I used to love steak. It was a defining personality trait. I was known for my love of slightly still mooing dead cow. I could have had it every meal for the rest of my life and died tragically young but ecstatically happy. My bloodstream was probably over the legal limit for fat. I said ‘ribeye’ like it was a sacred word.
I thought- we all thought- that nothing could ever change how I felt about my first true love. But then I lost the baby.
Baby is a bit of a stretch. Embryo more properly describes the size and shape of my baby. Arm and leg buds about to form, the tiniest of circles where the eyes should have one day been.
I wasn’t supposed to have seen this stage of development. It was meant to occur out of sight and danger, tucked away in a safe corner of my uterus. But instead, it had landed on the toilet seat with a bloody amniotic sac streaking behind it.
They say comets herald times of great change and at that moment everything changed. Sometimes, during your period you get clots and cramps and all sorts of disgusting but biologically reasonable occurrences. My first thought had been that this was that. But this was not that. I picked it up with a kleenex.
My baby deserved surgical gloves in a hospital room eight months later. But all it got was a minute of horrified staring in a numb panic that stretched for all of eternity. I flushed a child down the toilet. That was the reasonable solution. To flush a baby. It wasn’t my first thought.
I looked around the bathroom like there was something to put it in. I was seconds away from bringing a dead fetus to the emergency room in a Tupperware container. I would have tried stuffing it back in if I would have thought it would help. I knew it didn’t belong in the palm of my hand. There was a sick feeling in my stomach, besides the cramps and the uterine lining tearing apart my insides. I knew on an animalistic, unspeakable level that this was unnatural and wrong.
I hadn’t known I was a mother, but in that second my only thought was to protect my child. But my child was a collection of squishy beige cells in a bright red blood clot. I had already failed. I was horrified to the point of inaction.
There were no tears, no cries for help or wild hysterics.
Emotions were my default setting, but I could not emote. The ability had been torn away from me when my defenseless zygote was. I stared at the wall for two, maybe three minutes. I don’t even remember the color of the wall now. Everything was in shock.
And it was entirely my fault. I’d taken a test, weeks previous. The test had said negative. It had most assuredly said negative. That was the point of taking a test. To get a clear, defined answer. The test was supposed to be accurate. Or what was the point?
I’d been murdering my child one dose of Minastrin a day ever since. Each little white tablet that was supposed to protect me was betraying me from the inside. But my betrayal was far worse. That little squish was dependent on me. I was the one thing standing between it and the cold world, and I had sent it into the sewer system.
If I’d had known…
…but the point was I didn’t know. I had no idea.
The entire world had opened up to me in the same moment it forever shut on the little tyke. If I’d have known, I’d have wanted to keep the baby. I would have done anything to keep that baby inside of me. And it would have been for the best that I didn’t do that very thing. The choice had been taken from me, or I would have made the wrong choice. There was no way in financial hell I would have been able to give that baby life.
I couldn’t handle my life as it was. Adding a child to it would have set me back to a place I could have never returned from. But I wanted that baby. I wasn’t in the kind of stable, committed relationship you needed to have a baby. We were committed. We were, if not stable, the moment of calm before the explosion. But we weren’t at having a baby level.
I knew theoretically that I wanted a baby with him in the future, but I hadn’t known I was emotionally there now. I found out the same moment I found out I wouldn’t have a chance to.
He was solid and dependable on the phone when I was a wet voice and uncontrollable shaking. He was steady and logical. I was grief-stricken and alone. He supported my pain while I was too scared to ask him if he felt any. Of course, he did.
He may have logically been opposed to the conception of a child. But he was love and love was kind to all forms of life, even the unplanned, unexpected ones. I felt guilty for springing it on him. I’d meant to give him a warning, but I just blurted it out the second he called. I couldn’t help it. Nothing else seemed to matter. I’d held our baby in our hands and pulled the trigger. Handle. The name didn’t matter. I kept referring to it as an it on the phone. There wasn’t anything else to call it. It didn’t have a name; it didn’t have identifiable body parts. It was a blob of cells slowly developing into future problems.
But it was so much more than that. In my mind, I watched the squish graduate from college with their daddy’s eyes. In real life, I saw it circle the drain and had to hold myself back from trying to pick it back up before it was too late. I let it be too late. I let it go.
But I couldn’t let it go. I still can’t. I’d thought I’d dropped my tampon on the toilet seat. But tampons didn’t look like that. Nothing looks like that. And I can still see it, so close to the surface of my memories when I’m trying to sleep or be happy.
There’s a little squish out there who’s been abandoned by its mother.
It probably got eaten by some sewer rat king. I let it go unprotected out into the big wide world completely alone and defenseless. Already dead, but that’s just another example of bad parenting. I felt like burying it but explain that when you’re trying to sell a house.
I had steak for dinner that night. My favorite food, you might remember. Until now.
I can’t handle seeing red meat and white fat together like that. It turns to guilt in my mouth. I’m choking on regret and dead cow. I feel like I’m eating my child. That sounds like something I’d do. I’m a monster now, after all. I flushed my child. I gag out a collection of cells that used to be an embryo too before it became a cow, and I wonder if I’ll ever like the taste of steak in my mouth again.
I won’t for a while. I know because we have it for dinner the next night. He says not to associate it, not to let it ruin it, but it’s too late. I can’t finish steak anymore. I can’t finish a pregnancy either, apparently.
I don’t know how to grieve for a person I’ll never meet. I don’t know how to handle something no parent, no matter how far along or how many years after a safe arrival, should have to handle. I am internally bleeding out hopes and dreams. I wish I could think of a better name than it. I don’t know the gender; I don’t even know the time of death. I had no time to bond, to emote.
Now I cannot emote. Something sacred and precious has been taken from us, and we are miles apart, trying to process a tragedy over the telephone.
He wouldn’t have wanted to keep it. He would have never, ever, made me do anything to hurt it. But he wouldn’t have wanted to be a parent yet. I would not have either. I don’t know if I could have handled the adoption process. I don’t know if our relationship could have. We will never get the chance. I may never conceive with him again. We don’t know.
But if this is the only legacy of our relationship, I don’t like that. I don’t want that at all. A legacy of death should not summarize something so beautiful and life-giving. And yet, I am scared to want a future now.
There will always be someone who didn’t make it. No matter what life goals we achieve or little ones we bring with us; there will always be one who got left behind. It is too soon for us to have a child of our own. And yet at this moment I feel any attempt to do so would be to replace someone who does not deserve to be replaced.
This feeling will fade with time. Life is long and full of hope, and I am not the only one who has faced this blood on their hands. There will come a time when we can be happy and hopeful and holding a baby.
I have always gone back and forth on the concept of an afterlife. This has not changed that for me. I lean towards the absence of existence. I don’t believe that a four-week-old fetus could be sentient, even in heaven. Does the trip up take years?
Even a newborn would not understand I was grieving for them. And yet, for the little thing’s sake, I want it to have a safe place to go. I want it to get the chance to live, in some way. Not on this earth but maybe in the next. I don’t see a heaven for myself, but my unborn infant deserves one.
I want to be able to send my love across oceans and theologies and have it reach my little squish. I want my squish to know love. And it would have felt love, for however long it stayed in me. It would have felt my love for their father, and their father’s love for me.
But we never got the chance to show it our love, and that is what keeps me thinking about it weeks after the cataclysmic event. The guilt will fade. The sorrow will morph into memory, and the scientific logic will kick in. But I have been changed, and I don’t think I want to go back to being blissfully unaware of the child I will not get to have.
I want to get over the pain without getting over the circumstances. I want to respect my squish since I could not protect it. If it can feel neglected or forgotten, I do not want it to feel the devastation I felt letting it swirl away. I want to preserve their presence, as small and short as it was. But I don’t want to live forever in a moment trapped staring at a wall.
I want to feel happiness all the way through me again. I want to keep living. And that seems so selfish when the little tyke didn’t get to. But I worry that if I cannot recover, then I will lose both my child and their father. He has been supportive and kind and steady. He has always been there. But he deserves someone who wants to go through life with him, not stay in the past.
I want to know how to do both.
I want to stay with my child in that moment because it is the only moment I will ever have with them. I will never hold them again. I will never see their fully formed fingers and toes. I want to be there for them in the only moment they know.
And yet I cannot be in two places at once. I have to be here, in the real world. I have to look away from the wall and keep living. I have to let the world keep spinning and try to keep up with it.
I only hope the squish, if it can, can forgive me for living life, even though I couldn’t help it live a life of its own. I want the little thing to know that I will never try to replace it, nor forget it. I just don’t want to feel it inside me like this anymore. And I think that it is good that I lost that baby because doesn’t that thought make me a bad mother? Maybe I saved it after all because I ended up saving it from myself.
Or maybe, maybe the little squish couldn’t stay because there are other realities and other worlds that need our squish more. Maybe the thing was never meant to stay. Maybe it was sent for a purpose, and its purpose was done.
I know that I will never know. But I can choose to see the squish as a symbol of life and hope and love.
And I know that that’s what my squish deserves.