Riding the Waves

By Carmella Van Vleet
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Illustration of sad womanI once read a book by a man who had lost a young son. He described his grief as a wave, or as something that, if you turned your back to it, could sneak up and bite you on the ankles or swallow you up whole. At the time it was simply a curious image that I played with; it didn’t resonate in me until I had a miscarriage.

Baby number three, like my first two children, and indeed everything in my life, was well planned. My husband, Jim, and I had known about the pregnancy only a short time when the spotting started. Everyone did their best to calm my fears, but I would have none of it. I wrung my hands and paced the floors because worrying is what I do best. To help ease my growing apprehension, my doctor sent me to the hospital lab for a couple of blood tests that would check hormone levels. I remember leaning on Jim’s shoulder on the night of the first test, crying in the dark, telling him I knew there would be no baby. And I was right.

For the first few days I was wrapped in self-pity. I tortured myself by putting away the baby quilt and feather-soft crib shoes I’d bought, and I wouldn’t allow my friends to take my boys for longer than a few hours. I even returned to the hospital to take the second blood test. I played the whole thing over and over in my mind as if it were some kind of crazy car wreck, and all I wanted to do was go back to that moment right before impact, to the time when I was still pregnant.

After awhile, though, I became philosophical and began telling myself “These things happen” and “It was just my turn to be Someone Else.” Eventually, when I was able say the word miscarriage without coming undone, I discovered that telling people what happened was very much like giving little pieces of the pain away.

The thing is, months later I still felt an empty space in my belly just as keenly as if a chunk of my flesh had been carved out. And those waves of despair and disappointment snuck up on me. Diaper commercials would reduce me to tears, a whiff of baby powder would take my breath away, and perhaps, the cruelest hit of all, a friend (not knowing my circumstances) announced her due date–the exact same day mine would have been.

But life kept moving the way it always does. My boys (then four and two) needed me, and things got better. The moment it was safe, I was pregnant again–although Jim and I kept the news secret until I was wearing maternity clothes. That baby, my daughter Abbey, is two years old now. Like her brothers, she is piece of myself I didn’t even know I was missing. When she wraps her long, skinny arms and legs around me and plants a wet one on my lips, or when I bury my face in her golden hair, long and soft as strands of silk, I simply can’t imagine what life would be like without my brown-eyed girl. I’d do anything for her, even go through the pain of losing the other baby again to get to her.

My love for Abbey, however, doesn’t change my knowledge that the baby I lost would have just turned three. And it doesn’t change the fact that the waves still come, surprising me. The little “ankle bite” of watching my sister-in-law, pregnant for the first time, and feeling apprehensive because she’s so excited, so soon. The tidal wave of tears that came out of nowhere while watching the final episode of Mad About You and seeing Jamie and Paul console one another over the loss of their baby while sitting in an examination room. The swirling, knee-high wave that threatened to knock me over when I arrived at the hospital in labor with Abbey and told the nurse who was taking my history, “Fourth pregnancy, third baby.”

I don’t know if these waves will ever subside completely. What I do know is that the miscarriage changed everything. It was the first time in my life worrying about something didn’t prevent it from happening. The realization that I am vulnerable, and that my children are vulnerable, to the bad things in life has stayed with me. It’s this fear of the time when the other shoe will drop that I carry around now and recall when life gets too good.

I also know this: Although it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, the miscarriage was a gift. It may have taken away my sense of security, but it left me with the compassion to know what to say (and what not to say) in the wake of someone else’s loss. It may have taken away my sense of control, but it left the humility to appreciate how very fragile life is, how precious each ache and pain of pregnancy is, and how every day with my children is truly a treasure to be thankful for.

Although the miscarriage took away a hope I had for a new little life, it also left me with a new hope, a hope I can crawl into like a boat when those waves come. This hope is that someday, when I move from this life into the next, I will get the chance to hold and to raise the baby I lost. To do it all over again. I ask you: What could be a better reward for a mother?

Carmella Van Vleet is a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer who lives in Ohio. Her work has appeared in several national magazines, and her first children’s book, We’re Just Looking, is due out this fall from Seedling Publications.

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