ready for a baby. I still ate dinner at ten-thirty at night! But when is anyone ever ready for parenthood? After telling my husband about our upcoming delivery, to which I was received with silence and then a bewildered, “Wow,” we began mentally preparing.
I still purchased a suit for my final interview, and planned on pursuing the position as before, one that required weekly travel from New York to Los Angeles. Not a job amenable to new motherhood, but I would figure that out later.
The morning of my flight I awoke before dawn, my mouth rancid with morning sickness. My body ached for more sleep. It was cold outside. I knew I should force myself out of bed, but I just couldn’t. In that moment, I decided it was motherhood I would pursue, not a career as a consultant, and I deliberately missed my plane. I called the company and explained I was pregnant. I would no longer be interviewing. My fate was sealed.
Over the next three months, my hips widened and my slim waistline, which never before boasted an ounce of fat, now sported the cutest of baby bumps. Every time I became sick, I had proof the life inside me was growing. That is, until one Saturday afternoon in April during my eleventh week.
A few days earlier, my morning sickness miraculously stopped, and I no longer ate voraciously. I boasted to a pregnant friend how great I felt. I didn’t catch her concern when she said symptoms usually last longer. Looking back, her worry should’ve registered.
When I saw blood Saturday morning I knew something was terribly wrong. The obstetrician scheduled a sonogram for early Monday morning. My husband, forever the optimist (or the deluded), reassured me. Perhaps that’s why he was comfortable enough to leave for a business trip the next morning.
Sunday I nursed my pregnant body as I had for the preceding weeks, carefully preparing meals and resting, trying to keep those horrible thoughts at bay, the ones telling me what I already knew. I still felt afraid. As I lay in my bed that night, alone, curled up in a fetal position, my hand gently positioned on my swollen belly, I had no doubt the life inside me was already gone.
The doctor confirmed the worst Monday morning. The “fetus” had no heartbeat. As she uttered the word fetus, so cold and clinical in its sound, my only thought was, “This wasn’t a fetus. This was my baby.”
“Don’t worry,” the doctor reassured, “You’ll have another.”
Outside the examination room, weeping, with the entire doctor’s staff gawking at me, all eyes sharply condemning my overreaction, I dialed my husband and told him our baby was dead. He took the next plane back to New York.
Overcome with shock and grief, I convinced myself the technician made a grievous mistake. Surely she missed the heartbeat in her speedy exam, and this was all some big misunderstanding. I went to the emergency room, and requested a sonogram to confirm the one I just had. The triage nurse stared as though I was in need of a psychiatrist, not an obstetrician.
For countless hours I lay curled up, sobbing, in a hard chair. As I repeatedly checked with the nurse my position in the queue, I was dismissed. It was not yet my turn. My turn never did come. My name, never called. I was invisible the entire time, my grief wholly unnoted.
My husband returned late that afternoon, and together we told close friends and family our news. One by one, they each reassured I would have another. Their words were clean, concise, and altogether ignored the anguish I felt.
The next day, we went to the doctor where I underwent a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure to remove the remnants of the life I once carried. As l left the doctor’s office, I looked exactly the same, but felt hollow inside. My husband spent the day with me, taking me to lunch and then for a short walk through Central Park, but was directed back to work by a partner who condemningly announced he had mourned enough. Miscarriage was not worthy of grief.
My husband returned to work the next morning, went back to pulling 16-hour days, frequent all-nighters, and weekends spent in the office. Now unemployed and without the prospect of my dream job, I thought of nothing except my lost pregnancy.
Everywhere I saw women in my Upper East Side neighborhood pushing baby carriages. The only stores I noticed were those selling baby items or maternity clothes. My maternity clothes hung, abandoned, in my closet.
My husband’s cousin emailed a few days later. About what, I can’t remember. She followed with a postal script: “P.S. Heard what happened. We were so sad.” My despair had not even made the subject line of the email. With all emotion and no thought, I immediately hit reply, and admonished her terse summation of our loss. I’m sure she only meant well, but her poor timing elected her scapegoat, the bearer of one too many empty platitudes.
I was tried in kangaroo court for my sin.
The in-laws chastised me for months. I had unjustly attacked their family.
My husband, as always, played the devil’s advocate. Public defender he was not.
Two years later, I received a handwritten letter from my husband’s cousin, exonerating me. When she and her husband tried to start a family they were unexpectedly met with fertility issues. After finally conceiving, miscarriage soon followed.
No one should ever have to.
I never thanked her for her letter. Until today. Well over a decade later, after the birth of five beautiful children between us (my three and her two), and following my divorce and exile from her family.
Divorce is so often touted as a time of anger and bitterness. But it can also be a time of forgiveness and letting go.
Moving on means freedom. Freedom from the past. And that’s the best justice of all.