Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mom to "Sprout"
Lost on September 22nd, 1993
Columbus, Ohio

I was 18 years old in summer of 1993, soon to be heading away to college on a scholarship. I had broken up with my long-time boyfriend that spring and began dating someone new and fun, a summer fling expected to run its course by autumn.

I somehow knew I was pregnant the day after I conceived. Something felt faintly tingly inside my abdomen and “off” to me, and I remember commenting about it to a coworker at the restaurant where I worked. I tried to put it out of my mind and waited until the first possible cycle day where I could test for pregnancy. I bought a pregnancy test and, optimistically, a box of condoms. I took the test in the store bathroom and shook as I leaned against the stall wall reading the positive result. That evening, I drove to my boyfriend’s house to tell him our news. I was in tears and remember driving past a church with this phrase displayed on its sign: “Hangeth in there.”

My news was not well received by my boyfriend, my parents nor virtually anyone else in my life. This baby was going to ruin my life and should be aborted, I was told. I unknowingly visited a pro-life organization presenting itself as a pregnancy decision support group, and I also made an appointment for a surgical abortion, two opposite but similarly surreal experiences. I had nightmares every night about having an abortion. There was no way I could go through with it.  To me, this embryo was already a baby. I was having this baby. I was keeping this baby. Let the chips fall where they may. I never showed up to the abortion appointment.

I began to make the necessary logistical arrangements. I had never even seen an OB/Gyn, but I surely needed one now. I withdrew from the college I had planned to attend and enrolled at a university near my home. I managed to pick up an academic scholarship and planned to take a quarter off when my baby was born. I could not count on my boyfriend, who was angry with me most of the time for backing out of the abortion plan that everyone had for me. It would be me and the baby against the world. I would finish college and be a success and still have everything that my family feared I was throwing away.

I was more than 11 weeks pregnant two days before classes began for fall quarter when I went to buy my first college textbooks with a friend. As soon as I came home, I felt a gush and went in the bathroom to see bright red blood in my underwear. I went to the emergency room. The nurse drew blood for a hormone level check. The levels were low, so I was either having a miscarriage or much further along in pregnancy than expected. I was given the somewhat ironic diagnosis of “threatened abortion” and sent home to return for an ultrasound the next day. When I returned, the sonographer showed me a clear scan of my baby, looking like a perfectly formed human being, except that he/she had stopped growing two weeks earlier and had no heartbeat, just tiny and motionless heart chambers visible with the probe. She printed off a photo and handed it to me. I could hardly look at it through the tears and asked my mom to keep it for me. I was given the option of continuing to wait for the tissues to pass or having a D&C. I was afraid to keep waiting. I didn’t know how to feel about a dead baby inside of me. When would it happen?  Would I be in class when it happened?

I scheduled a D&C for the next day, which was my first day of college, a watershed moment. I managed to get the 6:30 am surgery slot so I could make it to my first class at 11:30 am, and I did make it, woozy and numb. By my last class of the afternoon, I had to get out of there. I told my professor that I was sorry, but I just had surgery and really needed to go. She smiled, gave me the syllabus, and told me to feel better.

To everyone else, that is the end of my story, but to me, it never really ended. I was expected to move on, since it was an unplanned teen pregnancy, and I was a smart girl with big plans. On the surface, I did move on, because I had to do so. I couldn’t cry in my bedroom at my parents’ house forever. I moved into the dormitory, joined a sorority, graduated three times over with various degrees, got married and had three more children and a career. People who meet me do not know about my experience. I don’t wear it on the outside.

My former boyfriend is married and has three children of his own, too. He tells me that he went on an emotional and geographical journey himself after our experience, but that’s his story.

At the time of my miscarriage, I felt guilt and shame over my taboo pregnancy and also profound sadness over losing the baby I had come around to really want. I felt like a bad mother for not knowing my baby had died inside of me two weeks earlier. Was I being punished? I know these things have medical and biological reasons, but it is easier to say that about other people’s experiences than to know it about you. I kept it inside, the only safe place for me to hash it out without judgment. It only snuck out once, in a poem I wrote for a college English class.  The professor kept me after lecture to see if I was okay. I told him I was really fine and got out of there as soon as possible. I told my husband about my miscarriage, but it is an awkward conversation. Would we have happened to meet if I had a child in those days?

I still feel a place for that baby, more than 17 years later. Having additional children stimulated a lot of soul-searching for me. I wondered how my life might have been without my miscarriage and what kind of mother I would have been as the young woman shown in the photo above instead of the “advanced maternal age” mother I am now. I am old enough to be that woman’s mother. Was my baby a boy or a girl? What would he or she look like? Would my family ever have come around? I refer to my oldest son as my firstborn, and he is my firstborn, but he wasn’t my first baby. Even on paper, I’m a gravida 4, para 3. Something is missing. It’s been missing for so long that it is now just a part of my personal fabric, and I sometimes forget about it for a long while, but then I look inside, and there is that place holder for my lost baby, right alongside those special places held by my three sons.

You can contact Katie at katieabk@gmail.com


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