Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All Is Well for Now

Hi all. Well, my nuchal results came back fine. I am relieved. I don't actually know how good my chances are now, since I'll probably never know why I've been subject to serial miscarriage. But this feels like some kind of stopping place. So, I think this may be my last entry for a long while. I want to leave you, and my lost babes, with the essay below.

Memorializing the Immaterial

One of the most difficult aspects of miscarriage is the intangible nature of the loss.  There are no dead to keen over, no bodies to ritually wash and wrap, no graves to visit.  For those of us without other children, there’s no societal name for our new half-substantiated status: would-be mothers of unformed spirits.  Wives who lose husbands become widows.  Why is there no such word for mothers without children, much less for the almost-mothers of the unborn?

Last summer, after three losses, I found myself struggling for ways to make the miscarriages real.  I felt so marked, so forever altered.  And yet, apart from a few extra pounds here or there (more the result of post-pregnancy comfort eating than anything else), there was no evidence whatsoever of the passage of events that had passed through my body.  I found myself wishing for some public sign of my frustrated motherhood.

I’ve never been one to consider a tattoo, not even the paint-on kind most kids apply sometime between elementary school and junior high.  I never wanted to deface my skin; I never wanted to endure self-inflicted pain.  And yet, after each miscarriage, it seemed my pain was so easily effaced, as invisible as each lost baby’s face. I began to fantasize about the possibility of acquiring tiny tattoos, perhaps three little hearts in a line on my forearm, one for each embryo gone.  Or maybe a black line of numbers, each corresponding to a different cancelled due date.  Eventually, I realized that my hands did bear scars, tiny stigmata, from insertion of IV lines for the D&C’s.  Even though these small brown bumps look like age spots, I treasure them.  They are marks of my age, of the losses I’ve lived through.

My husband and I decided, after some discussion, that we simply were not the type to hold a religious service, to read poetry in public, to make donations in memory of children we had never met. Still, I sought some way to remember babies I never knew, to honor those I never held.  And so, one particular summer morning, on the second anniversary of my first due date, I asked my husband to go with me on a ritual walk, a two-person funeral procession for three invisible babies.

We were spending a week’s vacation in the woods and had noticed a sign a couple of miles from the cabin where we were staying that pointed out a local historic graveyard.  There was no church in the vicinity, just the sheltering shadow of the mountain hovering over a sloping field.  It seemed a place that was naturally sanctified without being formally holy, just the spot for the kind of half-formed ceremony we so deeply needed.

We set out early in the morning and I began collecting wildflowers as we went.  It was high summer and flowers fringed the roadside: Daisies and Black-Eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s Lace and wild Day Lillies, pink Sweet-Pea, purple Clover, Golden Rod and many more varieties I could not label.  The orange lillies with their tender freckled petals cut me to the quick, destined for lives that would last only one day, whether I picked them or left them in peace.

Though my husband resisted the idea at first, it soon gave focus and purpose to our walk. We agreed to pick three of each kind of flower we found. Then he, as eager as I, spotted one new variety after another to add to our ever-growing armful.  When we arrived at the graveyard at last, we were laden with wild brambling bouquets full of unfamiliar blooms, perfect to mark the loss of much-loved, unknown, unnamed children.

Wind ruffled the trees, insects buzzed, and the grass around the graves gave off a brown baked smell.  We began to look around at the worn stones of the time-softened old tombs and found none that dated after 1900 or so.  I was not sure where I wanted to leave our bouquets, or even whether it might not be best to scatter them again on the homeward walk.  My husband wandered out of sight behind a tree and I felt eerily, achingly alone.  I wished suddenly for a prayer or a poem or an incantation and felt voiceless in the morning breeze.

Suddenly, my husband called out to me.  He had found a trio of graves, memorials to three children from a single family who had each died within a week of the other back in the 1870’s.  Three small stones, huddled together, leaned uncertainly towards the earth, each thinner and shorter by far than those that heralded the passing of the town’s patriarchs.  I looked around for escort stones, larger markers for adult family members bearing the same last name.  But there seemed to be none.  Instead, the children lay alone there, most likely forgotten for a century or more. 

I wondered what despair had attended their burials and whether their parents had left the hard life of the mountainside soon thereafter, in search of more fertile fields.  How could their mother, whoever she was, ever have found the strength to go on?  What other choice did she have?  My husband and I looked at each other, our eyes filled with tears, and then we gently, silently, lowered our armloads onto the ground.