It was a week — an entire week — ago that we sat in the office of our midwife and heard words of concern. Our appointment was at 10, and we were a little early. Clock currently reads 9:59. I was likely answering questions about how I’d been feeling and what I weighed. Maybe being told that we could try the Doppler today, as long as I promised not to freak out if we were not able to hear a heartbeat, as I was just at the beginning of the time when you can start hearing from the outside.
My how a week changes things. In a matter of seconds we were inducted into a secret club. You may think you know those who have experienced pregnancy loss and miscarriage, but once you announce that you have, you begin hearing stories. People contact you who have never told anyone about their loss . . . or those who may have told at the time, but haven’t really talked about it since — at least not in your hearing.
And if you are like me, you begin searching for resources online. But it seems all those groups have one huge thing in common — references to AngelBabies and talk of their later rainbow babies. And I feel like I have entered not only a secret society, but another world that is lined with Lisa Frank images. A world where our wombs housed not human children, but cartoon cherubs that floated away with their harps. Where we instead hope to give birth to carebears who will have the gift of shooting rainbows out of their tummies for colorful unicorns and puppies to play on.
I get why this language is helpful for some — I do. I just don’t happen to be one of them. My theology states that humans and angels are not the same thing. While I do believe in an afterlife, I don’t believe I will be an angel (with or without wings) in it. I will be human. To picture Avelyn as something other than human with flesh and blood distances her even more from me. I need an image that suggests that if she is here, I could hold her in my arms and feel her skin on mine — especially during this time when her skin is literally inside of mine.
For the uninitiated (may you remain so), a rainbow is a child born after someone experiences miscarriage. In the words of J.K. Rowling, it is “the boy (girl) who lived.” You will also hear reference to “sticky babies,” which means essentially the same thing — a baby that stays thriving and in utero for the entire duration of a pregnancy.
I get that these terms are supposed to point out that birthing a child is miraculous, and perhaps the “rainbow” language is meant to tie into some sort of sense of promise (as rainbow baby users tend also to refer to AngelBabies and usually seem to claim some brand of faith (most that I’ve run into are some brand of Christian, but assuming that perhaps there are those of other traditions, as well?). But God has not promised that I will birth a live child. And I refuse to use language that makes only children born alive a miracle. Avelyn is a miracle to me. She is my baby — will be my firstborn. She just happens to have died.
Our culture has tended to make death the thing to be avoided. We push it off as long as we can, create technologies that can hold onto technical life long after the mind stops living. We consider death the enemy. Don’t get me wrong, I hope to live a long time. I happen to like life. But I also recognize that death is going to happen to all of us. It happened early — much too early — for Avelyn. But her life, as brief as it was, changed me. And it changed Allyn.
So I don’t long for Angels or Rainbows. I don’t anticipate that having a child later will “make up” for this one. I don’t ever want to replace Avelyn, I want her.
And sometimes, feeling that way, I feel I don’t fit in with my new secret club — which can be even more isolating.
But perhaps the real elephant in the room of this loss is the resentment that creeped in almost immediately. Some who have miscarried talk about resenting all pregnant women or new parents. That has not been my experience. As I told a friend in email, I still rejoice in most of the pregnancies of friends (and I have a lot of pregnant friends at the moment). I still want to see them and want to be excited for them and want to hold their babies when they are born and cry over them (because who doesn’t want a crazy woman crying over their newborn?).
But there are a few . . . and I hate it. I hate mentioning it here, because I don’t want friends to fear that I’m talking about them (chances are, I’m not) . . . but I feel it is important to be open — particularly since I’m hoping that maybe these posts can be helpful to others going through pregnancy loss and miscarriage — and perhaps because I know that unless I write it down, that I will be able to hide from it, rather than figure out how to move forward. The truth is that there are individuals that I resent right now. Ones my mind targets when I think “why us?” which is often followed by “why not them?” And I feel enormously guilty for thinking it. I don’t want anyone else to experience this, but the dark places inside me are perfectly willing to sacrifice someone else’s child if it brings back my own. And yes, I realize how awful that sounds, how awful that is.
To my pregnant friends: please, please, please do not assume I’m talking about you. And please don’t hide from me out of fear that you will make me sad or angry. I’ll be honest — you might because anything might. I cried today hugging a gay man. I cried last night reflecting on the evening with a flaming pizza and a step into cat vomit. Anything at any point is likely to convert me into my grieving self. But it is just as true that I need you all.
Author’s note: This is the fifth in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.