St. Patrick’s Day ranks among my favorite holidays, mostly because I really enjoy having a corned beef dinner. (For a good read on why this is a food to eat today, here’s an article from Smithsonian Magazine that you can wave in the face of anyone who gets up in your business about corned beef having no place at a St. Patrick’s Day feast.) Me and Charlie have been listening to a combination of my “Fiddledee-Diddledee” playlist and iTunes Radio’s “St. Patrick’s Day Party” station all weekend. I’ve had a Guinness. It continues to rank among my favorite feast days in spite of it being Miscarriage-aversary.
On Saint Patrick’s Day of 2007, Andy came up the stairs of his grandmother’s house to let me know the corned beef dinner was ready, and found me crying in the hallway. I was pretty sure I was having a miscarriage. I hadn’t thought myself to be pregnant, but was a couple months into a new birth control that would have kept me from having a period most months, so it was hard to tell. And since I was on birth control, I had no reason to think that the two months of morning sickness was anything other than stress or plague. By the time I figured out that a pregnancy gone sideways was even a possibility and got my act together enough to go to the doctor, I wasn’t pregnant [anymore]. In describing the scenario under which I believed myself to have miscarried to the emergency nurse’s line and then to the doctors who happened to be available to see me, the reaction was either, “Don’t be dumb; you’re on birth control so you can’t be pregnant” or “Well yeah, dummy, you didn’t follow the SECRET directions to the birth control that everyone should know about, so OF COURSE you got pregnant and had a miscarriage.” (Stated directions: Use a backup method for first week of taking pills. SECRET directions: Use a backup method for a month.) I still don’t know for certain if I was ever pregnant; I just know in retrospect that I had the symptoms of first trimester pregnancy and an early miscarriage. Every time a new doctor asks for medical history and has me state my number of previous pregnancies, I have to weave them this tale in order for them to decide on their own whether to put “0” or “1” in the box.
For me, I had to just decide that it was a thing that happened, so that I would have something solid to grieve. For a variety of reasons, it seemed highly likely that it would be the only time I would ever be pregnant, so for years, and still today, I grieve the loss of this child. It felt more right than grieving over the eternal absence of a child or pregnancy, which I had started doing shortly before this event. It was hard to talk about or to gain support from most people besides a very close few, because it was hard to describe what happened. When I would tell people, they wouldn’t totally know how to react. A couple days in, a good friend recommended that I tell my mother, since this is just the sort of thing we have mothers for. My mom, I think in trying to lighten my mood, went with, “Well you said you didn’t want kids, so I don’t even know why you’re upset.” Ten days later, Andy and I moved to the East Coast as planned.
Having Charlie almost erases this grief. I carried it with me daily until Andy and I decided to try to have kids and my OB handed me a fistful of pre-natal vitamins. I don’t know if I should continue to carry it with me for the sake of the 6-year-old I may not have in my home, or if I should just release it, because I probably/maybe/perhaps was never even pregnant until Charlie happened. There’s probably not a right answer. For a variety of reasons, my identity as an adult is built upon grief and loss. If I let go of those things, I’ll lose what I believe to be a valuable part of myself. I suspect though that there’s a process of alchemy replacing grief with resilience, and I will be the better for it.
This St. Patrick’s Day, I will remember the empty space in my womb, regardless of how it came to be. And I will have some corned beef and Guinness, because both of those things are delicious. And I will listen to Colm Wilkenson sing “Whisky in the Jar” on repeat, because it’s the greatest thing ever.