Dear Person Who Just Had to Know:
“So you can have children, but you just didn’t want to?”
Damn. I still occasionally get tricked into acknowledging this. I know this concept is simply baffling to you. I normally just murmur something, or point somewhere and say, “Look! A balloon!” (For some reason, almost everyone falls for that one.) Sometimes I say, “I’ll spare you the long, tedious story.”
I don’t like making people uncomfortable, and I hate conflict. One of these days, though, I’m going to tell you (or the next you) the truth.
I’m going to tell you how as a teenager pregnant with twins, I developed toxemia and was put on bed rest. I’m going to tell you how one day, when I was about eight months pregnant, something felt…wrong. I’ll tell you how I called the doctor on call, who heard my girlish voice, patted me on the head, and sent me back to bed. I’ll tell you how for five days afterwards, I’d feel my stomach turn hard and think, “I don’t think this is how contractions are supposed to feel.”
By now, dear question-asker, you can see where this is going, right? I could spare you the next part of the story.
But you showed no mercy to me, so today I will show none in return.
I’ll tell you how on the fifth day I went into the OB-GYN’s office for a checkup, and they didn’t hear one of the heartbeats. How I was hustled into the operating room for an emergency C-section. How the room was packed with more doctors than I had ever seen in one place before, or after. I’ll tell you how kind everyone was, and how everyone rejoiced when the first baby was taken out. I’ll tell you how a few minutes later the room grew silent. How the nice nurse in the pink uniform was the one who got to give me the news that the other twin was dead. I’ll tell you that I felt a roaring in my ears and thought, “I’m done.” I’ll tell you how I could feel that I was dying, really, genuinely, physically expiring, but that I heard a little voice that told me, “Then this would have all been for nothing.” How I decided to live. How the recovery was excruciating and how my doctors never gave me the easy way out. No strong painkillers because I might become addicted. No pill to stop my breast milk from coming in because it could cause cancer.
I’ll tell you that I didn’t talk about the experience for decades after. Not to anyone. How my therapist would try to bring it up and I would tell her I couldn’t talk about it. (I was so blocked that I don’t even remember her ever asking me.) I’ll tell you how I have had issues with trust and authority ever since then. How angry I was that my age and circumstances had cost my daughter her life. How since then I can count the number of times I held a baby in my arms on one hand.
I could tell you about the miscarriage I had many years later. How I fell into a profound depression.
I could tell you about how I simply couldn’t try again, ever. I didn’t trust my body to get me through it. I didn’t trust my doctors to act in my best interest. I didn’t trust my husband to be there for me. I couldn’t.
Maybe I’ll start crying when I tell you. I still do grieve, all these years later.
Or maybe I’ll try something different. Maybe I’ll tell you that when you ask someone pointed questions about fertility, or babies, or anything related to that, that there is a really good chance that you are ripping someone’s heart out. That there is a really good chance that their wound is really raw, much closer than it is for me.
And maybe, just maybe, in honor of the powerless young girl I was, I’ll ask you to stop asking questions like this. Of anyone. I will protect her now, and all of her sisters who hold so much sadness and loss inside them.
I like to think I’ll do that.