I found out I was pregnant the first time in my life on September 27, 1997, almost exactly three months after marrying my husband. The little blue line on the test I’d taken earlier that week was ever so faint, I could barely see it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. But that day, I’d gone into my doctor’s office for a blood test and was told it was most definitely positive.
I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t feel pregnant. But whatever… symptoms would probably show themselves soon enough. It was early in our marriage and we were so young then; we couldn’t possibly fathom anything but an invincible, wide-open lifetime ahead of us.
On the first day of October, I recall getting out of bed to get ready for work. I stood up and a darkness with glittering edges encroached on my vision, my heart seemed to stop for a moment and my entire body broke out into a cold sweat. I remember making it back to the bed, lying down and wondering if that’s what morning sickness felt like. If that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. Instinctively, I knew that it wasn’t right.
In 1907 a scientist by the name of Duncan MacDougall tried to prove the soul’s existence by measuring the weight of people whose deaths were imminent and measuring their weight again at the time of their death, hypothesizing that the soul has substance and if it leaves the body at the time of death, there would be a change in weight. The experiment was pretty flawed due to sample size and execution (no pun intended) but he did record the loss of 21 grams for one of his subjects. I don’t know if anyone else has figured this one out or if there’s another explanation for it, but I do know something for sure about the time of death.
Right after my ‘episode’, I went about my days. Looking back, I think I knew that it was in that moment that loss occurred. I knew that there would be no baby. But hope is a weird thing, and in the days that followed it didn’t occur to me to worry. Until I felt pain.
It was October 6th and what should have been the beginning of the seventh week of life. I was driving home from work, distracted. I felt at odds with myself and not at all well. There were a couple of kids walking across the street I was driving on, and I recall barely seeing them- slamming on my breaks at the last moment as they glared at me through my windshield, my heart pounding. When they’d cleared my path, I finished the drive home. By the time I got there, a familiar heavy twisting feeling was starting in my lower abdomen.
When you’re young and pregnant and cramping and spotting and worried, you talk to every woman you know and you find out that miscarriages are more common than you thought, but that a lot of women don’t have typical experiences. Every woman tells you you’re going to be ok, but as the hours tick by it becomes obvious that it’s not going to be okay. That what was there is now gone, and that your intuition was right-
I immediately thought back to the horrible feeling that every cell in my body experienced days earlier and I knew then that I’d experienced the moment of death.
And if the soul is woven into the fetus from the moment of conception then it makes sense to feel the time of death of a pregnancy as such a profound loss. It was confirmed with an ultrasound at the doctor’s office that Monday morning and the words every parent dreads hearing – “There’s no heartbeat.”
In the days that followed, I learned that the shittiest thing about early pregnancy miscarriages is that you’re trying to mourn something no one could see. There was no substance, no personality, no real proof that this life even existed save for a positive hCg count on a blood test and a urine test with a really, really faint result. Outwardly, nothing is wrong with the mother. The doctor examines her and tells her that her body will take care of it. The body is an incredible machine, especially its ability to function and walk around on this earth even while it’s repairing deep wounds from things no one can see.
It’s been more than twenty years since that happened to me. A little life experience has taught me that many things die; that the moment of death is not exclusive to the loss of life. Endings can be felt; the smallest shift in the weight of a word, the finality of silence, the severing of a connection that seems like a lifeline. And the human body- it is amazing. The heart will keep beating no matter how broken it is.
*In honor of National Infant and Pregnancy Remembrance Day