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David Flynn’s moving essay follows a couple through the emotional turmoil of two pregnancies and miscarriages in a series of letters addressed to the unborn babies.
31 August 2005
You are small and not totally shaped like a human being in your mother’s stomach now. Jennifer is 9 weeks pregnant with you. Already, though, you are loved. In these pages I thought I would tell you how you are born, so that you will know.
You were conceived in July of 2005, probably in a morning during the middle of the month. It wasn’t until early in August, however, before we thought you might be beginning. Jennifer was a few days late with her period, but already felt that we had a baby on the way. When a week went by with no period, we decided on a Saturday night to test.
We had a couple of early pregnancy tests which I gave her, because we had planned that you might come to us. The timing was good. Jennifer went into the bathroom and a bit later came out not quite sure. To show pregnancy the test had to indicate a plus sign in one side, and there was a strong vertical line, but almost no horizontal line. So we decided to try again. This time there was a negative horizontal line, but nothing in the other window which showed that the test was a good one. We were so anxious, we drove to the drug store and bought another package.
Before going back to the town house and more tests to see if you were real we ate at a cafe called the City Limits in Bellevue. We were so happy, though a little unsure. Once before, in Hawaii, we had faced the possibility that you were coming. Jennifer got very sick, and couldn’t eat anything. When she couldn’t eat some Jell-O at a restaurant I made her go to the Emergency Room of a hospital. We were on our way back from the trip around the world where I proposed to her in India, and we were afraid she had caught some disease. At the hospital they gave her many tests, but smiled and seemed happy for some reason. When I was allowed by her bed while the tests were processed, your mother told me they thought she was pregnant. This was a shock, as we had just become engaged and hadn’t planned on a baby so soon. After the shock wore off, however, a great feeling of happiness and calm came over me. We were going to be a family. Both of us, Jennifer in her hospital robes propped up in the bed, wanted you so much. Then a nurse came and told us the tests were negative. No baby, just some anemia. I felt very disappointed. At City Limits we recalled that day, and we felt as happy and calm as we did then.
Back at the townhouse Jennifer tried a third pregnancy test, and it was the same as the first, a strong vertical line, but a very week horizontal one. So a fourth test. This one was clear and couldn’t be mistaken. We were going to have a baby, you.
I took a picture of one of the tests, and emailed it to a friend without a comment. He got it, and offered congratulations.
That Monday your mother went to a walk-in clinic where the doctor gave her a much more professional test that confirmed the other four. He calculated your due date, and it was exactly my birthday, April 4. That made you seem like even more of a miracle.
2 September 2005
I don’t know what to say. I feel dead. You have no heartbeat. My heart has died too. I have no heartbeat either.
6 September 2005
Today we find out whether you are the one to be with us or not. It has been a terrible few days, full of worry and anxiety. I have hummed to Jennifer’s stomach, and made noises like a heart beat. I have told you that I love you. Now it is up to medicine to tell us.
Jennifer had a dream last night that you were fine, and that you were a boy. She says she feels pregnant, and OK. I will put my hope in that, and in God’s will.
You will be loved, either way. I love the few weeks you have been part of my wife, and I love the idea of you. May you be happy. Please join our family. I promise you will have all the love in the world from Jennifer and me. I promise you that you will have a happy childhood, and a loving mother and father. I promise you.
9 September 2005
You won’t be coming to us this time. I feel dead that you won’t. Somehow I built up hope that you were O.K. When Jennifer lay on the table at the doctor’s office, and the ultra-sound picture, black and white, appeared on the screen I felt a rise of joy. Then the nurse sounded negative. I kept repeating to myself, heartbeat, heartbeat, heartbeat. I tried so hard to will you alive. But there was no heartbeat. The nurse kept looking, but you had not grown at all for weeks, and you were not going to join us.
Since then Jennifer has been to another doctor, in Hendersonville, but there is no hope. Her hormone level is still very high, meaning her body thinks she is pregnant, and keeps building the placenta, your home for a short six weeks. She will have to undergo an operation, probably next week, to take you from her womb. Then, after a few months, we will start again.
I can only say that during that short time you were well taken care of. Jennifer was very careful with everything, and the doctors say we did nothing wrong. God just did not want you born this time. You never felt, nor thought, nor wanted, and those are what make all of us so very human.
Still, I loved you and love you. I have no spirit anymore.
21 September 2005
Just an update, because you continue to live for us. We have had a hard time during these weeks, and I still can’t sleep so well. Two nights ago your mother and I woke up at 3am. The alarm system indicated a problem at the bedroom door that opens to the deck. We never had the system do anything like that. I put on my pyjamas and checked, both indoors and outdoors, but there was nothing. Back in bed, trying to sleep again, we both heard a loud thud at the door, as if somebody was trying to get in, or get out. I put on my pyjamas again. This time I opened the door, and it was like something left. Was that you? Was this when you spirit finally left your mother? I don’t know, but that’s the thought that crossed my mind.
Your mother’s old doctor was going to do an operation to take your remains from her stomach, but the new doctor’s office refused to send the records and the operation had to be cancelled. Why they did this is hard to say, as it is against the law. The old doctor has been awful as well, not answering any questions. Your mother had to have the final miscarriage the natural way, like a very hard period.
We stayed in most of last weekend. Jennifer had painful cramps, then, on Sunday, two especially bad incidences of bleeding. After the first she came to me with a crazy look and said, “I have flushed my baby down the toilet. I have sent him to the sewer.” She had believed there would be a body, no matter how small, and she had plans to bury it. Instead, there was nothing but blood and darkness. You were so small, hardly big enough to see even with the ultrasound, and the body breaks and absorbs all of the placenta and such. The second big attack came and Jennifer came to me again with the same crazy look and the same words. Now she is better, although the period continues. She missed work on Monday, but started back on Tuesday.
We continue to face people who look at us with happy, beaming faces and congratulate us about you. Every one hurts me. There are so many we will have to tell the sad, sad news. I have told none of the friends around the world that I emailed when we were happy. Gradually, over time, I will. Caitlin, my daughter by my first marriage, knows.
Jennifer and I have talked about what kind of life you were, having had no heart beat, no brain activity, and no movement. We love you still, as an idea. If we do have children, we will tell them about you when they can understand. I can remember only one day when I floated in happiness as I did during those weeks when we thought you were coming, and that was the day Jennifer and I married. Thank you for that. We love you; we really do.
27 June 2011
Sunday 19 June was Father’s Day, and that’s when we learned you are coming. Jennifer had been late with her period, and there were other signs like sore breasts. She wanted to test for pregnancy. On the way to a Father’s Day celebration at her parents, we stopped at Kroger to buy a pregnancy test. After a wonderful meal her mother cooked, back at the condo, she went into the bathroom to take the test. In an amazingly short time she came out again. The test registered the word “PREGNANT”.
We both are excited, although scared. The last time, Jennifer had a miscarriage in the third month. This time we are being super-careful, because we love you so much. The pregnancy will be an adventure, as all pregnancies are, but at the end, you will emerge.
Monday Jennifer began having a fever and felt really sick. I am worried for you. She told me you are the size of a grain of rice right now. Maybe that small size will protect you. I am praying.
Jennifer went to a walk-in clinic and her fever was 99.2, low grade. They recommended she take Tylenol, and that seemed to clear up the fever right away. That low, maybe it hasn’t harmed you.
Wednesday was another crisis. I was at school when your mother called me, extremely worried. She was spotting with blood, and had a few cramps, as if a period would begin. Fortunately, the spotting was minor and the cramps stopped. Still, another worry about your survival.
The baby doctor won’t see Jennifer for four weeks, which is standard. I think we both are holding back until the baby’s heartbeat is confirmed and everything is past the point of the last miscarriage.
Conception date was May.
Everything seems to be going well so far. Jennifer has changed to a pregnancy diet, and I got her two pregnancy cookbooks. She hasn’t been drinking wine or coffee. A long list of foods like certain fish, hot dogs, and luncheon meats are off her menu now. Her breasts are bigger. I have told two people, and she has told her family and maybe one other.
5 July 2011
Another horror. Another miscarriage.
Everything was wonderful. Jennifer and I woke up late this morning, kissed and said we loved the other so much. I was in the bathroom praying to God for the health of the baby, as I did every morning when I woke up, first thing. She knocked on the door. On her face was a look of terror. She was crying. All she did was gesture for me to look in her bathroom. There in toilet was red. A toilet of blood.
She knelt on the floor by the bed, holding a pillow. I knelt with her, numb and infinitely sad. I tried to console her, but she cried and moaned. I did too, inside. We held each other a long time, wondering what had gone wrong. Another dead baby. I asked God again and again, why, why, why?
In time, I used the handle of the toilet bowl cleaner to move the tissue that floated in the blood. Below, ready to be flushed, was a black clot. Our baby. My love. I instantly wished I hadn’t seen it, because it will be horrifying my dreams. Later Jennifer came from the bathroom, and I held her. The sound of the flush faded.
Her breasts are no longer swollen or sore. There is no need.
I love you, dear baby. I was floating in happiness while I thought you were coming. Now I have to fight crying. Life is full of sadness, isn’t it? An old lesson everyone learns. God, why? Also an old lesson. I love God, but there is so much tragedy in being alive. Better to be dead sometimes. Today is one of those days.
I love you, dear baby.
The next few days were terrible. Jennifer bled a lot, and had to use her pads. She found a small, curved piece of tissue she felt was you, and saved it so the doctor could exam the fetus. A larger thing, the placenta probably, came out a bit later. What I had seen before was probably a blood clot.
We were both torn up and depressed. Jennifer had to tell her mother and family. At first, her mother wouldn’t accept the news, but a second call finally convinced her.
Articles about miscarriage raised our spirits a little. One said bleeding didn’t affect the birth of an eventual healthy baby.
Then today, Tuesday 5 July. Jennifer went to the OBGYN for an exam. She thought the doctor would confirm the miscarriage and help her empty everything from the uterus. Instead, she told her she was still pregnant. We won’t know for sure until later in the week when the blood tests return. Until then, we are in the middle. Everything has been so up and down, I am about over the edge. Jennifer must be even closer. We don’t know what to feel or think.
I prayed to God, and told him I was coping. I felt bad that I reacted against Him when the bleeding began. Now I just go with God’s will.
7 July 2011
Jennifer got her blood test results back this morning, Thursday, and they were good for pregnancy. The hormone level was 40,000. Now we wait until the ultra-sound on Monday. The uncertainty, of course, is driving us crazy. The doctor even said there was a chance there were twins originally, and one was miscarried.
12 July 2011
I’m really worried again this Friday. Jennifer is bleeding. Dreading next Monday at the doctor’s.
Monday 11 July
Caitlin, my daughter, came to our condo on Sunday and on the way over I told her about you, or at least the possibility of you. Jennifer was afraid she would react badly, but she was happy. I promised to let her know what happens.
It’s a short time before the doctor’s visit, and we both are very nervous. Jennifer has lost a little weight and she had that spotting of blood over the weekend, although it stopped. Her breasts are still sore. I told her I am just trying to stay neutral, but I really can’t. I love you.
The ultra-sound and visit to the doctor’s office were inconclusive, but I don’t think you are there. The technician said there were things missing and things that were there, so she is sending the ultrasounds to a lab. We won’t hear from that until Friday or later. Meanwhile, a new blood test was made, and the hormone level should tell us something. Tomorrow maybe. They made a new appointment in two weeks, thinking this might be too early to know for sure. I am pessimistic, though there is a chance.
“Something’s going on in the oven,” the technician said. We can just hope and pray.
Tuesday 12 July
Today, Tuesday, the blood test results came in and we still don’t know what to think. The hormone level is up, 50,000, but that might be part of the false pregnancy. More waiting. The next ultrasound is scheduled a week and a half from now.
Caitlin emailed, asking about the pregnancy. That was nice.
The uncertainty is taking a bite from Jennifer and myself. She looks really fatigued. Me too, emotionally.
15 July 2011
It is now Friday morning, and Jennifer is at the doctor’s office again. Her mother wanted to go with her, so I am home waiting for the news. Are you real or not real? I am about to break up.
Jennifer has felt more optimistic lately in spite of more bleeding. She left the bedroom this morning by turning around and calling me “Daddy.” I am being neutral. I don’t know anything on Earth. This is killing me.
Not real. No fetus.
I feel dead. With you.
David Flynn was born in Bemis, Tennessee, the last textile mill company town in America. He has lived in Japan, Macedonia, the Ukraine, Hawaii, and many other places, and has been both a Fulbright Scholar and a Fulbright Specialist. His writing residencies include Ireland, Israel, and a number in America. Among his jobs were reporter on a newspaper, editor of a commercial magazine, and professor at a community college. His publications have reached about 130 poems, stories, and essays worldwide. He is married with one daughter, and currently lives in Nashville, TN.