New Label….Age-Old Quandary

I couldn’t help but wonder, what if it had all turned out differently? My whole life would have gone off on another track if I’d become the mother of twins. They’d be mature adults by now. What brought this to mind was the chance reading of an article in a professional journal.

The article outlined ways social workers can help people communicate about losses, specifically, “reproductive losses.” So, now there’s a new label to describe the wide range of incidents including miscarriage, stillbirth, spontaneous and induced abortion, ectopic pregnancy and medical terminations. Results of the study say silence has resulted in “passive oversight that reproductive losses are significant life events from which women’s self identity emerge.” I felt like it was yesterday.

I was living in an isolated, Upper Michigan small town, fresh off a divorce and into my second rebound relationship. He was nice enough but I didn’t fool myself that there was a future. After several light periods, morning nausea began; tenderness and bloating signaled subtle changes. I’d always used birth control, had never wanted children and had been vigilant in maintaining that decision. But something was stirring in me.

Without even knowing for sure I was pregnant, I found myself declaring that, if my worst fears were confirmed, I would keep this baby. I would raise this baby though I knew, in my heart, I’d be doing it alone. I also knew this would change my slowly forming plans to leave this area where I no longer had connections. I just remember how resolute I felt.

It was on a Friday that I actually faced reality and scheduled an appointment for a pregnancy test the following Monday. But that night I was awakened with pain and had a miscarriage at home. The fetus was tiny but so fully formed. It fit into the palm of my hand. I’d been able to see the eyes, ribs, fingernails, penis. After holding it for a moment, I put it in a jar, then laid down to get my bearings. The pain started again. Afterbirth I thought. Within a half hour, another fetus was released and placed in the jar. He drove me to the hospital emergency room while I cradled the jar in my lap. I recall, lying in the exam room, waiting. I looked over at the jar and wondered.

After an examination and D&C, the doctor informed me the surgery had gone well. The IUD, long over due for changing, had been named the culprit and removed. I had been, the doctor explained, actually about five months pregnant, which explained the fetus’s advanced development. The wall of the uterus was bare and they’d probably starved, he said. Not my fault, nothing I had done, the doctor repeated several times.

I went home the next day and back to work on Monday. I wasn’t prepared for my response. I’d get up, get ready for work and start my usual day; but suddenly I’d be overcome by feelings and had to go home early. I couldn’t stop the tears. The sadness lasted a week or so. And then I went on with my life. Didn’t seem to miss a beat.

From there, I’d picked up where I’d left off on my plans to move to an urban area. Of course, the relationship didn’t work out. I finally made a real decision when a year after moving I had a tubule ligation. It still took some thinking before I did it. These are life changing decisions we make. I got my graduate degree, worked at several challenging and satisfying jobs, found a new husband. Life was good.

But every now and then, I’d think about that time. While I never wanted children, why was I so determined to keep that baby, I wondered. That still puzzles me to this day. And how would my life be different? I’d sometimes toy with the details and pretend the babies had actually been born in April 1985.

I already owned a house so I’d have stayed there instead of putting it up for sale. My job would have continued, boring but stable. I’d have been a single mother. How hard would that be, in that closed-minded, traditional, rural place? I’d have been pitied by some, talked about behind my back by others and have found a middle ground among my limited support network.

The article discussed the high incidence of depression, anxiety and PTSD, found in women experiencing reproductive loss. Sometimes those feelings lasted for years. Sometimes those feelings negatively affected future decisions. Other than the short time after the miscarriage, I haven’t been sad. But I have been inquisitive.

I distinctly remember standing in line, waiting to go up to get my graduate school diploma, thinking. Instead of being happily here, I could be the mother of two four year old children, living in a rural area and struggling with a going nowhere job. I recall at the celebration of my second wedding, thinking. I could be the mother of two eight-year old children whose thoughts and wishes I’d have had to consider before taking this leap.

At each hallmark of my life, I wonder what my twins would be doing now.  What would they have made of themselves. What would I, as a reluctant mother, have made of them. I know I didn’t make a choice. Miscarriages happen more often than we think and I believe it’s nature’s way of saying there was something not right. It’s for the best. I recall not telling very many people and the ones I did confide in, seemed to think it was just a blip in my life plan. I’m glad to see that there is more attention being given to the loss of an unborn child. Silence never bodes well.

But now, with retirement, I’m looking at it once again. I wonder if I’ll ever wish I had grown children to help me through the challenges of aging. Would they be there for me? No guarantees. But then that’s life, isn’t it?

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