This I didn't expect. I didn't expect a miscarriage. If I were to worry about that, it would have been for the first pregnancy, or at the very least, for the first trimester. But a second trimester miscarriage never crossed my mind.
The morning after Christmas, I thought about going for a walk since the nausea was completely gone. But when I went to the bathroom, I was surprised, and a little afraid, to see blood. I came out of the bathroom and calmly told Matthieu we needed to go to the emergency room. Even though it was probably nothing that a little bed rest wouldn’t cure, we would have to make sure the baby was okay.
We dropped the kids off at my brother-in law’s apartment and waited in the Maternity ER before being called in. After having all the questions asked, the routine exams performed, and the reassurance that the cervix was nice and tight, we went for the sonogram. The baby in my womb was still.
Come on little guy, I prodded internally. We’re here to see you. Wake up! I thought if I nudged the belly with my hand and urged him with my heart, he would wake up.
Matthieu looked worried, but I was sure it was nothing. I looked from him to the intern, who was examining the screen intently without saying anything. But that barely registered with me. It’s fine! Everything’s fine! I thought as I rubbed my belly.
“I can’t see any cardiac activity,” the intern finally said.
I didn’t understand the implications of what she was saying. “Can you check the heartbeat with the sound system?” When she turned the machine on there was just a roar—nothing.
Matthieu was shaking his head sadly, rubbing my arm. The intern spoke. “I’m afraid you’ve lost the baby.”
But I didn’t believe it. “Can the heartbeat be hidden? I’ve heard of that happening.”
“Not at fifteen weeks,” she answered firmly. “The baby’s too big for that to be the case.”
I started to feel cold and nauseous as she called in another doctor who confirmed her diagnosis. The pregnancy had ended. “Alright,” she said briskly. “We’re going to schedule you for a D&C under general anesthesia because the pregnancy is too advanced for your body to do it on its own.” She went on to explain the procedure, but I tuned her out as I lay exposed on the table.
We trudged up the five flights of stairs to my brother-in-law’s apartment where he and his wife hugged us. Then we turned to face the children, who were watching us with worried expressions. Gabriel was panicked to see me crying and immediately started to cry himself before Matthieu could give the news. Juliet chattered on and on, rapidly trying to process her feelings through words. “So did you really cry? With tears?” William chased the cat.
We went home after that, and I sat on the couch, my chest buckling under the oppression. I tried to process the emptiness that wouldn’t be filled with a soft downy head, a tiny baby in my arms, a fourth child to complete this family of ours. I had no idea how to fill the emptiness. I kept waiting to get a phone call from the hospital saying that the equipment was, in fact, not functioning properly and that I should come back in to double check.
That night, I woke up at nearly one o’clock in the morning with cramps that kept me awake for two hours. I began to think I might have to call the hospital in the morning to tell them I wouldn’t be able to wait to have the operation. I put on protection despite the fact there wasn’t much bleeding and went back to bed.
Then at three o’clock I felt it, the first warm rush of blood. “Honey, I’m bleeding!” I said urgently, waking Matthieu up. “We need to go to the hospital!”
I got up, leaving a trail on the floor all the way to the bathroom. After standing indecisively for a moment, Matthieu directed me into the shower. I pulled my pajama pants off, and that’s when I felt the first mass being expelled.
I had no choice but to pull on it, and when it fell to the shower floor, I saw it was my baby surrounded by a bloody mass. I saw the small head, the little gray back and tiny butt, and the impossibly tiny foot sticking out from the rest of the matter. “Get me a bag,” I ordered numbly. “I have to bring this to the hospital.”
Then I felt another mass start to exit, accompanied by a stream of blood. When the room went white, I got down on my hands and knees and put my head against the cool floor outside the shower. I added this to the bag.
I got back up, put heavy protection and sweat pants on, and had Matthieu wake the children while I lay down. We had no choice but to take them with us; surprisingly they were full of courage and in a good mood. Matthieu dressed them and brought them out in the frigid night air to put them in the car.
Meanwhile, I got up from where I had been lying on the bed and felt more matter leaving me, so I went back into the bathroom shower, which is where Matthieu found me. “How am I going to make it out to the car bleeding this much?” I wondered out loud.
But then I thought, I can’t leave my kids sitting out there in the cold and dark all by themselves. I have to get up and go. So I cleaned up what I could and changed my clothes again.
I was a little faint, so I stretched the seat in the car to lean back, and felt more material coming out of me as we started on our way. There was nothing I could do about it, and the ambiance was strangely festive as the children chattered excitedly.
When we finally arrived at the hospital, they brought a wheelchair and accompanied us down to the Maternity ER. For once, the waiting room was empty, and they were able to see me right away.
Matthieu and the kids stayed in the waiting room while I stripped and climbed up on the same uncomfortable half-table I had been on earlier that day. As soon as I removed my pants, there was another gush of blood and matter. The midwife hurried me on to the table and pushed my legs outward. As she unsuccessfully tried to staunch the flow, she said, “Relax! Relax! If you keep closing up, I’m not going to be able to stop the bleeding.”
I yelled back at her, “If you want me to relax, stop yelling at me!” I didn’t understand why she couldn’t go more slowly and stop jabbing things into me.
She finally saw that the placenta was still partially attached, thus the continual flow of blood. She was ordering the somewhat harried nurse to give her better light, get her pinchers with some grip and hold the basin.
I had to cough while she pulled at the placenta. This was uncomfortable, and I began to miss the general anesthesia I was supposed to have had with the D&C. It went on for a session of about ten minutes of coughing and resting before the speculum came out and she stated she believed she had gotten it all. The ultrasound showed there were still clots in the womb, but she thought the body would take care of that by itself.
They got me cleaned up and on a stretcher out in the hallway. They weren’t going to bring me to a room since I wasn’t giving birth; they couldn’t leave me in the admissions area, yet I still needed to be under surveillance.
My cheeks felt bloodless, and I was nauseous and hot. Everything looked white in the dark corridor. As the nurse was putting the IV in, I closed my eyes gratefully until she slapped my arm to wake me. “Stay with me here!”
After fifteen minutes of receiving a glucose solution, plus another medication, I started to feel alive again. I was freezing, and the corridor was drafty, so I asked her to bring me something warmer than a sheet. The nurse was huffing and puffing as she cleaned the room and bagged my things, which she brought to me in a garbage bag. They would all need to be thrown away. I overheard her describing to another nurse how the blood was everywhere—on the floor, the curtains, the walls. The midwife who had treated me came to check up on me. She explained gently that I had hemorrhaged.
I dozed in the corridor, grateful for my warm blankets, grateful the worst was over, grateful my baby had come out on its own and that I wouldn’t need an operation. It was about five a.m. and I needed to stay until nine so they could survey the bleeding and decide whether or not I would still need surgery. Matthieu would bring the kids home to sleep and then take them to the play center for the day. The kids were troopers, even on little sleep.
At seven, the moms started coming in—the ones in labor, the ones who thought they were in labor, the ones who were scheduled to be induced or have C-sections that day. I remembered. That was me at one time.
I heard the panting and labored breathing, the excited fathers, the galloping heart rates as they monitored the babies, even an infant’s loud, angry cry just before nine.
I lay there as they walked by and ignored me.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t as upset as I would have expected to be. Part of what had oppressed me the day before was the idea of an invasion, the thought of going in after my baby and vacuuming him out limb by limb. They wouldn’t even be able to tell me if it was a boy or girl, so how could I find a name? I wanted to ask them to check for the heart rate one last time before they operated, but I wasn’t sure they would do it. I wasn’t sure I would have the courage to ask either.
This way, I felt like my baby made his own choice. We didn’t violate the place where he was supposed to be safe. I felt like he was telling me, “I’m done mom. I’m going. You can let go too.”
I tried to gather all the positive thoughts, like how I still had my three children, which was no small gift. I tried to think about how we could all go back to the plans we had before—to start doing activities that were only possible with children who were getting older. I could think about what I wanted for my own life. But truthfully, everything paled next to a downy head, tiny fingers, sweet soft breath, a new life in the family. The emptiness was oppressive.
Matthieu handled everything bravely that night—the blood, and caring for the children in the middle of the night. His only concern was that I would be okay. As he pulled out of the emergency drop-off area with the kids, in pitch black at four in the morning, he took the bumpy ramp towards the gate to exit the hospital.
“Man!” he said quietly. “These speed bumps are a bit excessive!” as the car went bumpity-bump, clatter-bang over them.
Then he realized he was driving his minivan down the stairs instead of the ramp.
He wasn’t able to back up either. He finally gunned it, and the car went bumpity-bump-clatter-bang all the way back to the top. He sat there breathing hard for a minute, then turned back to the kids and shook his head, exclaiming, “Quel idiot! Mais, quel idiot!” What an idiot I am!
This made all the kids laugh and cry out, “Quel idiot, Papa! Quel idiot!”
The next day as I was about to leave the hospital, I passed what I thought was the last of the scary blood clots as soon as I stood up. The doctors warned me to watch for dizziness and to take all the medicine and iron they gave me. Then I went home and lay on the couch, noticing with surprise that I felt relatively well. I knew that as long as I could stay on my couch under the blankets I was safe from the worst of the pain.
But grief was crouching in the shadows, waiting for its chance. Earlier that night when the procedure was nearly complete, I asked the midwife to do what I had lacked the courage to do—look at the baby and tell me whether it was the boy that had been predicted, or whether it was a girl. She opened the fold of the towel to examine him and told me it was a boy. Then she dumped his body in the garbage.
My baby was a boy. His name is Alistair.
Bio: Jennie Goutet is the author of romance novel, The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte, as well as the award-winning memoir, Stars Upside Down, and the children’s book Happy People Everywhere. She is a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm, and That's Paris - an Anthology of Love, Life and Sarcasm in Paris. She was a BlogHer Voice of the Year pick three times, and her writing has appeared on Huffington Post, Queen Latifah’s website, Mamalode, BonBonBreak, and BlogHer. You can find her on her author website, jenniegoutet.com, or her blog, aladyinfrance.com, where she writes occasionally about faith, food, and life in Paris with her husband and three children.
Check out her book Stars Upside Down and her brand new book The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte! Check out her blog and enter to win free copy of The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte!