36 days, and I am still bleeding. I have never had such an intimate relationship with my own blood. Its various forms, colors, volumes, consistencies. I have seen every shade of red. For 24 years now, I have bled every 21-29 days. But nothing could prepare me for this. The amount. The endlessness of it. And the river of pain that carried it all out.
How do you write about something bigger than yourself? How do you write about an earthquake, the tectonic plates, the earth's liquid core full of fire? I was a volcano erupting. How do you describe pain without having to feel it again? I want to write about it but it hurts. The pain was an endless sea of burning hot sand stretching on for days on end. Everywhere I stepped, the heat. No relief. I am stripped bare from feeling parts of my body that can scream. A bone shaking scream, drowning everything else out. That night, I was reduced to the sound of my screaming.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. 12 weeks pregnant. I had 28 weeks to go. I was just starting to comprehend what it all meant. That I was surrendering to not knowing what it would all mean. I wrote this in my journal at 5 weeks, shortly after I took the pregnancy test:
So I'm pregnant, or so the 2 pink lines say I am. So do my swollen breasts, and my tender moods. So does the absence of blood between my thighs, and this steady nausea. I am pregnant. 5 weeks today. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean I feel so many things. And I also don't feel about it. Still slightly disconnected from the full weight of this truth. I imagine that it must just slowly spread over you, instead of one giant wash, so as not to drown in the volume of this new reality— too much to fathom all at once. To contain inside you something bigger than you— life, and conversely, death too— the mystery. To transition into becoming a gatekeeper. To be compelled to question everything now that nothing will ever be the same. It's not just you anymore. It'll never be again. No matter what becomes of this child, they will always live inside you, in the memory of your heart— containing a heartbeat. A heartbeat so close that wasn't your own and yet lived inside.
"No matter what becomes of this child." Reading that now, now that I am no longer pregnant, I am struck by my words almost spoken as a premonition. I understand. I think I was protecting myself. This is not the first time I have been pregnant. I have been pregnant 3 times. I have no children. The arithmetic of a broken heart. I wanted to be happy, to be excited about this pregnancy. It's what I've wanted for so long. But I know I was scared to trust it. I was scared to lose again. I don't remember writing this journal entry, I'm sure I was in a daze. A daze that remains. Only 5 weeks in, trying to wrap my brain around a new universe. The 7 weeks that followed are heavy with smoke. I see them through a haze. It hurts to remember. But I don't have a choice. My mind constantly finds its way to those days despite my better efforts.
As I'm writing this, a woman has just sat down next to me with her infant. It seems the world is now bursting with pregnant women and babies. I try not to take it personally. In a large room full of empty chairs, this woman sat next to me. She doesn't know what her miracle does to me. She isn't thinking of me or what I've been through. She is just trying to comfort her baby as he's crying. His tiny fingers are poking up out of the stroller playing an invisible piano. I am fighting tears watching his dancing hands. The night my miscarriage began, my fingernails dug holes into my palms. They too played an invisible piano while I wailed a song of lament, this isn't what I wanted.
I didn't know my body could feel such pain. I didn't know losing a child too soon could feel so violent. 6 years ago I had a miscarriage at 6 weeks and it came as a relief. 1 year after that, I had an abortion at 8 weeks. I am still actively healing from that wound. I made that impossible decision because I didn't feel I had another one to make. I didn't know that the emptiness I felt when I woke from the anesthesia would remain. I still feel it. Decisions like that, you can never know the anguish until you stand at that gate. Don't judge me, hug me. And then this time, this time was different. This is what I had been hoping for with all of my heart. And I believed my partner when he told me it was what he wanted too. So I was preparing myself to mother this child for the remainder of my days. I was rearranging the furniture in my chest. I was dusting off neglected shelves. I was drawing back the curtains to open windows I had locked tight.
I am telling you this because I wish someone would have told me. I am telling you this to put a human face on a vast and shared experience that all too often is buried in fear and shame or simply the discomfort of pushing past the sense that, "This is just not something you talk about". This is something we need to talk about. I hope more women can share their experience. I hope more men can share their experience too. I hope more people can understand how many (so many) women have walked this painful path. The journey to creating life is long and winding. Death is just part of creating life. It is not a failure. I repeat, it is not a failure. It is an agreement we make when we step out into this unknown territory. When we decide to open this portal. To let life come through us. Silently we understand, often without even knowing we do, that holding the potential of life means holding the potential of death too.
Through all of this, I am amazed by the human body. The female body specifically. Everything this anatomy is capable of and what it can endure. I was on all fours, making low moaning animal sounds, afraid my frame wouldn't be able to stand one more minute of the pain. And yet, it held together. I remained. At one point, exhausted from wrestling with the war that was waging inside, I realized my body was able to hold it all and to hold me in the process. I belong in here. I belong in me. I am where I am meant to be. Pain can teach us so much if we are willing to feel it.
How to get comfortable with discomfort. How to sit and not numb or hide or escape the pain. How to feel the pain instead—get to know its perimeters. Its shape. The waves it makes. How to get better at feeling bad. Who decided we should only hope to feel happy? Isn't every feeling worth feeling? What about just tending to the vessel, polishing your capacity for holding it all? What about not rushing to feel something different. Letting what you feel be ok too. The energy I spend judging what I'm feeling or hoping to feel otherwise is energy that could be used for accepting what I feel. Freeing up my ability to move through the feeling with presence and grace, Readying myself to feel something new in due time.
I am telling myself that that is what this is all about. Practice. e x p a n s i o n. Creating more space between what I experience and what I think I know. Sitting in the mystery that surrounds us despite our desperate attempts to come up with concrete answers to contain the sky. We don't know. These past few months have been a crash course in exactly how much I don't know. Apparently I thought I knew a lot, because I have really been given one holy dose of, Actually, you don't know shit. Thank you life for reminding me. Thank you life for giving me the opportunity to practice all the unpleasantries that make me better at living life as it actually is and not simply as I wish it would be. Thank you for taking me one plank closer to bridging that gap.
Life is not here to give me what I want. Life is here to show me who I am. What I am capable of. I have to be patient with that process so as not to be miserable for the duration of my days. Sometimes I cry for myself. For all the wantings and have-nots that are crowding my mind with their pointy little elbows. And sometimes I smile, a big fat face changing sort of smile, thinking of what I do have, mostly in the form of family, friendship, love and support. Wow. Just wow. So much love and support. So much compassion. So much patience. So much empathy, generosity, and humor. I am rich in human kindness. And in this world full of hurt, I know my pain is small. But I believe that what is true in small scale so too can be true at large. Humans do not want to see each other suffering. Humans want to help heal these wounds. When life falls apart, it can be an opportunity for seeing how many people you're surrounded with who want to help you build it back up. Better and stronger not in spite of, but because of the break down.