38: Carrying On

38: Carrying On

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Carrying On

What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.
~Oscar Wilde

Sometimes it can take years to be thankful for a gift when it arrives wrapped in such sorrow. It all began seven years ago on a Thursday in early November under a crisp Colorado blue sky. I remember it was warm enough to run in shorts. As I ran, I wondered why my breasts hurt—late period, hot ears, hot breasts. At forty-five, I was new to menopause. My neighbor said, “Perhaps a pregnancy test would be a good idea.”

In the small bathroom next to my psychotherapy office I stared at the two blue lines of a positive pregnancy test. I shook like a teenager in trouble. As I greeted my 9:30 patient I knew I needed a session more than she. Afterwards I called my husband of nineteen years, the father of my three children. “It happened again, could you come down, the baby thing?” It was like a telegram without “Stop” every few words. That was how it all began and I’ll always feel it was a ride I never asked to get on or off.

At our doctor’s appointment my husband and I sheepishly faced my obstetrician. “At your age miscarriage is very common.” The ultrasound showed a flicker, the small heart. “The flicker is good but you never know.” Two weeks later we returned. The flicker flicked. It was my husband’s forty-sixth birthday. “Happy Birthday Dad,” she said, handing him a fuzzy black and white photo.

Telling the children was next. Getting the five of us together on a weekend was not an easy task. My fifteen-year-old had other priorities that didn’t include a Saturday night family dinner. Our nine-year-old’s mouth stayed open as our twelve-year-old ran crying from the table. “Ever heard of birth control?” I was pulled in many directions that night as ambivalence, excitement, fear, and uncertainty seasoned my chicken and broccoli.

The CVS (chorionic villus sampling) test drew near—a test we had decided on to determine if the baby was healthy. I could only remember the name because of the drugstore chain. I sat in a cold examining room watching the baby frolic on the ultra-sound screen. I was told a large needle would be inserted into my uterus to draw tissue from the placenta. Not to worry—the baby would be fine. The pain felt deep, felt wrong, it was over. They showed me the baby again still swimming softly. “You may have cramps, don’t worry. Don’t vacuum, fold laundry, or cook for twenty-four hours.” They’d call us in two days to let us know if the baby was healthy. Later I wondered if bending over for thirty seconds to vacuum up Christmas tree needles killed my baby.

I was making the kids pancakes when the phone rang. We had a healthy boy! At ten weeks, I flipped the pancakes, exhaled and decided I could survive pre-school once again.

And then it was another Thursday, this time, melting snow marking the end of February. I proudly celebrated the three-month mark, feeling I’d made it to shore and could breathe a little easier. I sat in my doctor’s waiting room surrounded by large stomachs. I placed my hands on my small stomach embracing my child, finally willing to do it all again. I carried my baby and freshly baked coffee cake into the doctor thanking her for a healthy child.

She rubbed the clear “gook” on my stomach, positioning the cold doppler so we could hear the heartbeat. Once again I lay peering at the ultrasound screen. I saw nothing but blackness and my doctor’s shaking head. I cried and she apologized. He was gone. Tearful nausea filled my emptiness as I fumbled with my drawstring pants. Somehow I moved to a black leather chair in her office holding my knees to my chest, weeping like a lost child, late picking my daughter up from Brownies. My world was small snapshots after that. I drove home conscious of my breathing as if I were in the labor I would never have.

We were instructed to arrive two hours before the necessary D&C procedure. I lay and waited as my husband worked on his laptop. A nurse arrived and introduced herself as my “cocktail waitress” for the evening. She was kind and I cracked a smile as she patted my hand and called me “Dear.” I kept talking, kept weeping, telling my “cocktail waitress” how sad I felt. It was over and they all kindly complimented my strength as I kindly thanked them. My husband held my hand as I sipped sweet grape juice. We drove home on a cold night and had to pull over. I threw up beside a stranger’s driveway.

As tears welled from my empty womb, loving friends told us to plant a tree, which my husband painstakingly planted in our front yard. I bought a rock that read “Remember” and placed it in our garden. But my healing began only when I told my story on the page. Instead of the cries of a tiny newborn I was listening to my own creative voice. My writing burst forth like a baby’s first breath. A tiny soul had delivered me this beautiful gift. I haven’t stopped composing since I said goodbye. Our children, even those we never meet, truly are our best teachers. Our miscarriage was not a “miss” but a carriage from the stage of procreation into a new stage of creation. With much gratitude, at age fifty-two my writing blossoms like the beautiful tree planted a few years ago.

~Priscilla Dann-Courtney

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