Red Elephants and Empty Arms
Four years ago, Steve and I found out our fetus died. We didn’t know at that time she was a girl, and had Turner Syndrome. She was going to be named Lillian Lou, after our grandmothers.
We’d seen her heart beat enough times to be discharged from the reproductive endocrinology unit. We were getting to know our midwife. I was excited for our ultrasound because I knew she should moving around a bit in there, something I recalled seeing on my sons’ scans, years before. Tiny, moving, limb-endowed fetuses. Very cool. I couldn’t wait for Steve to experience this!
Our pregnancy was unexpected and highly improbable. We had lost hope of having a biological child together after four years of trying to conceive, enduring painful, expensive procedures, and receiving crappy test results.
I was happy when I first found out I was pregnant, but became terrified within days. Being part of an IF and TTC (infertility and trying to conceive) community means being well-educated in risk factors and statistics. Having a personal history of both miscarriages and live births means sensing slight changes in my body, and having a heightened awareness of symptoms. Once the initial shock and excitement of a positive pregnancy test wore off, I fell into a cautious space, embodying foreboding joy.
“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is start dress rehearsing tragedy.” -Brené Brown
I want to share a story of foreboding joy which haunts me, but also prompts me to live a wholehearted life.
Shortly before learning of Lillian’s demise, our family visited a nature museum. We stopped in the gift shop on our way out. There were stuffed animals, books, and keychains. And there was a baby blanket. The fabric was red, with tiny elephants on it. It was soft. It was beautiful. I held the blanket to my chest and looked at Steve. Scarcity hung between our eyes, sagging with unspokens-
“when we’re a little further along”
“maybe after the next ultrasound”
“if we make it to the second trimester”
We didn’t buy the blanket, or make it to the second trimester.
It took a week after the final ultrasound before I could get in for a D&C. My body had done this before- missed miscarriage. An inability to let go.
The days leading up to the surgery, I held the impossible space of being pregnant with a lifeless body. I lived in a paradox of needing it out, but needing it left in. The only words I could utter were “this can’t be happening. This isn’t happening.”
I wish I’d had that red elephant blanket to hold onto when I couldn’t keep Lillian. I think it would have been a conduit to her fleeting energy. I wish I’d leaned into the discomfort of joy, and treasured each moment of being pregnant, and sharing that journey with Steve.
I hold compassionate space for myself today, and most days, because I know I am doing my best. I walk a line between letting myself feel, and trying to stay safe. Vulnerability is a choice, and I don’t always choose it.
This post is raw in the sense of emotion shared, and my inability to care about editing today. I ask for empathy and understanding. Thank you for reading. <3