By Jacqueline Kolosov
Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer—
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
End of Week Twenty-Four by Pregnancy’s Calendar
In these final, amber-lit days of October, the New Mexico aspen and cottonwood trees still hold their yellow-gold leaves. Climbing higher into Santa Fe’s foothills, I roll down the windows to breathe in the gin smell of juniper and scents far less easy to identify in this dry, high altitude air. The last time I was here, five months ago, feathery yellow poppies and purple lupine flanked the steep gravel road leading up to the tiny house at the top. Now it’s all fiddle-shaped scorpion weed and brown-edged yucca and cacti, though I notice some wild gourds growing along the roadside, and red-cheeked flickers with speckled breasts, a male and a female, flitting in and out of the scrub pine.
I pull into the steep driveway and sit for a minute, take in the familiar adobe house with its weather-beaten turquoise door. It was here, five months ago, where I first heard the ‘good news’ of my pregnancy—“It’s a fantastic number,” Dr. M said after telephoning with the blood test result.
That evening the sky surrounding this house glowed oceanic purple-blue, and Dr. M went on to tell me that he believed this pregnancy would at last hang on, be viable. “With a number this good,” he gushed, “you may even be carrying twins.” After I hung up, I sat on the step and looked out at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains: awed, astonished, overjoyed. A child. A sibling for my daughter. At last.
At last. I would be able to experience that journey again, the wonder of pregnancy and birth and the tapestry of early years that follow. The only miracle we have left, an Israeli friend once called the process of bringing a child into this life. Reminded of my daughter Sophie as a newborn, the hours of cocooned nursing, the long walks around the neighborhood with her small face pressed against my breast, I wept with happiness, already anticipating first steps, first words, the wonder of discovery—and the gift of sharing it all over again.
Had the pregnancy held on, today would mark the end of the twenty-fourth week, and I would be in the last three weeks of the second trimester. The so-called “honeymoon” or “nesting” trimester in which most women thrive, as I did when, six years ago, I carried my daughter, suffused with energy and hope, the nausea of the first trimester a memory, as well as the fatigue that would set in late in trimester three. By the twenty-fourth week, the baby would weigh about one pound and five ounces, and he would be the length of a ruler from head to toe, his features unmistakably human.
End of Week Twelve
“Let’s have a look at your beautiful baby,” Dr. Phillips says on the morning of the twelve week ultrasound. It’s Tuesday, and Thursday will end the first trimester and the grueling three months of hormone injections. The last few weeks have been dominated by fatigue and nausea so intense that during weeks eight through eleven I subsisted on watermelon and crackers washed down with sparkling water or ginger tea. When I catch myself complaining, I remind myself to be grateful. I am pregnant at last after more than two years of trying.
Because of technology’s centrality in IVF, the ultrasounds are almost routine. I first glimpsed “my beautiful baby,” as Dr. Phillips named him, as early as the sixth week. “The fish stage,” she called it playfully, as what looked like a blurred question mark appeared on the screen, the head being what predominated along with a faint white blip that faded in and out. This, Dr. Phillips told me, was the beating heart.
At the eight week ultrasound, I heard the heartbeat, faster than anything I could imagine, the sublime proof of a thriving life. “And look at how your baby’s moving,” Dr. Phillips said as the tiny being—smaller than a walnut but already showing such human features—somersaulted on the ultrasound screen. “That’s a very good sign of brain activity.” She smiled at me, her blue eyes bluer in the screen’s light.
Yes, everything seemed to be going so well; now, at this twelfth week ultrasound, I anxiously anticipate how much more human this growing being will look. The eyes, I know, will have moved from the sides to the front of the head, the ears will be fully formed, and he will have begun making sucking noises.
“I have a medical student with me,” Dr. Phillips says before we begin the exam. “Is it okay if he observes?”
“I suppose so,” I say, stretching out on the examination table, and sliding my feet into the stirrups.
Dr. Phillips slides the ultrasound wand inside me, and I watch “my beautiful baby” appear on the screen, the eyes in place, ears and hands present, fingers folded into clearly recognizable fists. The fishlike tail is gone, in its place, two tiny feet tucked up against a body still dwarfed by the large head.
So entranced am I by this image—by the fact that the baby and I—that we’ve made it this far—I don’t realize how silent the room has become.
Dr. Phillips’ hand grips my own. “Jacqueline,” she says. “There’s a problem.”
I stare back at her, the creases in her brow, the fear in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she says, still holding my hand, so that all source of feeling is momentarily located there. “I don’t hear the baby’s heart.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The heartbeat,” she says, “I can’t find it.”
The medical student beside us stands absolutely still, and for a moment I feel a kind of fury at the very fact of his presence, his intrusion here. “I don’t understand,” I say again.
“There’s no heartbeat,” she says, entwining her fingers with my own.
In that moment I become the chorus of wailing women in Greek tragedies condensed into one woman of one hundred and twenty-five pounds of intense hopes pounded down into a fire that will blaze and blaze until it leaves nothing behind but ash.
“I’m so, so sorry,” she says. “This is so unfair. I don’t understand. You are such a good mother. You don’t deserve this, not after everything you’ve been through. You,” she hurries on, breathless, “we did everything right.”
Dr. Phillips’ words flow in and out of me as she explains that the baby, the placenta, and the entire infrastructure of the pregnancy will have to be removed. “You’re too far along to let this go naturally. Besides, it would be too much—”
While I sit mute, my temples throbbing, she proceeds to tell me that I will need to undergo a surgical procedure known as dilation curettage. The uterine lining and its contents will be scraped and scooped out. “You’ll be under a complete anesthetic, and I’ll do the surgery,” she says.
“Surgery?” I say, my mouth dry, as I wrap my arms around myself.
“There’s a small risk of infection, scarring, but I’m very careful,” she says, her blue eyes bluer now given her own tears. “I’m sorry, Jacqueline, but I don’t see an alternative.”
The Greek chorus is silent now, though the rhythms of their sobs still course through my bloodstream.
“We can do this as early as tomorrow morning, or if you need more time—”
“No,” I say, staring at the now black ultrasound screen. “Tomorrow, do it tomorrow.”
By now, the medical student has retreated to the far end of the room and leans against the white examination room wall.
Five, maybe ten minutes later, she instructs me to go down the hall for further ultrasounds by a specialist—“I know what I see, but we need a confirmation. And Dr. McIntyre might be able to discern more.”
“Of course,” I say, suddenly docile, placing my hand on the swell of my belly, conscious of the absence it contains. There’s no heartbeat. The being who would have become my child is dead.
Before leaving her office, I call Bill and tell him why I won’t be coming home for a while. He has just returned from a trip late the night before, worn out from the long drive, and is expecting me within the hour. My only source of gratitude—that I have not brought our daughter along to this ultrasound, as I originally intended, so that she could see her baby brother or sister, hear the heartbeat, feel the connection that has become realer to me with each day.
“No,” Bill says when I told him. “No, no, no…”
All of the nurses and the staff in Dr. Phillips’ practice, who have come to know me over the last eight months, gather around, their own bodies bowed with grief. “I’m so sorry, Jacqueline,” they say. “I’m so very sorry.”
Accompanied by Kathleen, my favorite nurse, also the single mother of two boys, I walk down a long, long hospital hallway; and how I wish I could just keep walking, until I awake from what can only be a terrible dream.
We reach the end of the hall.
“If you need anything,” Kathleen says, mascara smearing her tear-stained cheeks, “someone to watch Sophie, anything at all, call me.”
“Thank you,” I say.
Another nurse, this one unfamiliar, leads me into yet another examination room where I stand shivering until she reminds me to get undressed from the waist down.
It is in this room, over the course of the next hour, that a kind doctor nearing seventy looks at the baby on an ultrasound screen; this one has a three dimensional feature that brings the now dormant world in which my long-awaited child began into gruesomely cinematic reality. Later, a friend will ask me why I didn’t look away. Part of it is shock, but underlying this, I believe I needed to see my child or what would have become my child. This will be the last time—my conscious mind knows though my body and soul do not, not yet, not for a long time will my body and soul realize this—that I will see him.
“There’s a cystic structure on the umbilical cord,” Dr. McIntyre tells me when he at last speaks. “I’ve never seen this before, but it’s the only abnormality I can find. We won’t know until after the results of the surgery—after the fetal analysis—but my belief is that your child died sometime during the tenth week. Likely this cystic structure inhibited blood flow.”
“So he suffocated?” I say.
The doctor comes closer. “At this stage,” he says, laying a hand on my forearm, “there’s very little sense of consciousness.”
Two, maybe three hours later, I go from the obstetric and gynecological wing of the hospital to admitting where, with Bill beside me, I sit on an aluminum chair and register for the next morning’s surgery.
“Do you want to take a deep breath, sir?” the grandmotherly woman entering my information into the computer asks Bill.
“No,” he says, shocked out of his own silent orbit. “Why?”
“It looks like you’re holding your breath.”
Bill scowls at the woman, but he does exhale.
Only after the electronic paperwork is complete does this grandmotherly woman with her desk full of cheerful crocheted sayings tell me that she, too, has gone through this same procedure. “I’m very sorry,” she says, as we stand up, “for both of you.”
Outside, in the hospital parking lot, Bill wraps me up in a tight embrace. “I never even saw the baby on the ultrasound screen.”
He doesn’t cry, just stands there, holding me, the images of this morning burned into my mind, onto the backs of my eyelids.
When I was pregnant with Sophie—even before the tests confirmed it—he knew that she was present; that everything would be okay, and he told me this many, many times. Sophie was conceived naturally, unlike this child whose beginnings came into being in a petri dish. For Bill, connecting to this pregnancy has been far more difficult, has felt so much less real.
But this human being’s death, this is undeniably real.
For the next two weeks, I will have to stay out of the water because of the risk of infection, so on this night before the surgery, I want to stay in the chlorinated blue for hours. I plunge underwater, transforming the world into a continuum of blurred forms.
“Catch me, Mama!” Sophie calls again and again, as she dives off the edge of the pool, crashing into my arms. “Catch me!”
I watch her plunge fearlessly into the water and wonder how she will make sense of this loss. What can such a small child know of death? What should she know?
I try to recover my three-year-old self in the aftermath of my mother’s sister’s death. My aunt Irene was not yet thirty when ovarian cancer claimed her. She left behind a daughter, Ria, who was just a year older than me. My mother was thirty-five and pregnant for a second time with my sister when Irene died. “You and your sister saved me,” she’d told me more than once.
But my memories? What I felt? I lie there searching.
Very early the next morning, I wake well before dawn and listen to Bill and to Sophie breathe, he beside me and she in the trundle bed we moved into our room a few weeks ago, after returning from three weeks of communal sleeping in England. Although my dreams were full of dim caves I feared entering, for a few moments their breathing, the beginnings of birdsong beyond the open windows, and the warmth of my terrier Josie curled up beside me, are what abide.
Some two hours later, just as the sun is beginning to rise, I return to the hospital, check in, follow the attendant into the surgical waiting area where everything, from the walls to the carpet, is played out in shades of serene, otherworldly blues and greens. And within this area is a play area full of toys, building blocks, puzzles, and a group of stuffed animals that some child has arranged into a crooked circle.
The nurse on duty, a plump, overly-cheerful woman who smells of the peppermints in her pocket, has problems putting in the IV. “I’m afraid I left a piece behind,” she says, having finally jammed the spike into the crook of my left forearm. “Could you just hold your fingers here for a sec?”
Holding my fingers over the un-tethered IV hookup threading my vein seems the perfect metaphor for all that’s happening right now.
“I’m really sorry,” the nurse says after she returns, out of breath, and inserts the missing piece. “And I’m sorry about what’s happened to you. My daughter went through this, too, so I know a little of what you must be going through.”
“Thanks,” I reply, wondering how many ‘I’m sorrys’ I’ve heard in the last twenty-four hours; and grateful when, perhaps an hour later, someone comes for my hospital bed and wheels me through the brightly-lit halls into the operating arena where the anesthesia that drips into my IV knocks me out completely.
For the next five hours I am spared of everything, even dreams.
I’d arrived at the hospital at seven forty-five a.m., but the surgery takes place around one o’clock because Dr. Phillips’ previous surgery, a severe case of endometriosis, proves far more complicated. I wake around four, according to the clock on the wall, but it is well past four thirty before I can get the attention of yet another nurse in yet another part of the hospital. This place, which surely has some official name, is basically the section where patients, each in his or her individual room, are monitored after waking up from anesthesia.
Flat on my back and still hooked up to the IV and bleeding onto the matting beneath me, I try repeatedly to stop someone in scrubs as they pass my partially open door. Astonishingly, despite all of the hookups in this room and the big screen TV, I can’t find a call button anywhere. Even though the place is basically silent save for the low chitchat of distant nurses at their station, no one hears me.
“It looks like it fell to the ground,” a nurse says when she finally enters, panic registering on her pale, freckled face.
“Well, that’s unconscionable,” I hiss. “It’s medicine 101 to have a call button, right? I mean I’m lying here in bloody swabbing, and I have to pee, and I’m hooked up to this stupid IV so I can’t go anywhere, and no one—no one’s around to even hear me.”
“I’m so, so sorry,” she says, immediately removing the IV so that I can stand up, and then remove the soiled padding before pointing me in the direction of the bathroom.
Afterwards I glance down, appalled at the toilet now filled with soft tissue and dark bloody globs. Am I going to have to look at this sort of thing for the next few days? I ask myself, only to resume sobbing, muffling my cries by pressing my face into a washcloth.
“Are you okay?” the nurse says when I step out of the bathroom.
“Let me see,” I say, the coiled fury loosing itself at last. “Yesterday, I thought I was having a baby. The routine ultrasound confirmed that I wasn’t. Today, I had what I thought would be my child and everything else scraped out of me. No,” I say, nearing hysteria, “I would say I am definitely not ‘okay.’”
“I know,” she says, the corners of her pink lipstick-mouth quivering.
“Do you?” I look down at the white support hose Dr. Phillips insisted I wear to prevent blood clotting, as if a blood clot would dare to happen after everything else.
“Do you really?”
“Yes, I do,” she says. “I went through this, too, ten years ago. How far along were you?”
“I was at twenty-two. I know how awful it is.”
I close my eyes, unable to imagine miscarrying halfway through a pregnancy.
“Listen,” she says, patting my hand. “Let me bring you some crackers and something to drink. If I’m right, you haven’t eaten since last night.”
“Alright,” I say, having given no thought to food.
“Graham crackers or Saltines?”
“Saltines,” I reply. Miscarriage, I now know, is a lot more common than I ever thought. No wonder too many people here refer to this procedure as D&C as if it were shorthand for decaffeinated coffee or some sort of facelift and not the removal of a dead human being.
“I’m sorry,” I tell the nurse when she returns. “I’m not usually such a bitch.”
“Don’t even think about it. Besides, a lot of people come out of anesthesia fighting mad. One woman last week tried to bite another nurse.” She sighs. “I should have come to check on you earlier. I assumed you were still out of it.”
“I almost wish I were,” I say. “Tell me this: how soon can I go home?”
Weeks Thirteen thru Seventeen
In the weeks that follow the surgery, during those hours when afternoon tips toward evening, I often sit at the wrought iron table in the front yard and draft a poem, having committed to writing a poem a day throughout August along with a group of others. I made this commitment months before. And although I initially resisted the idea of writing poems in the wake of the miscarriage, I discover that writing becomes a refuge; and the writing itself a record, a journey, a testament to the fact that this being was here and needed to be remembered.
Nights I lie in bed unable to sleep, or walk for miles, my spirited terrier Josie accompanying me, and retrace the last month almost obsessively. If the specialist was right, the baby died in late July, some ten days before my birthday. Did the low fever I ran in the days before the twelve week ultrasound have anything to do with the fact that my body was trying to hold onto what was no longer living? Was the fever a sign? Was the terrible nausea? And if I hadn’t been swallowing estrogen and injecting progesterone as per Dr. M’s long distance orders, would the fact of this death have become apparent much, much sooner? In other words, would I have miscarried naturally, as my neighbor Jessica had seven years ago, something I learned only later once I told her what had happened?
I will never know.
The hormones I ingested and injected for three months, hormones I would have stopped taking at the end of the twelfth week, masked the reality of the situation. The hormones kept telling my body it was pregnant, that a human being was growing inside me, when in fact that was no longer true. For nearly two weeks after the baby’s death, I stayed on those hormones, injecting an inch of progesterone into my tenderized butt each morning and swallowing estrogen pills twice a day. Shouldn’t someone—Dr. M in Los Angeles, Dr. Phillips here in town—have been more closely monitoring me?
“The death was an absolute rarity,” the specialist, Dr. McIntyre, had said, never having seen anything like it in his forty years of practice. He’d even had to look up the condition in his medical reference book.
But underlying all of this—what Dr. M called my “terrible bad luck”—was the fact that I had been trying to fly in the face of biology by trying to have a child in my forties. Didn’t another mid-forties doctor friend, one who’d recently adopted, tell me that I might do better to just face reality, specifically my biological peri-menopausal age?
IVF tries to deny that reality, convincing women like me, healthy and very active women in our early forties, with some financial resources, that we can have it all—or at least, another child.
“Let it go,” my mother says in one of our late night, long distance calls. And on another: “I’m sorry, Monkey. I just can’t help you with this.”
On the day after the surgery, Dr. M leaves a message on my voicemail, his voice choking up—a little theatrically, I think—as he repeats the facts of the situation. It’s Dr. M. Sigh. I heard what happened. Sigh. I know you are having a D&C. I know there was a problem with the umbilical cord. I know there will be genetic testing. Sigh. I am very sorry to learn all of this. All of us are. Sigh. Please, when you are ready, call me.
“I’m not sure I ever want to talk to him again,” I tell Bill, who, as he reminded me many times during the last year, neither trusted nor liked Dr. M. He’s a salesman, not a doctor—was Bill’s not-entirely-inaccurate refrain. After all, Dr. M always stressed the success rates, the state-of-the-art technology, his own competence, side-stepping or even leaving out the many, many things that could go and had gone terribly wrong.
That said, what I don’t realize, at least not until Bill points it out to me, is that I am in that stage of grief that brings with it anger and denial. I find myself making a sort of deal with God, or at least a deal with time and history, as if that will bring the baby back. If I could turn back the clock to August seventh and go into Dr. Phillips’ office and hear her say, “Ah, just look at your beautiful baby…” If we could celebrate the thriving sound of that baby’s heartbeat, I’d give up…I’d promise…I’d change… If I could watch him somersault on the screen. If, If, If…
For a time my denial is almost hopeful, and it later reminds me of Joan Didion’s determination to keep her husband’s shoes and clothes neatly arranged in his closet after his death. He will need them, she tells herself, won’t he, once he came back?
Yes, denial is both hopeful and painful, and I assume it plays a protective role in the psyche; seriously, who can live with raw grief twenty-four hours a day?
Anger is something else, searing and red; or festering, a gangrenous green-black. My anger is now an out-of-control extension of the anger I’ve felt ever since the first IVF procedure failed in December, more than six months before the “fantastic number” of early June. Back in December, I stifled my anger at Dr. M for making the decision to implant one embryo (and not two) without consulting me, thereby reducing my chance of becoming pregnant by twenty-five percent right from the beginning. It was immediately after that first unsuccessful transfer—one preceded by so much psychological buildup—I became suspicious of the process that Bill and I had committed to and especially of the fact that reproductive technology had in essence become big business with big money involved. Before losing this pregnancy, what I kept telling myself was that IVF—Dr. M’s invasive intimacy, the hormones, the endless monitoring—would at last be relegated to The Past, and I could at last focus on the pregnancy and the coming child.
Now, as the medical bills come in, one by one, quickly totaling some three thousand dollars, I find myself reminded, on a whole new level, that this is hardly The Past.
Weeks Fifteen & Sixteen
On August twenty-seventh, some three weeks after the surgery, Sophie, Bill, and I bike over to the grade school for her first day of kindergarten. The school day for elementary school children in Texas begins at the ungodly hour of seven-forty-five a.m., thereby eradicating our daily practice of reading picture books in bed for a good hour after waking at the more civilized hour of seven thirty or eight. It also means struggling to get our night owl daughter into bed and asleep by nine, something we rarely manage.
With kindergarten’s regimen in place, or at least setting the tone for the day, mornings center on waking at five to seven (if we’re lucky), scrambling to get breakfast together, Sophie dressed, and her backpack and lunchbox together, before pedaling or driving the six blocks to the magnet school whose claim to fame is the fact that Buddy Holly went there.
The school day lasts until three twenty in the afternoon, at which hour Bill or I stand among the other parents, grandparents and the occasional babysitter, many of us chatting and nearly all of us eagerly waiting our child’s return as we watch them exit in single file and relatively quiet, a regimentation that defies my belief in the freedom that should be childhood. “I’m hoping I’ll get used to it, this schedule I mean,” I tell my neighbor, Jessica, whose youngest is now in second grade.
Jessica just laughs. “Good luck. Matt is in eighth grade, and I still haven’t gotten used to it.”
As if to uphold the universe’s precedent of bringing hardship or just horrendous luck forth in mega-doses, my friend, Sabina, too, is worn out from the ten days that her now thirteen-month-old daughter, Anya, has spent in the hospital. Anya’s admission to intensive care happens immediately after the family returns to Texas from a summer in Austria. The reason: organ failure brought on by dangerously-low hemoglobin levels.
“She looks so good now, and she’s so happy,” I tell Sabina as we sit at a silver and blue Formica table at the 1950s ice cream shop after our daughters’ fourth day of kindergarten. While Sophie and Natalia twirl in circles and shuffle their feet to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” playing on the corner jukebox, hopped up on a double scoop of the blue-yellow-and red Crazy Colors, I hold Anya on my lap and spoon tiny bites of vanilla ice cream into her mouth.
“I know she is, now,” Sabina says, sadness tugging at her voice as she strokes Anya’s tan, barefoot, “but her skin is still jaundiced, and even though she wants to nurse, I’m not supposed to let her rely on that. Only at night.”
“But why?” I nursed Sophie until she was two and a half, relishing not only the concrete fact of the nutrients she was getting but the profound connection that came with nursing.
Sabina sighs. “Not enough iron. We’re giving her oral supplements now, but she spits the stuff out. Felix is trying to find ways of camouflaging the taste. Apple sauce seems to work best, but it’s still an ordeal. I tasted the stuff.” She grimaces. “It’s awful.”
“It’s got to get better,” I say, believing that Anya’s hemoglobin problems can somehow be resolved. Hadn’t the bone marrow scans shown there was nothing wrong with her cells themselves?
“No, it doesn’t,” Sabina says, anger creeping into her voice. “It might get worse.” She turns away then, stares out the parlor windows at the passing cars.
I sit there, frustrated with Sabina, unfairly, yes, given all that she’s been through since Anya’s birth when she and her husband discovered that their tiny newborn had Down’s Syndrome. Anya came into the world via emergency cesarean section suffering from pneumonia and other complications that kept her in intensive care for the first two weeks of her life.
Beside me, Anya’s chin is sticky with vanilla ice cream. I breathe in her milky, bread scent and soon she begins clapping her hands, her enthusiasm for life, her resilience, an astonishing contrast to how sick she’s so recently been. “I wish you could see her as a blessing,” I blurt out.
Sabina stares back at me, unblinking. “How can I possibly?”
“She’s so happy,” I say, kissing Anya’s honey-blonde crown of hair. “And yes, I know she’s not happy when she’s suffering. But I believe you’re going to get through this. I’ve always believed that.”
“Yes,” Sabina says, her face solemn. “You’ve always been her advocate.”
Come mid-October, Anya is again hospitalized for her plummeting hemoglobin levels. By this point, she is so severely anemic that her veins have shrunk, making the insertion of an IV akin to torture, both for tiny Anya but also and especially for her helpless, frantic mother. The second night I visit them in the children’s wing at Covenant Women and Children’s Hospital, Anya’s small body is marred with scabs and bruises from the IVs. In the end, the surgeon inserted a catheter close to her heart, so as to make the blood transfusions, a necessity for now, more humane.
“I want to go home so badly,” Sabina says, as we sit on the vinyl sofa on which Sabina has slept for the last six nights in a pediatric hospital room cluttered with Sabina’s and her daughter’s clothes, books, food in Tupperware that Sabina had brought from home, and all sorts of medical supplies. “I miss Felix and especially Natalia. I don’t sleep well without them.”
“You’ll be home soon,” I say, laying my hand on hers. “And look at Anya, how far she’s come. I can’t believe how much energy she has, how resilient she is.”
“She’s always like that after a transfusion,” Sabina says, her face weary and very pale. “The trouble is, it doesn’t last.”
“It might this time,” I say, criticizing myself as soon as the words were out; what, really, do I know? I stroke the butterfly wings of Anya’s shoulder blades, and she babbles and wiggles her arms and legs. It’s astonishing really, the way we human beings hold on, the way we fight for life.
Why, then, didn’t my baby live?—I try to banish the thought as soon as it appears. Still, it lingers in my chest, freezes my breath.
“There’s something I’ve wanted to say to you,” Sabina says after a while.
I look up at her, register the hesitation, all that she’s not saying, both in her voice and in her strained, pretty face framed by the highlights in her long, chestnut hair. “Okay,” I say, “go on.”
“I understand why you want another. I wanted another, and look—” She laughs nervously, pulls out the self-help book that her father recently sent—Good Thinking for Hard Times, or some such title. “How could my father think to send me this? I don’t even have time to read.”
Anya continues to babble, and what she says closely resembled ‘Mama,’ or so I tell Sabina. “Just listen: she said ‘Mama.’ I’m sure of it.”
“Not possible,” Sabina replies. “There is a problem with her palate, her tongue. She won’t speak until the therapy starts, and even then it will be difficult.” Again, the anxious laugh. “Can you believe they asked me if I wanted marriage counseling the other day? What I want is more help.”
“You’re doing a remarkable job.”
“No,” she says adamantly. “I’m just doing what I have to. And now, what I want to say is this: I wish you could just be happy with what you have, just hold it very close, and try not to look back.” She closes her eyes then, wraps her arms around herself with real urgency, and exhales.
It’s late September before the laboratory results come back, and Dr. Phillips’ nurses call me to come in to meet with her.
“This is the hard part,” Dr. Phillips says, as I sit on the examination table opposite her, trying not to think about the last time I will here, for by this point, I am no longer deluding myself into believing that the lost child will somehow return.
“Just tell me,” I say, bracing myself against the table.
She hands me the lab results, all the information that remains of my baby’s history, the fact that this human being, for ten brief weeks, existed. “A boy,” Dr. Phillips says, “a genetically normal boy.”
This outcome confirms that the problem with the umbilical cord was the reason for his death. This outcome confirms what Dr. M had only hinted at: somewhere in the donor’s genetic profile lurked this phenomenally rare possibility. I swallow, my mouth dry. A genetically normal boy. We would have called him ‘Daniel.’ A son. A brother for Sophie.
She steps closer, and we hold each other. “Jacqueline, I’m so very, very sorry.”
“I know you are,” I say, reminded of how she tried to comfort me on the day of the surgery just before the anesthetic took hold, her own shock and grief—I can’t find the heartbeat—at the discovery of the twelve week ultrasound. “I’m grateful that you’re my doctor.”
“Thank you,” she says, and gradually lets me go. “What about Dr. M? Have you spoken to him since the surgery?”
“Last week,” I say, reminded of the hurried phone conversation, hurried this time on my part and not because he was phoning me from his car with his GSP droning on in the background.
She waits, the white-gold of her hair like a halo beneath the fluorescent office lights.
“He told me that if the lab results showed that the baby was normal, he would recommend that I go through the procedure once more with the remaining three embryos. He said I owed it to the embryos, to myself, to complete what we’d started.”
“That’s one way of looking at it.” Dr. Phillips says. We sit in silence until she says,
“So, will you?”
“No,” I reply, owning this decision at last, the fact that cannot undertake this journey again—if that’s what it is, not after all that’s happened. “I have my daughter to think about, my own well-being.”
“Yes, you do,” Dr. Phillips says, and embraces me once more. Unlike Dr. M, Dr. Phillips is married with children of her own. “I didn’t tell you this before,” she says, “but I, too, was living for your pregnancy’s success. What I see, so much of the time, is disappointment, loss.”
“Yes.” I am reminded of an earlier visit when my appointment was delayed for ninety minutes; the reason, a woman who lay in a darkened room in Dr. Phillips’ office, having just experienced an early miscarriage. I gave so little thought to her circumstances then, so caught up was I, so totally absorbed, in my own journey.
“Sometimes,” she says, “I ask myself why I’m doing this when so much of the time, well, it doesn’t happen. Women come to me with severe endometriosis, and all too often the reasons for their inability to conceive remain mysterious. But there are those precious moments when a baby is born,” she says, light coming into her face, her voice, “when it happens—”
“The miracle,” I say.
“Yes,” she says, pulling me closer, “exactly that.”
For more of Kolosov’s thoughts on motherhood, IVF, and writing, check out the Cocachella Review interview with her here.
Jacqueline Kolosov is a widely published author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She has two YA novels out this year, and co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Her collection of essays, Motherhood, and the Places Between, is forthcoming. One of the essays included in the collection is the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Burns Archive Prize for Nonfiction in the Bellevue Literary Review. She also teaches in the Department of English at Texas Tech University.