“And so they kept falling into that percentage!” My friend said. “Can you imagine? There was a less than three percent chance of it occurring and it still happened to them.” She’s telling us the story of couple’s tragedy-rife journey to having a child. We nod and look away. It’s not a topic we like to talk about.
Often, people think pregnancy is a time of joy and celebration, a pastel daydream that moves from one delightful trimester to the next, culminating in a birthing montage set to a Motown beat, followed by a string orchestra crescendo as the beautiful babe is brought to an exhausted but beaming mom. In reality, pregnancy is a messy, complicated affair. It’s filled with percentages and statistics, of secret diseases and cautionary tales, many of which are an alarming Google search away for fearful moms, both young and old, new and experienced. They creep upon us in our social media feeds or forwarded by well-meaning titas. For every pregnancy that is a pop song filled with anecdotes of nausea and maternity wear, there is another that is a dirge of crushed hopes and despair.
I’ve had two miscarriages. The vestiges of those experiences, one of which ended up in a rather traumatizing dilation and curettage procedure, have robbed me of the naive confidence of many of my peers who happily set up nurseries and say “when” and not “if”. On the third pregnancy, I counted the days until I hit my second trimester, where the percentage for pregnancy loss drops dramatically. Unsurprisingly, the fear didn’t completely dissipate even then. I suppose once you’ve fallen into an unfortunate statistic, the experience settles in, puts it feet up on the table and watches season after season of The Bachelor, an unwanted tenant whose only purpose is to remind me of the ghosts in the attic. Even now, each time I cuddle my toddler, the specter of death hovers never too far away. In this paradise I’ve planted, the valley of death lays on the horizon, reeking of hospital smells, scalpels, and the weight of an ultrasound that is as still as a photograph.
There are women with bigger, more tragic stories—that I am well aware of. Each time I try to open up about the experience, a friend or acquaintance will inevitably tell me of a more horrible one of a friend of a friend of a friend. I was vacationing in France when I had my second miscarriage. The doctor held up the photograph of the dead fetus and gave me the same look the waiter made when he gave me a cappuccino instead of a grande creme. “It just happens,” he said, as he showed me the door. “You just have to keep trying until the chromosomes match.” When I got home, my mother-in-law gave me a hug and that was it. That night I opened a bottle of wine, drank most of it and ate raw oysters, things that I’d avoided when I believed there was a second heart beating inside of me. A few days later, My husband took me on a holiday from our vacation, and we walked by the crashing sea, picked wild myrtle, and rode bikes along medieval castles. I thought I was all right, much better than the first time. I ignored the fact that earlier that week, in the bathroom I’d scooped up the remains of the fetus that came out of me, wrapped it in layers of cloth and secretly hid in the deep freezer at the back. Or that I needlessly worried when I set it out in a stream. How ignoble it was to leave it to the fish. It was only weeks later, in Paris when I realized how deep the grief was when I made the mistake of slipping it out to a friend over a glass of wine. I cried for hours and hours. At 3 AM, the waiter apologetically kicked us out. I was still wailing on the sidewalk.
When I woke up the next day, I was deeply embarrassed and it never came out again.
When I got pregnant for the third time and finally gave birth, I was stalked by fear and anxiety. I would wake up several times most nights to check her breathing. I squinted at every rash, held my breath at every sniffle. Only my husband and her yaya knew how extreme it got. On the outside, I played it cool. Many of my peers gave birth the same time as I did and they were all cool moms, the kind of women who forwent epidurals and just knew their bodies were strong and capable. I wasn’t so certain. In the days before I was due to give birth, I sat down with my husband and gave him explicit instructions should there be complications. “We’ll save the baby, of course,” I told him. His expression told me that he didn’t quite agree, but how could he say no?
The day came and went, and it’s been two wonderful years. Heavenly. It’s been every Hallmark cliché and I loved every single second of it. Everyone tells me how cool I am to be so calm and so matter-of-fact with my child, how I have it all together. Fake it until you make it, I told myself.
I don’t know why other women’s stories matter, but mine doesn’t. When I got pregnant for a fourth time, I decided to go to Brazil on my third month and even hiked up a mountain. Everyone is looking forward to the baby boy. I laugh about the nausea and take in the compliments thrown my way. I say “when” and not “if.” But each time I pee, I check the tissue paper closely for blood; each and every time. Then I go out and joke about my cravings. It’s just easier that way.
“Oh, those pesky percentages,” I replied to my friend. She gives me a look. She’s had a miscarriage too. I offer her another slice of cake and we look outside the window at our children, little girls running in the sun, a paradise found.
This story originally appeared on MEGA Magazine, March 2020.