After something like this, the rabbi told me, there are no good answers.
Expect a little blood, the doctor said.
I spent hours on the couch doing nothing besides feeling depressed and bitter. I held books open on my lap but could not get my eyes to read them. I went shopping for new jeans because none of my pants fit.
After, I drank coffee twice a day instead of never and had at least one glass of wine each night. I wanted to cultivate vices; I wanted to be bad.
At preschool pickup for my son, the teacher told me: He said your tummy doesn’t feel well. Oh, no, I’m fine, I said.
I bled and bled and kept on bleeding. I had not been so far along and still, after meals or at the end of the day, my stomach was so round it easily looked like someone was still curled inside.
Remember to keep breathing, the therapist said. Instead, I started wearing lipstick. I ate turkey sandwiches, even though I was a vegetarian, made an appointment to put a streak of blue in my hair, dreamt up plans for a second tattoo. I was restless for any small rebellion; I was desperate for comfort. I cried on the shoulder of my son’s preschool teacher, while my son stood next to us and peed in his pants.
How are you doing, the doctor asked me at our follow-up, and I said, Fine, and I was fine, until after she brought up the pathology report.
I had four ultrasound pictures I did not know what to do with. I learned that I could win any argument with my spouse if I said: But we just lost a child! Even though I was not sure that was what we had lost.
After, a couple of friends forgot to respond. My in-laws sent a card with an elephant holding an umbrella in the rain: Sorry to hear you’re under the weather, it said.
My grandmother told me: Only happy and healthy news from here on out.
The tissue had begun to necrotize, the doctor said, and after she saw my face, she added, That just means that the blood had begun to leave the tissue. (When what it really meant was dying; what she was talking about was death.)
I don’t think that kind of thing will happen to me, a friend said after I told her. I mean, I’m young and healthy—
I did not point out I was younger than she was. I’m sure you’ll be fine, I said.
After, my new record was: gravida 3, para 1, which was the technical way of saying my failures outnumbered my successes.
This is a not a horror story, I wrote to a friend. This is part of life. How brave I felt as I typed that! (And how many minutes afterwards was it that I fell apart all over again?)
They took twelve vials of my blood for testing, and after there was a questionable result, they took four more. You’ll feel a bit like a vampire, the doctor warned, which made no sense: vampires went after other people’s veins, they didn’t offer up their own.
After, I patted the slack skin around my belly and said, This body has sure been through a lot, as if I were proud and not disgusted. I told someone that my son felt like a consolation prize after what had happened, and after I realized how terrible that sounded, I said: He’s a blessing, that’s what I meant.
After the first time, I went up on my Prozac; after the second time, I went up some more. This is hitting you hard, the psychiatrist told me. I mean, she added after a moment, appropriately so.
I tried to leave the couch. I tried to help myself. I drove to the local Zen center, ready to learn to accept suffering, but the parking lot was full and I drove home in a rage.
After, we agreed to take a break from trying. Still, I consulted all the calendars, plotted dates for our next attempt.
I cancelled the dye job for my hair, deciding I would prefer to be invisible. But I kept the appointment for a cut, and when the hairdresser asked, How short? I said: Short—I have nothing to lose. I was like that, afterwards—all billow and bluster, so much drama coming out of my mouth.
After, they sent me to a hematologist, whose office had the words “Cancer Specialists” in its name. I asked my husband to reassure me that I did not have cancer.
He said, I mean, you’re probably fine.
I wondered about families with only one child. I met families with kids spaced more than three years apart and assumed that something had gone wrong.
I would not have sex until after I stopped bleeding, and then even after that. I did not want to have sex until after I was sure there was nothing necrotic left inside.
After, I dreamt that I had cancer. I dreamt that doctors decided to sterilize me because yet another pregnancy had gone wrong.
What do I do with the pictures? I asked the rabbi, meaning the black and white photos of those beings whose heartbeats I’d heard. But he had no answers for that either.
I was (probably) fine.
The genetics counselor punched some numbers into her calculator and said, I think it’s unlikely to happen again, small comfort considering it had happened twice already. The hematologist said, I think you’re the victim of too much testing. The doctor said, I think maybe next time, we’ll do more tests.
After, we bought our son a twin bed, took apart his crib. My husband cracked jokes as he worked the Allen wrench until I yelled at him to stop. We were dismantling the crib because we had no one new to put in it.
After I forgot I was still bleeding, I stepped out of the shower and bled all over the rug. A friend gave birth to twins and I did not send gifts. The hairdresser said, So are you thinking of a second? and after I told her about my two reproductive disasters, she said, Oh girl, I’m sorry, and then went on cutting my hair.
At the dinosaur museum, all I saw were pregnant women. After we got home, I went online and ordered three dresses I did not need and barely wanted. When my son tried to speak to me, I would not respond until after I pressed “buy.”
How many times did you think about it today? I asked my husband after he got home, and his answer was never a number large enough.
After, the hospital bills came in the mail: somebody made money off my losses. The hairdresser went on cutting my hair, but what I wanted was for her to put down her scissors and weep.
I was full of pain and fury; I was raw and desperately alive. I got very drunk and stood outside on a bitter winter night in just a tank top and did not feel cold. When I cried, it didn’t sound like crying, it sounded like someone who had forgotten how to breathe.
After, a friend took me out to dinner to comfort me and when the waiter asked, What are you ladies celebrating? I said, sardonic, Life!
The psalm the rabbi showed me: After they sow with tears, they will reap with joy, and I saw I had no choice but to believe it would be true.
Life! I said, and raised my glass, which was so pathetic, but the truth. Because after two hearts stopped beating, a third one—mine—kept on.
After, no one asked me: what is life like afterwards? and after no one asked, I wrote it down.