It’s short story Friday around here and given that it’s Loved Baby week, I’ve written a short story. It’s a story that melds together other stories I’ve heard and read from women who have experienced pregnancy loss and inserts how I imagine I might respond if I were in Marisa’s shoes. This story is entirely fiction aside from the words at the end taken directly from the introduction of Loved Baby.
This story might be hard to read in some sections, but I urge you to read it anyway. I know and know of too many who have remained silent because they don’t feel free to speak about their experience. I know that I personally have struggled knowing what to say or what to do when someone I know goes through this. It’s a messy time and a messy situation and emotions run high and logic runs low and nobody seems to know what to do with it.
We are imperfect humans and we don’t always know what to say or what to do, but do you know what I’ve heard over and over? Saying something and doing something is always better than nothing. Even if you say the wrong thing, it’s better than silence. Even if you do the wrong thing, it’s better than disappearing. My hope is that we can learn how to have conversations around this topic and not be afraid to speak or to do. Even if your words come out more like Jeff’s or your experience feels like Anne’s.
Marisa stared in horror into the toilet. Blood. Everywhere. Hadn’t they just had their first appointment? Wasn’t everything perfect? All the blood work? The ultrasound?
“It’s not supposed to be like this,” she whispered, clutching her still cramping abdomen. “It’s not supposed to be like this.” She said it over and over and over as more warmth trickled down her leg.
The door to the bathroom burst open and her husband, Brad, stood in the doorway, his brown eyes wild, concern etched into the lines by his lips and on his forehead. Marisa’s screaming finally registered in her ears, the front of her shirt balled tightly in her fist. His eyes followed hers to the toilet.
“No, no, no,” he moaned, kneeling beside the pot, fingers hovering over the seat, then brushing through his already-graying hair, then back to hovering over the seat. The moments passed by, each lasting a thousand years it seemed, before time sped back up to real time.
Marisa’s brain clicked back on and she grabbed her phone off the ceramic countertop, calling the emergency nurse number she’d programmed in all those months ago. She had a hard time hearing the words the nurse was saying; her own voice sounded miles away. Blood color? Volume? Was there a sack? How long since it happened? What did she feel like beforehand? A follow up appointment was scheduled, though Marisa couldn’t remember what the nurse said, even after the third time she repeated it. The nurse assured her they would call the morning of the appointment to remind her.
Marisa slowly undressed and climbed into the shower, Brad still kneeling on the floor, the cold water shocking her back into reality. Slowly it warmed up and she squirted some soap onto her washcloth. Then she heard the toilet flush.
Ripping back the curtain, she stared in horror as the last evidence of their baby went down the drain.
“What are you doing?” she shouted.
Brad stared at her. “What was I supposed to do?”
“You flushed our baby?!” she screamed, running over, slipping on the floor and skidding to a stop, clawing in the water.
“Marisa, what are you doing?” Brad asked, his voice growing louder.
“Why would you do that?” She whirled, glaring at him. “What is wrong with you? Get out! Get! Out!” She pointed at the door, screaming at him. Throwing his hands up in the air, Brad left, slamming the door closed. Marisa screamed and doubled over, sobs overtaking her and she sank to her knees, pounding her fists on the floor. “No, no, no!”
Two agonizing days later, the reminder phone call came during breakfast. Marisa looked at Brad and nodded. “It’s time,” she whispered, holding out her hand. He grasped it and the pair stood. Brad hesitated for a moment, then pulled Marisa into him, hugging her tightly. Marisa wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed, sobs bursting from her again as they had countless times since… since then.
She checked her pad before leaving, making sure it wasn’t too full, then followed Brad silently to the car. He fired it up and punched the power button to the radio, killing the background noise. Marisa rested her hand on the center console and Brad gently held it once they were out of the driveway. Her mind wandered, replaying everything from the past few days.
After her shower, she’d found Brad in the living room, sitting on the couch and staring at his hands. She’d put her hand on his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her waist, his own tears soaking through her fresh shirt. She didn’t know how long she’d stood there before he finally stopped. She sank onto the couch next to him and they’d talked. Surprisingly, it wasn’t about the dollars or the endless appointments, but about what they’d hoped for in that tiny life. Marisa talked about the unfairness of it all. All her sisters had kids and no problems. Brad talked about being an only child and the only hope for grandkids on his side. In that moment, he looked much older than his 38 years and Marisa felt 100 instead of 37
They both took the next day, Monday, off work and spent most of it in bed, alternating between holding each other and sleeping. It was then that they talked about the dollars and how promising everything had looked and how good all the numbers had been. They’d have to do some math to see if they could afford one more try.
Marisa scoffed in the car, breaking the silence. One more try, she thought, watching as the intersections passed by, each bringing her closer to the clinic. It felt like it had been a thousand tries over the past decade for just one. Just one. Hadn’t they prayed enough? Hadn’t others prayed enough for them? Did they just not have enough faith?
Brad pulled the car into a parking space at the clinic, and it took both of them several minutes to pull themselves out and walk through the front door. After checking in, they sat in the waiting room, holding hands, Marisa counting breaths.
“Marisa?” the nurse called. They slowly stood up and followed her back. Marisa felt detached throughout the entire appointment, trying to answer questions by the nurse and then the doctor, cooperating with all the poking and prodding, thankful when it finally came to an end.
“It looks as though your body is taking care of everything on its own and you won’t need any additional procedures. Have you notified your support system yet?” The doctor spoke gently, placing her hand on Marisa’s knee, compassion in her eyes.
Tears welled up again and all Marisa could do was shake her head.
“I know it’s hard, but you need to. I know you’ve had so many people walking with you on this journey and this is just the next step in that process. Don’t shut them out now.”
“Okay,” Marisa whispered, the tears spilling out. The doctor handed over a handful of tissues, Brad squeezed her shoulders and sniffed himself. The doctor handed Brad several tissues too.
“Do you have any other questions or concerns right now? I know this is a very devastating time for you, so it’s okay if you don’t. We’re always here.”
“No, thanks,” Brad said in a low, husky voice.
“Okay. Take all the time you need in here and call us if you think of anything.” The doctor stood and patted each of them on the shoulder again before walking out. 15 minutes later, Marisa and Brad walked back out to the car. Brad pushed the key into the ignition, but didn’t fire it. Instead, he rested his hands on the steering wheel. Marisa watched him, trying to figure out what he was doing.
“Who should we tell first?” Brad asked, still staring out the windshield.
“Whoever can get a hold of everyone else,” Marisa replied.
“I’ll call Pastor when we get home.”
Brad fired up the engine and they rode the entire way home in silence. Marisa walked into the house, setting her purse down by the front door, pulling out her phone, and to the living room, curling up on the couch and turning on the TV, not even caring what was playing. She set her phone down on the side table and stared blankly out the window, vaguely hearing Brad’s voice in the kitchen. She pulled herself out of her reverie and shot a text message to her secretary at work.
Taking the whole week off. Personal.
Her phone buzzed almost immediately. Got it. Everything okay?
Okay enough. Don’t want to talk about it.
Got it. See you Monday.
Brad soon joined her on the couch and flipped through a few channels before settling on AMC. He always watched AMC when he was upset.
Two and half movies later, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Marisa said, though when she glanced over, she saw Brad was sleeping. Hauling herself off the couch, she went to the door and unlocked it. Her best friend, Debra, was on the front step.
“I brought you some supper,” Debra said with a smile. The smell of lasagna floated up and Marisa managed to smile.
“Thanks. Come in.”
Marisa followed Debra to the kitchen, where she pulled off the tin foil cover and set about finding plates and knives and forks and a serving spatula. Marisa settled down at the kitchen table, grateful for her friend having been here enough to know where everything was in the kitchen.
“I think Anne is bringing you some supper tomorrow and the Glenda the next day,” Debra said. “Are you taking a few weeks off work?”
“I don’t know yet,” Marisa said. “I haven’t talked to my boss yet.”
“Well, when you know, let me know so that we can keep you stocked on supper until you go back to work. Maybe we’ll try for an extra few meals, too.” Debra’s eyes flicked back and forth between Marisa and the lasagna. She served up extra large pieces on the red stoneware plates and set one in front of Marisa.
“Would you like water, milk, or perhaps a glass of wine?” Debra said, with a wink. Marisa felt like she’d been punched in the stomach.
“Just water,” Marisa said, her voice tight.
Debra’s face tightened, too. “Too soon. I’m sorry,” she said, reaching out for Marisa’s hand, but being too short to reach across the whole table and settled for tapping the table instead. She poured several glasses of water and set them down, then brought the last two plates of food over.
“Do I smell lasagna?” Brad asked, coming into the kitchen and wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“That you do. And there will be plenty more where this came from,” Debra said a little too brightly. Marisa poked the lasagna with her fork.
“Wow, thanks, Deb,” Brad said and sat down next to Marisa. Debra and Brad chatted all through the meal, but Marisa was silent. The food was undeniably delicious and despite the pit that sat deep in Marisa’s abdomen, she ate the entire serving.
After supper, Brad shooed the women out of the kitchen to clean up and Marisa followed Debra not to the living room like she expected, but to the front door.
“I don’t want to overstay,” Debra said, “but I do have something else for you. I heard about this new book, so I hunted it down and got it for you. It’s a miscarriage devotional, supposed to be really good according to the reviews on the internet. Thankfully the bookstore had a copy too.” Debra pulled out a small, pink book and held it out to Marisa.
Slowly, Marisa took the book and looked at the title. “Loved baby,” she read.
“I just peeked on the inside. It looks good. Will you read it?”
“Sure,” Marisa said and tucked it under her arm, not sure whether she actually would.
“Well, I need to get going, but I will check back in with you tomorrow if that’s okay. Or maybe in a couple days?”
“Maybe a couple days,” Marisa said.
“Okay, I know you need time alone, but I figured this is no time to have to figure out what to eat.”
“Thanks,” Marisa said and embraced her friend, holding her tightly for a long time, tears spilling out of her eyes again. After several minutes, Marisa stepped back and held the door as Debra walked to her car and then drove away. Closing and locking the front door, Marisa pulled the book out from under her arm and walked back to the living room, dropping the book on the kitchen table on her way through.
She watched another AMC movie, then decided she was ready for bed. She made her way upstairs and brushed her teeth before coming into the bedroom where Brad was already in bed, halfway through the book that Debra had brought. He looked up at her as she walked in.
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“Debra brought it.”
“Did you read any of it? It’s really good.”
“No, not yet,” Marisa said.
“You should, it’s really good.” Brad turned his attention back to the book and Marisa changed into her pajamas and climbed into bed, and facing away from Brad, quickly drifting off to sleep.
Marisa awoke the next morning to an empty bed, the book sitting on Brad’s pillow with a note.
Decided to go into the office today. The book really helps.
Marisa looked at the book and rolled back over, squeezing her eyes shut. Her phone rang and she reached out. It was her boss, Jeff. Marisa sat up and swiped to answer.
“Hello?” Marisa said.
“Hey Marisa. You marked off this whole week as a personal week with no explanation. Is everything okay?” Marisa pictured his eyebrows knitting together in concern like they did during stressful meetings.
Marisa blew out a slow breath.
“Yeah, I’m here,” she said quickly, trying to hide the quiver in her voice. “I, uh, had a miscarriage this week.” It was the first time she’d actually said it out loud and the words sounded strange and foreign in her ears.
“Oh, Marisa, I am so sorry. I know you guys have really struggled with this,” Jeff said. “Is there anything we can do for you?”
“Uh, no, not right now.”
“Okay, well, do you think you’ll be back on Monday then?”
“I don’t- I don’t know, Jeff.”
“Um, all right then. I mean, that’s fine, take the time you need. Just, ah, keep us posted okay?”
“Is it okay if Claire checks in with you on Monday?”
“Okay, great. Ah, again, I’m so sorry. I know that’s tough. I mean, I don’t know because I’ve never, um, I mean my wife, well, anyway. I’m sorry. Talk to you soon.”
Marisa hung up and set her phone back down on her nightstand. She realized she hadn’t thought about work at all this week outside of her one text to Claire. She probably had a thousand emails waiting for her. How did she just forget about work like that? You don’t get to HR department head by just forgetting about work. Even so, she now had permission to ignore work. Marisa rolled over again and smacked her nose against the book on Brad’s pillow.
Annoyed, she shoved the book off the bed and it thudded loudly on their wood floors. Sighing, she covered her head with his pillow and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will away the rest of world by falling back to sleep. She fought for sleep until she felt she might go crazy from not sleeping. Sitting up, Marisa checked her phone. It had been 45 minutes. She dragged herself out of bed and down the stairs, made some coffee for the first time since they’d seen that little pink line and wandered into her home office. She needed something to take her mind off everything and what better to do that than work?
As she’d suspected, she had hundreds of emails waiting for her and she waded through them, deleting the unimportant ones and responding to others. A new email pinged in from Jeff and she clicked it open.
What are you doing working?
Marisa smiled and typed out a reply. I need a distraction.
After a minute, he responded. Go watch a movie. If IT catches you doing work stuff before Monday, I’m cutting off your remote access.
Marisa stared at the screen and sighed. She logged off her email and took her now empty cup to the kitchen. She heated up some more lasagna and took it to the living room where she channel surfed until she came across the food channel and one of its cooking competitions.
Before she knew it, she heard the front door opening and Brad talking.
“Thanks again for bringing us some supper. I’ve been at work, so I don’t know where Marisa is,” he said. “Marisa! Anne brought us some supper! Where are you?”
Marisa clicked off the TV and met them in the kitchen, suddenly self-conscious that she was still in her pajamas.
“Oh, Marisa!” Anne said and set the takeout bags she was holding down on the table then flung her arms around Marisa. She couldn’t explain it, but Marisa suddenly felt angry, like her space had been invaded. She wriggled her way out of the embrace and looked at Anne’s eyes, tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry!”
Marisa forced a smiled. “Uh, thanks. Let me go put on some clothes.” She made her way upstairs and took forever trying to find something to wear. Her body felt strange and all her clothes fit weird. Finally she gave up and raided Brad’s clothes, picking out a pair of giant sweats and an oversized t-shirt.
When she came back downstairs, Brad was alone.
“She left. She had to run home and feed her kids,” Brad said, picking through the takeout Anne had brought.
“Oh,” Marisa said, suddenly disappointed. She couldn’t keep up with her own emotions. First she was angry that Anne was here and now she’s disappointed that Anne was already gone. Sighing, Marisa peered into the boxes.
“Want me to fix you a plate?” Brad asked.
“No, I’m not hungry.” Marisa walked off, not sure where she was walking to. She found herself on their back porch.
A few minutes later, she heard the door slide open and closed. “You okay?”
“I don’t know,” Marisa said, not turning to face him.
“It’s okay, you know, to not feel okay.”
“I don’t need a lecture right now.”
He set his hands on her shoulders and rubbed her arms. “I’m not trying to lecture. I’m just trying to help.”
“Who says I need help?” Marisa’s anger flared back up again and she stepped away from his touch. “Why does everyone keep trying to tell me what to do?”
“Whoa, okay. What is going on?”
Marisa whirled around. “First the doctor tells me to tell everyone, then Debra tells me to read some book, and then you’re hounding me, and Jeff is stiff arming me away from work. I can take care of myself! I don’t need everyone hovering!” She stormed back into the house and upstairs, slamming their bedroom door shut. She paced around the room and then put on a pair of socks and back downstairs. “I’m going for a walk!” she called out as she tied on her outside shoes, not sure, nor caring, where Brad was and marched out the front door. As she walked, the after work traffic slowed to normal evening traffic; she was sweating and breathing hard. She tried to clear her mind and figure out why her emotions were so out of control.
“God, what is going on here?” she breathed as she walked. That was something else she’d forgotten about over these past days. Maybe that was part of her problem too. Marisa started talking out loud as she walked along the surprisingly empty sidewalks, praying, pouring out everything she’d been trying to stuff down and shut out.
It was well after dark when she got back; the front light was on and when she went in, the house was silent. She untied her shoes and her stomach grumbled. Walking into the kitchen, she found the book on the table with another note.
I made you a plate anyway. It’s wrapped up in the fridge. I love you.
Marisa’s face softened and a smile threatened at her lips. She went to the fridge, pulling out the wrapped plate heaped with food. Unwrapping it, she popped it into the microwave and poured herself a large glass of water. When the microwave beeped, she brought her food and drink to the table and sat down, eyeing that dang book.
Well, what could it hurt?
I’m so sorry. Let me offer my sincerest condolences. I wish I could wrap my arms around you. Catch your tears. I’ve been there. This book includes my journey of loss and hope.
Hope. That intrigued Marisa. She hadn’t felt hope regarding a baby for years. Hope. She had to keep reading.