Loss

Published on September 1st, 2021 | by Denise Massar

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Bad Juju

“The fetus is small for nine weeks,” Dr. Chu said.    

“Can she take vitamins?” Pete asked.   

Jesus Christ. Unlike Pete, I knew immediately what Dr. Chu’s statement meant. Vitamins? I wanted to scream in his face, our baby is DEAD, you fucking idiot!         

“The baby should be bigger, and we should hear a heartbeat,” Dr. Chu said. She’d been moving the wand over my belly but had stopped. “We’ll do a blood test to confirm, and we’ll know for sure tomorrow morning. I’ll call you by nine with the results.” She squeezed my arm and left the room.         

Pete and I had driven separately to the appointment. I’d dressed knowing we’d meet in the courtyard and he’d be checking me out from afar. I wore a black jersey skirt that swung around my thighs in a flirty way and a skinny tank that accentuated my newly-fuller breasts. Pete liked the curves pregnancy added to my normally angular frame. I’d pressed my breasts into him when we hugged, feeling the California sunshine on my shoulders and a surge of warmth between my legs. 

close up of leg and foot in gynecologist office barefoot wearing medical gown with foot stirrup in doctor’s office from patient’s view

“Who’d have thought we’d be here again?” we’d said.  

Dr. Chu called just before nine saying my hormone levels were high, and for a moment I let myself believe we’d escaped. 

“Your levels are high because your body doesn’t know the fetus has died and is still creating pregnancy hormones and most likely will until you have the surgery to remove the fetus. You need to schedule the D&C within the next week,” she said, giving me the number.  

How could I have been so stupid? So smug? You couldn’t let the universe know when you were flying high, everyone knew that. She’d swing her lighthouse beacon of a head around, shine her light on you, and you got the call that someone had lost a job, entered hospice, or a fetus had stopped growing. It was best to fly below the radar. Play it cool. I hadn’t played it cool. We hadn’t told family and friends yet, but I’d found every opportunity to tell strangers. Running a mud run at eight weeks, I’d avoided the obstacles, patting my belly as I ran by and yelling to the course staff, “Running for two!”    

I thought back to the day before. How I’d purred up against my husband. The skirt, the tank-top, the Rocket Dogs. I was replicating the way I’d dressed when I was pregnant with Jack, imagining that if I could dress the same, look the same, then we could still be the same people we were four years ago: young, carefree, even pregnant! It would be like we’d never left California. (Iowa had been particularly hard on us—the long, cold winters had given our new marriage a nasty case of frostbite we were still trying to thaw out.). But I was a fraud. We weren’t young; I was forty, Pete forty-six. We weren’t carefree; we were several years into our marriage and had the resentments to prove it. And now we weren’t pregnant.    

Photo by James Peacock on Unsplash

I’d been careless. Was it the blue cheese dressing on Jack’s salad? I’d been so nauseous, and it was the first thing that had looked good in two days, and I just inhaled it. Was it when the pedicurist at Happy Nails started to massage my ankle? She’d barely touched it when I yelled out, “No!” but there was a pressure point that, if massaged, could cause a spontaneous miscarriage, right? I’d heard that. Or had it been the mud run? The field had been so deep and viscous I’d lost my shoe. I knew you could work out while pregnant, but why did I always feel the need to prove that to everyone?      

Mom came to help with the kids before the D&C. I handed her the reins and hid in our bedroom upstairs. Channel surfing, I landed on Contact with Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey. 

Has there ever been an on-screen couple with less chemistry? And what’s with Jodi’s Mary Todd Lincoln ringlets? Stupid. I could do better.

I sent Marcia a text: “Time to talk?”

Marcia’s first two pregnancies had ended in miscarriage, and she’d learned the way I had, at the nine-week appointment. When I found out I was pregnant, I stopped calling or texting her and crossed my fingers she wouldn’t notice. I didn’t want any of her bad juju rubbing off on me.    

Photo by Aldebaran S on Unsplash

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-uh) and I met in college. I first saw her in Holmes Dining Hall where everyone studied at night. She was standing next to a table of Bainbridge Island guys. The Bainbridge guys wore fleeces and drove muddy Toyota 4-Runners. They went camping in the Cascades or floated the Yakima with a twenty-four pack and a bong, on a moment’s notice. They intimidated me. I wasn’t a camping-on-a-moment’s-notice kind of girl. Marcia was. And she was beautiful. Half Japanese, half white, she had creamy skin and full lips the color of Rainier cherries. Her black hair fell in waves to the middle of her back. Her laughter was generous and unladylike. The Bainbridge boys were laughing at whatever she was saying and calling her Marsh, wanting to be familiar with her like that. She was one of the guys, but they all wanted to fuck her, too. I hated her on sight. And vowed to make her my best friend.       

She called from her office in San Francisco.

“I was pregnant,” I said. “But now I’m not.”    

“Oh, babe,” she said.    

We cried. Or she let me cry. She told me what I could expect during and after the D&C. When she’d had hers—both of them—I hadn’t dug too deep. I knew that afterward, CK had driven her home. He hadn’t really known what to say and ended up going to a late breakfast with his dad. And she’d been sad. I felt bad about not having asked more.

The D&C was on a Friday in April. 

When I woke up, I could hear the movements of nurses with patients behind the curtains on either side of me. I could smell latex and the clean, warm-laundry smell of my blanket. Pete was rubbing the top of my hand in compulsive circles.    

“I’m fine,” I said.   

On the way home, we stopped at our favorite Thai place in our old neighborhood, wanting to be somewhere familiar, enclosed, dim. We took a booth, and the waitress placed steaming cups of jasmine tea in front of us.        

“How are you?” I asked.         

“I’ll be okay,” he said. “I’m worried about you.”      

Photo by Nicolai Schindler on Unsplash

Growing up, “dramatic emotion” wasn’t encouraged. One of Mom’s admonishments that caused me deep embarrassment was, Stop being so dramatic. Pete is cut from similar cloth. The youngest of five, he learned to make his case intelligently and forcefully, but there was little time for drama. I’m a Major People Pleaser. I like to show people how low-maintenance I can be. When I was in the hospital delivering our daughter, the nurse asked me to tell her where I was, pain-wise, using the chart on the wall. Zero was “Not hurting,” and showed a happy, smiling face. Ten was, “Hurts the worst you can imagine,” and showed a crying face contorted with pain. My daughter’s head was crowning and the doctor had just slipped his scalpel into my vaginal opening and dragged the blade two inches toward my anus to give my daughter the room she needed to make her exit. There’d been no time for an epidural.   

“Where ya at with the pain, hon?” the nurse asked. And I chose eight, “Hurts a whole lot,” because choosing ten just seemed dramatic.       

“I’m fine,” I said to Pete, ripping the tops off three sugars.     

But I didn’t want to be easy or accommodating. I didn’t want any pieces left unsaid, waiting to be spoken until the next right moment. I took a sip of my tea.  

“Having a third baby was…you said you were done, but you were so excited. We saw Jack and Kate as big brother and big sister to this baby, and we fell in love with that—that picture of them. This baby was never supposed to happen. And I’ve been holding up little hoodies and now…now what?” I asked, raising empty hands, wanting my husband to give me a different answer than the one I already had. “He’s just…gone?”      

I dropped my hands and watched as tears fell and spread like ugly gray dye on the white paper napkin.  

I’d tried to game Fate the wrong way. Timidness was always punished. I should’ve screamed my joy. We should’ve told friends and family. I should’ve bought the red hoodie. Mom had a saying: Grab onto happiness when you can. I’d had it; I’d had him (I was sure it was a him), but he was gone. Hunched over my cold tea, a hospital-grade pad between my legs to absorb the last clots of uterine slough, I felt myself slipping into the opposite of happiness.

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About the Author

Denise Massar writes about motherhood, adoption, racism, inequality, and anything else she can’t stop thinking about. Her essays have been published in RAISE MagazineTODAY ParentingAn Injustice! Magazine, and she is a recurring guest blogger on Jane Friedman’s Blog. Her essay, “Bad Juju,” is an excerpt from her memoir in progress, MATCHED: An Adoptive Mom’s Journey Through the ‘Not for Social Media’ Side of Adoption. She lives with her three kids in Orange County, California. Follow her on Twitter @denisemassar, Instagram @denisemassar, and visit her website at http://denisemassar.org.



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