There is blood dripping into the toilet. I watch, wide-eyed, as fifty-cent-sized blotches of deep red blood sink to the bottom of the ceramic bowl and slowly melt into the water. I am nine weeks pregnant. This can’t be good.
“Shawn!” I scream. “Shawn!” I am sobbing before he gets to the bathroom. “The baby is gone. I know it,” I say in a panic.
I’ve been nervous this entire pregnancy but am finally starting to relax. I am getting close to the magic 12-week mark; to the first-trimester ultrasound; to seeing my baby’s two tiny arms and two curled-up legs for the first time. I am three weeks away from that miraculous moment. But there is blood in the toilet.
“Calm down, it’s going to be okay,” Shawn reassures me.
But I know better. I rush to the hospital in a cab and check myself in to the Emergency Department. The triage nurse ushers me into the emergency room and hands me a blue hospital gown. Speedy service. Another bad sign. I cry through the doctor’s examination, but he is hopeful.
“Lots of women experience first-trimester bleeding,” he says kindly. “Let’s get you in for an ultrasound.”
I am wheeled up to the fifth floor and taken into a cold, dark room with a narrow bed and am told to lie down. Cold gel is squirted onto my stomach and the technician moves the scope across my belly. Back and forth. Back and forth. Her face is blank. She can’t find the baby. I can feel it in my gut; I can see blackness on the monitor.
An hour later, my fears are confirmed. The baby had stopped growing three weeks prior and now there is no heartbeat; no baby. I am sent home with pills to expel the tissues that were accumulating in my uterus, giving me false hope of a successful pregnancy. It was what they call a missed miscarriage – when your body doesn’t know it’s no longer pregnant with a viable foetus. Your belly continues to expand and you continue to have morning sickness and sore breasts until one day your body discovers the truth. Then the inevitable happens.
The pills cause my stomach to cramp as they do their job. Over the next two weeks, I bleed. I feel empty. Physically and emotionally empty. Worst of all, I feel hopeless. I sink to the very depths of depression sitting in the obstetrician’s office after my miscarriage surrounded by happy, expectant couples. I look around at blossoming bellies – shirts stretched across swelling stomachs – and am viciously jealous.
“Why me? Why us?” I ask Shawn. And why the heck did the doctor schedule a post-miscarriage check-up with me during his regular pre-natal check-ups?! Couldn’t he have snuck me in through a secret back door at dawn?!
For another entire month, I wake up every single night crying into my pillow. Shawn gets up with me and holds me close. His hand feels warm and comforting on my face as he wipes away my tears. “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”
Miscarriages in the first trimester are very common. In fact, one in four Australian women will suffer a miscarriage, but nobody talks about it. It’s taboo during childbearing years. I decide, for my own mental health, that I am going to change that. I can’t cry forever. I’ve run out of tears. I am going to cope by talking about my loss.
I speak to a therapist and I start telling others, too – friends, relatives, colleagues. I am shocked to find out how many women have endured similar loss. I meet one grandmother who confides that she lost her first baby, Michael, a week after he was born to a heart illness. She went through an entire pregnancy and came home empty handed. I meet a mother who lost her third child, David, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when he was five months old. He rolled over in his sleep and suffocated. If these women could overcome their pain – a pain and a loss far greater than mine – so could I. I am finally ready to move on; to try again.
Today, when I walk into the bathroom, a different sight awaits. My nine-month-old son, Ari, is standing up on his soft, pudgy feet and clinging to the toilet bowl. His right hand reaches over the seat and deep into the toilet. The white roll of toilet paper sits unravelled and strewn across the floor. There are holes in the paper where he’s taken a bite. He turns his head and looks up at me with a gaping, four-toothed grin. His brown eyes, big as basketballs, are alight. Ari is thrilled with the mess he’s made.
I have an instant headache. I wonder whether it’s the stress of trying to protect a toddler-to-be that’s causing it or the hormones from a new pregnancy surging through my body. Yes, I am pregnant again. I discover this miracle 11 weeks into the pregnancy – just one week away from the magic number.
This time, as with Ari, I get to see new life growing inside me at my 12-week scan. I hear a strong heart beat – babum, babum, babum – and see two little arms and 10 glorious fingers; two curled up legs with 10 glorious toes.
What a blessing to be pregnant again and to make it through a first trimester without knowing and without fear; without having to carry the baggage of my very first pregnancy into my third. I can feel the emotional scars continue to seal as the new baby grows.
This time I believe Shawn when he says, “It’s going to be ok.”
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem