On December 15, 2005 stage lights were upon me in a dank Manhattan theater as I performed, before a live audience, for HBO’s US Comedy Arts Festival. Weeks before, I committed to reading a passage from my memoir, Straight Up And Dirty. “Anything funny,” a producer from the show had said. I read a bit about knowing the men I dated played the field, so mine might as well be mowed. Hence, the Brazilian wax. But in the light of the stage, between paragraphs, I began to shake, looked up, and lost my place. I couldn’t find funny. “Sorry,” I said.
That’s the bit that didn’t make it into the article I wrote recently for the UK’s Grazia Magazine (see photos there). Below is what was published. But here’s what was left out: I was actually set to perform in front of actual people the day I was told that I’d miscarried. I had to be funny and professional. I had to be "on," even though everything felt "off." "It’s one of life’s great ironies," my father had said earlier that day. I don’t know how I got through it, besides barely. Here’s the telling of it:
It was during a routine check-up last December that my life fell apart. There I was, legs up in stirrups, my gynecologist asking me to keep still as we watched an ultrasound monitor, looking for a blinking dot. I held my breath as we waited, and waited. There was no heartbeat, just a yolk sac and placenta. But I had to be pregnant: my breasts were swollen and sore to even the slightest touch of fabric. “That’s from the placenta,” the doctor explained, “but that tenderness will dissipate soon.” I was nine weeks pregnant until that moment. “Blighted ovum,” he said. My fiancé Philip squeezed my hand, and I could see, even in the dark room, his eyes were tearing. I couldn’t cry.
As I dressed, the doctor said, “You’ll need a D&C tomorrow: dilation and curettage.” I nodded blankly. He scribbled on a pad then slipped me the address of a clinic. My heart stopped as I read it. “Not again,” was all I could think. Because I’d been to that same clinic three years ago, but that time it was for an abortion.
See, once upon a very different life in 2002, my then-husband, Gabe, and I decided we wanted to start a family. Married for two years, I was working at an advertising agency in Manhattan while my husband was finishing his medical residency. But, after months of trying, nothing happened. So sex became scheduled. Afternoon delight became a specialty. We laughed. A lot. And then a burgundy drop swirled in the toilet water beneath me, and I cried. A lot. I’d spent my whole life having protected sex, terrified of getting pregnant, and now, even with fertility drugs, I was failing at the most fundamental human function: procreation. Every month, the little window in the plastic pregnancy tester mocked me. But one day, a miracle: two pink lines appeared. Gabe pulled me close and smiled. Soon he’d be a father; there’d be a child with his face. I had everything I’d ever wanted. But just days later I discovered my 28-year-old husband was seeing another woman, with her own grown children. When I confronted him, he admitted, “I just don’t love you enough to have a child.” I was heartbroken. I couldn’t sleep or eat; I had to remind myself to breathe. My life hurt, and I couldn’t imagine bringing another one into it. Plus, I wanted a family with Gabe, not just a baby. That’s when I heard about this clinic. Other people would have kept the baby, especially after all I’d gone through to get pregnant, but I made my decision based on what I knew was right for me. I don’t regret it, but it’s still hard to remember.
I was less than 12 weeks pregnant when I joined a narrow hallway where other women in pink paper gowns stood, biting fingernails. My dad came with me, and as I lay back, I wondered what he was doing in the waiting room. Was he reading Newsweek or pamphlets on how to support someone after an abortion? Did he start to read it and set it down because it was too upsetting to think of his little girl, strapped to a table, a life she wanted being removed?’ Thinking about him was easier than thinking about myself.
And now, three years later, I had to go back. I was finally in a loving relationship where we both wanted this and we were being told, “no.” Why was this happening? Had my abortion anything to do with this? Was I being punished? The doctor told me not to blame myself, that there was no evidence the abortion had anything to do with the miscarriage. But I felt responsible. “It’s actually a good sign,” the doctor told me. “At least you know you can get pregnant.” But I didn’t want to look on the bright side.
At home, Philip and I cried in each other’s arms. I was terrified of returning to the clinic, the straps on my thighs, being tied to a table like an animal. I worried I wouldn’t wake up after they put me under. What was a blighted ovum? Maybe it was my fault.
I tried to think positively: I was lucky this happened early, before I got too attached, began to show, or told the world. But I was attached. We’d taken a photo of the positive test. Philip had fussed if I was too hot or cold or tired, spoken to my belly at night. I was terrified of being happy. Because when you’re happy, it can be taken from you. That’s the hardest part about loving; the fear of loss. And now that we’d lost, I feared Philip would love me less.
They say you shouldn’t share your pregnancy news too early in case things go wrong. So you keep it a secret and hope no one notices you just ordered a club soda. “Oh, I’m on a diet,” you say when they do. What a crap rule. Because when something does go wrong, you need people. And then you have to tell them you were pregnant, but before their faces light up, you have to set them straight. I dreaded those conversations, but then something strange happened. Friends would talk about miscarriage with the word “too.” “That happened to a friend of mine, too, and she got pregnant the next month.” “Yeah, I had one, too, well, three actually, and an ectopic that nearly killed me before I had Hannah.” It felt like a secret club, a black market of hidden pain. I’d probably broken bread with these women, spoken of designer sales, unaware they’d gone through it. “Well,” some friends added, “at least you can have fun trying again.” But I didn’t want to be cheered up; I wanted to be sad.
And so, last Christmas, while the rest of the city was giddy with holiday spirit, I walked into the clinic for the second time. I was terrified that all this would take its toll on my body, that I would never be able to have children. But, this time, it was different. This time, the father of the pregnancy was beside me, holding me. The nurse ushered us to a private room, with a coffee table and house plant. No room filled with girls waiting for abortions. It made me think last time I was being punished. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it felt true. My doctor came in and reassured me the procedure would only take five minutes.
Philip and I shared a tender moment in whispers and trembles. Then I slid away, along the slippery corridor in my paper slippers. I was taken to the same room, with the wooden butterfly hanging overhead. The anesthesiologist assured me she’d be beside me the whole time. She asked me about my last vacation, told me to envision my time in Paris. I heard my doctor say, “I’ll be taking the specimen with me.” Suddenly, the whole thing seemed real.
When I awoke I was in a recovery room, cramping on a gurney. A moan I didn’t recognize as my own escaped, and when I opened my eyes again, a nurse was beside me with a paper cup and Tylenol. After a few minutes, I was ushered to a leather reclining chair, beside five other girls, covered in airline blankets, sipping tea, trying to recover. One of them was wearing a wedding ring, wiping the tears from her face. She began to choke a bit on her sobs. I wondered how many of them were recovering from abortions. Or were there others there, this time, like me? I didn’t cry. Mostly because I knew Phil was in the next room. I knew I had a future and that it would involve children “when the time is right.” I could still hear that little voice inside me.
That night I bled for the first time in months. I thought of meat. It reminded me I was an animal. I cried in bed, fearing, as irrational as it was at the time, that Philip wouldn’t want me as much because I was sad, because all I wanted to do is lie in bed and cry and watch chick flicks and wonder why. But I already knew the “why me?” isn’t what defines us. It’s the: okay this sucks, it does, so fucking cry. Cry snot and let your dog lick it and rest on you like you have in the past. Ask for help. You’re not the only one going through this. Phil is going through it too, and he’ll help. You will respond to this event, one way or another, and the bravery and strength in which you respond is what defines you. In all that horrible, there is still hope. It’s okay to be scared of trying again, of filling out more forms explaining your past. It’s paper. You’re surrounded by life, and this is yours. Respond to it.
After my follow-up visit, I was told there was nothing to stop us from trying again. Philip worried. “What if you miscarry again? Wouldn’t it be better on your body if we waited?” It was hard on him, watching me cry all the time. Of course I was terrified, but more so at the thought I’d never be a mother. I wouldn’t hurt any less if I miscarried next week or next year. Whenever it happens it’s painful, and the hurt is as heavy as a brick. “I’m ready,” I said, to which he responded, “I just needed to hear it.” And so, I’m happy to report that I’m nine weeks pregnant [with twins!], with fingers crossed.