With the season upon us in which we tend to receive those folksy yearly recap letters from far-flung friends, I thought it might be an appropriate time to post this piece — which could very well have stood as a sobering, non-traditional holiday letter for AKL and me exactly three years ago. You need to know up front that ultimately, things turned out quite well for us, and we couldn't be happier (or more tired). But life reveals itself slowly, and as a time capsule, this seems no less worth putting out there. --BK
My wife AKL and I have been trying unsuccessfully to have children for the past two and a half years. Recently, we had our third miscarriage.
Three times we have been through the unbelievable loss and hurt — I never again want to hear a sound as sad as AKL’s open sobbing through the bathroom door when we lost the first — and then the shift into medical crisis mode, and then the aftermath: weeks or months of emotional fragility.
All the while, we lived in social awkwardness. As our pregnancies were not yet public knowledge, there was no public acknowledgment of our losses. So we kept going to the office, feeling distracted from the same work we hoped would distract us from our far more complex troubles. We wore no armbands, nor dressed in black — nothing outside the norm, but for a handful of hushed, coded conversations and emails. Coworkers and friends may have wondered, but they didn’t pry, and we didn’t offer, assuming most would not have been prepared for our honest answer when they asked us perfunctorily, “How’s it going?”
Our second loss was in July 2004, and we spent a horribly uncomfortable week cringing at every mention of the “DNC” (Democratic National Convention) — in our hometown of Boston, no less — while dealing with our impending “D&C.”
Full disclosure: we’re card-carrying pro-choice Democrats. But when you have a miscarriage, even early in the first trimester, rhetorical, clinical terms like embryo or fetus or viable go out the window, because in your gut what has just happened is that, quite simply, your baby has died.
Throughout, friends and family have tried to be helpful. Though it feels nice to be loved, their attempts at help are generally centered around stories of their friends or acquaintances who went through similar travails to eventually succeed. People who have three boys now and are happy, or some such. While I understand the hopeful message of these tales, because they’re about success, they don’t have much to do with our present situation. And with each loss, we pay a higher emotional price for our hope. Yes, we might wind up being those folks. But we might not. We might be the friends who tried and tried and then, because the trying was killing them, stopped trying on their own and either tried to adopt, or didn’t. We don’t know.
Sometimes I convince myself that one’s ability to have kids must be inversely proportional to one’s desire to have kids. Surely, if we were a couple of 15-year meth addicts, we’d have our own basketball team by now — but we’re not. AKL and I are 33 and 37, respectively (“you still have so much time,” you say); we have a home, steady jobs, a healthy relationship, love to give, and we have wanted children since we got engaged nearly five years ago. We waited two years: until we had gotten married, until we moved out of our little condo, until AKL finished grad school, and then we were ready. But nature doesn’t work according to human timetables. This difficult fact that none of us gets to decide when we might have a baby underscores our biggest struggle: the powerlessness of our situation. There are certain things we can do to help our prospects, but there is far more over which we have absolutely no control.
I thought about waiting to tell our story, to see how it all turns out. Maybe — hopefully — it will have a happy ending (yes, we understand, full of new challenges). But to wait would be to miss the real story, which is about our trying to cope with the agonizing uncertainty of right now.
Because the truth is, we’re having a really difficult time with it. The week or two after each miscarriage was emotionally — and in AKL’s case, physically as well — grueling, but together we muddled through, in crisis mode, on adrenaline, love, bad movies, and comfort food. The lingering psychological aftermath is tougher, as post-trauma, we find ourselves struggling to regain our bearings. And each time, we are forced to re-address the question of why we want children to begin with, and how we feel about ourselves without them.
AKL and I communicate well, but when we do nag or argue, miscarriage is the elephant in the room. When we talk about our cats, we’re really talking about our children. When we talk about our friends or our family or a possible vacation, we’re really talking about children.
It has been a long time since life felt normal. Before monthly planning and hormone spikes took over our sex life. Before the losses and the hospitals and the specialists. Before a nurse handed me a sterile cup and asked me to produce that certain sample (healthcare-subsidized porn at the ready). We’ll never regain the absolute joy of finding out we’re pregnant: the big ultrasound, talking excitedly about names, hearing a heartbeat….
That unfettered innocence is gone, and our story is rooted in the present. The ending is uncertain. We do what we can, but the rest is beyond us. So we sit and fidget with the not knowing. Today first, and then tomorrow, and then the next. Waiting to see where, eventually, it all leads.