At 42, three months into a new relationship, I found out I was pregnant. Seeing that “+” symbol on the First Response stick would have been surprising enough given these circumstances, but the fact that I’d struggled with infertility in my 30s and was told I couldn’t get pregnant without medical intervention made this news just completely unbelievable.
After the infertility struggles – and a subsequent divorce – I had grieved (and grieved) the likely reality of not being a biological mother. Tears on the pages of my journals, deep sorrow after spending time with nieces, asking all the unanswerable questions – why? why not me? Nearly two decades of dedicated yoga practice left me with a love of the body, yet mine had failed me.
And at the end of that processing, even in the silence of answers, I found peace. I focused on the silver linings of saved time and resources, the ways my body would be spared, how I’d never have to endure a grocery store tantrum. I felt strong and assured in my independence, happy to find other ways to mother.
Yet there I was, staring at a “+” sign and feeling my heart being pried open to this formerly impossible possibility. Even the father, Greg, agreed that this was some kind of doing beyond our own. Although this was a new relationship, we would step into the future together.
Despite my nagging fears about being “old and infertile” as I would say to my OBG at every appointment, I made it – with morning sickness in tow – to the magical three-month mark. At that pivotal appointment, my doctor soothed, Michelle, you can relax – you’re in the second trimester now and miscarriage rates are down to 2%. You’re going to have a baby. And I believed her.
Greg and I started sharing our news. Long-time students at the yoga studio I owned were elated.
I wondered if you ever would!
You’ll be the best mom!
I have the perfect yarn for a baby blanket!
On an ordinary morning a couple of weeks later, I got a call from Elise, our genetic counselor. There was a problem. A blood test showed a chromosomal issue. Like Noah’s Ark, we come with two of each – the baby had three of one. It was a terminal diagnosis.
In that two-minute conversation, my world broke into a million pieces. As I hung up, I gripped my chest where it felt like my heart had been ripped out and sobbed.
To make matters worse, despite the accuracy of the blood test, my doctor emphatically urged that I wait three more weeks until I could have an amniocentesis, which would give a definitive result. In addition to receiving this shattering news, I was being asked to sit with not knowing, in limbo, with the impossible possibility just beyond my reach. This meant waiting through the entire Christmas season and New Year’s Eve.
We decided to wait. Could you live with the 1% chance that the blood test is wrong? the doctor asked. I guess I couldn’t.
Those weeks are mostly a blur now. I was inconsolable. Lifeless. I carved a dent in the couch where I would spend hours just looking out the window. More unanswerable questions.
January 6, the date of the amnio appointment, came and went. And when the results came in, the extra chromosome was confirmed. Even though this seemingly perfect baby was growing at a normal rate and active in his watery world, he was going to die.
I was given options for how to move forward, and without much counsel or support, I decided to end the pregnancy. My sadness was bottomless. Honestly, this didn’t feel like a decision – it felt like the only option. I thought if “it” was over, my pain would be over. If I could have crawled out of my skin and run away, I would have. I wanted to put this all in the past and move on.
But “moving on” isn’t how life works, is it?
We are encouraged, after a suitable amount of time, to let go, find closure and get back to normal. That suitable timeframe is anywhere from a few days to a month, and not much more.
I did all the “closure” things – I had a ceremony on the due date, I burned sage and buried ultrasound pictures. I saw a therapist. I read spiritual texts and meditated. That was part of my process, my honoring. And still, it was a roller coaster. I felt crazy, like my brain didn’t work anymore and my emotions were at the whim of the wind. Some days I put mascara, other days I didn’t get out of bed. A “good day” can make one wonder if it’s really been so bad; a “hard day” feels like endless, inescapable darkness.
Even my yoga practice offered no solace. In fact, I felt betrayed. By my body, by my ability to spiritually weather. The few yogic writings I could find on grief counseled that I was too attached and not evolved enough – that was the source of my pain.
There is no instruction manual for grief. There’s no predictable path. What I know in my bones now, is this: Loss is a part of every single life. And grief is a natural and healthy response to loss. What that looks like will be different for each of us, because loss comes in infinite forms and because we are all as different as our fingerprints.
In those early months, I held the image of each day being a grain of sand. Day after day – robotically brushing my teeth, making breakfast, mustering compassion for myself – one grain of sand at a time. Trusting that eventually, even if it took a long time, there would be a new shore, a place to stand.
I invite you here, to come into the soft space of curiosity and interact with your grief more intentionally, to be with yourself more intimately. We may never answer the questions or find the reasons or make it ok. What we can do is bring all of our parts together — the broken, the happy, the lonely, the confused. Not amputating the past, but integrating the old person and the new person, weaving a life of the two. Maybe not the life you wanted, but a life that is yours nonetheless.