This is a short story which I wrote a few years after the loss of my first baby due to a three month miscarriage. Older women tell you that this happens often as the body learns how to carry a child. That information does nothing for the profound feelings of loss and failure that most women experience. I wrote this in an effort to get beyond those horrendous feelings of loss. Those of you who follow This Tiny Blue House on WordPress may have been as moved as I was when I read about Jenny’s struggles to finally birth her little girl. This is my story in response to Jenny.
This story will appear in some form in my third book Hunt the Beloved:
to Find a Heart. You have already read many stories related to my first published book A Bird and the Dragon: Their Love Story: a Memoir which is actually the third in the series of memoirs I have planned. The next will be Sissy’s Story: Inside a Child’s Long Term Illness which should have been the first, but would not have sold as a first book because it is written from the five year old’s perspective and yet has many messages for adults.
Now to my story of loss.
It felt as if I was floating but if I pressed down hard my tippy-toes might just reach the sidewalk. I was twenty-four, and felt so soft, rounding and glowing from within. Maybe I was gliding on a pink cloud. Actually, I was walking along Beacon Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, and it was a sparkling spring day in 1964. Dr. Brown said the test was conclusive. “Looks like you’re pregnant. Yes, indeed. The rabbit knows!” He chuckled. Such a gruesome way to put it, but it was great news. I and my then husband, the Rev. Harvard Lesser, aged thirty-two, wanted a child. We’d been married for about two years, and working hard in his small New England Church. He’d been planning a year’s study trip to Europe for us, but had changed his mind.
“If we’re not going abroad, can we have a baby?” I asked.
“I don’t see why not.” Hearing the lightness in his voice, I assumed his eagerness matched mine.
That was last January. Now, May was blooming in flowery splendor. I tried to focus on the shadows reflecting off the plate glass windows of the city shops. Dr. Brown had told me to go buy Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book on raising children and a good book on prenatal care. On which corner was the bookstore? I found it and stepped through the door. The little bookstore in Kenmore Square smelled musty, crammed to its edges with books. “Can I be of help?” A pleasant-sounding male voice broke into my thoughts.
“Yes. I’m just pregnant! I want Dr. Spock’s book Baby and Child Care and a good book on caring for the mother.” The college student looked embarrassed by my openness, but he guided me down an aisle to the Baby section. “Congratulations,” he stammered.
“I’m so excited! The doctor just gave us the news. Now, he says I’m supposed to get prepared. I could buy every book in this section! Which do you think is best for the mother’s care?”
“Well, a lot of people buy Expectant Motherhood by Eastman. Here, we’re in the right spot.” He pointed to the shelf and pulled out the one I’d requested. “Why don’t you take a look and see if it’s what you want,” and then he quickly faded into the background.
I thumbed through the book. On page thirty-five was a picture of a mature fetus. That was inside me? I tingled at the thought. A new, little human, creature–miniature fingers and toes, overlarge head, un-awakened eyes–that was the infant growing inside! It didn’t seem real. I’d planned this moment for all my growing-up years. When I had bad menstrual cramps, Mother consoled me with, “If we didn’t have the pain, we wouldn’t be able to have the babies! It’s just part of being a woman.” The pain had been worth it. I stared at the picture, memorizing every feature. I was going to have a baby!
The long drive alone, back to Connecticut from Boston didn’t bother me. I was busily planning which room in the rambling old parsonage would become the nursery.
Once home, I blurted the news. “We’re going to have a baby!” Harvard seemed pleased. He hugged me and stood looking at my books. “You can read these, too!” I stated.
“I intend to,” Harvard responded.
The parish was delighted with the announcement. New life in the parsonage seemed to warm the hearts of everyone. People constantly asked how I was doing. A whole community of worried Godmothers!
Now that school was done, Harvard suggested we invite my sister PollyAnne’s two youngest girls down from Vermont. They’d be company for me, and give my sister a break from the hubbub of three busy girls and a toddling boy. A telephone call put the plan into action. Rosemary, nine, and Holly, seven, were going to be visiting Gramma Sands in Massachusetts. Polly suggested that if we wanted, we could pick the girls up at Grandmother’s. In Harvard’s usual social manner, he suggested we squeeze in a few days’ visit with my aunt and uncle in Lincoln, Massachusetts, beforehand. Uncle Charles seemed to like Harvard, and I loved my Aunt Joanne. My Aunt wasn’t able to have children of her own, because of an ectopic pregnancy. In compensation, she babied me in grand style–fresh squeezed orange juice, newly baked muffins, and, of course, that humongous glass of milk. Good thing I liked milk!
I rolled over in the feather stuffed bed at Aunt Joanne’s house. ‘Oh, my tummy hurt. No it wasn’t the stomach, or was it? Must be I’m hungry. Well, Aunt Joanne will make short work of that.’ I poked Harvard in the back. “I don’t feel so good this morning.” He mumbled some unintelligible grouping of sounds and drifted back into sleep.
Once I got up, the pain seemed to ease. Good thing! Tomorrow we’d be off to pick up the girls and head home. After two days, I was ready. Visiting in someone else’s house, even when pampered was restrictive. By the time Harvard came down for breakfast, the pains were back. I chewed on my lip. He was cheerful and bright. “Uncle Charles is going to show me his woodworking shop, said he’d demonstrate a few short cuts.” Good! That would give me the privacy to ask my aunt about the cramps.
When Harvard left the breakfast table, Aunt Joanne bustled about, starting to prepare lunch. I offered to help, hoping to find an opening for my question. The heavy, steady throb in my lower abdomen was increasing. I stood peeling potatoes. Suddenly, I had to drop the peeler and sit down. Aunt Joanne looked at me. “Is something wrong? You look a little white.”
“I’m having pain. It comes and goes. It seems to be getting worse.”
“Just leave everything and go lie down on the couch. You need to put your feet up. It’s probably gas, but there’s no need to take chances. I’ll finish things here.”
I moved to the window seat in the kitchen. “I’ll be okay. I don’t want to be alone in that big living room.”
“Suit yourself,” my aunt replied, “Just keep your feet up.”
Lying down lessened the pain a bit. It must be gas, I thought.
Lunch came and went. The pain increased markedly. I got Harvard aside. “I think we should get the girls this afternoon. I don’t feel well. I’m having a lot of pain.”
“You really want to leave right now?” Harvard was having too much fun.
“Yes. We need to pack and get going.”
“Okay. You gather up the stuff. I’ll put it in the car. Uncle Charles wants to show me one more technique.”
Walking upstairs was a chore and packing the suitcases was a nightmare. Why couldn’t Harvard come and help? He was always more interested in other things.
The trip to my mother’s was uncomfortable, but the pain had eased a bit, I guess my system sensed it was headed home.
Sitting in my mother’s rocker, I felt the pain increase again. “What’s wrong, Honey?” my mother asked.
“I’ve got a little pain in my tummy. It’s been bothering all day. It must be gas.”
“Possibly! It might be wise for you and Harvard to take the girls and head home. I’ll understand.”
We followed her advice, squeezing the two girls into the old Nash. It was a hot, sticky, early July day. The world seemed to hum; or was it in my head? The pain was getting worse. Every bump ran through my body. “Harvard, could you please try to miss the bumps. They hurt.”
“I’m doing that! I’m trying to get you home as fast as I can.” He wasn’t much support. I lapsed back into the consuming pain and my observations of the hot countryside. If we could just get home!
Finally, the car climbed the hill to the old white parsonage. Harvard said, “You go take care of yourself. I’ll get the girls into the house.”
‘At last,’ I thought, ‘some help!’ I headed for the couch. I’d hardly subsided onto its comfort, when my whole abdominal cavity began to twist inside, like a gigantic fist writhing in frustration. Pain! Oh, dear God, the pain! Quick to the bathroom! I ran, hardly making it to the toilet. As I sat, a convulsive contraction gripped my lower body my whole insides were dropping, dropping, dropping out of me. The toilet filled up with deep red blood. Oh, God, what’s happening? I sat in a stupor. The pain began to subside. Then the realization started creeping in. I’ve had a miscarriage! I’ve lost the baby! Oh, dear God, I’ve lost my baby!
Terrified to view the mess in the toilet, I flushed. Gradually, I cleaned myself up and dragged back to the couch. I lay in total despair–the baby was gone!
By now Harvard had the girls into the house and had shown them their rooms. He was keeping them busy in the kitchen, just beyond where I was on the couch. He stopped and walked over to me. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve just miscarried the baby, I think.” my voice sounded hollow to me.
“ Honey, I’m sorry. I know how much this baby meant to you.”
“I don’t know what to do?” My eyes were dry. My life had just drained from my body.
“Why don’t you stay where you are and rest? I’ve gotten a call from a parishioner who needs to see me. The girls are all right, playing. I’ll be back in a bit.” And with that he disappeared.
Feeling totally alone and empty, I lay motionless on the couch. I could hear the babbling of my nieces in the kitchen. Time dragged. The tears began to trickle. Silent, lonely, grieving tears ran down my cheeks.
Harvard must have told the girls to stay in the kitchen since they didn’t come to bother me. Finally, Rosemary called, “Can I get you something, Aunt Jessie? We’re getting hungry. Can we cook a can of soup?”
“Yes,” I called back in a husky voice. “You’ll find cans on the second shelf. Pans by the stove. …Can you get the stove going?”
“I think so.”
Thank goodness my sister’s children, raised on a farm, had been taught to be self-sufficient. I lapsed back into despair and the returning physical pain.
Harvard got home a while later. “How are you doing, Hon?” he called from the door.
“It’s getting worse, again. I don’t know what we should do.”
“I guess we’d better call the doctor.”
“Can you? I’m so scared. The pain just doesn’t go away. I’m bleeding terribly fast.”
Harvard dialed the telephone and talked to the doctor. “He says to bring you right in. He wants to take a look.”
The trip to the small, country hospital’s emergency room at BC&C hospital was a bleak experience. The table was narrow, cold, stainless steel– and sterile, as was the doctor. “Yes, indeed. You’ve had a miscarriage. Seems all clean in there, but I’m concerned with your continued pain. You can go home, now. But if it returns, we’ll need to get you back for a D and C. You might even need it tonight.”
I could no longer cope. I sat dumbly listening to the news. ‘What was a D and C., anyway?’ When the doctor left the room, Harvard helped me get the last of my clothes on.
The trip home was silent. I stared out the window, wishing I could tear my abdomen out and throw it away. It wasn’t any good to me now. The pain didn’t stop. Later that night, we drove the ten miles back to the hospital. Harvard stayed while they registered me and got me into bed. Once tucked in, he said, “I can’t stay with you. This is Saturday night. I still haven’t written my sermon and I’ve got to preach tomorrow.”
“Oh, please,” I begged, “can’t you get someone else to do it? Can’t you get one of the Deacons? Eddie would do it if he knew we needed him.”
“No. It’s my responsibility. You’ll be okay. The doctors will take care of you. After church tomorrow, I’ll come get you.”
I turned my brimming eyes to the wall–always the Church first! I bit back my rage and feelings of abandonment. “Okay! Go!”
Other than feeling the shock of the cold straight razor touching my body when they shaved me for the operation, I essentially was not there through the process. Next morning the doctor stopped by my room. “You’re fine. We got all the extra tissue causing the pain. You can call your husband to come get you. Discharge time is at 10:00 am.”
More complications! Harvard would be preaching at 10:00 am. I called him on the phone. “Jeez! You know I can’t come then. I’ll be preaching! You’ll have to wait.”
“But I want to come home! I’ve just lost our baby!”
Harvard seemed extremely annoyed. “I’ll get someone in the parish to get you.” With that the phone went dead. Maybe it was just as well that we’d lost the baby. Harvard seemed to feel that other things were more important!
Mrs. Hinckley, a quiet, motherly woman arrived to take me home. She soothed and comforted me as much as possible. Once home, I got into bed, wishing I could just escape–forget it all.
Cards, telephone calls, and flowers began arriving the next day. The whole parish was saddened by our loss and expressed it in any way they could.
A phone call came early the next afternoon. Mrs. Heartsworth wished to stop by for just a moment. She had a gift. I wasn’t sure I knew Mrs. Heartsworth, but I would be glad for the distraction. At two o’clock, Mrs. Heartsworth arrived, dressed in a smartly trimmed, navy blue suit and carrying a tiny box. She sat down by the bed, took off her white gloves, and handed the gift box to me. “This is for the baby. Often, when a woman has a miscarriage, the baby is simply forgotten. No child should be forgotten!”
I carefully unwrapped the pretty paper on the gift. I reached into the box, pulling out a clear glass bubble, flattened on the bottom and tightly sealed. It was filled with pastel spring flowers–pinks, blues and touches of green. In the center perched a small yellow butterfly with wing tips dusted in brown. I clutched the gift to my still tender breasts, the tears poured in torrents down my cheeks. This unknown woman knew! – “At least I can have my butterfly, forever!” I sobbed.
P.S. This picture is not of my original Butterfly for that one was broken during a house move. Many many years later Nicole, my granddaughter who created the cover for my book A Bird and the Dragon and her mother Felicia, came to me and gave me this butterfly for Mother’s Day. It was Nicole’s idea. I don’t believe either of them knew the story of my original Butterfly. The ties between women run very deep!