By Allison Landa
You wanted it to be a miscarriage and so it was.
It was just some blood. You’d seen worse. It was a little bit of cramping. Nothing you couldn’t handle. An interruption in an otherwise stultifying and ordinary day. Under most circumstances that might be welcome.
You walked out of the bathroom and made the pronouncement. Your husband looked up from the work-issued laptop he carried home weeks ago. Your senses were on red alert, expecting something, unsure what. The air tasted of dust; the few passersby were glacial in their movements, hesitant and jerky as a puppet worked by a nervous handler.
You wanted it to be a miscarriage because you wanted to believe your body worked the way others did, that it didn’t have The Condition. Sometimes pregnancies were viable. Other times they meant the body flushed away tissue and promise. Life rolled on, just like the ball your son threw tumbled around the street.
“It could be anything,” my husband said. “Don’t immediately go to the negative.”
What he didn’t realize was for you it wasn’t necessarily a negative. If that was what happened—if you were pregnant—you hadn’t even realized it. There were none of the signs you’d seen in the past: the loss of appetite, the all-day nausea requiring lots and lots of ginger chews from Trader Joe’s. You used to love grocery shopping, the hunt and peck, the comparison of list to haul, what you wanted versus what you could get. Now COVID had wrought lines, determined and forced normalcy. When someone greeted you, it was as if the social contract had broken and shattered atop your head. You mumbled something and moved on.
Did you want to bring a child into this uncertain world? By the time your last and only pregnancy wrapped up, you were at the doctor’s five out of seven days per week. It wouldn’t be different this time. There would be testing, ultrasounds, perinatal appointments. There would be concerns and hesitations. And the outside world.
You sat down on your chair. Your husband called it the Good Chair and compared to the rest of the secondhand furniture in your apartment, it was—an easy chair whose massage function had mercifully died just as it grew less relaxing and more seizure-inducing. For once, you missed that feature. You’d have given it a try again. It might have helped with your cranky lower back, which had been achy since you woke up. Even if it didn’t budge the pain, it might have made you forget about it, which would be almost just as good.
“I looked it up,” you said. Your voice sounded brassier than normal, defensive. There were signs, right? The bleeding, the pain. You wanted to suffer, you needed the distraction. Maybe if you felt as though something unjust had happened to you, something unprecedented and unwanted, you could come to terms with what was happening in the world outside.
“It’s the Internet,” he said. “You can’t trust anything there. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying you’re right. I’m saying you need to find someone who knows what they’re talking about, not some wing nut on Reddit.”
You called the advice nurse at Kaiser Health. She was brisk but friendly, tired but professional. “At 45,” she said, “it’s highly unlikely it was a miscarriage. It could be a slipped IUD. It could be breakthrough bleeding, which is a sign of menopause.”
Menopause? Now? You would still surreptitiously play with Barbies given the chance. When did you get old enough for menopause?
“In maybe eight or ten years,” the nurse said, and you relaxed a little. What you wanted to tell her was you needed proof that you were normal. After all these years, all these diagnoses, all the times the doctors talked about elevated testosterone or infertility, after taking prescription after prescription, even after conceiving seemingly out of the blue, you still needed reassurance you were normal, subject to fate and foment, capable of conception, even if you couldn’t always carry it to completion.
The power lay in the negative, your reason for everything. The moments when you welcomed the marital spat, the twisted ankle, the child who didn’t quite make it to the potty—they all offered proof that life was real, not perfect, the way you wanted it. Outside showed just how much life had changed, didn’t it? The boarded-up storefronts where you once ate, drank, played. The few remaining businesses plying their wares, practically begging: WE’RE STILL OPEN! Don’t forget about us. Don’t let us sink into the swamp.
The doctor called.
You hung up and buried your face in a pillow. It wasn’t even one of your good pillows. It was limp and flat, paltry. Your husband stood over you, mentally wringing his hands. You didn’t blame him. You should be happy. You should be relieved. You should feel this weight lifted, that you didn’t lose more than the world was already collectively losing.
“I wanted,” you said, then paused. How to say what you felt? How to express the inexpressible, the outright foolish? How to make yourself understood when even you yourself didn’t get it?
“Don’t,” he said and pulled you to him. In that moment you realized that understanding transcended specifics. It went straight to the heart of the universal, the human. He didn’t have to know the ins and outs of what you were thinking. It was enough for him to grasp that you felt some element of loss.
Somewhere in the universe there is a child. He or she may have even been yours, in your mind, in your imagination. Somehow their life was prevented, cut short. In some way they gave you the loss you needed. In some sense their absence was the presence you craved.
About the Writer:
Allison Landa is a Berkeley, California-based writer of fiction and memoir whose work has been featured in Business Insider, Parents Magazine, The Guardian US, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among others. She holds an MFA in creative writing from St. Mary’s College of California and runs the On the Cusp reading series in San Francisco. She is a member of the San Francisco Writers Grotto, and she teaches at The Writing Salon in Berkeley.