The following essay is by guest contributor, Gemma Hartley.
There’s this place on my desk of things left unsorted. Paperwork that I have yet to file away. Things that haven’t found a place. I go through it every now and again, and I find that blurry picture wrapped in an envelope from Women’s Health Specialists — the ultrasound photo I never got to share with the world. Sometimes I look at it. Sometimes I don’t.
I don’t know where to put it. So I say “I love you” and I put it back with the things I leave unsorted.
I stand in the crowd outside of Sundance Bookstore and ask David Sedaris what I should name my unborn child.
“What’s your last name?” he asks.
“Huckleberry.” He says it like it’s the most natural choice in the world. Like, obviously you should name your child Huckleberry. You should know this already. It’s like, child-naming 101. “You can go anywhere with a name like Huckleberry Hartley.”
My face looks a little weird — I’ve probably looked a little weird all night because I am fan-girling-the-hell-out over meeting David Sedaris, and he says people always give him this weird look, and he can tell they will not name their children in accordance with his wishes.
But I’d show him. I had it all planned out in my mind, how I was going to look up David Sedaris in a few months’ time and send him a birth announcement. Huckleberry Walter Hartley. We were going to call him Huck for short. Huck’s a tough name. Huckleberry’s sweet.
My sweet little Huckleberry. I loved it.
I’m sitting here telling the midwife about how I keep getting canker sores ever since I got pregnant, while she tries to find the heartbeat with the doppler.
Then I tell her I’m nervous because my friend just lost her baby at 9 weeks and didn’t find out about it until her 12-week appointment. This is my 12-week appointment. My friend told me she started feeling better all of a sudden, less nauseous and tired and all that, when the baby stopped growing. And I’ve been feeling better, too.
The midwife tells me I’m going to be fine. She thought she heard a blip of a heartbeat, and it just got away from her.
But she’s taking me to another room to get out the ultrasound machine. I’ve played this scenario out in my head a hundred times. I know it’s not going to be fine.
And it’s not.
I have one of those vivid pregnant dreams that night. I go in for that ultrasound, and they find the heartbeat. They find it right away. I see the flicker on the screen and my heart’s so full of love I could burst. I wake up smiling. Then I stop smiling. I stop smiling for a long time.
“Is there any chance you’re pregnant?”
The question catches me off guard. It’s like some sort of sick joke. The pharmacist looks at me, and I don’t know what to say.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am pregnant. I’m pregnant, and my baby is dead, and I need whatever cocktail of pills you’re giving me so I can go through the hell of having a doctor surgically remove my dead baby from my womb. Does that answer your question?
“No,” I say.
I don’t hear the things she says next. I don’t know what half of these pills are for. Pain, numbing, dilation, I don’t know. I take them home and cry.
I tell the OB I want the ultrasound. I know he’s not going to see anything different than my midwife. Or the second midwife. But I need to see my baby one last time. I need that closure. He sighs impatiently. We do the ultrasound. There’s the baby. No movement. No heartbeat.
I ask questions because it gives me some feeling of being collected and in control. I don’t tend to cry as much when I’m asking questions. I ask about hemorrhaging, if it’s a concern, because of some family history. He tells me it’s an everyday procedure.
“It’s just like having an abortion,” he says.
That’s when I start crying, and when the procedure begins, the crying turns to wailing. It hurts in more ways than I thought humanly possible. The OB tells me it shouldn’t hurt that bad yet. I tell him it’s mostly emotional pain. I want to tell him to go fuck himself.
But the physical pain gets worse too. I just stare at my husband and squeeze his hand and say how badly it hurts over and over and over again, until the OB stops halfway through and asks me if I want him to stop the procedure. If he should book an operating room so he can put me under if I can’t handle this. If my pain tolerance is too low.
He’s upset I’m not handling this more calmly. I’m upset that he’s ripping my life to shreds from inside my body. It’s an ugly sort of stalemate.
I ask him how much worse the pain will get. He shows me. I tell him to keep going. But I don’t stop crying. I can’t.
The next day is my husband’s birthday. We go out to dinner. We talk about missing the two kids we have who are healthy and alive and staying with their grandmother. We talk about how it’ll be better when they come home. There are a lot of quiet moments. I wish we had stayed home.
Eventually, we sit out in the backyard and talk. We talk until there’s nothing left to talk about. We talk until I’m so sick of talking that I never want to talk again. But I keep talking.
I tell him I still want to have another baby. I tell him I want to try again.
It’s not the time to talk about that sort of thing, but I need to know this isn’t the end of the line. I need to know I have another shot. It’s the only way I’ll survive this.
And so we talk about how it’s worth this terrible pain to hold a baby in your arms. It’s worth everything.
I talked to lots of other people too. I talked myself half to death. I talked about premonitions. How I always knew something wasn’t quite right. How I felt it coming in some deep dark place in my soul. How it wasn’t meant to be.
I still believe all that’s true, but it doesn’t make me miss my Huckleberry less. It doesn’t take away that love.
You were due to enter the world the day we went to your would-be grandparents house for lunch. It was a quiet sort of Sunday. Rainy and calm. It would’ve been a nice day to be born.
Everyone tells me to be happy about your brother or sister, growing healthy and strong inside of me. They tell me things are so much better now. And I am happy. I am grateful for this new life. I am overwhelmed by it. Truly.
But I want to remember you too. I want you to know you still matter. That you’re still in my heart. That I’ll always remember the birthday you never had, and that I love you. I’ll always love you.
Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. In addition to being a writer for SheKnows, Romper, and YourTango, her work has appeared on Yahoo Parenting, Ravishly, Role/Reboot, and more. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.
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