Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2 Weeks Later: Scarred but Smarter*

(* Bonus points to anyone who can name that tune--Scarred but Smarter--from an ex-favorite band of mine. HINT: They opened up for R.E.M. on the Green tour and the cheesy bass player hit on my friend's 14-year-old sister.)

The bleeding done and my physical symptoms of pregnancy almost totally gone—I nervously await the mass migration of my hair to the shower drain after the pregnancy hormones go—I find myself feeling like this whole thing, the pregnancy and miscarriage, was all a dream. Mr. Crud agrees.

“It’s like we went on a vacation, came back, and it feels like we never left,” he says.

Exactly. Despite my best intentions, I am back on my daily wine and cigarettes schedule. If the Puritan voice that occupies my head in the early morning hours has its way, I’ll be done with that in a week or two. Just getting my ya-yas out, assures my good pal, the devil-may-care evening voice. My life feels much like it was before the positive pee stick, except I feel weighted with the knowledge that even the best laid plans, the most loved and wanted plans, can end and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

On Friday I met with my doctor who I had last seen at my first pregnancy check-up.

She opened the door. “I have good news.”

This was all a bad dream, I think. You’re about to wake me up and show me a blinking light that is Peabody’s hearbeat.

“You didn’t have a molar pregnancy. It was a missed abortion as I suspected,” she said.

She assured me that I did nothing wrong, that it was just one of those shitty things. “I don’t think that the genetic tests will show anything wrong either.”

They don’t. Mr. Crud spoke with Sara, our genetic counselor, yesterday. They found nothing. Just one of those shitty, shitty things.

When we first got the news about the nonviable fetus, one of my first thoughts was Here we go, here’s where our luck runs out. In a way I’m right. Up to 1 in 4 acknowledged pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is what bad luck at the cellular level looks like. We get to be the 1. I hope the other 3 appreciate our sacrifice.

On the walk home from my doctor’s office I realized that I hadn’t been prepared for bad news. It’s like with the pregnancy. Assume the best and deal with the heartbreak later. This is not such a bad philosophy. Life is totally out of our control. That proverbial bus lingers at every corner, ready to strike. If I get pregnant again—which my doctor says I can try to do after a few months—what exactly will Mr. Crud and I gain by feeling terrified that something is wrong from the get go? Will it be any less devastating to miscarry if I decide not to rub my belly, imagine my child, or whisper sweet nothings to it?

I feel another kind of guilt for not knowing when my baby died. You think you’re so in touch with your body, but you carried around a dead embryo for weeks, I chastise myself. You didn’t have a clue. And I didn’t. I believed that the lifting of my pregnancy symptoms was merely an early leap into the second trimester. I never considered that maybe it meant I was about to miscarry, that Peabody, still the size of a pea, had stopped growing.

My family, friends, and coworkers are amazing. Nobody likes talking about it—who wants to dwell on this weird liminal death, so hard to understand and explain—but they listen to me when I need to tell the same story again or bitch about the diaper ambiance of maxi-pads. Coworkers bring me cards, chocolate, and 2 free tickets to a play. Close friends bring us dinner and wine. Faraway friends phone and talk about the craziness of their lives to distract me from this heavy weight. My fears of people saying the wrong thing—It was meant to be; It’s better this way, and their ilk—are unfounded. Mr. Crud is lobbed a few “meant to be-s” at drum practice, but he immediately forgives his friends. They mean well. What can you say at a time like this?

I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do? Let me know if you need anything.

A good start all of them.

Please never say "it was meant to be" to anyone who has had a miscarriage. It may have some truth to it, but who wants to hear that this good thing they created was doomed from the start because G-d is an asshole who likes to fuck with people. I used to be a dedicated meant-to-be-er but after reading an O editorial about how Oprah’s beloved dog choked on a chew toy and died because G-d wanted Oprah to slow down the frantic pace of her life, I’ve undergone a conversion. Life throws us some crazy, impossible, sad, happy, amazing, hard, hard, hard stuff and we make sense of it the best that we can. What can I learn from this? What meaning can I bring? I ask myself instead of What fucked up shit is that sonofabitch G-d up to now? Mr. Crud and I were discussing how hard it is to share the news with people because it’s a bummer, people don’t know what to say, it opens us up for more sadness in addition to comfort.

“After telling everyone about my dad dying, this hasn’t been so hard,” I said.

“Ah, so your Dad died just so that it wouldn’t be so hard to tell people about your miscarriage!”

“Yes! It all finally makes sense,” I say.

“Meant to be, eh?” Mr. Crud says.

G-d did not kill Oprah’s dog so that she would go on a multimillion dollar Caribbean vacation! If you ever hear me yelling about Oprah’s dog, this is what I mean. (Man, does everything somehow trace back to Oprah? Oh crap. Is Oprah actually G-d? That would explain a lot.)

The current debate between Mr. Crud and me is over the name Peabody. Does the name go along with the pregnancy or does it endure? Before we were pregnant we spoke of Peabody, this theoretical child of ours, and how Peabody would love my pancakes, hate his/her parents for not buying a fancy cell phone, and walk around the neighborhood with us on drowsy summer nights. Does the name Peabody die along with the embryo? At first we both panicked at the thought of losing Peabody.

“That wasn’t Peabody, that was an impostor,” I said, shortly after learning the diagnosis.

Mr. Crud nodded as tears streamed down his cheek.

Then, as the truth of what happened, the loss sank in, I started to feel like keeping Peabody around would be disrespectful, would deny that this baby ever tried to exist.

“I don’t think we can keep Peabody,” I said over dinner.

“Why not?” Mr. Crud asked.

“Because I associate it with this pregnancy. This baby. I’ll think about this every time we say Peabody. There are other silly names.” I tried to reassure him when I saw his face grow red, his eyes grow shiny.

He agrees to abide by whatever decision feels right to me, but tries to convince me that we can keep Peabody and still acknowledge this first baby. He realizes that to keep Peabody we would be doing mental gymnastics. This baby was Peabody to me. I wrote about it, I thought about it, I whispered, “Good morning, Peabo.” Peabody was innocence, belief in nature and my body, belief that everything would turn out okay.

I share his pain, his sadness at the idea of saying good-bye to Peabody. “I don’t want to say good-bye because it makes me so sad,” Mr. Crud said.

I walked over and hugged him, our sobs muffled by each others shoulder.

“I have other funny names,” I said.

“Don’t. Please. It’s too soon.”

Later we talked about a ceremony to say farewell to Peabody. Mr. Crud will decorate a toy ship, the SS Peabody. We’ll both write letters to this unborn child of ours and release it at the coast. A ritual feels right. Perhaps it will help us deal with this feeling that the whole pregnancy was a dream.

But I find myself doing it again. Imagining conversations with a baby Peabody. Thinking of Peabody in the future and not the past. It does not feel like mental gymnastics. More than a hint of denial, but mostly it feels organic and right. The name I had been toying with—and assuring Mr. Crud that the next fetus would have to earn by showing us a hearbeat first—is Banjo. Equally silly, yes, and also a favorite of Mr. Crud’s tied to a Powerpuff Girls-related inside joke. Somehow Banjo doesn’t feel right. Someone is rolling their eyes—perhaps that nasty ass Puritan morning voice—and saying, “Uh, no, it’s Peabody.”

Mr. Crud and I have an appointment with a counselor who specializes in pregnancy loss in a few weeks. I imagine us going to her office, a solemn yet caring counselor atmosphere in the tastefully decorated room.

“So how are things going?” She'll ask.

“Yeah, everything is really fine. Great,” I’ll say, “except for this one thing. Can we call our next baby Peabody? It was the joke name of our first baby. We can’t decide. We just need a third opinion then I think we’ll be done here.”

We’ll spend the next hour, going over the pros and cons of Peabody-ness, only glancing at the big issues of our miscarriage experience. We’ll leave and she’ll let out a long breath, muttering, “Some people have real problems.”

At the start of this baby project, the overarching question was: To Peabody or not to Peabody? Could we be good parents? Were we ready for sleepless nights and sweatpants as couture? We realized that while we may never be ready, we were ready. A giddiness took over between my frequent bouts of nausea. We would be good parents, strict parents, parents who would make their kids hate them at times for their own good. Vegetable-pushing parents. No TV in your room parents. We began to see a new dimension in ourselves and looked forward to seeing it blossom even if it meant it would get puked on a few times in the process.

After all we’ve been through, the question remains the same—To Peabody or not to Peabody—although the underlying meaning has gathered more weight. For the moment I return to my new-old philosophy of taking things as they come, of keeping the faith that I’ll know what’s right after our next—fingers crossed—double pink line pregnancy test.

Friday, April 11, 2008

D to the Mothafuckin' C

A week ago I learned that the pregnancy I had been carrying for almost three months was not viable. The jury is still out on what happened, but nonetheless for health reasons I had to have a D and C, a.k.a. Dilation and Curettage, a procedure wherein the cervix is dilated and the uterus is scraped clean with a handy dandy tool called a curette. In my head, I keep calling it dilation and cuTTerage because I feel sliced in so many ways.

Compared with the dark emotional swamp that I find myself in after learning that I haven’t been carrying around a baby-to-be, the procedure itself is no problem. I am grateful to have it scheduled so soon after getting the news. Whatever this is inside of me, I want out. The nurses and doctors explain everything clearly: I need to take the day off work to recover but can return to normal activities in the next few days, provided I feel emotionally up to the task. There are few complications associated with the D and C, and the main one, a ruptured uterus typically heals on its own. I should expect some spotting and cramps, but most people recover quickly. I’m a hearty, healthy gal so I expect this will apply to me.

“When can I get back to yoga?” I ask, aching to begin my healing in the activity that has supported me for the last few years, helping me deal with everything from my dad’s death to post-wedding weight gain.

“Probably by Friday,” the resident says.

“You should probably wait a week for anything vigorous,” the nurse advises. “One patient ended up in the hospital after an Ultimate Frisbee game too soon afterwards.”

Both of their opinions stick in my head. I’ll split the difference and go back Monday, I decide.

Mr. Crud and I pepper them with questions.

“Can I drink wine?”

“Yes, but be careful with the Vicodin.”

“When will we have the results?”

“About a week.”

The only thing I can’t bring myself to ask is if it is okay to smoke a little weed to take the edge off. They are so poised and helpful in every way that I’m sure they would have been un-phased if I had inquired about the effects of crack cocaine on the post-D and C woman, but I hold back. I’ve been honest with all my doctors about my recreational drug use, and am tired of it now. I’m not ready for a speech about how I should deal with this grief instead of numb myself to it.

My questions answered they give me my chosen cocktail of 800 mg Ibuprofen (instead of an IV of morphine which hit me as way too operation-y) and Ativan, an anti-anxiety med. Maybe I’m not anxious enough to provide the Ativan with grounds to work because shortly after taking it I feel positively drunk. I see double. I can barely stand up to remove my pants for the procedure.

Mr. Crud opts to stay in the room at my request even after the nurse warns him that he might be traumatized by seeing me in pain.

I catch my breath at that. I thought you said this was no big deal. The term “uncomfortable” was used, but I never heard “painful.”

As I saddle up, my feet in stirrups and covered with a sheet like a routine trip for a pap smear, doctors filter into the room, assembling instruments and dimming the lights.

“You want silence or distraction?” The nurse asks as expectation reaches a crescendo.

“Distraction.”

Mr. Crud squeezes my hand as I chat with her about my blue boots, my novel, and the difficult world of publishing. She perfectly interweaves questions about writing with warnings of “This will hurt” and other advisories to brace myself. There are some painful moments of cold and wrenching cramps, but the Ativan has erased many of those memories. Mainly I remember feeling frustrated that in my altered state, I wasn’t sounding very smart about writing. When the nurse talks about her interest in penning a book, my answer is a slurred, “You should totally do it. Just start writing. Just do it.” Ugh.

At one point the doctor pops up, “You wrote a novel? Cool.”

While I am happy to soak up people’s impressed reactions when they hear I wrote a novel, my first response is “Do you know how many shitty novels there are in the world? How do you know mine isn’t slush material?” This isn’t my response while splayed out on the table. Just gratitude. The doctor with the cute green glasses is talking to me. It is over.

The Ativan keeps me whacked out most of the day. I sleep, I cry, I watch old episodes of Ugly Betty (my new favorite TV show in the world), and limp to the bathroom to change maxi-pads. A note on maxi-pads. I haven’t worn these suckers since I was thirteen and terrified of tampons. Maxi-pads also mean underwear, something I haven’t worn since I was a junior in college. (Not for sexy reasons, I just hate a pantyline and the feel of elastic cutting my hips and thighs.) Mr. Crud goes above and beyond the call of husbandly duty. Alone he picks out maxi-pads and pantyliners for me. We are both clueless as to what to get.

“Do you want super or regular?” He asks from his cell phone while perusing the feminine hygiene aisle.

“Super.”

“Stay free?”

“Perfect.”

“How about Always pantyliners?”

“Sure.”

“Large?”

“Wow! They have sizes.”

“Yeah.”

“Always Stay Free, dude.”

Even though I can’t wait to get back to tampons, a kudos to the maxi-pad makers of America. The technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Maybe it’s all that blue liquid they pore over the pads. Magic has come in stranger forms.

I lay off the exercise, the nurse’s Ultimate Frisbee cautionary tale fresh in my mind, for a few days and am pleased when the bleeding seems to fall on the spotting side of the spectrum. The cramping is handleable and the prescribed Vicodin remains sealed in the bottle.

Then Saturday. Pot time. I haven’t smoked pot since February 8, the night before I learned I was pregnant. I am a bit nervous to jump back into a drug I had smoked practically every night for many years, but Mr. Crud reminds me that, well, I had smoked it practically every night for over ten years. (Hmmm…should that depress me?) It is more fun than I remember, likely because it had become such a habit over the years that I had grown deadened to the fun of it. Then the munchies hit. Oh yeah, that’s why I put on a few pounds. I tear into homemade strawberry shortcake, then another strawberry-less shortcake, chips, nuts, and some little treats the waitress from Pambiche gave us to entice us to try their weekend brunch. (Consider us enticed.) It was the most bountiful snack session I’d had in months.

The cramps hit shortly after the night’s viewing of Human Giant. I pop some ibuprofen but relief remains elusive. The cramps intensify and I head straight into a panic attack.

“What if I’m hemorrhaging?" I ask.

“You’re okay. Are your symptoms listed on that sheet?”

“No.”

“Then you’re fine.”

Gently, ever so gently, Mr. Crud suggests that I might be a bit paranoid from the combination of the weed and the heartbreaking events of the last few days. He suggests I take a Xanax, my go-to in times of panic.

As is my usual response to common sense, I refuse. “I need to stay alert.” This is the same logic I employed while refusing anti-anxiety meds while traveling by air even during a period when air travel sent me into hives and freak-outs.

A note on my sudden leaps into death terrors. These aren’t exactly common but they happen every few years and are ridiculous and terrifying in equal measure. A former favorite death terror seed was Toxic Shock Syndrome. If I feel even the slightest bit off-balance during my period, which is a time made for off-balance feelings like crushing cramps, headaches, and emotional swings, I spiral into death fear territory. I imagine my picture beneath the heading "The Silent Killer." Oh my G-d! It’s finally happening!! All those warning inserts in tampon boxes and it’s finally happening! I choose to suffer in silence, my heart racing and stomach churning, because, you know, it probably ISN’T happening. A conversation with my friend Rusty during one of these panics pretty much sums is up.

“I think I’m dying,” I say passing Rusty in the hall of the bike messenger company where we both worked.

“What?” His normal laid-back timbre rose a few notches.

“Toxic Shock Syndrome. Ever hear of it? It’s a period thing,” I say.

“Maybe you should like go home or something.”

I shrink back in horror. “What? Do I look messed up?”

He shrugs. “If you’re worried about it, go home or to a doctor or something.”

“Nah, I’m fine. I’m fine.”

“I thought you said you were dying.”

“Oh, probably not.”

Rusty walks away confused. I walk away feeling like an idiot. And I later go home and pen the lyrics:

Toxic shock syndrome
Making my day hell
Cramps, diarrhea and a fever,
Bloody tampons as well
.

And you wonder why I’m not a poet.

A similar death terror strikes Saturday while I’m in the throes of high-dom. The cramps are pretty intense.

“I may have eaten too much,” I said.

“Yeah, maybe. Just calm down.”

As I grow teary-eyed imagining Mr. Crud having to get through the death of both his much anticipated progeny and his wife, I feel something shift in my abdomen. Kind of an internal moan. Phrrrrrrrap!

The pressure is halved. The cramps remain but they fade from unbearable to normal.

Mr. Crud and I laugh hard and long. Oops. Just a little gas, not life-threatening hemorrhaging. I decide to give the weed a break until I’m feeling more up-to-snuff.

Monday I return to yoga. My teacher didn’t get my email. I tell my story again. The anticipation of telling what happened, of shaping it in my head is proving to be more stressful than the actual telling. She hugs me. I cry a little and then head to the locker room to maxi-pad up.

I am cautious at first, nervous to jostle myself too much but soon find the yoga humming through my body, returning me to a place of safety and strength. Practice feels wonderful even with my arms going weak on the final chaturangas. After practice, I check my pad with trepidation, but it looks pretty normal. A few smudges here and there but nothing to call the ER about.

Throughout the day of pretending that I was out sick due to a cold I picked up over spring break, I check the pad and find the bleeding to have picked up a bit. They said this might happen. I’m a little pissed that I am not in the portion of D and C ladies who stop bleeding within days. I remember a phrase that the initial doctor who told me about my unviable pregnancy said during the ultrasound. “Vascular tissue. Lots of vascular tissue.” In fact that is the reason I had the procedure in the first place. The doctors feared that miscarrying on my own could cause me to bleed to death. I try to keep that in mind as the blood flow increases.

Tuesday, post yoga, I feel like my body has gone Amityville Horror on me. I bleed through a pad on the bike ride from the studio to campus, a 15-minute ride at most. I calm myself with breathing, remembering that the nurse said activity would make the bleeding increase. As the day goes on, it gets worse. Every trip to the bathroom is thick with trepidation. What will come out now? A torrent of clots? Blood? A thick jelly-like black-red goo that plops on the floor when I squat down? Sweet Jesus.

I keep it together as best I can. I memorize the post-D and C warning signs: soaking more than 2 pads in an hour for 2 consecutive hours. It becomes a sort of mantra. During lunch I walk to the mall to return hair mousse and fingernail polish at Trade Secret. As I fill out the return slip, my vision blurs on the address line. My heart races. Oh shit. This is how it happens. I die in the middle of returning Catwalk Ultrahold Mousse to the snippy Trade Secret lady who looks down her nose at me every time I step in the store to “just look.” I feel woozy.

“I’m sorry. I have to call my husband,” I say, pushing the half-filled out return slip back to her.

I dial him up on my cell phone. She points at the blank driver’s license line on the sheet. I dig in my purse and toss my license at her to fill it out. Even as I’m doing it, I can’t believe I’m behaving this way. The image of me splayed out on the Trade Secret floor keeps flashing through my mind. Would the Gap have been better?

“Hon?” Mr. Crud sounds scared.

“I think I’m going to pass out,” I say. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

He calms me down, urges me to find a seat. The Trade Secret lady refunds my money and pushes the return slip and receipt back to me. Guess I won’t be “just looking” in there again anytime soon. After shoving half a granola bar down my throat, I feel calmer.

“Should I come get you?”

“No, I can make it.” Plus waiting on a bench at the mall for twenty minutes sounds unbearable. I am surrounded by women tugging children by the hand. Pregnant women are everywhere, especially since the Mimi Maternity store I had been eyeing a few weeks ago is a few stores away.

After two more maxi pad bloodbaths and way too many internet searches for “D and C”, I call the nurse at the clinic and spill my symptoms along with pent up fear tears.

“Everything you are saying is within the realm of what’s normal,” she says in a charming accent. She offers to make an appointment, but mainly I just needed reassurance. Enter cramps from hell.

I take 2 ibuprofen. Then 2 more. I get as much work done as possible while keeping myself from puking from the pain. Here we go. I think of the D and C sheet: Cramps that don’t improve after taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen. I suck it up for another 30 minutes until Mr. Crud calls my office with a dinner question.

“Can you come get me? Now?” I ask in a shaky voice.

A flood of tears and some bed rest later, I am feeling much improved. The bleeding slows. I wonder if I’ll have some sort of post-traumatic trigger at the smell of Stay Free pads then realize there will be so many post-traumatic triggers to choose from: the streetcar which we took to the appointment of doom; periods; the black corduroy pants I wore to the appointment.

Today I opt to walk to work instead of yoga to see if there is a difference in the bleeding. I needed a day off from the slaughter in my pants. Walking from the locker room to my office I encounter, for the second day in a row, the Genocide Awareness Project, a group that travels from college campus to college campus displaying huge pictures of holocaust victims and aborted fetuses. For the second day in a row, I avert my eyes. How I wish I could save up all the maxi-pads and toilet bowls full of blood to spill all over their signs, challenge one of the glum-faced projecteers to a duel by slapping them in the face with a soaked pad. I know it’s not very free speech of me, but this shit is disgusting and inhuman. In the past, these images have angered me for obvious reasons: abortion and the holocaust are not the same thing; the images do nothing to further the abortion debate and upset women, one of whom is now me, who have had abortions. Now I’ve found a new layer: violation. I feel violated for the women who had abortions and trusted that the contents of their uteruses would be disposed of with dignity. Confrontation is what these assholes live for so I walk by, staring at the ground, not even allowing myself a glimpse of their horror.

It’s been a week since my D and C. One of the longest and most tumultuous weeks of my life. Today I decide to email my coworkers and tell them that my absence was not due to a cold, as reported by my boss, but rather that I had a miscarriage of sorts. Keeping it a secret was making me feel like I had something to be ashamed of, something to hide. Sadly my experience is not even close to unique. As many as 1 in 4 acknowledged pregnancies end in miscarriage. It’s just not something that people talk about because it is scary and sad and pregnant women have enough to worry about.

There is a light in this tunnel though. My friends and family are awesome and supportive. Mr. Crud is amazing. (He is going beyond the call of duty in every way. I suspect he might be angling for some good Hanukkah presents. Done and done.)
The blood seems to be slowing today. I don’t know when I’ll return to normal or what normal will feel like or if there is such a thing as normal.

In the past I have rolled my eyes at people using writing as therapy in a public venue—-therapeutic private scribbling is a-okay with me—-but I’m hoping this post transcends helping me get this out of my system and can bring this subject into the open. (I am sparing you the bad poem I wrote Sunday which popped out after I inadvertently listened to a few minutes of Prairie Home Companion. You’re welcome.) The stories of others have helped immensely. I now add my voice to the chorus.

The Long Awaited Project

My last few posts have mentioned a cryptic project that I promised to unveil in a few weeks. That project was “The Peabody Project Chronicles,” a blog about my pregnancy: 40-plus pages of excitement, fear, raised eyebrows at the pregnancy industrial complex, and hope, a whole lotta hope. For the time being, I am tucking away this memento of my innocence. I suspect it will see the light of day at some point. Maybe after the sting has faded. Then again, who wants to read a story that you know will have the unhappiest of endings.