Making Room For New Things
Dana’s story gives voice to molar pregnancy and the complex emotions women experience around grief and navigating conversations around pregnancy loss.
I had just gotten through the “un-telling” of our family about the pregnancy. I could not imagine piling on news that it was a molar pregnancy, no baby, and a lump of malignant cells.
“So, when are you having another?”
Before the ink dried on the signature line of my new business account, the bank branch manager, a tall-blonde Polish woman with a collection of tiny pyramid awards covering her desk, had taken an exciting moment of entrepreneurship and turned it into one latent in deep emotional turmoil.
“It would be great if he could have a brother close in age!”
Did I mention that I loathe “small talk?” A thousand words lingered on the tip of my tongue, all just out of reach. She had no idea of my history, or how these seemingly harmless quips could shatter.
“You know, women like us aren’t getting any younger!”
My body was transported back in time. There I was sitting in my OBGYN’s office again.
My feet dangle off the side of the patient exam bed. I kicked them nervously as the paper underneath me crinkled.
Awkwardly, I tried to maintain some sense of dignity in a pale-blue paper gown. I pulled up my mix-matched socks to hide my unshaven legs. Finally, I crossed and uncrossed my legs, reaching the conclusion that it is impossible to present as “casual” in one of these things.
Just then, the doctor came in and slouched into his chair as though he was settling in for the duration. I got the vibe that this news was going to be that which he would later tell his colleagues was, “hard for him to deliver.” I almost felt bad for him. He shut the door and cleared his throat.
As he slid up closer, I heard his words, but it was as though he was talking to someone else, “We sent your bloodwork to the Mayo Clinic.” He paused as if that said it all, as though I could fill in the blanks, and I felt sick.
Time does seem to warp in those moments and everything was muffled.
His mouth kept moving. His body language and extensive notes indicated this was not going to be the routine visit I had thought it to be.
“What? No! I was supposed to be getting the ‘all clear’ today after my miscarriage, my second miscarriage in eight months. Also, I don’t know if you know how this works, but I cannot be getting more bad news. I am here alone.”
I had this idea that since in the movies there is always a husband and wife clenched together hearing the doctor rattle off some life-changing information that unless my husband was there, they wouldn’t dare.
Why was I alone at the appointment?
Well, this was just a formality. This was supposed to be one of those appointments you make because they tell you to follow-up in two weeks with your doctor, just so they can squeeze an extra visit out of your insurance, kind of appointment.
“I’m going to hear some good news today. We need some good news today. . . ”
A voice broke through,“Dana, did you hear me? Preliminary tests show this was likely a molar pregnancy. Though the D & C went well, sometimes in rare cases, cells can travel in the blood and begin to multiply . . . it could be cancer . . . could go anywhere: heart, lungs, brain. . .”
Realizing the enormity of what he just dropped before me, he stopped, handed me a tissue, and emphasized it was not for sure, but we needed to monitor the situation closely.
My body felt foreign to me. It was as though it were an imposter. I looked down as if I were going to be able to “see” where in me may be harboring these malignant cells.
I was given a brochure, and the nurse came in to schedule my lab work. The doctor patted me on the back as if I nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer. My prize? I was put on a schedule to monitor my hormone levels and have blood drawn every two weeks for six months. No crowd, no cheers, just a long walk through the corridor where a few nurses diverted their eyes as I passed. The air was heavy, and no one knew what to say.
Tears welled up when I hoisted myself into the phlebotomist chair on that first blood draw day.
We both knew why I was there. We did what any two emotionally adjusted adults would do with a giant elephant in the room: we shared only weather commentary and traffic updates. We were two women getting their nails done, or strangers stuck in an elevator together.
Sarah and I never acknowledged the purpose of my visit, but I felt understood and respected.
Week two, I noticed something was different in her workspace. There was a blank space where an advertisement once hung that offered a heartbeat recording from your ultrasound in a teddy bear keepsake. I saw it in her trash. She saw that I noticed it.
“Sometimes we need to make room for new things.”
My eyes said, “thank you.” She nodded and asked if rain was in the forecast.
By week three, I felt like Norm from Cheers, I entered the doctor’s office waving to familiar faces, asking if so-and-so was on vacation or out to lunch, and taking “my seat” in “old blue” Sarah’s chair.
About five weeks into the monitoring procedure, my husband asked if I wanted to share what was going on with our families.
I did not.
I did not want to talk about the miscarriage again, and how it led to this “wait and see” terrible situation. After all, I had just gotten through the “un-telling” of our family about the pregnancy. I could not imagine piling on news that it was a molar pregnancy, no baby, and a lump of malignant cells.
If only I had a dime for every, “well, at least it was early” or “it’s a good thing actually, because something was wrong with the baby.” What would they say now, knowing it was not a baby at all?
As it were, I felt selfish to grieve the miscarriage because it “being for the best” left my emotions no room to exist. Hearing there was no baby and that I may have cancer, well, I was just about out of space and room for more condolences.
“How would you like your checks to look? We have embossed logos!”
On the desk before me, the perky branch manager had laid out my check and bank book options. I selected the standard option. I did not want to follow-up or come back to pick-up a special order. I thanked her for her time, and packed up my things like a high school student that just heard the bell.
I have replayed that day at the bank many times. There was a part of me that wanted to hand it to her for being presumptuous, “old-fashioned,” and a boundary-jumper! I wish I could say I said something feminist, something big and powerful and beautiful with all the bells and whistles — full of sound and fury – but I did not.
My only response then when people asked about if I were to try again for another child, was one I imagine most of us carrying the pain of miscarriages and infertility say: “we will see.” All the while concealing our pain, an invisible pain only we know, as we prayed for no further questions.
The healing from that loss was tremendous and vast, and it plunged me to depths where I felt sunk like an anchor unable to come up for air. Focusing on starting my practice gave me strength to heal. It felt silly in some way to grieve a baby that never was, but I learned you could grieve the loss of aspirations, ideas, and longed for children.
Motherhood is not reserved only for those fortunate enough to have held babies in their arms.
Motherhood is holding a baby in your heart.