Beyond Leo

By Jenny Rough
Web Exclusive, October 19, 2007

stars and constellationsMy heart is wild with the sound of chatter and praise. My husband, Ron, kisses my cheek as our friend Michael suggests a list of names: William, Christopher, Mark, Robert, Jacob, — or Michael, he likes that best. I glance at my husband, and Ron is beaming. Michael swings an arm around Ron’s shoulders.

“My man! It’s good to know your sperm are working,” Michael says.

The three of us clink glasses—me with my virgin pineapple juice, Ron and Michael with their bourbons. This has been going on for weeks now as Ron and I have shared the good news with our parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. It’s fun. Ron gives my stomach a nod, and I place my palm over the sweet soft baby growing inside.

Later, at home, there is blood. It’s dark red. Clumpy. I investigate with fistfuls of toilet paper. When I accidentally catch a whiff of the tissue swab, my head jerks back. The odor is rotten and dank. It’s the smell of death.

I toss and turn through the night. The next morning I decide not to decide. Better to stall my way through the afternoon. Finally I call the doctor. She says, please come in right away.

In the exam room a lady lugs a sonogram machine with a squeaky wheel to my side. She tells me her name, but I immediately forget. I make a joke to Ron about my granny panties— the underwear I’ve been wearing for the past two months. We all laugh, even the sonogram lady, but my laugh feels tired. I spot a book on the counter, Fetal Abnormalities, and suddenly remember the time I had an irregular pap smear and was transferred to a special room filled with brochures on cervical cancer.

Sonogram lady tells me to lean back on the table and scoot my butt way down. She holds up a long white probe and announces she’ll conduct a vaginal procedure.

“I thought you’d put a wand on my belly,” I say, rubbing my stomach. Ron knows I’m squirmy about medical devices, so he stands close and takes my hand. I clutch his arm and close my eyes.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” she says. “I won’t insert it very far.”

I open an eyelid and notice the probe is gigantic. I hear an electric sound.

“Is that the heartbeat?” I ask.

“The machine,” she smiles and pats its side.

I rest my head on the back of the table and see Ron watching the screen. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. I snap up and prop myself on my elbows. “The heartbeat?” I cry.

“You’re hearing that from the room next door,” she nods behind me. I listen closely. Somewhere on the other side of the thin wall there is a pregnant woman just like me. She has a round belly and a wand on her stomach and her husband is by her side. Her sonogram lady is telling her good news about the baby’s heart, nice and strong, 140 beats per minute.

My sonogram lady’s silence lasts a second too long. “What I see here doesn’t look good,” she says.

She explains that she can’t find the flickering; it’s missing. I look at the screen, a tiny oval in a black womb, and as the camera glides to different angles, Ron and I search intently for the flicker. The sonogram lady pretends to search too, but she already knows we won’t find the heartbeat. The baby is too small for the size of the sac, she says.

“He died,” I say. Ron and I suspected we were having a boy.

“It stopped developing,” she corrects. Semantics are important in this game called The Miscarriage Club.

On the drive home I say, “I don’t feel like cooking chicken.”

Ron suggests the restaurant across the street from the train station even though he knows it’ll blow our food budget for the month.

At the table we fumble through the menus; we’re taking forever. The waiter brings ice water.

“Here’s to Death,” I say, holding up my glass. I am trying to toast the baby and his new life in heaven, but it comes out wrong.

We order salads and split the tortellini. I gaze at the window coverings, (aren’t they lovely?), and the pattern on the wooden hand railing that leads up the stairs. I watch the couple in the corner, and my eyes move around the space between the tables and chairs and plates and forks. I don’t want Ron to look at me, but if he’s not looking, I will hate him. I concentrate on the lemon wedge in my drink. The lemon grew to life on a tree somewhere, probably California. Why didn’t our baby? Then I see the seeds, five or six of them, embedded in the citrus wedge. Tonight the teeth of a garbage disposal will grind them and discard of their remains. I feel terribly sad for all those seeds.

I glance at Ron. He’s looking at me.

“What?” I say.

He kisses the air in front of him, and it’s such a perfect gesture I begin to cry.

He is crying too, his eyes so red I can see them even in this dim light, but his tears don’t spill over and run down his cheeks the way mine do.

The miscarriage lasts three days.

On Saturday night I feel a squirt of water between my legs, just as the doctor warned. I’m relieved that Ron and I decided to cancel our plans with the Corbetts.

Ron spreads garbage bags on our king size bed and secures the plastic covering with packing tape. Next it is piles and piles of towels to soak up any leaking, on and on top of the nest, there’s me. I have a box of maxi pads—the thick, extra long kind with wings—like I’m thirteen again.

There’s blood but no pain.

We watch a movie, and I sip a strawberry kiwi soda.

Sunday morning, Dr. Bulter is on call. After I answer her questions she says it sounds like I passed the tissue. She’ll arrange a sonogram to confirm my uterus is empty, she says.

But Monday, the day before the sonogram, my abdomen is squeezing.

“I think I’m having contractions,” I tell Ron when he comes home from work.

By nightfall I realize it’s the second wave of the miscarriage. This time it hurts like hell. I’ve abandoned the comfortable nest in our bed and keep changing my mind about sitting on the toilet or lying on the cold tile floor of the bathroom.

Nothing feels good and, Oh, God not another.

“Write them down!” I plead.

Ron scribbles on a notepad.

11:00 p.m.

I’m dying. Breathe. Breathe. I’m dying.

11:04 p.m.

Will this last all night? My voice is shaking, my arms and legs and belly, shaking. I drag over a trashcan in case I vomit. I can barely hold the phone to my ear. It could last all night, it might last an hour, I’m told. It’s the voice of a different doctor. I’m being passed around their clinic like a football.

11:09 p.m.

Impossible. I can’t move. I’ll leave a trail of blood. But the doctor reminds me the emergency room will have morphine.

11:13 p.m.

Still at home, back on the toilet, off the phone, and I see it—the tissue the doctor described. Please God, no. The tan color, the round shape, my baby buried inside, no bigger than a raspberry. From the moment I conceived, I loved him with a love fiercer than any I’ve known.

In the mailbox, a card: Congratulations on your pregnancy.

Outside walking the dog, I notice the stars are spaced far apart. Orion follows me down the path, but I’m searching the night sky for Leo. My August baby. I have no idea what pattern to search for, or if Leo is even in this hemisphere or the other. I’ve never been much into Zodiac signs and astrology, choosing instead to believe there is a God greater than all we can see.

The dog refuses to leave my side. She whimpers and nuzzles my knee. I pet her soft fur for a moment and nudge her to the edge of the path.

The temperature has dropped to the twenties, and I shiver. When I first got pregnant I immediately felt huge. My breasts and stomach bulged out of my clothes. Now I feel incredibly small: my chest and stomach and heart disappearing into nothing. I stand alone, trying to see beyond the stars, beyond Leo, searching for God, asking why.

Jenny Rough is a lawyer-turned-writer. Visit her on the web at www.JennyRough.com