by Annie Hardison-Moody
October 15, 2014
When I found out I was pregnant after over a year of waiting for an adoption, coupled with seven previous miscarriages, I wasn’t very excited. Instead, I was a nervous wreck. When I started bleeding early on, I was sure this – like every other time – was the beginning of the end. So at eight weeks pregnant, I dragged myself into the doctor’s office, eyes already red from crying, and sat down on the ultrasound table ready to hear the words we had heard so many times before, “Hm. The growth isn’t normal, and your bloodwork is inconclusive. Let’s bring you back again next week for more tests.”
Instead, we heard a heartbeat.
For the first time in four years, a sign of life.
By the end of my appointment, the news about my story had spread throughout the doctor’s office (EIGHT pregnancies?!), so much so that even the woman who checked me out was offering me sweet words of encouragement and excitement. I was shocked. How did this happen? What would happen later? When, I wondered, would the other shoe drop?
As it turns out, the other shoe didn’t drop, but my experiences of loss did affect my pregnancy and delivery. I didn’t allow anyone to buy Christmas gifts for the baby, because we were still shy of the end of the first trimester. I didn’t allow our friends to host a shower until after 28 weeks (the so-called “safe zone”). I put the word nursery in air quotation marks when I talked about converting my office to the baby’s room. I often didn’t know how to be cheerful, when everyone around me was thrilled and so excited. I worried. A lot.
Loss was always at the edge of any joy I felt with this pregnancy. My own losses, of course, were always present, but I also thought about dear friends who lost their children during pregnancy or in childbirth. I felt, at times, like I was keeping my distance from this little one – so that if I couldn’t meet her at the end of this journey, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so badly. What a foolish deception I was trying to pull.
I met my sweet girl around 8pm, the night after my birthday, just three months ago last week. As my husband brought her in to see me (I had a c-section, and she had to go to the nursery right away), I could barely see her through the haze of tears. She was so tiny, just a little face peeking out of a giant bundle of blanket. Because another woman lost her baby the same night, I was sent to the general recovery room without her, since the other family was (of course) recuperating in the birth center recovery room. I couldn’t stop thinking about the other mother who came to the hospital just like me that day, only to leave without her little one. I asked the nurses about her that night and the nights following (they, of course, couldn’t tell me much), and knowing about her loss made me constantly ask after my baby while I was in the recovery room, peppering the nurse with questions: “You would tell me if something happened with her, right?” Although the nurse assured me she would, I worried I was going to lose my girl – still. A few minutes later, my husband started texting me pictures of her (thank goodness for technology! and come to think of it, how did I have my phone?) – screaming, red, and full of life.
Life and loss, intermingled again that night at the hospital. Is that what motherhood is, I wonder? Or just being human? As Judith Butler writes in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence:
Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.
This seems so clearly the case with grief, but it can be so only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. One may want to, or manage to for a while, but despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.
That’s how I felt that night of my daughter’s birth – undone. Undone by my worry about whether she (or I for that matter) would survive the delivery. Undone by the love I felt for her, knowing the magnitude of this love and joy mirrored the pain that was felt by the woman who labored with me that night. Undone by the love we felt from everyone around us who was rooting for this baby, and our family. Undone by the recollection of previous losses and the knowledge that loss will come again (it’s life, right?).
The fact that we are undone makes us human. These connections are what make motherhood both bearable and unbearable. This undoing, although fraught with pain, is the stuff of life.