'This is the worst day ever.' 'This is the worst day of my life.' 'That is the worst.' It is not hyperbole to say that most, if not all of us, have said these kinds of phrases. I am pretty sure that I mutter, 'This is the worst.' whenever I am in a hurry and the copy machine won't work. Car trouble, late for work, kids screaming, dinner burned, angry parent phone call, bad lesson plan, no work out time, kid won't sleep...
'This is the worst day ever.'
I have claimed many 'worst days ever' as I struggle through life's normal little challenges. But if I am honest I know I have had one worst day ever and I can pinpoint it exactly. And truly, though there have been tough times since, nothing has come close.
It was the fall of 1997. Child #1 turned 1. My dear step father, whom I was raised to call 'Big Jack,' but was in every way a father to me, was in hospice care at the farm and he was dying of cancer. Late October arrived and well, my period didn't. Sure enough soon came the nausea, though not nearly like I had with #1. For some reason Thomas and I didn't share the news with anyone. A week or so into November we told my mother. There was quiet celebrating, but again, we kept the news within the 3 of us.
My mother had turned the small den into a hospital room. It was a central location, handy for my mother and hospice personnel and also allowed my step father to hear the chatter and functions of the family. While most of the time he slept, I know that being near us all was what he wanted. We all took turns sitting in the room with him. We read, prayed, did our school work or talked. Though this wonderful man spent his entire adult life caring for pregnant women, I never told him about my pregnancy. I guess I never really felt he was up to processing that information. It is a regret I carry with me.
Early on the morning of November 19th I descended the steps and found the light in the den was on already. I was usually the first one up. Then I remembered that my youngest brother had early basketball practice at 6a.m. So he was up and out by 5:30. I found mom bedside and crying. My step father's breathing was very slow with long pauses between breathes. He was very still though his eyes did open to look at my mom. They had been praying together. My mom and I wrapped up together our arms around each other, our hands around his. I kissed him and told him I loved him and said goodbye. My mother whispered to me to please go get Kelly.
It took forever to cover the 6 miles to Fort Calhoun. I walked to the gym and stood quietly in the doorway. Kelly looked up and saw me and walked directly to the locker room. We held hands as we ran back to the car. Kelly cried quietly. He had gone to the den to hug mom and say good bye to his dad before practice, but he didn't know it was the real good bye.
Kelly ran to the den as soon as I got the car parked. I left him and my mother alone. Stephen and Guy had been called and they would be home soon. But Dad was already gone.
It was about this time my cramps started. By late morning the cramps were pretty painful and I was scared. There was so much going on in the house and so much to do that I felt very overwhelmed. The big sister in me needed to take charge, but physically I wasn't able. I gathered my brothers and with the help of my mom and husband explained that I was pregnant but cramping and needed to stay quiet as much as I could.
The next morning arrived and I was worse. The house felt heavy with loss and awkwardness as we tried to plan and forecast for the next few days. What would dad want? What had he already specified? What time was the mortuary appointment? Things no one considers normal conversation. While dressing for the mortuary appointment I started to bleed. I found my mom crying in her bedroom and added to her woes. She was able to pull herself together enough to give me advice, make the call to the Dr. and send Thomas and I on our way.
A pregnancy test at the Dr. office confirmed that I was pregnant. Nothing else looked good. I was cramping, spotting heavily and my blood pressure was way too high for me. They loaded me with all the preventative meds they could and sent me home to keep my feet up. I missed all the planning and preparing work being done for the funeral.
We returned to a house full of step brothers and sisters in law and distant relatives. Weird casseroles on the table. Mary Beth entertaining them all, but heartbreakingly searching for Grampy. I went straight to bed. Within an hour the cramps worsened, then grew unbearable. The bleeding started in earnest and I found myself on the bathroom floor praying for it to stop. I could hear the commotion on the floor below. My heartbroken mother playing hostess. I should have been doing this work for her.
There is no way to write about the next steps of the process that isn't somewhat disturbing and intimately personal. However, I feel compelled to share it, because it MUST be a common moment to women who have suffered similar events. So here I go.
I remember a horrendous cramp and it felt for all the world like labor. I was alone and so scared and I remember being so very cold. I climbed on to the toilet because I could feel fluid, blood I was sure, and the toilet seemed the natural place. There was an intense pain that doubled me over and enormous pressure pulsed through my mid section. And then it was gone. I fell to the floor I know that. I also know that I did 2 things in rapid succession. The first was to look back at the toilet to see a small mass there. Nothing more than a golf ball sized round of tissue. Nothing to indicate life or humanity, though I know that is exactly what it was. The second thing is still a mystery to me, one that humbles me and fills me with shame and regret. With what must have been shock and probably reflex, I reached up and flushed the toilet.
By then Thomas had heard my collapse and run upstairs to find me. I told him and we cried together. Then I panicked. I remember saying over and over, 'I flushed the baby.' Thomas did his best to quiet me. The Dr. was called. Meds given. Again, with my mother's help, I was put to bed and to sleep.
The next days were trials of emotional and physical strength. The rosary, funeral, luncheon. The endless cards, flowers, family, friends parading in and out of the house, church, mortuary to share their love and prayers. And only a few knew what I was carrying in my heart. The man that would have been there to counsel and guide me through this natural, but heartbreaking event, was gone.
These days deserve to be called the worst. These days are a fogged mess as I try to look back at them and writing about it, while difficult, really is therapeutic.
But you don't have to bury a family member and have a miscarriage to make a miscarriage horrible.
It is horrible all on its own. There are things that people say: something must not have been right, it wasn't meant to be, you can try again, you are lucky you were only a few weeks along.
When you have gone through this, all these things are stupid. They make you angry.
And if you know that infertility is a word you are fighting, then that miscarriage represents what you thought was a miraculous success. You know how thoroughly your hopes have been dashed. You feel that while yes, you can try again, you won't be pregnant with THAT baby again. That baby is gone. And you know that seems immature and you know the physiological things that the Drs. tell you are logical and true. But hearts don't heal on logic.
Even as I write this I know some will finish it and think, 'Yes but...' because the rest of my story is happy. By January of 1998 I was pregnant with #2 and she arrived healthy and happy. Two biological daughters when so many couples go through much more and never have that experience even once. Please know that not a day goes by when I am not aware of just how blessed I am.
How to end this lengthy essay about loss? We prayed and hoped and talked to each other. We didn't turn away God or each other. And while not all of us get an answer from God that is one we would choose, knowing that the lines of communication are open is enough to help healing begin. What are the most important elements needed for healing after a loss? For me, faith and my spouse.
Oddly enough I come back to those two things on many days, from those that seem to be the worst to those that are pretty darn good. Thankfully, I am never without either.