Some back story: A day before JD and I left for a school trip to Europe a few weeks ago, I went to the doctor for a routine check-up. I was 9 weeks pregnant. During the ultrasound, the doctor told me the news I had tried to keep myself from fearing for the past 2 months: the baby was dead. It had no heartbeat. I had the option to stay home from the trip to “take care of it” and grieve in private, or I could go on the trip and have it taken care of after we got back. We chose to go. In a way, I was able to grieve in a unique space, and I’ve reflected often on bearing that tragedy in the midst of two vibrant cultures different from my own. What follows is a bleak reflection on that experience, written a couple of days ago.
I have hesitated to post anything about this second miscarriage because the devastation has been so much darker, and really, I think we have enough darkness filling up our Facebook feeds. But as getting through the day is sometimes a struggle, I think of the women in my life who also have unfulfilled mommy dreams. I remember how comforting it is to know I am not alone in my frustrated desires when all I see on my feed is pregnancy announcements. One of the most powerful weapons against despair this past month has been conversations with people like me, so in the spirit of kindred longing, here we go.
I walked around Rome and Athens for a week, teeming laughter and cappuccino sipping living next to the thousand-year-old ruins. Death and life are neighbors, seamlessly blending together. I walked around with a bulging belly, full of gelato and pizza and a dead baby. I laughed alongside the Italians and sipped countless cappuccinos with the Greeks, but inside I felt like I was dying.
There I was–in the belly of history and culture and civilization’s memory, and all that I could think about was the dead baby inside my belly.
As a literature teacher, I knew there was some kind of irony, some kind of tragic significance of carrying a dead baby inside as I waited for my body to realize what my heart was trying to process. I knew this, but I did not appreciate it. No one sets out to be a character in a tragedy–they just kind of find themselves in a terrible, senseless cycle and deliver haunting soliloquies.
I was waiting for the “sorrow and love to flow mingled down,” the blood and tissue to be flushed out and carry with it part of my life. My love, my sorrow.
What is it like to carry death around? It feels like a boulder on my chest, and my heart, trying to escape the boulder’s pressure, breaks apart bit by bit into my stomach, landing with a thud as it turns to stone on the way down.
A dead baby–the second life my body has destroyed in six months. I thought about the hostile environment my body must be. To take two lives without me even knowing, and with them, a part of my life–it feels like we’re dealing with an evil genius or a thief in the night, robbing me again. And the spark, the spunk, the light inside me? The robbers got it, too. It flowed out with the life blood, or rather, the death blood.
To carry a dead baby inside me around the ruins of Delphi and Rome gave me an eerie sense of camaraderie. Like in a group full of familiar faces, I relate most to the stone on the ground. A remnant of a life past, this is my kin here–ghosts of a thousand years.
I ask myself when I feel brave enough: is this what it feels like to die to self? To carry around the death of Christ in our body? To feel such raw pain and numb listlessness in the same moment? I stood in front of a statue of Mary–mother of all mothers, even the almost mothers–in one of the many Catholic churches and asked her to pray for me. Mary, could you ponder a few things in your heart for me? They are too painful to consider right now.
The Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes told us to hold fast to dreams because without them, we are like a broken-winged bird. But, Mr. Hughes, what if holding dreams, cradling them like a baby, broke my wings?
And Prophet Isaiah, how do you rise from ashes even though you know that means the fire’s out and nothing is left to burn? How do you believe in beauty from ashes when the ashes hold the remains of a life not lived?
How will life come from death? Will I build a new life on top of the ruins like the old settlers of Delphi? Or will I let death live alongside my every day like the fashionistas in Rome?
How do you recover from carrying a dead baby around, the size of a Greek olive, as you walk the streets of Europe, trying to find one moment of respite, one moment in which you can actually breathe?
How do I find my life again after I’ve lost it twice? Will I still feel like a dead woman walking around when I carry new life in me again?
There I found myself, among the ellipses and the question marks. I touched my hands to the ruins, holding my breath each time, hoping for an answer, a breeze, a sense of anchoring, but instead I heard a foreign language spoken and realized the group was moving on.
My life still feels like this even though I am back in my country. I encounter ruins, I hold my breath, I listen. What I hear is incomprehensible. What I see is people moving on.