This is part 2 of the essay. Click here to read part 1.
LO QUE ESTA PA’ TI
Fifteen days before we found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating we were driving from Michigan to Baltimore for a post-holiday family gathering. As night fell over Pennsylvania I remember being entranced by the moon in its waning gibbous phase. It looked to me like a gorgeous pregnant belly sticking out of the sky. I fantasized about our baby traveling worlds, making its way from the sky to my belly to places beyond my imagination. Just two days before that drive, on Christmas eve day, we’d seen our baby’s little heart flicker for the second time across the screen – 135 beats per minute. We were elated. This was our baby. The baby we’d wanted so badly and loved so much already. My mami had said some months earlier to quit with the bad mathematics: lo que esta pa ti nadie te lo quita. And that was a balm and a spell that lifted the burden of my miscalculations and the fears that arrested my every move.
Because we’d experienced that early loss five years before I was caught between excitement and terror. The minor discomforts of my pregnancy symptoms were a relief and my fertility specialist, quietly acknowledging my fears, decided to “graduate” me to a regular obstetrician a few weeks later than scheduled. At that appointment her every move was calming and her words so soothing that I decided against telling her my one thousand concerns. We’d gotten pregnant relatively quickly, just three rounds of some not-too-invasive procedures. She’d gasped at our first visit when she heard how my former gynecologist had treated me. Now at this appointment she discussed my previous labs was thrilled with the progress of my weekly ultrasounds. Our baby had been growing right on target. This is why I went into total shock when the doctor could not find a heartbeat. I’m so sorry. So sorry. So sorry.
My husband held his face in his hands and cried. Seeing his instant reaction unmoored me. I had no voice, I could not feel. I failed to think of ways to make it better for him. My loving and distraught partner who’d been the cheer to my worry, who’d written our baby little poems, and told us little stories about all the things we’d do together, he too was undone. A few minutes later in her office as I listened to her explain the next steps my nose started to bleed profusely, and this continued for days.
It was the first week of classes at the university and I had to teach just a few hours after that appointment. I hardly remember getting to campus, to my office, or to the classroom. I do remember that I quietly cried throughout my entire lecture on Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism. My freshmen students asked if I need a hug. I said no, thank you, even though I’m sure I needed a hug from every single one of them. As I grow older and my students stay the same age, I think of them in new ways: each of them is a beautiful miracle, someone’s baby, someone’s whole world.
DILATATION & CURETTAGE
After a few days of waiting to miscarry naturally I called my doctor in a panic. The process could take six weeks and I count not handle the thought of having my baby just shrink away inside me. I remembered so vividly miscarrying at home all those years before and was terrified to go through that pain again. In order to get a D&C I had to go in for another ultrasound to confirm that my baby had indeed lost its heartbeat. I looked away from the screen and squeezed my partner’s hand unable to face the loss. I secretly prayed for the sounds that we loved so much to emerge.
Later that week I was admitted into surgery. My doctor was so kind, answering all of our questions, and brought me tissues as I wept in my surgery get-up. The big hat and little socks and the odd gown and really just the whole thing would be comical, if it weren’t so terrible.
A cheerful anesthesiologist came into introduce himself. He read my name on the chart and with a quizzical look on his face asked: What is your first language? I gave my spouse a knowing-side-eye as the anesthesiologist explained that when coming back to consciousness after being put under general anesthesia, patients usually respond fastest to their first language. Spanish, I replied. My first language is Spanish. I perked up to ask him where he learned to speak such good Spanish (in a Caribbean accent at that!) and he laughingly told me that some Puerto Rican friends had taught him growing up. He quickly added that he knew that Puerto Rican Spanish was not professional, so he didn’t use it much. Suddenly he wasn’t so funny anymore. A sea of rage rose in me even as I knew this was not the time to tell him about his racism, classism, and linguistic imperialism. Honestly, even if I wasn’t already halfway sedated he didn’t deserve my ethnic studies doctoral realness or the Boricua cultural nationalism knockout that was surely coming his way.
As they rolled me into surgery I cried in fear and misery. I was in the deepest grief I had known since the death of my father and I could not see beyond that fog. The last thing I remember are big blue lights.
In the ether I heard a woman’s voice call my name. My first words when I awoke: ¿Se murió mi bebé?
Chorionic villi are identified.
labeled "products of conception,
genetic testing, karyotyping"
multiple fragments of pink-tan to brown-purple,
soft, spongy, fibromembranous tissue
fragments aggregating to
9.5 x 7.0 x 2.3 cm
weighs 59 grams.
The dear and beloved 59 grams extracted from my body turned our world upside down. I could not stop crying. I was lost in a grief so deep that I could see no way out. I worried about ever feeling joy again in my life. Would I ever laugh? My husband held our world together despite his grief. The few people in our community who knew about our loss held us in their care. I hid from all of my pregnant friends and avoided eye-contact with all pregnant people in public I could handle the sight of babies, but the sight of a pregnant belly would send me into the deepest well of anger and resentment.
The trauma of being in surgery engulfed me. I felt violated. The idea of being under sedation while they opened my legs, dilated my cervix, and scraped away my almost-child was more than I could handle. Plus, the idea that I would never have a regular (read: happy, fear free) pregnancy, that I would be wracked with anxiety if I we were ever to conceive again, kept me awake all night for weeks.
It was my mami’s cries that most tore me apart. She mourned for my loss and for her own. She’s pinned a hope on this baby and had made her own secret plans to move to Michigan to care for our little family. I found myself comforting her as she cried, no me lo esperaba. Yo tampoco mami.
Even as I was undone in every way, I had privilege of being a Black Puerto Rican with health coverage and a job where my colleagues and mentors supported and in fact demanded that I take a medical leave (thank you). Without the force of the women in my circle I would have returned to work in my zombie-like state and I may have have thrown myself into a deeper pit. Instead, I stole away at home where I found solace in nothing but the comfort of my grieving spouse and the sealed mother-of-pearl box with our baby’s ultrasound prints and tiny belongings. The surgeon who performed my D&C became my new gynecologist and seeing how depressed and shattered I had been at the hospital and at my post-op check-up, she began to schedule me for bi-weekly visits to check in with me. I never once had to undress in her office for a physical. These were mental health visits until she could get me into a therapist’s office. She sat and talked with me for an hour every two weeks for over three months. My gynecologist showed me every ounce of respect, generosity, and tenderness that I had never experienced at a doctor’s office in my entire life. Even now I don’t know where to place my gratefulness for her care.
One evening in February, the mother and grandmother of a friend unexpectedly circled around me, held me, and let me cry for what seemed like hours. It was cathartic and necessary. Every cell in her body is grieving the mother said. And I wept uncontrollably in that room for every loss, for every moment of indignity, for every fear. I left there having been given a simple task: do not cry for the future.
Feb 18, 2019
She said every cell in my body was grief
or covered in it
Last night I dreamt of grief as a garment
I wore cotton pajamas tight to my body
covered from my wrists to my ankles in a soft
I moved through the dreams in different scenarios
but each time I became aware of myself I looked down
and was dressed in radiant green-yellow grief
and what is this if not a rotting?
An oozing pain like I’ve seldom known.
or a hope, or a light,
or the realization that I am consumed by this loss
I’d write poetry for you my love
I write in your memory now
thinking of the minor discomforts of your presence
and the joy we felt in seeing you flicker
the loneliness in seeing you fade
I’d wished for you and begged for you and wanted you
for longer than I’ve ever admitted
If you come to us again I’d like to keep you
and write you poems
I waited three months for my body to release all of the pregnancy hormones. The lab results finally came back negative. It took three months for my blood and my body to say goodbye. It took more time for me to find my balance again.
In Puerto Rico this summer I did ceremony. My shadow fed, a cleansing, a despojo, and a calabaza as big as the moon was tossed into the sea for me.
I was bathed and doted on and called nena and I cried for the care. I made new family. I made relations larger than the universe.
I came back new. Painting and writing and sewing and gardening and moving my heart in every which direction.
It had been on my mind, but I had not fixated on our due date. I was secretly hoping it would pass and I would be too busy living anew to notice.
But we have bodies that remember.
At around 2am in the early hours of my due date I woke up to an incredible pain in my lower back and cramps that seized me up. Alone in bed and tangled in a sea of blue sheets I struggled to breathe. The pain came in sudden jolts all night. I don’t remember when I finally fell asleep again, but I awoke hours later in a pool of sweat. I cannot explain this. I won’t bother trying to understand. I know that this body remembers even that which it tries to forget.
Mi nena, I won’t forget you. Te lo prometo.