Her hair is a thick chestnut brown, and it falls carelessly past her shoulders, bouncing with her every step. She’s doing a half-walk, half-skip routine, where she pauses ever so often to glance back at me. Her eyes are dark brown, large and lively, and her expression oddly reassuring—as if to say all is well. For a moment, she opens her tiny mouth as if to say something and I lean in, straining to hear what that may be, but she is silent. I notice how her eyebrows are bushy, like mine, and that her ears bear an uncanny resemblance to my own, down to that typically protruding cartilage at the top.
I stare at this little girl in her breezy white dress, who looks to be about five, maybe six. Against the bright glare of the afternoon sun, she stands encircled by a ring of light, and I marvel at the silhouette of this curious stranger. She’s graceful and moves about with a natural ease, reminding me of a character from the fairytale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. An unsettling sense of déjà vu begins to creep in and I think maybe I know this girl and she knows me.
And suddenly, out of nowhere, the reality hits me. Hard.
Her name is Ignacia, named after my favorite saint, Ignatius of Loyola, and quite remarkably, conceived on his feast day. This little dancing princess before me is my daughter.
I let out an audible gasp. Tears rush to my eyes. Immediately I dash forth to embrace her. I ramble on about how sorry I am for not having immediately recognized her. What sort of mother forgets her child?
She doesn’t say a word, but I sense her joy, perhaps even gratitude. Maybe she’s been waiting for my acknowledgement, though now that it’s happened, there exists a mutual, implicit understanding that it’s time for her to go. All is forgiven, dear mother, and there is nothing to forgive, I hear a tiny but lucid voice in my mind say.
Then she slips away from me, skipping and twirling into a distant blur. This time, there are no more backward glances. She is free to go, and so am I. It’s going to be a long while until we see each other again, if we ever do.
She’s gone. I’m running. My weary feet pound against a busy pavement in a familiar yet unknown city street I’ve revisited countless times in my dreams. It’s a place where I’m perpetually in search of someplace, something, someone. As I grow more impatient to reach my destination, every turn I take only leads me farther away. The gray sky hangs heavily above me and people whizz by nonchalantly, hands in their pockets, heads turned away, shoulders stiffened defensively—as if to say don’t ask me, I don’t know, I can’t help, don’t even try.
I am disoriented. Abandoned. Shipwrecked.
“Is that the heartbeat?”
As soon as the words leave my mouth, I don’t think I would ever regret asking.
My obgyn is staring intently into the ultrasound monitor but only to avoid eye contact with me until she’s formulated a calculated, measured response to my very natural and innocuous question.
I glance back at the grainy, grayish mass onscreen where there appears to be punctuated bursts of movement. What do I know about sonograms, right? It could be anything. Yet my usually unflappable obgyn appears too concerned for my comfort.
“What’s wrong?” my husband asks, mirroring my curiosity.
I’m six weeks into my second pregnancy. It’s been a whole four years since our son was born and two since we started actively trying for another child. In between all this, I’ve been battling an eating disorder—a monster of my own making—responsible for my menses taking a one-and-a-half-year vacation. I refuse to think that may have the slightest connection with that look of worry on my obgyn’s face. After all, I’ve made such strides to overcome it (gone cold turkey on exercise; upped my caloric intake; got my weight up to a normal range—none of which was easy, but I did it anyway). With my cycles regular again and my hardware intact, there’s no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to reverse the damage. That I wouldn’t be able to conceive again. At least that’s what this same doctor said to me just months ago, in this very examination room. Now that I’m expecting, is it too presumptuous of me? Hubby and I are still giddy from celebrating our first positive pregnancy test result after a long spell of infertility. My son is expecting his sibling next April. It’s all good. Don’t spoil it for us. Say it isn’t so.
“That isn’t the heartbeat,” she says. “Those are actually contractions—and pretty strong ones.”
I stare blankly at her. What I’m hearing isn’t sounding good, but perhaps there is a “but the good news is…” bit she’s just getting to. She has my full attention.
“You’re going to have a miscarriage very soon. Possibly within the next 10 days.”
I look over to hubby, dumbstruck and expressionless. Did we hear her correctly?
“But the good news is…”
There. She said it. Hit me up with the good news. Say it’s all a mistake, that it’s going to be all right somehow.
“…it’s in its early stages and you’ll likely not require a D&C.”
A reasonable crowd starts forming in her clinic’s waiting room, packed with happy couples whose babies are on the way, not on the way out. I can hear muffled chatter from behind the door, the clatter of toys from restless toddlers and the rustling of magazine pages. For awhile it’s like I’m locked in a trance, outside my own body.
My obgyn decides she hasn’t got all day and I’m not her only patient, so she has her nurse tactfully usher hubby and I to a quiet adjoining room to gather ourselves. We’re told that after her next patient, we’ll be asked back in, and she’ll proceed to address any remaining queries. “Do you mean obliterate any last hopes?”, I want to ask—but the nurse has left. Queries. I can think of a million “queries”, except I guess they’ll probably all be met with the same stoic response: No.
I feel unbelievably cold and begin to shake. Tears gush down fast and furiously and it’s like I can’t catch my breath. How did I get here? First I’m going in for a routine check, expecting to hear my baby’s first heartbeat, and now I’m told the ephemeral, having become corporeal, is actually no more.
“What’s worse than miscarrying?” I ask aloud. Hubby’s eyes are downcast and he’s in no mood for my rhetoric. “Waiting to miscarry,” I say ruefully. And I cry somemore.
He reacts with muted anger, perhaps even denial. “Come on, pull yourself together,” he rages. “You’re so early in. It was nothing. There was no heartbeat. It’s over before it even began.”
I don’t believe him for a second, and I know deep down neither does he. Grief is a process and this is his. As he squeezes my hand tightly, I’m surprised how cold his palm is. He’s devastated too, I realize.
When we re-enter the obgyn’s office, I have my questions prepared. They more or less begin like this:
“Is there any chance…?”
“But what if, just what if…?”
“Is there any possibility at all…however small…?”
“Is there anything I can do…?”
And as predicted, her answer is No to all of the above.
As an act of God’s mercy, I don’t have to wait 10 days. I lose Ignacia that very night.
It’s been two years and four months, but the memory is fresh and vivid. People around me say it isn’t my fault but I remain half-convinced. If I hadn’t allowed myself to develop an eating disorder, perhaps things may be different.
Some nights in bed I lay staring at the ceiling and wonder where she is and what she’s doing. I picture scenes from The Twelve Dancing Princesses and her twirling into the night till her shoes are worn out.
I imagine she’s happy.
My little dancing princess.
[to be continued]