“the cells from her miscarriages . . . We carry them for a lifetime”

Not long after my miscarriage, I read a scientific article that said fetal cells remain in the mother’s body after pregnancy and pregnancy loss. There was much more to the article than that, but that’s the core idea that stuck with me all these years. It’s given me comfort knowing that my first baby will always be a part of me.

Recently, I read this poem by Heid Erdrich, and it all came back to me again. I hope reading this leaves you with a feeling of wonder and comfort, as it did me. (The poem also references pregnancy and babies.)


Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
whether you live
or all unformed
leave her body
she will never
be without you.

This, scientists tell us, is literally true:
. . . the cells from her miscarriages, her stillborns,
and all of her children . . . We carry them
for a lifetime. But the cells actually go both ways.

Nub of human,
your cells migrate,
are found at sites
hurt in the maternal body,
and in successive siblings,
even those you never knew,
even those who never knew you.

Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
she will never be without you.
Vivid dreams in her bed echoed,
a wall away and you felt her,
knew her wakefulness
through the quiet she maintained.

She knew it too and tried
explaining, “It is like she is in me,
knows my brain, and wakes me up
before she wakes.”
Darkness so soft she feels its nap
cushion her movements,
still she reaches you
just as your cries begin,
then you two are one again.
Or more correctly,
you never left:
your cells and hers
flowed back and forth—
blood river once between you
went two ways, scientists say:
The waves of fetal microchimerism
are just beginning to break
along the scientific shore.

Even in her milk,
her milk for you—your milk,
a million messages, recipes, connections.
This month you demand
brain grease, complex fats;
next month another mix
produced especially for you.
She should have known
when she craved avocado, salmon, sesame,
and cursed the invective against sushi.

Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail—

Who left cells in your mother
that she gave to you?

A million unknown others.
What makes us
our own sole and sovereign selves
is only partially us.

The search for God can be called off.

Now we know:
masses of genetic material not our own
inside us, always with us, like the soul.

I should not
have said that about God.
Forgive me, I
am not

Italicized lines from Dr. Judith G. Hall, 2002, and from Bruce Morgan’s profile of Dr. Diana Bianchi in Tufts Medicine, 2005.


From Cell Traffic by Heid E. Erdrich. © 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.


It’s What They Call “Bittersweet”

When pleasure mingles with pain or regret, you get bittersweet. That’s what today is. If I hadn’t miscarried our first baby, we would celebrating her 2nd birthday around this time, along with our 3rd wedding anniversary. Did I ever mention that our anniversary and my due date were one and the same? Instead of a double-dose of joy, I’m fighting grief and losing the battle. I wish I could compartmentalize better, put my sadness away in a box while we celebrate us, but it’s impossible. Our baby was part of us – made up of us – and when she died, a part of us died, too.

It’s gotten easier over time, that much I can say. But it still hurts. It still feels so incredibly unfair.

In a couple of days, I have my baseline appointment for our first IVF cycle. I think I’ll let myself be sad until then, but once we get started, I want to focus on staying optimistic and happy. I owe it to our potential future baby to open my heart to her (or him, but if I’m honest, I’m feeling a girl again). I will never forget my first baby, but I don’t want my sadness for her loss to be a cloud over future pregnancies.


Photo used with permission from Karen at Ocean Soul.

Two Years Ago

Two years ago today, we got the news that forever changed us: Our baby had no heartbeat.

Having a miscarriage is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me, to us. I’ve healed a lot over the last two years, but I still carry a great deal of resentment, anger, and sadness. I still get lost in should fantasies: I should have an 18-month-old baby. We should be thinking about trying for another one soon.

When I drive to the gym after work, I sometimes fantasize that I’m on my way to pick up my little one from daycare. She would be so happy to see me! I’d scoop her up and plant a dozen kisses on her chubby face while she squeals and snuggles into my chest. When we get home, her dad would do the same, except she would grab his beard with both hands and giggle when he pretends it hurts. The house would be a disaster area, toys everywhere and dirty dishes piled in the sink, but we wouldn’t care, because spending time together as a family would be more important than cleaning up every day.

I know real life wouldn’t be that way, at least not every day. I know we would have our fair share of bad days. I would gladly embrace every single bad day if it meant I would never know the pain of losing my baby. I would, in a heartbeat, exchange these past two years of heartache and infertility for the most difficult delivery, longest recovery, fussiest baby you can imagine.

I’ve learned a lot about myself these past two years, about my strengths and weaknesses. I lived through the worst experience of my life, and not only am I still standing, I’m a stronger, better person than I was before. But, if I could, I would trade all that to go back in time and have a healthy baby.

This isn’t to say I’m not grateful for all the wonderful things in my life right now. I am, but I have to work at it. Losing a baby left a giant hole in my heart. Infertility hardened it. Perhaps one day, it will soften again and that hole will close a little. Or maybe I’ll live out my days always resenting the hand I was dealt. I suppose it’s up to me.

Anyone know where I can get a magic wand?

Infertile Atheist

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now, wondering whether I should even bother addressing the subject. Even though I identify as an atheist (which I know has many different meanings, depending on who’s reading), it’s not really an important facet of my everyday life. It does, however, have a large influence over how I process grief and give support to others.

I was raised sort-of Catholic: My sisters and I attended a Catholic elementary school, mostly because that was the tradition in my mother’s family. My father’s side was… Lutheran? I haven’t a clue. We didn’t attend church, aside from the occasional Christmas service. We didn’t read from the bible or pray at home. We didn’t talk about god or Jesus or anything religious, not until I was much older. When I was in high school and college, my mom and I had some pretty deep conversations about belief and religion. I was pleased to learn I got my point of view largely from her. “I don’t know if god exists, but I don’t think it matters,” she once told me.

My best friend from kindergarten through high school was the most awesomely outgoing, intelligent, creative, and kind person you could imagine. Her entire family was that way, too. I loved being around them, watching them support and encourage each other, occasionally participating in their crazy family antics. They weren’t exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but pretty damn close. They were also very devout Catholics. This family prayed all the time. They read the bible together, attended church twice a week, sang in the church choir or played in the church band, volunteered for various church activities, acted in church plays…. You name it, they did it. My fascination with this family and my desire to be part of something so positive was the primary force behind my attempt to be a believer.

I tried–oh, how I tried!–to believe in god. When I was younger, I just assumed that all the bible stories we read were just that: stories. I didn’t know that we were supposed to take most of it literally. In fact, it wasn’t until my best friend gave me the book A Skeleton in God’s Closet that I learned Christians believed in a literal resurrection. In the book, an archaeologist finds what he believes could be the remains of Jesus. Through the entire book, I couldn’t understand why this would be such a big deal. How could such a discovery shatter Christianity? Shouldn’t people be happy to have proof that Jesus existed? My best friend had to explain that finding Jesus’s remains would mean that he didn’t ascend into heaven, and that the central tenet of Christian theology was bunk. I was dumbfounded. I had always assumed that the resurrection was metaphorical.

Soon, I learned that we (Catholics) were supposed to believe that a lot of unbelievable things were literal truth, things I had always thought were meant to be symbolic. That didn’t sit well with me. Still, even through my freshman year of college, I tried to be a believer. Looking back, I think it’s because I wanted to be part of a community that was so accepting of everyone. In high school, our church youth group was a motley crew of students who would have had nothing to do with each other if it weren’t for church. We had so much fun, and we all accepted each other for who we were. No one expected anyone to conform to any one standard (except, of course, to be a Christian).

My best friend and I went to different colleges, so in an attempt to replicate what I had in high school, I joined the campus Catholic church and started volunteering for various things. Before long, however, I noticed how empty the effort felt. I wanted to feel loved and accepted, but it seemed wrong to do it under false pretenses. The truth was, I didn’t believe in god. I never had. I didn’t even really like religion, especially the whole business about not questioning god’s ways. That always seemed like a cop-out to me. If I’m going to have blind faith, I deserve–at the very least–some insight as to why god behaves the way he does. I suppose that’s part of the reason I don’t believe he exists. If he does, he’s more ornery toddler than all-powerful being. I don’t know about you, but I don’t make a habit of giving in to ornery toddlers. But, I digress.

I floundered around a bit, trying to pick and choose the things about religion that I liked (e.g. helping others, being part of a community) and tossing anything I didn’t like to the side (e.g. just about everything else). Eventually, I landed on atheism. Or maybe I was more agnostic. I don’t know. I try not to get too caught up in semantics. What matters is that I finally admitted to myself that I did not believe that god existed. I couldn’t know for sure, of course, but I believed it was very unlikely. More importantly, I didn’t believe that it mattered one way or the other. It didn’t change who I was. I was still a good friend, daughter, sister, student, and citizen. I didn’t immediately start killing people or stealing things just because I believed there was no god to punish me.

So, what does this little journey through my religious history have to do with infertility and loss? Even though I never really believed in god, for a long time, religion was the only filter through which I processed strong emotions like grief. Praying gave me hope that someone or something might hear my pleas and intervene on my behalf, or at least give me peace. The idea of being reunited with my deceased loved ones in heaven gave me comfort. All that went away when I finally embraced my nonbelief. It changed the way I thought about death, life, love…. Everything.

The main thing that changed was that I realized that bad things and good things happen to everyone, regardless of religious belief, and that nothing happens for a reason. That’s how life works. It’s a waste of time to try to figure out why some people seem more fortunate than others, or why god seems to “bless” some people and not others.

After my miscarriage, I sought support online. Much of that support–as well as real life support–is full of religious platitudes. You know what I mean. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. You’ll see your baby again in heaven. Your baby is playing with the angels. I’m praying for you. One of my biggest peeves in the loss community is referring to our dead babies as “angels.” I get that it comforts many, but it drives me insane. It doesn’t make me feel better to imagine my baby as an angel (or any other form) hanging out with my other dead relatives in the clouds. Actually, it makes me angry. If my baby is going to exist anywhere, it should be here with me. God is invoked all the time in the infertility community, as well. God will bless you with a baby one day. God has a plan for you. 

For the most part, I’m able to gloss over it. I don’t get angry and rail against believers. I know it comes from a good place and a desire to help. I graciously accept support of all kinds, even prayers, but it doesn’t mean much to me. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but I’d rather hear something more useful, like how someone faced the same kind of struggle and had the same thoughts. How it got better for them (or didn’t–let’s be honest, not everyone recovers from loss or infertility). When I give support, I never mention god or offer prayers, even if the person I’m supporting is a believer. I offer empathy, sympathy, and honesty. I’m open about my experiences and emotions. That, I believe, is the best kind of support.

Most importantly, as a nonbeliever, I never have to wonder if my miscarriage and infertility are punishment for my sins. It’s not always easy to accept that bad things happen for no reason, but one thing I don’t miss about religion: Wondering what I did wrong to lose favor in god’s eyes. Who needs that? It’s hard enough seeing disappointment in the eyes of our parents and teachers, but the idea of disappointing god to the point where he ignores you and lets your life fall apart… that’s just cruel. No one is testing us to see how we handle hardship or to see how we treat others when we’re prosperous. No one is sitting idly by, watching bad things happen, and not doing anything about it, even though they have the power. That nothing gives me comfort.

I know this post was long and rambling and probably difficult to follow (such are the thoughts that spill forth from my brain!), so thank you for making it this far. Here’s a funny penguin poster to cleanse your brain palate.

News from the Past

I’ve always known that my grandmother had a stillborn son. The baby boy who would have been my uncle – only 8 years my senior – was stillborn. The autopsy didn’t reveal anything useful, but that was 1969, so it could have been something that would detectable today. He was her last birth, but not her last loss. In fact, I learned just today that my grandma had a miscarriage while my mother was pregnant with my older sister in 1972, and another years before that, before my youngest aunt was born.

My grandma died in 1998, long before I even dreamed of having kids of my own. Even before my miscarriage, I missed her like crazy, but now, I miss her even more. Don’t get me wrong: My mom has been awesome through all this crap. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive, loving mother. But she’s never known loss or infertility. I would give anything to be able to talk to my grandma about her experiences and how she survived.

Holiday Sadness

"The ornaments on this tree are dedicated in memory of infants and children lost too soon."

“The ornaments on this tree are in memory of infants and children lost too soon.”

On my way to see my RE for my CD 3 appointment, I passed by this tree at the hospital. I stopped long enough to snap a picture, but I was too emotional to spend any time looking at it. On my way back, I noticed that each ornament has a child’s name hand painted on it. I am humbled and honored that the staff would take the time to honor our lost little ones in this manner.

The holiday season will always be bitter-sweet for me. Our first would have been born around Thanksgiving last year (in fact, my due date was our first wedding anniversary, November 20). This year, not only do we not have a happy one year old to spoil with sweets and presents, my womb is still empty. On my loss anniversary in May, I comforted myself with the idea that I would be pregnant by Christmas. We were just starting our fertility work-up and treatments, and all the doctors and nurses were optimistic that it would happen quickly. I knew that it might take a few cycles, but December was a long time away at that point, so we had plenty of time.

Unfortunately, we will celebrate another Christmas childless. The new year brings with it a whole new set of pregnancy markers: January 1, 2013 will mark 2 years trying to get pregnant. March 16 will be two years since I’ve seen a positive pregnancy test. May 5 will be two years since we lost our little bean. November 20 will be the second anniversary of my due date. I’d love to be pregnant again before any of those dates arrives. (Of course, January 1 is already off the table, since I will still be in the 2ww at that point.) Our medical team is once again optimistic, but I’m beginning to think it’s all an act (or mass delusion). I want to believe that each cycle will be successful, but so far, hope has brought me nothing but heartache.

Evil Thoughts

Prior to my miscarriage, I was an all-around positive, friendly, nice person. I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, from the rude waitress (maybe she’s worried about her sick kid at home), to the driver who cut me off (maybe he’s distracted by an important deadline), to the apartment manager who never calls me back (he has a full-time job and 3 young kids). I never took anything personally, and genuinely hoped that whatever challenges someone was facing would be quickly overcome.

All that changed when my baby died. Five months after my loss, I learned that my cousin was pregnant. Generally such news would bring me joy, even though the mother-to-be was young and single. But not this time. This was the first pregnancy announcement I had encountered since my loss. I remember it vividly. While picking up a few necessities at Target, I ran into my cousin (not the pregnant one, but her oldest sister). We made small talk for a minute, then she blurted out the news. Immediately my eyes welled with tears, and I said something along the lines of “Oh, that’s great!” She proceeded to tell me that her sister was probably 3 or 4 months along; she didn’t know, because, of course, she wasn’t trying to get pregnant. It was an “accident.” Accident, my ass, I thought.

After we said our goodbyes, all I could think about was how lucky my cousin was to have sailed through her first trimester with not a care in the world. Did she even realize how lucky she was that she hadn’t miscarried? Then I started thinking about how if this pregnancy was an “accident,” she probably hadn’t been taking a prenatal vitamin. She claims she didn’t know she was pregnant for 3 or 4 months, which means she probably had at least a few drinks (and is she a smoker? I can’t remember). Was she at all worried about the baby’s health?

Then I had my first evil thought. I wished she was worried. Worried sick. I hoped that she was beside herself with angst that she may have caused severe trauma to her baby by not taking folic acid or by drinking during her first trimester. I wanted her to be afraid. I didn’t want the baby to be sick or worse, of course. But I wanted her to worry, to realize how stupid she was.

I saw my cousin a few days after that, at her mother’s birthday party, on what would have been my baby’s due date. I didn’t congratulate her, or ask her about the baby. I couldn’t. I was putting all my effort into maintaining my composure and pretending to have a good time. I failed miserably, so I went home early.

A few weeks after that, I was still wishing for her to be worried, even if just for a moment. I’m not proud of this, but I decided to send her an email. I told her I felt bad for ignoring her and not congratulating her. I purposefully mentioned my miscarriage, hoping that might spark a bit of anxiety. I’ll never know if it did.

My cousin gave birth to a healthy baby girl this spring. I dutifully attended her baby shower, but I never asked her about the baby. The first time I saw the baby, I declined to hold her. This is perhaps what I feel most guilty about, for ignoring the baby, a helpless little person who has done nothing to hurt me. No one did anything to hurt me, but I still felt wronged.

The fact is, I’m bitter toward anyone who gets pregnant without trying, or who naively assumes that a positive pregnancy test leads to a baby you get to take home. I don’t wish loss or infertility on anyone, but I do wish that more women treated their fertility with respect.