Losing Sweet Pea

an essay by Corbin Lewars

When sex with your husband involves thermometers, charts, and sticking your legs in the air afterwards, you know it’s no longer about your burning desire for him. It’s now all about your burning desire for a baby. I have reached that point and beyond. I have needles poked in me, chart my temperature twice a day, seek advice from a variety of specialists, follow this advice even when it entails chanting to my womb, all in hopes of seeing the two pink stripes on the EPT.

After years of waiting for my husband Jason to say the magical words, “I’m ready” and months and months of cheering “swim, little guys swim,” to his sperm mid-coital, I am finally rewarded with the pink stripes. After jumping for joy and hugging Jason, I place my hand on my belly and say, “Hello there.” The chanting has paid off and by now I am quite used to talking to my womb. I name her Sweet Pea and converse privately with her throughout the day. For now, she is mine, all mine, and I do not share news of her with anyone besides Jason.

Around my tenth week of pregnancy, my back throbs intensely while I am at work. My mind flashes to Sweet Pea, but I quickly dismiss that concern. I’ve waited for her for too long to lose her now. I stretch and reposition myself, but nothing alleviates the pain. After urinating, I see bright red drops that shouldn’t be in the toilet. Panicking, I run back to my office to call my group of midwives.

“I see you’re about ten weeks along, is that correct?” the midwife asks.

“Yes,” I reply, while lying on the floor to ease the pain. She asks me to describe the feeling in my abdomen (menstrual cramps mixed with food poisoning), the amount of blood (a light period), and the lower back pain (agonizing). A long silence follows before she says the words I’m dreading hearing, “You’re miscarrying.”

“No! How can I stop it?”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do. A large percentage of women miscarry in their first trimester and there’s no way to avoid it. Sometimes, it just wasn’t meant to be. Or perhaps the baby wasn’t viable. All we can do is wait and see,” she says.

I hang up the phone and burst into tears. I was patient for so long and every month when I got my period I told myself, “That’s all right. Maybe next month it will happen.” And then it finally did and I was instantly attached. I am attached. I talk to her every day, I have clothes for her, I love her.

I decide to ignore the midwife’s words and tell myself Sweet Pea will stay with me. She wants to be with me as much as I want her. This comforts me for an hour, but then the pain in my lower back becomes too great to ignore. I give up on trying to get any work done, write “Gone home sick” on the white board outside of my office, and drive home.

Once there, I leave a message for Jason and call the midwives a few more times. One of the midwives on call is optimistic about my situation and I cling to her every word. The other midwife on call has given up on Sweet Pea and after talking to her I have to crawl into bed and curl up into a fetal position. Once I’ve shed all the tears I can shed, I turn off my brain. I’m afraid thinking about bad things will give them more power and validity, so if I don’t think about the miscarriage, maybe it will go away.

Jason comes home and finds me in bed hiding under the covers. “Is there anything I can do?” he asks while rubbing my back.

“No.”

“What did the midwife say?”

“I’ve talked to a couple of them. One is really sweet and hopeful. She says I may just be spotting and that if I rest, I could stop bleeding. The other one told me to come in for a D & C.”

“What’s that?”

“They scrape my uterus.”

“Like an abortion?”

“Yeah.” I pull a blanket over myself.

“Are you going to do that?” he asks.

“No, I hung up on her.”

He asks more technical and logistical questions, but I am too tired to answer them. I know he is only trying to understand the situation, but there are no answers. All we can so is wait and see. I find waiting impossible, so I sleep and hope when I wake up I’ll realize it was all a nightmare.

A few hours later, I’m still bleeding, but not heavily. The “hopeful” midwife is pleased to hear this and says if the cramps and backache subside, it probably means I’m spotting. I am thrilled to hear this and am finally able to get out of bed. I gather two white candles and light them as a way to protect Sweet Pea. Coming from an atheist family, yet wanting to believe in something, I am forced to make up my own rituals. And candles often serve as my chalice and host.  As do the stars. I walk over to the window and say the words I’ve been chanting since I was a little girl, “Star light star bright, the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have this wish I wish tonight.” I close my eyes and hope for Sweet Pea to stay with me.

After another day of intermittent bleeding, and many hours spent in bed sleeping, the hopeful midwife convinces me to get my blood drawn to check my hormone levels. “It will be good to know either way,” she convinces me. I write down the directions to the after hours lab and wait in various cubicles to have my blood drawn. Once the procedure is over, I ask when I will know the results.

“Monday morning,” the technician responds.

“But that’s three days away!”

“Yup, we don’t do labs over the weekend.”

It’s the worst three days of my life. I don’t want to talk to anyone, not even my husband. I’m locked in my own despair and turmoil. When I cry, I feel guilty that I’m giving up on Sweet Pea. But how can I ignore the fact that I may lose the baby I sing to every day and can picture so clearly in my brain? I can’t, so I spend the majority of the weekend lighting candles to protect Sweet Pea and sleeping.

First thing Monday morning, I call the lab. A cheery nurse says, “Oh yeah, here’s your chart. Everything looks fine.”

“Thank God!” I race upstairs to tell Jason. We hug each other and cry. Words fail us. All we can do is smile.

I tell people at work I had the flu and no one seems to question my story. I work on the newsletter that it has taken me far too long to complete until I remember that I missed my first prenatal appointment with the midwives during the turmoil. The receptionist asks me to hold for a moment when I call the offices to reschedule. The non-hopeful midwife comes on the line and says, “Corbin, are you trying to schedule a D & C?”

 “Why would I do that?”

“Didn’t the lab call you?” she asks.

“Yeah, I called them. The nurse said everything is fine.”

Long, long pause.

“I don’t know why she would say that. I have your chart right in front of me. You’re not pregnant anymore, you miscarried.”

I stagger at her words and sit down on the floor. The room is spinning and I have to shake my head to clear it.

“No, I didn’t. I hardly bled at all and the cramps went away after a few days. I’m still pregnant. I know I am, I feel it.” Instinctively, my hand rests on my belly and I start to rub it in a circular motion. I’m sure the midwife is wrong and wish she would put the receptionist back on so I can make my damn appointment.

“No dear, you’re not. Sometimes our bodies aren’t aligned with our brains. Your brain may think you’re still pregnant, but I can tell by looking at your hormone levels, that you aren’t. Now about that D & C. You really should come in and have it soon. Otherwise you may get an infection that could…”

Click.

I hang up the phone and lie on the floor again. Once again, I tell myself she is wrong and that if I hope for it hard enough, I can still have Sweet Pea. When doubt creeps in, I stagger into my friend Jennifer’s office for reassurance. “I bled, but not that much, the nurse told me I’m fine but the midwife says no, I lost the baby, but I don’t think I did. I still feel Sweet Pea, I know she’s still with me….”

Jennifer deciphers some of my babble and calls the midwives herself. Unsatisfied by the midwives response, she decides to call my general practitioner. “If your doctor is the one who first validated your pregnancy, then she is who I should call. What’s her name?” she asks.

            I cry on Jennifer’s floor while she tries to penetrate the impenetrable medical system. No one wants to answer her questions or tell her how or why I would have been told I’m still pregnant if I’m not. Everyone refers her to someone else. After the tenth phone call, I finally let the midwife’s words sink in. “Don’t call anyone else,” I tell Jennifer. “It’s over.”

I return home again and crawl into bed. I remain there for several days, only emerging to go to work, and then returning to my bed. I refuse to have the D & C, but my body continues to bleed expelling the baby it’s own way. For weeks I am a shell of myself, doing the bare minimum at work, and avoiding all of my friends and family. People try to comfort me with, “You’ll have another baby” or “Maybe it’s for the best,” but this only angers me. I don’t want another baby, I want Sweet Pea.

After weeks of grieving and raging, I decide I have to let Sweet Pea go. I can’t live my life in bed hoping when I wake up, she’ll still be with me. She’s gone. I lost her. Pretending otherwise won’t bring her back. Nor will trying to understand what caused the miscarriage. I’ll never know and all the speculating does is make me feel bad about myself and my body. I assume it’s something that I did or that my body is a failure at baby-making. All this line of thinking does is make me want to crawl back into bed.

Once again, I seek out a ritual to help me. I gather all of the remnants that remind me of Sweet Pea and place them on my bed. The cute baby outfits I bought and the pregnancy book, I put in one pile to send to my friend Jill, who is pregnant. I pause while folding an adorably, fuzzy yellow snow suit. Instead of adding it to Jill’s pile, I hold it to my face and cry. It’s too heartbreaking letting it go, so I keep it. I don’t have to give up hope entirely, I just have to let go of Sweet Pea.

I find the nub of one of the candles I lit for Sweet Pea and the cork I saved from the champagne Jason and I drank on Valentine’s Day, the day she was conceived. I buy a hosta plant in remembrance of Sweet Pea. I dig a hole in our garden and Jason and I place the candle and cork in it and the hosta on top. We hold hands in silence for several minutes and let the tears fall. At the same time, we break the silence by saying, “Good-bye, Sweet Pea. We love you.”

 

 

“Losing Sweet Pea” is an excerpt from Corbin Lewars’ memoir, Creating a Life (Catalyst Book Press, 2010) which is now available as an ebook. Corbin’s essays have been featured in Hip Mama, Midwifery Today, Mothering, and A Wild Ride and several anthologies. She is a writing coach and instructor based in Seattle, where she lives with her two young children and a thriving hosta, which she calls Sweet Pea. To learn more about Corbin and her coaching practice visit www.corbinlewars.com.

Read the interview with Corbin Lewars conducted by Jessica Powers, Corbin Lewars on rape, miscarriage, sex, marriage, divorce, and writing what you really feel.

 

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