A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh. – Leonard Cohen
I wanted another baby.
It’s strange to be saying that out loud, because for a long time not even my own mother knew that I wanted a third child. A couple of my friends knew, but when we discussed it I never used the word “trying.” I danced around the subject. Oh, you know, we’ll see what happens.
I kept the fact that I wanted another baby to myself for two reasons: one, because I’m superstitious, and have always secretly believed that if you admit you really want something (like a job offer, or a good grade on a test), you’re putting in a direct request with the gods to shut it down, and two, because I already have two (healthy, wonderful, et cetera et cetera) kids – a boy and a girl – and wanting another seemed selfish. If I got pregnant by accident, then sure, but the fact that my husband and I were trying for a third (or at least trying to the extent that married parents of multiple co-sleeping children can, which is more like “trying,” in air quotes) wasn’t something I was eager to broadcast. Even to myself.
But I wanted another baby. I did. For six months, I tracked my ovulation and cornered my husband at least once during what I figured was an appropriate time. For six months I peed on sticks and saw single lines and felt sad, but also felt like, you know: next month, maybe.
I’ve talked about what happened when I did actually get pregnant to some extent, with the first ER visit and then the second and then the rush into emergency surgery to take out the part of my body that had to go if I was going to stay. It’s tricky to get more specific, because the details range from unpleasant and gory to medical and boring. At the most basic level, they require me to talk about things like periods and bleeding and sex, and even though I’m a grown woman I still feel shy when I talk about my bodily functions, because those are the kinds of things you keep to yourself.
…Which means that miscarriages – and ectopic pregnancies – are, too.
Which is the problem.
My ectopic pregnancy almost killed me, and I think a significant part of the reason that I’m still here is that I had someone to talk to about what was happening to my body; someone who listened. Walking home from preschool drop-off one day, I told my friend Erin that I was cramping and bleeding – a lot – and that it didn’t make sense because it was in the middle of my cycle. It couldn’t be implantation bleeding, I said, because it was too heavy, and also because I couldn’t be pregnant – I’d been traveling, and hadn’t had intercourse since my last period.
Erin listened to me complaining, and then told me I needed to take a pregnancy test. I laughed and told her that made no sense, but she wouldn’t drop the issue. Then, when the test she made me take showed that I was, indeed – impossibly – pregnant, Erin dropped everything she was doing and drove me to the hospital, because she knew what I didn’t.
What I know now: I’d been pregnant for six weeks, and my cycle had continued as if I wasn’t because the embryo was located not in my uterus, but in my fallopian tube. My bleeding and pain? It was the embryo looking for space to grow in a place where it couldn’t.
The first time I went to the ER, they gave me a pregnancy test, cheerily confirmed that I was pregnant, did an ultrasound that showed nothing, and said that was probably because it was too early. I explained that the facts, taken together, seemed to me to mean that I couldn’t be pregnant. I said that I thought it might be an ectopic pregnancy. I said that there was no way this was normal. I said that I’d been pregnant twice before, and that nothing about this time was right. They sent me home.
For that little window of time I let myself be excited, even though I knew there was nothing to be excited about, and that letting myself imagine there might be would only make it worse. I named him, or her. I want to tell you those names. But I can’t, because it hurts.
An hour later, I rang my neighbor Alisa’s doorbell, and asked her to watch my kids because I thought I might have to go back to the hospital. Then I collapsed right there where I stood, on her doorstep, and stayed there in a ball on the ground until my Uber arrived a few minutes later. The pain on my right side – right where my fallopian tube was located; right where they say an ectopic pregnancy shows its face – was like nothing I’d ever experienced, apart from childbirth. I curled up alone in the backseat of my Uber and screamed all the way to the hospital, so loudly that I scared the driver half to death (in addition to terrifying Erin, who I’d accidentally butt-dialed and who was now listening to her friend crying as if she was being ripped in half).
At the hospital, they took a blood test and told me I was having a miscarriage. I explained again that I couldn’t have been pregnant in the first place; at least not with a healthy pregnancy. I got on all fours because it was the only position I could bear, and screamed help me over and over. I begged for medication, and I could tell they thought I just wanted drugs. I waited. I told the doctor who finally came that I was having an ectopic pregnancy. She tested me for appendicitis. She told me it might be kidney stones. She gave me a prescription for painkillers, and sent me home.
Over the next three days my stomach grew and grew, swelling until I appeared four months pregnant, at least. Finally my OB, who’d been checking in with me over the weekend, called me in for another ultrasound. I was in emergency surgery within the hour. I woke up to discover that my right fallopian tube had been taken out, along with 7cm of what was determined to be embryonic tissue, and that my left fallopian tube had been found to be heavily scarred (likely due to a previously undiagnosed bout with endometriosis).
What all this means: I probably cannot have another child. We can try – it’s not impossible – but we did that. We tried. And now maybe something, somewhere is telling us that it’s okay to live here, in this life we’ve made.
Maybe we are enough, just as we are.
I’m writing this because I didn’t know that any of this could happen, and now I do. You can get your period, and still be pregnant. You can go to a hospital with clear signs of an ectopic pregnancy, and be sent home with a handful of Vicodin. Your innermost body parts can break into pieces, and people can look the other way and pretend that you’re whole.
So what to take from this?
You advocate for yourself. You ask questions. You seek out other opinions. And most of all, you trust your body when it’s telling you something is not right. I was lucky to have a friend like Erin, but my chances of survival shouldn’t have depended on her.
I’m also writing this because I want to say goodbye to a part of myself. I’m ok, you know. I’m not depressed. I’m not in mourning. I don’t think of what I lost as a “baby” – we’re talking about totally unsustainable embryonic tissue, not a human child. Not my child. But still.
For a moment there, there was a tiny light inside me, even though I didn’t know it, and I want to remember that it was real. That it happened. So when I went to LA last weekend to see Francesca, I decided to get a tattoo at the spot where my tube had been removed – but I didn’t want to cover it. Having my scar disappear was not the point.
I circled my scar with a heart that I drew myself, so I will always remember what could have been, and also that it’s okay to let it go. I cried the whole time I was laying there on the tattoo artist’s table – the first time, I think, that I’ve cried, really cried, since this happened.
When the artist – Mike, that was his name – finished, I was embarrassed for having cried in a tattoo parlor, surrounded by people just trying to have a little fun. “Sorry,” I told him. “I’m so sorry.” Mike put down his needle, looked me in the eye, and said something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
“Be less sorry,” he told me. Like it was an order.
I got up and crossed the room to Francesca. I held onto her, crying for a minute more. When I was done, I showed her my tattoo, and we laughed at our silly selves, getting inked on a Saturday afternoon.
Then we headed off in search of eggs and bacon, and the day went on, as it does.